The main concern of this volume is Dickens’ role as "entertainer". It examines the results of this role: Dickens’ important contribution to the techniques of comedy and irony in prose. The social commentary and criticism which arise from a primarily comic art is emphasized and exemplified. Other extracts are used to demonstrate more formal points of structure and prose technique.
In the introduction the Martin Fido discusses the changing levels of Dickens’ literary and social reputation from the nineteenth century to the present day.
1. Charles Dickens: His Life and Work 2. Scheme of Extracts 3. Comic Action: Nicholas Nickleby 4. Exuberant Domestic Optimism: Pickwick Papers 5. Comic Dialogue: Martin Chuzzlewit 6. Social Comedy: Nicholas Nickleby 7. Social Satire: Caricature and Irony: Oliver Twist 8. Comic Villains: Melodrama Tradition – The Old Curiosity Shop 9. Serious Dialogue: Melodrama Tradition – Barnaby Rudge 10. Description of Place: Sensational Horror – Oliver Twist 11. Structure: Thematic Unity – The Old Curiosity Shop 12. Structure: Introduction of Extraneous or Unplotted Material – David Copperfield 13.Symbolism – Bleak House 14. Serious Character: Mind Under Stress – Dombey and Son 15. Social Criticism: Emotional Appeal – Bleak House 16. Social Satire: Class or Type Representative Caricature – Hard Times 17. Serious Dialogue – Great Expectations 18. Insularity – Little Dorrit 19. Prose Technique – A Tale of Two Cities 20. Plain Narrative Prose – Great Expecatations 21. Serious Villains – Our Mutual Friend 22. Social Sature: Caricature of Class or Institution – Little Dorrit 23. Grotesque Caricature: Black Comedy – Our Mutual Friend