Who Created The Best Characters – Jane Austen Or Charles Dickens?

Who Created The Best Characters – Jane Austen Or Charles Dickens?

In this post we look at writers, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, to find out who created the best characters.

Through No Fault Of Their Own

Jane Austen and Charles Dickens suffer from a fault common to many of the ‘greats’, including Shakespeare. And that is the well-meaning, but unenthusiastic English teacher at the average high-school around the globe. Teachers who use only the text, read aloud by uncomprehending students on hot days. Days when droning flys are beating themselves senseless on closed widows in a desperate attempt to escape the monotony.

Bearing this in mind, it is surprising, to some, that both authors are still so popular. What is commonly referred to as ‘the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice’ brought the UK’s television-watching public to a standstill in 1995. Once a week, for six weeks. The modern retellings of this novel abound. Including one with zombies. As do professional, and school productions, of the musical version of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. No zombies included, as yet, to my knowledge.

Who Created The Best Characters – Jane Austen Or Charles Dickens?

Why? This Is The Question.

How many times can we watch Elizabeth Bennet reject Darcy? Or Willoughby carry Marianne down a hill in the rain? How often can we sit through a haggard bride in rotting clothes torment a young boy? Quite a lot apparently.

There must be more to the books than stultified students are able to grasp. Especially as at any given Yule Tide there is yet another incarnation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Not A Superhero Among Them

Both Jane Austen and Charles Dickens created great characters. Characters who are memorable, three dimensional, living and breathing personalities. And not one of them wears their underpants on the outside! It’s hard to connect on a personal level with a superhero. Whereas with Austen and Dickens, you know these people, or at least someone like them.

How Do Their Characters Differ?

Both, in their own way, were writing social commentaries. Dickens, although there are flashes of humour, is the more serious of the two. Austen is by far the wittiest.

Dickens often chose to name his characters after their personalities or professions. Austen, very often, chose to name hers after places – usually the estates of the landed gentry or the titled.

The Characters Of Charles Dickens

Dickens’ books are laden with cast and description. As a reader, we learn more about his characters from these descriptions than anything else. He would often exaggerate a character’s physicality to emphasis their personality. If a character’s physical appearance isn’t that important, then their quirks of personality are often exaggerated.

  • Mr Scrooge isn’t just tight-fisted, he’s proud of it and takes it deliberately to extremes.
  • Miss Haversham isn’t merely disappointed in love, she’s evil and vicious as well. Revenge runs deep within her. And it’s not subtle either. Very few of his characters are subtle.

We either love or hate his characters immediately. Few of them grow and change throughout the course of the novel. Sydney Carton from A Tale Of Two Cities being perhaps one of the few exceptions. I don’t really count Mr Scrooge. His change of heart can be put down to literally having had the hell scared out of him.

It could be argued that Dickens created such hard and often violent characters because much of it was his own first-hand experience. They were people he had known during his formative years in Victorian England. Dickens writes with a cruel pen.

The Characters Of Jane Austen

Austen’s books have so little description and so much dialogue they could be used directly as scripts. And it is from the words she puts in her characters’ mouths that tell us the most about them.

Austen has fewer characters than Dickens, and she draws them with a much subtler pen. Austen tricks the reader into liking a character, such as Wickham, who is, at first, handsome and charismatic. We, along with the rest of the cast, dislike Darcy almost immediately. Despite his ten thousand a year, he is arrogant and abrupt.

Austen’s characters reveal themselves, their true character, their backstory, and their motives throughout the novel. Her main characters all grow and change for the better.

Austen’s characters are also drawn from life. She was a clergyman’s daughter, was related to other clergy, and grew up in a parsonage. As a result, she would have known people from all walks of life and social standing. Her characterisations are drawn with a more understanding pen.

Dickens wrote to expose society’s ills and cruelties. Austen wrote to gently mock and laugh at society. Especially those who took themselves too seriously.

Every romance novel written after Pride and Prejudice, especially Regency, Georgian, or gothic romance novels, have heroes based on a version of Darcy.

Everyone knows exactly the type of person you mean when you mention Scrooge.

The point is that if you are writing a book, there are many ways to create great characters. Study the works of the great writers and see how they did it. Rather than slavishly lifting characters from other books, create your own.

So, who wrote the best characters? It depends. Are you looking for hard-hitting exposé, people drawn raw in all their ugliness or absurdities, and revenge writing? Then Dickens is your man. But if you’re looking for an insightful, well-drawn, lightly-mocking take on society, then Austen is the lady with whom to drink tea. I personally prefer Austen’s characters. To me, it often feels as if Dickens is pushing the point of what he’s trying to say to absurdity. While Austen assumes you are already in on the joke. Which do you prefer?

The Last Word

Besides Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, there are authors today to whom I return again and again to study and learn from, especially when it comes to character. Martha Grimes, Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman are among them. Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Elaine Dodge

by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.

More Posts From Elaine

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  5. How To Market Your Book After You’ve Written It
  6. How To Market Your Book Before You Start Writing It
  7. How Important Is Backstory In A Romance Novel?
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  9. How To Pace A Romance Novel
  10. 9 Must-Have Ingredients In A Romance Novel

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 3rd November 2022
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