Charles Dickens Additional Biography

Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 the publishers Chapman and Hall engaged him to write an accompaniment for a series of sporting sketches. In his own words, Dickens “thought of Mr. Pickwick,” and with this inspired creation won the wide and devoted readership he was not to relinquish throughout his long writing career.

Although he completed fourteen novels and many short pieces, Dickens did not exhaust his great energies in writing. He campaigned actively for social reform; edited journals; traveled widely, frequently, and profitably on public reading tours in England and America; participated in amateur theatricals; and played the Victorian paterfamilias to a large household. However successful Dickens the public man may have seemed, his personal life was often troubled. In 1858, his marriage to Catherine Hogarth, never an entirely compatible union, failed, and he turned to a considerably younger woman, the actress Ellen Ternan, for affection and companionship. In 1870, while working on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which to all appearances would have been the gloomiest of his novels, Dickens suffered a fatal stroke. The one-time apprentice died an eminent Victorian, mourned by the world.

Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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 into the ocean represents the passage of life into immortality. John Dickens’s improvidence and inevitable bankruptcy is reflected in the impecunious but absurdly hopeful Mr. Micawber and, more abstractly, in Dickens’s ambiguous attitude toward wealth, which he viewed as a highly desirable tool but worthless as a gauge of human value, as in Our Mutual Friend, in which money is equated with an excremental dust heap. An inordinate number of Dickens’s deserving characters acquire wealth fortuitously: Oliver Twist, the parish boy, finds his near relatives; Nicholas Nickleby becomes clerk to the generous Cheerybles; and Esther Summerson comes under the protection of the well-to-do Jarndyce.

Childhood associations were incorporated into Dickens’s stories as well. His nurse, Mary Weller, by her own dogmatic adherence, inculcated in him a distaste for Chapel Christianity; his childhood taste for theatricals blossomed into a lifelong fascination. (In fact, in 1832, only illness prevented him from auditioning at Covent Garden.) Perhaps no other circumstance, however, had so profound an effect on Dickens as his father’s incarceration in the Marshalsea (a London prison) for bankruptcy, well chronicled in David Copperfield. John Forster, Dickens’s friend and biographer, records the author’s bitterness at being put to work at Warren’s Blacking Factory. Even worse than the degradation of the job for the young Dickens was the feeling that he had been abandoned. Although his period of employment in the factory could be measured in months, the psychological scars lasted for the rest of Dickens’s life, as witnessed by his novelistic preoccupation with orphans and adopted families: Oliver Twist, Amy Dorrit, Pip, Little Nell—all abandoned in some sense and forced into precocity, some, in effect, reversing roles with their parents or guardians to become their protectors.

At the age of fifteen, Dickens was apprenticed as a law clerk in Doctor’s Commons, certainly the source of his profound dislike for the pettifoggery exhibited in the Jarndyce case in Bleak...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery 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 clerk in law offices and two years later became a freelance reporter for the courts—experiences that he later put to good use in his fiction. At the age of twenty-one, he began publishing “Sketches by Boz” and joined The Morning Chronicle as a newspaper reporter. The year 1836 was important for Dickens, for he published the Boz sketches as a book; married Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of a journalist; and began Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), a serialized work so phenomenally popular that he was on the way to becoming the most widely read author in England.

While Pickwick Papers was still running in serial form, Dickens began Oliver Twist (1837-1839) and shortly thereafter Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839), both popular successes. He seldom took time off, writing novel after novel at an astonishingly prolific rate; his serial fictions ran in London magazines or newspapers almost constantly. The high point of his career was between 1850 and 1860; during that period, he published his most respected novels—David Copperfield (1849-1850), Bleak House, Hard Times (1854), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1860-1861).

When he was not writing novels, Dickens was touring the United States or the Continent, editing various journals and newspapers, working with amateur theatrical groups, and giving public readings from his works. This extremely heavy work load finally took its toll on his health. On June 8, 1870, after working all day, he suffered a stroke at his Gad’s Hill home; he died the next day. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 Camden Town. In late January or early February, 1824, the seminal event of Dickens’s life occurred: He was sent to work sticking labels on bottles of boot polish alongside a group of ragged urchins in Warren’s Blacking Factory, a tottering and rat-infested building next to the Thames River in old central London. Passersby could see him at work in the window. His degradation seemed complete.

To make matters worse, there was the loneliness. Within a month, in February, 1824, John Dickens was arrested for debt. His family joined him in the Marshalsea Prison—all, that is, except twelve-year-old Charles, who was left to survive on his own in London.

Buoyed by an inheritance, Dickens’s father was released after only a few months in prison. Charles’s mother, however, kept her son at the blacking factory—something he never forgot. Only after John Dickens had retired from the office and turned to freelance journalism in March, 1825, was Charles sent back to school. The nightmare had lasted little more than a year, but a year is a long time to a sensitive, brilliant, and ambitious boy; such an experience, in the class-conscious society of Victorian England, was for Dickens a deep source of shame. The adult Dickens told it only once, to his best friend and first biographer John Forster. His wife never knew.

In 1827, Dickens left school for a dull job as a lawyer’s clerk. Two years later, he followed his father into journalism, first as a law reporter, then as the fastest shorthand reporter in the houses of Parliament, moving in 1834 to one of the best newspapers in the country, the Morning Chronicle. Meanwhile, he was rejected in love, dabbled in amateur theatricals, and, in 1833, had his first short story published.

Success came fast. Under the pen name of Boz, Dickens rapidly published a series of London “Street Sketches” over the next two years. These were collected together as his first book, Sketches by Boz (1836). Original, brilliantly illustrated, and intensely observant of the new phenomena of urban life, it captured the public fancy, and Dickens was invited to collaborate on another project with top cartoonist George Cruikshank. Pickwick Papers (1836-1837) followed, in twenty monthly serial parts; its resounding success was assured when Dickens invented Sam Weller, the archetypal streetwise low-life, and teamed him with genial, portly, gentlemanly Mr. Pickwick.

Dickens needed quick success. His craving for middle-class respectability led him rapidly into marriage to kindly and unassuming Catherine Hogarth in 1836,...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 result, Scrooge, Micawber, Pickwick, Fagin, Miss Havisham, and their companions have attained a life beyond the texts that gave them birth.

Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

(The entire section is 990 words.)

Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, consistently lived beyond his...

(The entire section is 755 words.)

Biography

(Novels for Students)

Many scholars have noted that Charles Dickens incorporated autobiographical details in David Copperfield (1850). George H. Ford, in his...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, at Portsea, England, the eldest son of a navy clerk. Although he received little formal...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charles John Huffham Dickens was born in Portsea, on England's southern coast, on February 7, 1812. The Dickens family moved several times...

(The entire section is 346 words.)

Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The most popular Victorian author in Great Britain and the United States, Charles Dickens was both gifted humorist and critic of the social...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsea, on England's southern coast. John Dickens, Charles's father, was a...

(The entire section is 456 words.)

Biography

(Novels for Students)

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsea, England. His father, John Dickens, was a navy clerk. In 1814, John Dickens was...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 361 words.)

Biography

(Novels for Students)

Charles Dickens Published by Gale Cengage

From the time he was twenty-one, Charles Dickens knew he would not be the great actor he had imagined,...

(The entire section is 843 words.)