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Charles Dickens’s American Audience

Although Charles Dickens was one of the most popular British authors of the nineteenth century, on both sides of the Atlantic, the American audience for Dickens’s novels and public readings has never been carefully examined. Because Dickens was so pivotal and popular an author, it is important to understand this fascination of nineteenth century readers. His sentiment, his caricatures, his social panoramas, his humor, and his melodrama interacted with the lives of his American audience. During a time when the American nation was emerging, the novels of a British author, Charles Dickens, contributed significantly to the making of American culture.

This is a study of how Charles Dickens’s American audience, 1837-1912, in their great diversity, coalesced into a reading community around the sentiments, characters, images, and themes of this one significant author.

“Bringing together contemporary responses to Dickens and his works, this book paints a portrait of the American people and American society and culture from 1837 to the turn of the twentieth century. It is in this view of nineteenth century America- its people and their values, their reading habits and cultural views, the scenarios of their everyday lives even in the face of drastic changes of the emerging nation that Charles Dickens’s American Audience makes its greatest impact.” [From the back cover]

“Robert McParland’s insightful book provides a fascinating account of Dickens’s role in shaping America’s social and cultural identity in the nineteenth century. The author interestingly outlines the many ways in which American readers engaged with Dickens’s works and the ways in which Dickens’s books influenced American ideologies. McParland supplies a wealth of material to substantiate his arguments in this well-written book.”

–Katie Halsey, University of Sterling, author of Jane Austen and Her Readers, Anthem Press

“This book goes beyond simply defining and hearing testimony from the Dickens reading community in America. It closely examines a historical time and an emerging national consciousness that defined the American identity before and after the Civil War. As McParland writes, “Dickens was part of the conversation” about what America was and who Americans wanted to be. This is a very lively and diverse examination of the tremendous influence that Dickens himself and his published works exercised upon the formation of the American character in the nineteenth century.”
–William Palmer, Purdue University, author of Dickens and the New Historicism and The Detective and Mr. Dickens