G. K. Chesterton described Charles Dickens as a man who possessed the qualities of a young boy with no boundaries—mischievous and irresponsible, yet passionately alive and relentlessly hopeful. Indeed, this prolific (he wrote novels, novellas, plays, short stories, fiction, and nonfiction) and popular (he was the most requested after-dinner speaker of his time) nineteenth-century author transformed his own life into vibrant, imaginative fiction; he wrote about everything he saw, and because his experiences led him from the depths of the poorhouse to the heights of popularity, his writing established universal appeal. By championing social causes in his works, creating vivid, unforgettable characters, and caring for his audience as much as he did for his pen, Dickens established himself as the immortal author of Victorian England.
- Dickens’ father would make young Charles stand upon a tall stool, sing songs, and create stories for the entertainment of other clerks in the office.
- Dickens admitted that David Copperfield was his favorite work. It was also his most autobiographical.
- In Boston, 4,000 people gathered at the dock to await the ship that carried chapter 71 of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. When the ship arrived, they asked the captain about a beloved character from the novel: “Is Nell dead?” When the affirmative response came back, a collective groan rose up from the massive crowd.
- At the age of ten, Dickens was forced to work at a factory to pay off his father’s debts. Although Dickens himself spoke of this traumatizing experience only twice in his life, critics and readers agree that the two years he spent there forged much of the material for his later novels.
- Edgar Allan Poe is said to be the only person who was ever able to predict the conclusion of the complex plots in Dickens’ novels.
Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: The most popular novelist of his time, Dickens created a fictional world that reflects the social and technological changes of the Victorian era.
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born at Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812, the second of eight children. His father, John Dickens, a clerk in the Naval Pay Office, was always hard-pressed to support his family. Because his father’s work made it necessary for him to travel, Dickens spent his youth in several different places, including London and Chatham. When he was only twelve years old, his father’s financial difficulty made it necessary for the young Dickens to work in a shoeblacking warehouse while his father was placed in a debtor’s prison at Marshalsea—an event that was to have a powerful influence on Dickens throughout his life. Oliver Twist’s experience in the workhouse is one of the best-known results of what Dickens considered to be an act of desertion by his parents.
After his father was released from prison, Dickens was sent to school at an academy in London, where he was a good student. When he was fifteen, he worked as a solicitor’s clerk in law offices and two years later became a shorthand reporter of parliamentary proceedings and a free-lance reporter in the courts. In 1829, he fell in love with Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker, but broke with her in 1833. At age twenty-one, he began publishing his Sketches by Boz and joined the Morning Chronicle as a reporter. His first collection of Sketches by Boz appeared in 1836, the same year he began a series of sketches titled Pickwick Papers (1836-1837). Also in 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of a journalist. As Pickwick Papers became a striking popular success in serial publication, the Dickens phenomenon began, and Dickens was on his way to becoming the most powerful and widely read author in nineteenth century England.
With Dickens’ sudden fame came offers of more literary work. He began editing a new monthly magazine for which he contracted to write another serial story, which he called Oliver Twist (1837-1839) and which began to appear while Pickwick Papers was still running. Thus, Dickens started the breakneck speed of writing which was to characterize the energy of his work throughout his life. While Oliver Twist was still running in serial form, Dickens also began publishing Nicholas Nickleby, another great success, first in serial form (1838) and then as a book (1839). Immediately thereafter, he began the serialization of The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841) in a weekly publication, followed soon after by Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ’80 (1841).
Dickens paused from his writing between 1836 and 1841 to travel in the United States, the result of which was American Notes (1842) and, more important, the serialization of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844), outraging many American readers with its caricature of life in the United States. During the Christmas season of 1843, Dickens achieved one of his most memorable successes with A Christmas Carol, which gave the world the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. The poor circulation of Martin Chuzzlewit was cause enough for Dickens to cease his writing once again for an extended visit to the Continent. Yet the poor reception of A Christmas Carol was not enough to prevent Dickens from publishing two more Christmas stories—The Chimes (1845) and A Cricket on the Hearth (1845).
Returning from Italy in 1845, Dickens began editing a new daily newspaper, The Daily News, but resigned from that job after only three weeks. He began instead the serialization of Dombey and Son (1846-1848), only to begin the serialization of David Copperfield (1849-1850) the following year. During this time, Dickens began working with amateur theatricals as an actor and a director, mostly to benefit literature and the arts. He then began editing the periodical Household Words and writing what many call his most ambitious work, Bleak House, in 1852, which ran for a year and a half.
In 1854, Hard Times was published serially in order to boost the failing circulation of Household Words, and soon thereafter, Dickens began serialization of Little Dorrit (1855-1857). At this time, Dickens purchased a home at Gad’s Hill, on the road between London and Dover, but his home life was not to be that of country tranquillity. In 1858,...
