Charles Dickens

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be
held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I
record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at
night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”
(Charles Dickens)

As a prolific 19th Century author of short stories, plays, novellas, novels, fiction and
non, during his lifetime Dickens became known the world over for his remarkable
characters, his mastery of prose in the telling of their lives, and his depictions of the social
classes, mores and values of his times. Some considered him the spokesman for the poor, for
he definitely brought much awareness to their plight, the downtrodden and the have-nots.
He had his share of critics like Virginia Woolf and Henry James, but also many admirers, even
into the 21st Century.
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on 7 February 1812, at Landport in Portsea
Island, the second of eight children to John Dickens, a clerk in the Navy Pay Office (1785–
1851) and Elizabeth Dickens (née Barrow; 1789–1863).
When Dickens’ father was transferred to Chatham in Kent County, the family settled
into the genteel surroundings of a larger home with two live-in servants—one being Mary
Weller who was young Charles’ nursemaid. Dickens was a voracious reader of such authors
as Henry Fielding, Daniel Defoe, and Oliver Goldsmith. When he was not attending the school
of William Giles where he was an apt pupil, he and his siblings played games of makebelieve, gave recitations of poetry, sang songs, and created theatrical productions that would
spark a lifelong love of the theatre in Dickens. But household expenses were rising and in
1824, John Dickens was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea Prison. All of the family
went with him except for Charles who, at the age of twelve, was sent off to work at
Warren’s Shoe Blacking Factory to help support the family, pasting labels on boxes. He
lived in a boarding house in Camden Town and walked to work everyday and visited his
father on Sundays. It was one of the pivotal points in Dickens’ education from the
University of Hard Knocks and would stay with him forever. The idyllic days of his
childhood were over and he was rudely introduced to the world of the working poor, where
child labour was rampant and few if any adults spared a kind word for many abandoned or
orphaned children. Many of his future characters like Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and
Philip Pirrip would be based on his own experiences. The appalling working conditions,
long hours and poor pay typical of the time were harsh, but the worst part of the experience
was that when his father was released his mother insisted he continue to work there. While
he felt betrayed by and resented her for many years to come, his father arranged for him to
attend the Wellington House Academy in London as a day pupil from 1824-1827, perhaps
saving him from a life of factory work and setting him on the road to becoming a writer.
In 1827 the Dickens were evicted from their home in Somers Town for unpaid rent dues and
Charles had to leave school. He obtained a job as a clerk in the law firm of Ellis and
Blackmore. He soon learned shorthand and became a court reporter for the Doctors
Commons. He spent much of his spare time reading in the British Museum’s library and
studying acting. In 1830 he met and fell in love with Maria Beadnell, though her father sent

Dora Annie (1850-1851). Francis (Frank) Jeffrey (b. London. then reprinted in standard book formats. Henry Fielding (b. In 1833. A year later they moved into 48 Doughty Street. Thus began a prolific and commercially successful period of Dickens’ life as a writer. other than these. a handful of plays. a collection of stories titled Sketches by Boz was published in 1836. According to Ackroyd. He married Catherine Hogarth. Holborn. daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle on 2 April. Dickens's novels were initially serialised in weekly and monthly magazines. Edward Bulwer Lytton (b.1839). Kate Macready (b. Dickens loved the style of the 18th century picaresque novels which he found in abundance on his father's shelves.1844). is his forte.1837). now a museum. 1836. Also in the same year. Walter Landor (b. Dickens became editor for Bentley’s Miscellany of which Pickwick Papers(1836-1837) was first serialised. He also had some sketches published in the Morning Chronicle which in 1834 he began reporting for and adopted the pseudonym ‘Boz’. Mary (Mamie) (1838-1838). His writing style is marked by a profuse linguistic creativity. 1833-1868 •Editions of Dickens's Novels.1852). a large number of short stories (including a number of Christmas-themed stories). Dickens’ first book. An early reviewer compared him to Hogarth for his keen practical sense of the ludicrous side of life. and for many years later both his parents and some of his siblings turned to him for financial assistance. 1847-1990 •1836 "Dinner at Poplar Walk" •1836 Sketches by Boz text •1836-37 Pickwick Papers •1837-39 Oliver Twist •1838-39 Nicholas Nickleby •1840-41 The Old Curiosity Shop •1841 Barnaby Rudge text •1843 Martin Chuzzlewi • A Christmas Carol •1844 The Chimes text •1845 The Cricket and the Hearth . Alfred Tennyson (b.1849). The couple would have ten children: Charles Culliford Boz (b. a fruitful year for him. though his acclaimed mastery of varieties of class idiom may in fact mirror the conventions of contemporary popular theatre. Sydney Smith (b. At this time Dickens moved out on his own to live as a bachelor at Furnival’s Inn. “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” was published in the Monthly Magazine. at St. 1836. Dickens's First Writings •The Christmas Books •A Comprehensive List of Dickens's Short Fiction. His father was arrested again for debts and Charles bailed him out. and several non-fiction books.her to finishing school in Paris a few years later. his first story of many. flourishing in his gift for caricature.Satire. Charles Dickens published over a dozen major novels. Luke’s in Chelsea.1841).1847). perhaps the most important literary influence on him was derived from the fables of The Arabian Nights. Most of his novels were first serialised in monthly magazines as was a common practice of the time.1845).

