Former Comments about Dickens’s Influence

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Charles Dickens is generally considered the greatest English novelist of the Victorian period. His works are characterized by attacks on social evils, injustice, and hypocrisy. He had also experienced in his youth oppression, when he was forced to end school in early teens and work in a factory. Dickens's good, bad, and comic characters, such as the cruel miser Scrooge, the aspiring novelist David Copperfield, or the trusting and innocent Mr. Pickwick, have fascinated generations of readers.
Although Dickens’s works have enjoyed an immense fortune in European countries, it was not until the end of the 19th century that Oriental readers had a chance to read translations of his works. Translations of Dickens’s novels appeared in China at that time when Western works were translated profusely as part of the program of westernization. Lin Shu was recognized as the pioneer who championed the rendition of Western fiction. With the assistance of Wei Ai, he rendered five of Dickens’s novels into classical Chinese. Apart from Lin’s contributions, some others also translated many Dickens’s works.
Despite the availability of translations of Dickens’s works as early as 1907, there is no indication or evidence showing that Lao She had ever known Dickens through intermediaries. In other words, he read Dickens in the original. Lao She, who received a traditional education and was well-versed in classical Chinese literature, at first showed little interest in learning English. But his attitude was modified when he enrolled in the extramural course on English offered at Yen Ching University. His initial contact with Western literature, however, did not take place until he went abroad. In the summer of 1924, Lao She, upon the recommendation of Evans, who was then a visiting professor at Yen Ching University, set sail to England where he accepted a teaching position as an instructor of Chinese language in the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London. Aside from his teaching obligation, he managed in his leisure to read many English novels, including those of Dickens, for the sake of improving his knowledge of the language of Shakespeare. As time progressed, he developed a special interest in the technique and plot structure used by the British novelists. In his An Old Ox and a Broken Cart, Lao She admitted without reservation that he was familiar with the works of such diverse writers as
Aristophanes, Dante, Shakespeare, Swift, Walpole, Maupassant, Thackeray, George Meredith, Hardy, Wells, Lawrence, Flaubert, F.D. Beresford, Conrad, Henry James, and in particular Dickens.〔3〕
1. Lao She’s acknowledgment of his debt to Dickens
Strangely enough, Lao She never wrote an essay paying tribute to Dickens as he did with Conrad whom he respected and considered to be Europe’s greatest writer.〔4〕This does not necessarily mean, however, that he didn’t admire Dickens. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence showing his marked interest and knowledge of his British counterpart. From time to time, he makes references to Dickens particularly in An Old Ox and a Broken Cart and Chu Kou Cheng Zhang, two collections of essays which deal with his writing experience, theory of literature, and craft of novel-writing.
    In How I Came to Write The Philosophy of Lao Zhang, for example, he testifies to the impact of Dickens and confesses that his creative impulse was set in motion after reading such “loosely constructed” works as Nicholas Nickleby and The Pickwick Papers.〔5〕As a creative writer, he is very conscious of the artistic process in the composition of a novel. And he applies his ideas in his own writings. Commenting on the role of scenery which, he thinks, is inseparable from character and narrative, he draws examples from Dickens to substantiate his view that many novels are written from recollection and that familiarity with places and scenes of our childhood will create an intimacy which gives rise to artistic creation. “Dickens and Wells,” he maintains, “with their inimitable imagination, often wrote about their adolescent experience in their works because only this kind of recollection is precise, specific, intimate, and provides a kind of special horizon -- a horizon which brings uniqueness to the story and cannot be replaced by any other scenery.”〔6〕Among the several components of a novel, Lao She always gives characters greater consideration than any other narrative elements. In his essay entitled The Description of Characters, he asserts that character, not event, is largely responsible for the success or failure of a novel.〔7〕according to him, there are several ways of depicting a character: by profession, social class, and nationality. Once again, he singles out Dickens’s method of character portrayal for discussion and writes,

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