Every so often, I come back to Charles Dickens (1812-1870). His tombstone proclaims him “England’s Most Popular Author.” He wrote about the frustrations every person endures throughout life, and the struggle of choices we face every day, making us who we are more than we know.
I appreciate his caricatures of people at their most ridiculously hypocritical. Upon the background of well-plotted stories, he drew sharp silhouettes of the cheats, sycophants, and liars of society, hiding behind practiced smiles or haughty tones, and proudly sporting their titles of education, election or religion (the value of which is questionable given the widespread reliance upon whom-one-knows over what-one-can-accomplish). We recognize these same people, wearing modern clothing, in our own lives; we are bound by regard for our own well-being to treat the same with civility if not respect. To tell them our true opinions could spell ruin. That Dickens is struck by the same contradictions I see today and can make me laugh is tremendous stress relief.
Dickens created his most vivid characters with this heightened comic appeal. For that, his literature is not considered top notch. He is the subject of few if any university classes even though the eminent BBC and various Hollywood producers have taken on production of his better known novels. Why?
He was a popular writer. There is a big difference between what is taught as literature and the kind of writing that has popular appeal and sells well enough for writers to actually live off their earnings.
Oddly, Dickens was not (I will forever contend) a genre writer. Today, a few dozen genre writers are virtually the only ones who can earn enough from their pursuits not to need another job to live. Dickens was a popular writer, but not formulaic like the genre writer. His plots are unpredictable to the reader and even to himself as he wrote them.
Dickens’s novels and characterizations hold my attention and delight me as most literary magazine stories I read do not. Yes, I have to make the leap backwards to another time and society, just as I help and encourage my readers to make the leap to Arabia in Under a Crescent Moon. I have tried, like Dickens, to depict characters readers will recognize from their own lives. No matter when and where, societies are mostly the same.
*Julia Simpson-Urrutia is a professional writer, editor and college writing professor. She is the author of Under a Crescent Moon: Stories of Arabia available on Amazon.com.
 He rewrote the ending to Great Expectations after his first ending disappointed readers of the magazine installments. George Bernard Shaw thought the rewritten ending was “Psychologically wrong,” but “artistically more congruous.” What Shaw meant by the last comment was “more pleasing,” i.e., more to the popular taste.