Charles Dickens

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At a Glance

Charles Dickens was described by G. K. Chesterton 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • Dickens’s father would make young Charles stand on 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, four thousand people gathered at the dock to await the ship that carried chapter seventy-one of Dickens’s 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’s novels.

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(History of the World: 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.

Early Life

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...

(The entire section is 6,665 words.)