Shades of Grey or Glaring Colours?

Trollope, Dickens, and the Novel as Social Critique

Trollope’s parody of Dickens as “Mr. Popular Sentiment” is well known, as is his accompanying acknowledgement that the reforms of his age owe more to Dickens than to “all the true complaints which have escaped from the public for the last half century.” The contrast Trollope implicitly draws between Dickens’s “glaring colours” and his own grey-shaded literary palette provokes many questions about the role of fiction as an instrument of social and moral criticism.

In this informal talk, Professor Rohan Maitzen draws some comparisons between Dickens’s approach in Hard Times and Bleak House and Trollope’s in The Warden and He Knew He Was Right and then invites discussion about the relationship between us as readers, Dickens and Trollope as novelists, and the way we live and read now.

Rohan Maitzen teaches in the Department of English at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In addition to her scholarly work, which focuses on Victorian literature, especially the novels of George Eliot, she has published reviews and essays in a range of venues including the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Tin House. She created the website Middlemarch for Book Clubs and blogs at Novel Readings.