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Charles Dickens - Biography & Selected Products

Selected products from Charles Dickens.

       

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is reckoned by many readers and literary critics to be the major English novelist of the Victorian Age. He is remembered today as the author of a series of weighty novels which have been translated into an unlimited number of languages and promoted to the rank of World Classics. The latter include, but are not limited to, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, Hard Times, Great Expectations and The Old Curiosity Shop.


Birth and Childhood’s Hardships

By and large, Charles Dickens’s life story is one of somebody who is born and raised in dire straits to become one of the greatest men who have marked human history and thought. It is a perfect example of how the plight of the deprived and the destitute could transform into a precious incentive that pushes them to challenge their circumstances and to unexpectedly excel and shine.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on February 7th, 1812. His father John Dickens worked as a simple accounting clerk at the Naval Pay Office and the family’s pecuniary situation was almost always uneven. When Charles was only two years, the family had to move to London, then later to Chatham. For financial reasons, Charles did not have adequate education. He rather had to leave school at a very young age to work at a polishing and blacking factory. To add insult to injury, Charles’s father was imprisoned in 1824 after failing to pay a 40-pound debt.

Charles’s experience at the factory played a tremendous role in building the novelist’s personality and in deepening his concerns about working children and about the working class in general. Dickens’s precocious maturity and the serious responsibilities that he had as a little child left a clear impression on many of his young characters, such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Pip in Great Expectations. The hardships that Charles Dickens personally went through made him much interested in defending the poor, in fighting social injustice through exposing its blatant manifestations and in accentuating the importance of having decent work conditions.

Between 1824 and 1827, Dickens’s father, who eventually managed to pay his debts, offered Charles the opportunity to attend a private school in North London, the Wellington House Academy. The experience surely enriched the young man’s knowledge of the rules of writing and rhetoric and whetted his appetite for 18th-century novels and for the picaresque novels that adorned his father’s library. However, during this period, Charles still had to experience another disappointment when his mother refused to spare him the strenuous job at the blacking factory even after the relative improvement of the family’s financial situation. The mother’s decision had a great psychological impact on young Charles and even influenced his vision of gender roles as he thought that the mother should not be the decision-maker in the family.  

Early Publications

Young Charles Dickens occupied numerous jobs and worked hard to learn shorthand. This long and diversified professional experience had a patent impact on his different writings. Indeed, after the blacking factory experience, Dickens first worked as a clerk for attorneys, which allowed him to learn about the legal system and its principles, to become a free-lance reporter for Doctor’s Commons Courts in 1829. Later, he even wrote reports for the House of Commons before starting to work for newspapers, magazines and journals.

It was in 1833 that Dickens started writing short stories for a number of literary magazines and journals such as The Monthly Magazine. A collection of these texts was later pseudonymously published under the title Sketches by Boz. Thanks to Dickens’s humor and exceptional writing style, the latter publication was relatively successful, but not as successful as The Pickwick Papers whose serial publication sold thousands of copies and raised Dickens to considerable fame. In 1836, he started writing short texts to be published with the humorous illustrations of the famous artist Robert Seymour. These first successes encouraged Dickens to carry on publishing other stories in the form of series. Dickens’s next creation was Oliver Twist which was published between 1837 and 1839.

It is noteworthy that most of Dickens’s novels were published in the form of monthly and weekly chapters which, according to critics and biographers, allowed him to evaluate and adjust his characterizations and plots to meet the expectations of his readership. It was also during this period that Dickens started his long career as a literary magazine editor.

Loves and Marriage

Charles Dickens got married on April 2nd, 1836 to Catherine Thomson Hogarth after one year of engagement. They settled at the famous Furnival’s Inn in Holborn, London, before they moved to their home in Bloomsbury. The house was transformed into the Charles Dickens Museum in 1925. Charles and Catherine, who lived there with the first three of their ten children, were joined by Charles’s brother Frederick and Catherine’s sister Mary. The latter was reported to have had a very special place in Charles’s heart. After dying in his own arms in 1837 following a sudden illness, she became a source of inspiration for some of his female characters. After three years of marriage, Dickens’s success and rising income made him leave the house for larger and more luxurious estates.

Catherine Hogarth was not Dickens’s only love, however. Indeed, biographers report that Dickens’s relation with his wife was sandwiched by two other romantic affairs. First, there was Maria Beadnell, a banker’s daughter, with whom Dickens fell in love when he was only eighteen years old. The relationship ended three years later when Maria’s parents apparently intervened. The other love story that Dickens went through started in 1857 and pushed him to divorce Catherine the following year. It was when Dickens was having a group of young actresses for the staging of his play The Frozen Deep that he fell in love with the actress Ellen Ternan who was 27 years younger than him.

Major Achievements

Charles’s first success with The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist only pushed him to devote more time and energy to his writing and editorial activities. After publishing Nicholas Nickleby between 1838 and 1839, he started a new project in 1840 that he entitled Master Humphrey’s Clock. The latter is a collection of stories that share the same frame and have recurring characters. It was among this collection that the two major works The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge were serially published.

After visiting the United States of America in 1842, Dickens developed a rather negative view of the New World which was mainly depicted in his travelogue  American Notes for General Circulation and also in his picaresque novel Martin Chuzzlewit. The latter included very harsh satire of the republic and strongly denounced its institution of slavery. However, the fury that Dickens caused among some American circles was soon quietened with the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843. The book, which is considered by many as the novelist’s finest opus, was celebrated both in England and America. 

Two other Christmas books followed respectively in 1834 and 1845. They are The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. During this period, Dickens also published a new travelogue that he entitled Pictures from Italy following his stay in the Mediterranean country. Another Christmas story entitled The Haunted Man was published in 1848, which was preceded by Dombey and Son (1847) and The Battle of Life (1847) and followed by David Copperfield (1849-1850), Bleak House (1852-1853) and Hard Times (1854).

It was in 1853 that Dickens started organizing public performances in which he presented his literary works. By this time, he also started to collaborate with Wilkie Collins on a number of short stories and plays. Little Dorrit started as a monthly serial in 1855 to be finished in 1857. Later, two of Dickens’s most valuable works were published: A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861). They were both published in the weekly periodical, All the Year Round, which he founded and edited himself.

Apart from his writings, Dickens’s main profitable activity was the public reading of his novels. Along with the money he earned thanks to his successful publications, public readings allowed Dickens to buy his dream house (Gad’s Hill Place, Kent),  to offer financial help to his parents and brothers and to engage in charitable activities. 

Twilight and Death

During the 1860s, Dickens carried on organizing more reading tours. In addition to the many events he had in England, he visited France, the United States, Scotland and Ireland on many an occasion. In 1864, he started his last complete novel, Our Mutual Friend. However, by 1865, his health started to waver. This was mainly because of the physical and intellectual exhaustion to which he subjected himself. Furthermore, Dickens was psychologically traumatized in 1865 following a train crash. He was with his beloved Ellen Ternan on their way back from Paris when their train derailed to cause a big number of casualties. Although Dickens was able to collect his courage and managed to help the wounded and comfort them, the picture of the disaster affected him greatly and could never be erased from his mind.

For health reasons, Dickens cancelled many of his programmed readings between 1868 and 1870. On April 22nd, 1869, he had a stroke. The latter was followed by a second stroke on June 8th, 1870, while he was working on his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood which would remain unfinished. The next day, he passed away. Charles Dickens today rests in The Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.