Two great authors, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, were influenced greatly by Dickens and spoke of him as "that great Christian writer," and yet he was not a religious novelist, though he lived in an age of religious novels. Like so many Victorian writers, he was not even a conventional Christian. He was brought up in the Church of England, but the Dickens's were not conspicuously devout, although his mother may have succumbed briefly during his youth to a bout of evangelical fervor which he may have felt was oppressive and which may help to explain his lifelong aversion to evangelicalism and the presence in his work of several sardonic portraits of psalm-singing, sermonizing evangelicals who are thoroughly hypocritical — as Mrs. Joe is, when she refuses to hear Christmas Carols because she is fond of them. He was reticent on the subject of religion, but we can let an earnest —perhaps too earnest — letter which he wrote to the Reverend D. Macrae speak for him:

With a deep sense of my great responsibility always upon me when I exercise my art, one of my most constant and most earnest endeavours has been to exhibit in all my good people some faint reflections of our great Master, and unostentatiously to lead the reader up to those teachings as the great source of all moral goodness. All my strongest illustrations are drawn from the New Testament; all my social abuses are shown as departures from its spirit; all my good people are humble, charitable, faithful, and forgiving. Over and over again, I claim them in express words as disciples of the Founder of our religion; but I must admit that to a man (or a woman) they all arise and wash their faces, and do not appear unto men to fast.

(The reference, at the close of the letter, is to Matthew 6:18; Dickens's religious emphasis, in his work, is indeed on the New Testament rather than on the Old, on Christ rather than on Jehovah.)


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens

Last modified 1988