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Dickens is generally considered to be the preeminent novelist of Victorian England. His novels include Oliver Twist (1838), A Christmas Carol (1843), Bleak House (1852-1853), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859). His novel Oliver Twist, about an orphaned boy who runs away from a workhouse and falls under the influence of an unscupulous Jewish thief named Fagin, was the subject of a censorship effort in New York in 1949. The case of Rosenberg v. Board of Education of the City of New York involved a complaint made in the New York courts against the reading and study of Oliver Twist—as well as William Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice—in New York City secondary schools. Charging that both works contained offensive portrayals of Jews, the complainants urged the court that the works would prompt hatred of Jews as individuals and as a race. However, the court determined that because no school officials or instructors had selected the works in order to promote anti- Semitism their censorship would be inappropriate.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Born into a large, lower-middle-class family whose fortunes were perennially unsettled, Charles Dickens grew up amid the scenes of his novels, in London and various provincial towns in southeastern England. Two traumatic events of his youth, his father’s imprisonment for debt and his own humiliating apprenticeship at a shoe-blacking factory, gave Dickens a lifelong sympathy for the poor and a fear of poverty. When the family finances improved, Dickens went to school and eventually became a reporter of court proceedings and parliamentary debates. His superior reporting soon won for him a job with the Morning Chronicle. A collection of his journalistic pieces, Sketches by Boz, soon gained favorable attention, and...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, on Portsea Island, England, Charles John Huffam Dickens was the son of John Dickens, a Naval Pay Office employee, and Elizabeth Barrow, the daughter of the Naval Conductor of Moneys. John Dickens’s largely unsuccessful struggle to gain middle-class respectability was hampered not only by his parents’ career in domestic service but also by the disgrace of his father-in-law, who left the country to avoid the consequences of a petty embezzlement. John Dickens’s seaport life left a lasting impression on his son, to be recorded partly in Rogue Riderhood’s river activities in Our Mutual Friend and partly in metaphor, as in Dombey and Son, where the running of the river...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, the second of eight children of John Dickens and Elizabeth Barrow Dickens. Because his father’s job as clerk in the Naval Pay Office paid very little and made it necessary for him to travel, Dickens spent a penurious youth in many different places. At the age of twelve, he faced the traumatic experience of being put to work in a shoeblack warehouse while his father was imprisoned for debt. Oliver Twist’s hard young life is the best-known fictional result of what Dickens considered to be an act of desertion by his parents.
After his father was released from prison, Dickens went to school at a London academy. At the age of fifteen, he worked as a solicitor’s...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812, the second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens. Following his father’s work as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, the family moved to the port town of Chatham in 1817, where for a time Dickens enjoyed an idyllic middle-class childhood—fresh country air, decent schooling, and books to read in the attic on sunny afternoons.
It was a short idyll. By 1822, improvident John Dickens’s fortunes were waning. Recalled to London by his office, he placed his wife and six children in a cheap and smelly little house in the ugly new suburb of...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Charles Dickens did not create novels: He created a world. Since his death in 1870, a semantic slippage has taken place, whereby he has become identified with the Victorian age and with Englishness; this is not altogether inappropriate. His fictions have frustrated and inspired writers as different as Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, and Graham Greene, to name but a few; they have also profoundly influenced early filmmakers and theorists such as D. W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.
Dickens was a well of creativity. Through his erratic and eccentric fiction, he probed some of the mysteries of the human heart and human society; he allows readers to experience the world over again through the eyes of his child-narrators. As a...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Charles Dickens was born at Landport, near Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812, the son of a minor government clerk. An unfortunate turn in the family’s financial status occurred shortly after the family moved to London when Charles was ten; as a result, Charles went to work in Warren’s blacking warehouse. Critics point to this event above all others for its traumatic effect on the emotional and creative life of the novelist. It has been said that Dickens experienced a “deep sense of abandonment” when his parents complacently relegated him to the sordid drudgery of work in the warehouse and that this is reflected in his work. At or near the center of so many of his novels, one finds a suffering, neglected child. The...
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Biography (Novels for Students)
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England, on February 7,1812. His family moved to London before he was two, but his father had trouble making enough money to feed his large family. In 1824 Dickens' father was sent to debtor's prison, along with most of his family. Charles, who was twelve years of age, did not have to go to prison because he was already working at Warren's Blacking Factory. In later life he remembered the factory bitterly and would only talk about it with a few close friends.
The family was released from debtor's prison a few months later, thanks to an inheritance that Dickens' father, John, received when his mother died. His mother wanted Charles to continue on at the factory, but his father made provisions for him to attend school. Dickens attended school until he was fifteen, and then he worked as a clerk in a lawyer's office, studying Latin at night.
Dickens became a freelance reporter at Doctors' Commons Courts in 1829. In 1834 he started publishing sketches of London life using the pseudonym "Boz." In 1836 these short pieces were collected in a book called Sketches by Boz. Soon after the publication of these sketches, William Hall, of the publishing firm Chapman and Hall, approached him to write humorous text to accompany a series of plates by the illustrator Robert Seymour. Immediately, Dickens conceived of Mr. Pickwick. When Seymour committed suicide, Dickens went on to turn his ideas into The Pickwick Papers. That was the start of his career as a novelist.
By 1843 he had completed four books and was in the middle of the next, Martin Chuzzlewit, when he took time out in October and November to write A Christmas Carol. He continued to write novels, most of them being published in serial form before being bound as novels.
The list of Dickens' books are familiar to any casual reader: David Copperpeld, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations, to name just a few. Dickens also did charitable work, managed a theater company, and edited magazines. When he died in 1870, he was buried at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, an honor reserved for England's most notable literary figures.