Selected Criticism

Dickens, Charles (1812–1870)
Taft, Vickie L.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Author of such classic novels as Oliver Twist (1838), Bleak House (1853), and Great Expectations (1861), Charles Dickens, like Whitman, was a journalist as well as a creative writer. Because in both his fiction and nonfiction Dickens advocates social reform, Whitman declared Dickens to be a democratic writer.

Whitman makes this declaration in a February 1842 Brother Jonathan article entitled "Boz and Democracy." Whitman responds to critics of Dickens who argued that the novelist's portrayal of wicked, lower-class characters undermined the cause of democracy. Whitman counters: "'A democratic writer,' I take it, is one, the tendency of whose passages is, to destroy those old land-marks which pride and fashion have set up . . . one whose lines are imbued, from preface to finis, with that philosophy which teaches to pull down the high and bring up the low. I consider Mr. Dickens to be a democratic writer" ("Boz" 243).

Whitman continues his defense of Dickens's portrayal of wicked characters in an April 1842 New York Aurora article attributed to him entitled "Dickens and Democracy." Here, the author insists that Dickens is a lover of humanity and a believer in human virtue, and only portrays vice in order to thwart it by negative example. Whitman makes his final assertion of Dickens's democratic sentiments in an 1846 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article entitled "Boz and His New Paper" in which Whitman claims Dickens is "staunch for the Democratic movement" (Gathering 2:257).

Except for these newspaper pieces, Whitman's writings contain few references to Dickens. Whitman does, however, summarize his attitude toward Dickens in an 1888 conversation with Horace Traubel. In response to Traubel's query about Whitman's "general feeling towards Dickens," Whitman responds that it is one "of great admiration" (Traubel 553).


Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 2. New York: Appleton, 1908.

Whitman, Walt. "Boz and Democracy." Brother Jonathan 26 February 1842: 243–244.

———. The Gathering of the Forces. Ed. Cleveland Rodgers and John Black. 2 vols. New York: Putnam, 1920.

———. Walt Whitman of the New York Aurora. Ed. Joseph Jay Rubin and Charles H. Brown. State College, Pa.: Bald Eagle, 1950.


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