Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Richter

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


choice, Dickens, existential, religion


This dissertation challenges the received opinion that Charles Dickens's religious thinking is merely sentimental and philanthropic. Instead, I argue that there is in his works a very consistent "existential" sense of religion, especially in his mature novels. To be religious for him does not lie in the adherence to dogma or the study of theological arguments, but in the crucial choices people make every day. In order to illustrate this "existential" sense of religion, I analyze, in the first chapter, relevant works by Kierkegaard, Carlyle, George Eliot, and Dostoevsky, in order to establish the context in which Dickens's religious views can be discussed. In the second chapter I examine him in the context of twentieth-century writers such as Sartre and Camus to underscore Dickens's existential modernity. The central argument of this chapter is that the very possibility for characters to make a choice is rendered difficult by the widespread loss of faith. Two novels deal with this issue in particular: David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities.The third chapter begins by examining the choice of good versus evil, which is shown to be a very complex issue for Dickens, even in his early works. Then I proceed to discuss the implications of this choice and conclude that knowingly to choose evil over good constitutes "sin" for Dickens, as he demonstrates in Dombey and Son.The last chapter focuses on Dickens's last published novel Our Mutual Friend and discusses the possibility of free choice, a religious issue complicated by the implications of Darwinian evolution.