Dickens' Best Characters
These are my picks (in no particular order) for Dickens' best characters. "Best" here refers to most entertaining, these are the characters that stretched the nearly boundless imagination of Dickens to the utmost. Some of these characters you may like to meet on the street (Tommy Traddles, Joe Gargary), some are characters you would definitely steer clear of (Ebenezer Scrooge, Daniel Quilp) but all are truly fascinating and evidence of the amazing genius of Dickens.
Sam Weller ( Pickwick Papers ) Dickens' first novel was sinking into mediocrity until Dickens introduced Mr. Pickwick's man-servant Sam Weller. Sam councils his master with charming Cockney wisdom.
Fagin ( Oliver Twist ) This crafty old Jew who runs a thieve's school near Field Lane in Saffron Hill is the centerpiece of Dickens' second novel. Oliver falls in with Fagin's band of child pickpockets on arriving in London. Jewish groups took offence at the stereotypical treatment of Fagin.
Vincent Crummles ( Nicholas Nickleby ) Manager of a touring stage company who employs and befriends Nicholas Nickleby and Smike. Described as having "a very full under- lip, a hoarse voice, as though he were in the habit of shouting very much, and very short black hair, shaved off nearly to the crown of his head--to admit of his more easily wearing character wigs of any shape or pattern."
Daniel Quilp ( The Old Curiosity Shop ) An evil dwarf who lends money to Nell's grandfather who gambles it away and flees London with Nell in an attempt to avoid Quilp. Quilp attempts to find the pair as they travel through the country. Later Quilp is pursued by the police and, lost in the fog, drowns in the Thames. Quilp is as close to creating a monster that Dickens ever ventured.
Seth Pecksniff ( Martin Chuzzlewit ) Sanctimonious surveyor and architect "who has never designed or built anything", and one of the biggest hypocrites in fiction. Dickens' description of Pecksniff's hypocrisy is telling: "Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there."
Sairey Gamp ( Martin Chuzzlewit ) Even among the bizarre cast of characters in Dickens, Mrs Gamp is a piece of work. She is a nurse of sorts whose specialty lies in the polar extremities of life, the lying in and the laying out. Habitually in liquor, she creates the imaginary Mrs Harris whose praises Mrs Gamp uses to promote her good opinion of herself.
Ebenezer Scrooge ( A Christmas Carol ) Probably Dickens' best known character, the miserly Scrooge, with his familiar cry of "Bah, Humbug!", is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, who sends three more spirits in hopes of reforming Scrooge's heartless and penny-pinching ways. Scrooge's final redemption represents the optimistic end we all hope is possible in the human experience.
Jack Bunsby ( Dombey and Son ) Seafaring friend of Captain Cuttle who is always called in times of crisis for advise. The advise given confounds everyone listening except his friend Cuttle, who values it immensely. Bunsby is described by Dickens as having "one stationary eye in the mahogany face, and one revolving one, on the principle of some lighthouses."
Betsy Trotwood ( David Copperfield ) David Copperfield's great aunt. David describes her as "A tall, hard-featured lady, but by no means ill-looking. There was an inflexibility in her face, in her voice, in her gait and carriage, amply sufficient to account for the effect she had made upon a gentle creature like my mother; but her features were rather handsome than otherwise, though unbending and austere." Dickens' friend and biographer John Forster called Betsy "a gnarled and knotted piece of female timber, sound to the core."
Wilkins Micawber ( David Copperfield ) Continually in debt and looking for "something to turn up" the impecunious and loveable Micawber allows Dickens to vent some feelings about his father. David Copperfield describes Micawber as "a stoutish, middle-aged person, in a brown surtout and black tights and shoes, with no more hair upon his head (which was a large one, and very shining) than there is upon an egg, and with a very extensive face. His clothes were shabby, but he had an imposing shirt-collar on. He carried a jaunty sort of a stick, with a large pair of rusty tassels to it; and a quizzing-glass hung outside his coat, - for ornament, I afterwards found, as he very seldom looked through it, and couldn't see anything when he did."
Uriah Heep ( David Copperfield ) A hypocritical clerk of Mr. Wickfield's who is continually citing his humbleness. He deviously plots to ruin Wickfield but is later undone by Mr. Micawber. On their first meeting, David describes him as "a red-haired person - a youth of fifteen, as I take it now, but looking much older - whose hair was cropped as close as the closest stubble; who had hardly any eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep. He was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as he stood at the pony's head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking up at us in the chaise. He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly" Uriah Heep, wonderfully hideous, is one of Dickens' greatest triumphs in character creation. His description of Heep's writhing and scheming, and his cold, clammy nature, makes one's skin crawl.
Inspector Bucket ( Bleak House ) One of the first detectives in English literature, Bucket doggedly persues Tulkinghorn's murderer. Dickens based Bucket on real life police inspector Charles F. Field, a member of London's new police force.
Madame Defarge ( A Tale of Two Cities ) Wife of wine shop keeper, Ernest Defarge, and a leader among the revolutionaries. She harbors an intense hatred of Charles Darnay for atrocities committed against her family by the Evremonde family. Defarge calmly knits while the terror of the revolution unfolds around her.
Joe Gargery ( Great Expectations ) Kindly blacksmith and friend to Pip, Joe is the husband of Pip's sister, who badly mistreats both Joe and Pip. Joe offers unconditional love while Pip, grown callous in the face of his great expectations, has to relearn the value of Joe's friendship...what larks!
Jenny Wren ( Our Mutual Friend ) Crippled doll's dressmaker, she greets all visitors by announcing "my back is so bad and my legs so queer". The precocious Jenny (12 or thereabouts) has seen a world of woe, she cares for her drunken father, whom she refers to as her bad child, and provides sage council to Lizzie Hexam.
Tommy Traddles ( David Copperfield ) Fellow pupil with David Copperfield at Salem House. Copperfield said of Traddles that his hair (which would not be smoothed down!) must have taken all the obstinacy out of his character, for he had none.