Charles Dickens: A Snapshot
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth on February 7th, 1812. The son of a minor clerk, Charles was the second of eight children living a life filled with uncertainty and upheaval. These difficulties shaped young Charles's life and were all to play their part, later, in his work.
Charles attended Baptist school at Chatham and Dickens's talents were quickly recognised at a time when his family were being plagued with financial difficulty. A move to London in 1822 only worsened matters.
Taken out of school, the boy was offered work in a factory to ease the situation. He was only twelve years old and the experience was to deeply effect his sensitivities especially when, by 1824, the family situation worsened still further, when John - Charles's father - was arrested for debting.
Charles was to say later that these
early setbacks were to shame and haunt him throughout the remainder
of his days and many of his novels, articles and stories - Oliver
Twist, A Tale Of Two Cities, Nicholas Nickleby and Great Expectations
especially - feature prisons, workhouses and a life of hardship
as central backdrops and, therefore, can be said to go some way to exorcising
the ghosts of the author.
When John was released, Charles had
turned fifteen and took employment in a solicitor's office. This was
to make him a skilled shorthand secretary and, eventually, he became
a political reporter for the staunchly anti-Tory Morning Chronicle
newspaper. It was at this time that his series of Sketches, under the
pseudonym of Boz, began to appear and saw his reputation as a writer
Dickens wrote instalments on a monthly
basis and the unprecedented success of The Posthumous Papers
Of The Pickwick Club sealed his fate as a writer and social commentator.
In 1836 Charles married Catherine Hogarth
and the couple had thirteen children before separating.
Dickens wrote fifteen novels that were
made available in affordable serial publications and, between 1837 and
1841, he produced four of his greatest pieces - Oliver Twist, Nicholas
Nickleby, Barnaby Rudge and The Old Curiosity Shop, all of which
further cemented his reputation. He became held in high esteem by the
nobility, including Queen Victoria (despite his difficulties in portraying
women) and embarked on a tour of America in 1841 with high hopes: hopes
that were soon dimmed by experience, as recorded in American Notes.
The pressure of work was to take its
toll on his health and on his personal life; despite the successes of
A Christmas Carol (1843) Dombey And Son (1844) David Copperfield
(1849) and Bleak House (1851), in 1853 his marriage to Catherine
Away from writing, Dickens devoted his
ever-decreasing energies to many charitable and philanthropic exercises,
such as the preservation of Shakespeare's birthplace and the establishment
of a scheme to help poor, but talented, authors.
In 1860 he moved, alone, to Gad's Hill
Place in Kent and in 1863, Our Mutual Friend began being serialised.
In 1866, Dickens undertook and arduous tour of the USA out of a need
to provide for his family and then, in 1868, he began The Mystery
Of Edwin Drood and undertook a national tour of Britain in which
he undertook the now famous Penny Readings and brought his talent to
the general public on a vast scale.
During this tour, Liverpool's Saint
George's Hall, he noted in his diary, was "without doubt the finest
of places in which to read" and Liverpool and its poor were to
move him deeply. It was also during this tour that his health began
to seriously suffer.
Charles Dickens is, alongside William
Shakespeare, quite probably England's greatest ever writer, social commentator
and essayist. His works reached hundreds of thousands of people who
would, otherwise, have been incapable of reading his work for themselves
and, so, enhanced the lives of many in incomprehensible destitution,
The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, his last novel, was to remain unfinished and is, despite this, nonetheless considered "a classic".
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Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit. - Chris High 2003.
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