Dickens and the Social Order

"One of the most stimulating studies of Dickens to have appeared in recent years." — New York Times
“One of the most stimulating studies of Dickens to have appeared in recent years.” — New York Times

Myron Magnet’s groundbreaking study of Charles Dickens’s early novels shows that the liberal reformism for which Dickens is so well known rested on a surprisingly traditional view of society.

Magnet writes, “The four great but relatively neglected works I discuss in Dickens and the Social Order … add up to what for another writer would constitute a magnificent life’s work in itself, a tour de force that is like a university education in psychology, political theory, comparative political science, cultural anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, and more — all transfigured and illuminated by the genius of the writer rightly said to be Inimitable, so that the reader can hardly believe that anything so full of pleasure can also be so full of wisdom.”


“In Dickens and the Social Order, Myron Magnet has two principal aims. One is to persuade us that Dickens was far more a novelist of ideas than his reputation suggests; the other is to demonstrate that his liberal (or radical) attitudes were embedded in an essentially conservative view of the world. On both counts, he seems successful; his book is well argued, attractively written and all in all one of the most stimulating studies of Dickens to have appeared in recent years. Perhaps he will consider writing a sequel; even if it turned out to be only half as good as Dickens and the Social Order, it would be very well worth reading.” — John Gross, New York Times, 1/3/1986

“A book that should significantly alter our general understanding of Dickens. What strikes me as Magnet’s central strength is that through his fine attentiveness to the fictional articulation of political issues, he never reduces Dickens’s thinking about the social order to a single, programmatic position … From the late 1830’s onward, Dickens wrote … out of a profound insight into humanity’s capacity for destruction. We are in debt to Myron Magnet for his demonstration of the centrality of this insight and how it was ramified into a systematic view of society which helped generate the imaginative power of Dickens’s mature fiction.” — Robert Alter, Commentary

“Magnet has rescued Dickens from his rosier-cheeked admirers and given us another, more robust Dickens — Dickens the advocate of law and order, the partisan of legitimate authority, the defender of customs and mannerly behavior. Three cheers to Myron Magnet for this literary and moral tour de force. And three cheers to ISI for bringing this forgotten masterpiece back to the public’s attention.” — Roger Kimball, The New Criterion

Book Details

University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985
Isi Books, May 2004
350 pages
Hardcover ISBN 9781932236378
Paperback ISBN 9781932236354

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From the publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute