© Copyright 2007 - 2020 Peter J. Ponzio
Peter J. Ponzio

Reviews of Themes in Dickens

From Mark Schumacher; Associate Professor, Arts & Humanities Librarian, UNC Greensboro “This volume offers different looks at subjects of importance to Charles Dickens by examining not only his novels but other texts of his as well. The themes examined include class, prison, dreams and dreaming, and ineffectual institutions. In his introduction, an excellent presentation of the settings in which Dickens grew up, lived and wrote, the author describes the best audience for his work: ‘readers who have a working knwoledge of Dickens’s writings as well as a familiarity with his life and times.’ (p. 6) This book does a fine job of examining the lieterary elements of Dickens’s work while interweaving the socioeconomic situation of his time. The chapter on prisons demonstartes the interplay of Dickens’s own life, his nonfiction writings, and his novels. Having seen his family in Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison in London, when he was a child, Dickens later wrote in Sketches by Boz about the nature of imprisonment. Later, his depcition of prisons appears in Pickwick Papers, Little Dorrit, and a Tale of Two Cities, much of which is based both on his childhood experiences and the prisons he saw during his travels in the UNited States, written about in American Notes. The other topics discussed in this book have the same intermingling of life experiences and literary skill. Any library which serves students of English literature will find this book useful. In fact, thsi book should be considered by all libraries whose patrons enjoy literature.” Choice 360, September 2018 Edition: Ponzio, Peter J. Themes in Dickens: seven recurring concerns in the writings. McFarland, 2018. 188p bibl index ISBN 9781476672571 pbk, $39.95; ISBN 9781476631356 ebook, contact publisher for price; 56-0084. “This work for students, scholars, and general readers explores themes that deal with the transformation of Victorian society in the writing of Charles Dickens, encompassing his nonfiction, speeches, and letters, as well as his novels. Themes discussed include class distinctions, identity, dreams, social pretension, ineffective institutions, and prisons. Each chapter presents an overview of the theme, then looks at that theme in several of Dickenss works, and discusses how Dickens recognized societyAEs ills and tried to make his reading public aware of them. The book also makes note of how Dickens’s life paralleled many of his characters. It includes b&w historical book illustrations. “ ([umlaut] Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR) Dickens Studies Annual Volume 51, Number 1, 2020 Penn State University Press Recent Dickens Studies: 2018 by: Robert C. Hanna With Peter J. Ponzio's expanded selection of themes in Themes in Dickens: Seven Recurring Concerns in the Writings, it is possible to read the themes in the table of contents and then, before reading the introduction or the book itself, speculate on which rich examples he has chosen to study. He addresses the following six themes in Dickens's novels: Class and Class Distinctions in chapter 1, Naming, Identity and Self in chapter 2, Dreams and Dreaming in chapter 3, Society and Social Pretension in chapter 4, Ineffective Institutions in chapter 5, and Prison in chapter 6. He explains in his introduction that his "book is intended for use by readers who have a working knowledge of Dickens's writing as well as a familiarity with his life and times" (6). Ponzio begins chapter 1 with brief but helpful commentary on the economic development of the middle class within Britain's rigid class structure, along with the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the poor. Against the backdrop of current events, he explores Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Dombey and Son, with extra emphasis placed on Dickens's "attacks on social injustice" in Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend (22–28). He concludes with a cogent review of relevant parts of Sketches by Boz. Chapter 2 includes many brief references to various novels, but the sustained focus is on David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities, especially concerning personality splitting and the doubling of characters. Chapter 3 starts with a full overview of "Dickens's understanding of psychology and its influence on character development" (72), followed by an examination of Dickens's skill in observation and belief in mesmerism. Ponzio then gives a detailed explanation of Sigmund Freud's theory of dream formation. Novels featured in the chapter are The Old Curiosity Shop, Martin Chuzzlewit, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. A Christmas Carol is briefly considered, as well. Chapter 4 includes many brief references to many novels, but primary emphasis is given to Dombey and Son, Bleak House, and Little Dorrit. Chapter 5's exploration of "Ineffective Institutions" may prompt one to name all fifteen novels; however, Ponzio selects Nicholas Nickleby and Hard Times as his primary examples. Finally, chapter 6 addresses the role of prison in The Pickwick Papers, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, along with references to American Notes and "Criminal Courts" and "A Visit to Newgate" in Sketches by Boz. The book features endnotes with discerning commentary. Notwithstanding Ponzio's claim that this book is intended for readers already familiar with Dickens, it is so well-written that readers who are unfamiliar with Dickens [End Page 173] can very easily identify unread novels of personal interest, equipped solely with his commentary on themes in Dickens. The only novel omitted is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the only mystery included is how to derive the subtitle's promised Seven Recurring Concerns in the Writings among a total of six chapters that emphasize six recurring themes.
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