but Dickens wrote the biting satire Oliver Twist to attack the same public policies regarding the poor that his own family was forced to endure. Although Dickens. The novel’s main character—the young orphan Oliver—is born in a workhouse and then “raised” in London’s criminal underworld. as he says in the 1841 preface to the third edition of Oliver Twist. Consequently.” two of the most engaging and complex characters in the novel turn out to be the prostitute Nancy and the juvenile pickpocket known as the Artful Dodger. "The Italian Prisoner" text — •1860-61 Great Expectations •1864-65 Our Mutual Friend text — •1869-70 The Mystery of Edwin Drood text Nonfiction Dickens as Editor and Co-Author •American Notes (1842) •Charles Dickens's "Frauds on the Fairies" •Pictures from Italy — •"The Lost Arctic Voyagers" (1854) •The Uncommercial Traveller — •"The Laboratory in the Chest" — A Dickensian Popularization of a lecture by Faraday •"The Chemistry of a Candle" •"The Chemistry of a Pint of Beer" ( •"The Mysteries of the Tea-kettle" •A Bundle of Emigrants' Letters (1850) Oliver Twist It is not surprising that the novel that is probably Charles Dickens’most famous was first met with controversy.•1846 The Battle of Life •1846-48 Dombey and Son •1848 The Haunted Man — •1849-50 David Copperfield •1851-53 Bleak House •1854 Hard Times •1855-57 Little Dorrit •1857 The Frozen Deep — •1857 "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners" •1859 A Tale of Two Cities •1860. Despite these harsh circumstances. the heart of the novel lives within this problematic and sometimes false tension between purity and corruption. sought to show in Oliver “the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance and triumphing at last. . Many Victorian readers believed that the violent and upsetting content of the novel was not appropriate for middle-class readers. Oliver remains an uncorrupted and virtuous child who is a victim of circumstances rather than his own moral failings.

” many of the societal failings it criticizes had already been reformed by the time Dickens first published the novel in serial form from 1855 to 1857. a classic bildungsroman that traces a boy’s struggle to find his place in the world and to master his “undisciplined heart. The following activities will help students dig deeper into Dickens’ motivation for writing such a novel—if not for reform purposes. But David Copperfield is. who calls it “a period of my life. which perhaps explains why there is a helpless or persecuted child at the center of so many of his novels. truly “the hero of [his] own life. In fact. it is David’s ability to use memory to make sense of and integrate all his experiences. 9 June 1870. He was a sympathiser with the poor. Through it Dickens confronts the most painful time in his own life—his experience working at a blacking factory when he was 12. and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them…But.” Charles Dickens (who shared the same initials as David Copperfield—D. He never regained consciousness. . It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy. whether happy or traumatic.C. like many fond parents. on 9 June. in response to his sister-in-law Georgina's request that he lie down. five years to the day after the Staplehurst rail crash. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive. David Copperfield bursts with memorable characters (the ever-hopeful Wilkins Micawber. most significantly. a book about memory. and the oppressed. the suffering. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence. Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day's work on Edwin Drood." His last words were: "On the ground". Kent. Higham." he was laid to rest in the Poets' Cornerof Westminster Abbey. But in David Copperfield. the creepy Uriah Heep) and probes the social injustices of the time. Little Dorrit exposes how detrimental English debtors’ prisons proved to be for the families who were sent to live there indefinitely. and the next day.David Copperfield "Of all my books. David Copperfield is Dickens’ most autobiographical work. near Rochester. aged 58 years. one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world. Most notably. thatmakes him. however. what does the legacy of imprisonment symbolize for Dickens’ own past and for the lives of his characters? Clearly. such prisons had been abolished even before Dickens first began to write the story of “little” Amy Dorrit (who was born and raised in the confines of the famous Marshalsea debtors’ prison). I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. I like this the best. unostentatious. and by his death.) believed that this one experience marked him forever. which follows David’s journey from birth to a successful adult life as an author. which I can never lose the remembrance of. and strictly private manner. Like David. Death On 8 June 1870. And his name is David Copperfield. he died at Gad's Hill Place.—but reversed —C.” Like all of Dickens’ novels. 1867 Told from a first-person point of view. one of the most significant messages of the novel seems to be that money—the key to escaping debtors’ prison—does not magically lead characters to escape their own neuroses. in the end. money seems to have its own imprisoning power.” Little Dorrit Although Little Dorrit is considered one of Charles Dickens’ “social novels."—Charles Dickens.D.

" Pointing to the fresh flowers that adorned the novelist's grave. Stanley assured those present that "the spot would thenceforth be a sacred one with both the New World and the Old. first editions. lauding "the genial and loving humorist whom we now mourn". .On Sunday. Museums and festivals celebrating Dickens's life and works exist in many places with which Dickens was associated. as well as printers' proofs. five days after Dickens was buried in the Abbey. The original manuscripts of many of his novels. such as the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth. 19 June 1870. and mirth could be innocent. not of this island only. Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley delivered a memorial elegy. and illustrations from the collection of Dickens's friend John Forster are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. but of all who speak our English tongue. as that of the representative of literature.Dickens's will stipulated that no memorial be erected in his honour. the house in which he was born. genius could still be clean. for showing by his own example "that even in dealing with the darkest scenes and the most degraded characters.