In the comments to Dan Green's post on "Context and Tradition," Christopher argues that "I agree that awareness of a writer's context and tradition can be an aid to understanding, but I think it depends on the individual writer what that 'tradition' is." When Dan presses him, Christopher explains further:
I'm thinking back to my youth. The first time I read THE WASTE LAND, I didn't "get" anything out of it. I didn't know what the heck this guy was on about. The reason is, I first read it before I'd read any of the works he alludes to in the poem. By contrast, Dickens is a writer with enormous appeal for young readers. Most people fall in love with Dickens at a very young age. That simply couldn't happen if Dickens approached the writing process the same way Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot or Robert Creeley did. Therefore I'd reject your claim that Dickens "is as overt an allusion to this tradition as you will find." It's not, because young readers often fall in love with his work without any awareness of that tradition whatsoever.
I don't think anyone would argue with Christopher's generalization (up to a point: I seem to recall young readers from my high school having a terribly hard time with Dickens) about which authors are easier to read with little-to-no knowledge of the canonical Western tradition. From a strictly empirical POV, I imagine that a nationwide survey of Average Readers would indeed confirm that Bleak House is far more accessible than The Waste Land. But this isn't a function of Dickens as an individual writer; it's a function of genre and intended audience. Pound, Eliot, and Creeley were poets who neither wrote for nor expected a mass audience of Average Readers; Dickens was a novelist who very much depended on a mass audience of Average Readers in order to stay financially afloat. (Of course, nineteenth-century Average Reader was different in a few respects; witness the habit of authors engaging in long untranslated bouts of French.) It's a welcome but unintended side effect that all of the significant first- and second-rank Victorian novelists, whether Dickens or Trollope, still make perfectly good sense today, whether or not you have a strong grasp of their literary antecedents and contemporaries.*
But this is not the same thing as saying that nothing is lost without knowing the literary context. Because the novels are still so accessible, many modern readers don't see the missing context, as it were. Twenty-first century readers find it easy to blow right past the somewhat idiosyncratic Christianity in Jane Eyre on their way to Jane's romance with Rochester, despite the fact that the novel has Biblical quotations up the wazoo and expects its audience to understand why idolatry might be something of an issue. From a more strictly literary POV, Dickens' Barnaby Rudge, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities are all eminently readable in isolation--well, strictly speaking, perhaps not Barnaby Rudge--but they start looking a lot different to a reader acquainted with The Heart of Midlothian, Jane Eyre, and Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution, respectively. (Pretty much the entire nineteenth-century novel tradition in and out of England starts looking very different to anyone who reads Sir Walter Scott's major novels.) In addition, we have often "lost" the author's literary context, in the sense that nineteenth-century novelists were omnivores, reading, revising, and parodying genres or authors well outside even Highly Educated Reader's ken. Thackeray pokes fun at Newgate novels and anti-Catholic fiction, Eliot turns the Jewish conversion narrative upside down, and so forth.
*--The religious novels I write about, by contrast, may make sense (at least, up to a point), but even Highly-Trained Specialist Reader may not grasp why they exist without knowing something about the context first.