Dickens obviously was happy that his attack on the kind of schoolmasters of the time typified by Squeers had hit its mark, and here we have an instance of an author who has found social authority. After the success of Pickwick Papers, Dickens was secure in the knowledge that he could become an established writer, but that he wanted to become a novelist was decided at the time of Nicholas Nickleby, as Chesterton so eloquently points out:
'It must be remembered that before this issue of Nicholas Nickleby his work, successful as it was, had not been such as to dedicate him seriously or irrevocably to the writing of novels. He had already written three books; and at least two of them are classed among the novels under his name..... the Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers, and Oliver Twist......Had he continued along this line all his books might very well have been note-books......We might have lost all Dickens's novels; we might have lost altogether Dickens the novelist....All his books might have been Sketches by Boz. But he did turn away from this, and the turning-point is Nicholas Nickleby'. (Chesterton, 1911)
Thus, Nicholas Nickleby became the ...
struggle he had to make to reach eminence as a writer, his work also became a voice that decried all that was ill with education and the issues involving social mobility during his time, and from his public activities in both these areas, we can see that he realises that power and authority, and wields it consciously in his writing. As Cairns says of Dickens and his contemporaries in his work Figures of Finance Capitalism: Writing, Class, and Capital in the Age of Dickens : 'Professional novelists became not only providers of relatively lucrative cultural products, but also voices of great social authority, and representatives of that middle-class wisdom and success ..... The novel became a locus of middle-class symbolic power....'(Cain, 2003)
2.1 Personal Background
To understand Dickens's treatment of the issues involving education and social mobility in Victorian society, one needs to understand the influences on him at various periods of his life, and the environment which made him what he was. Born to a genteel family lineage, Dickens had an early encounter with poverty, and simultaneous fall in social status. In 1824, when barely twelve, he was taken away from school, separated from his family and packed off to labour in a North London shoe-dye factory as a consequence of his father's financial incompetence. Even though he could escape the squalor within a year owing to a windfall inheritance, the experience he went through during this time was to become a life-defining moment for him. The trials he went through at this factory had a profoundly psychological effect on him:
'In the entire district there was not a single boy whom the sensitive Charles could have accepted as a playmate. His own room was a miserable garret overlooking a damp, malodorous court.