Robert Patten correctly argues that "writing for money was not only a necessity for Dickens: it was also a principle," and he further exp lains:

Throughout his career he thought of himself as a professional writer, an identity which an older generation deplored. Sir Walter Scott noted approvingly Thomas Campbell's toast to Napoleon because he had once hanged a bookseller. Samuel Rogers grumbled that to make literature the business of life was to make it a drudgery, Coleridge advised 'never pursue literature as a trade', and Lamb urged Bernard Barton not to give up his bank job and try to live by his writings alone. With Thackeray and Carlyle, Dickens attempted in 1843 to found an authors' society, but it failed. Later, he helped sponsor and direct the Guild of Literature and Art, serving as Vice-President under Bulwer Lytton. . . Joined by Forster and Charles Wentworth Dilke, proprietor of the Athenaeum, Dickens broke with the General Committee of the Royal Literary Fund in 1864. The dissidents sought to replace the status quo of aristocratic patronage and amateurism by an organization which could band together and support professional writers. [Charles Dickens and His Publishers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 10-11]

How does Dickens's own attitude toward professional authorship differ from that of critics, then and now, who find writing for money demeaning? Can you think of an explanation for this disagreement? Hint: Do most academic critics support themselves by their own writing, or does some other activity pay the bills?

How, finally, does the situation and attitudes of Dickens resememble those of Samuel Johnson, whom Alvin Kernan credits withbeing the first modern professional author? What role does copyright have to do with the careers of both men?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Economics

Last modified 16 January 2004