The Darker Side of Dickens

Ref: C3746142

Charles Dickens was the most celebrated and popular author of his day, loved by the public for his vigorous and active support of charities and for his sympathy with the plight of the urbanised poor, particularly children and for his championing of family values. Yet, due to later research we are now aware of a darker side to Dickens' character, manifested in sombre aspects of his later works, but also in the double standards revealed through his long-term relationship with Ellen Ternan and his treatment of his wife and children. This course will begin with an analysis of Dickens' reputation as an advocate of social reform and then investigate the interaction of the themes of 'Great Expectations', 'Our Mutual Friend' and the unfinished gothic tale 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' with his stressful and concealed later private life.

Course aim

An investigation of Dickens' later turbulent private life and its interaction with his novels 'Great Expectations', 'Our Mutual Friend' and 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • This course is for a group of around 15 students studying in a live video-learning platform conference and an online digital learning environment platform from the comfort of your own home.
  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • discuss the essential details of Dickens' private life and their connection with his reputation
  • explain the importance of Dickens as a social reformer
  • assess the influence of Ellen Ternan on the creation of the character of Estella in 'Great Expectations'
  • describe the social problems and human values debated in 'Our Mutual Friend'
  • describe the gothic elements in 'Edwin Drood' and their literary function

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas will be used to provide resources or to support lessons, enable assessment, provide learner feedback and for other activities for individuals away from the course. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:
  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning
  • please read the 3 novels before they are discussed in class -ie 'Great Expectations' before week two, 'Our Mutual Friend' by week 3 and 'Edwin Drood' by week 5

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning
  • themes for the 3 novels will be suggested for you to explore as you read them

What else do I need to know?

  • What you need: You will need an internet connection, speakers, a microphone and a webcam so that you can use our video learning platform, Zoom. If you’d like to understand more Zoom please visit:
  • You will also need access to the internet outside of your sessions. You could do this using a smart phone, tablet, laptop or a desktop computer (at home or through a library etc.).
  • You will need a personal email address to join the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas so that you can receive resources, record your progress and achievement and to work with others and share ideas. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:
  • Nothing else is needed
  • Please buy/borrow the 3 novels to be studied and have them by you for the appropriate lectures. Good quality editions are recommended (such as Penguin or Oxford World Classics (any editions) as these have good notes and introductory essays. They can usually be purchased cheaply on Amazon

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • Pre-course reading is required: resources will be made available to you using the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas:
  • You will have access to course resources and links to wider learning through the WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas:

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information

Download full course information sheet

The Darker Side of Dickens


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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