Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles John Huffam Dickens (February 7, 1812 - June 9, 1870), pen-name "Boz", was an English novelist of the Victorian era. The popularity of his books during his lifetime and to the present is demonstrated by the fact that none of his novels has ever gone out of print.


Charles was born in Portsmouth, England, to John Dickens, a naval pay clerk, and his wife Elizabeth Barrow. When Charles was five, the family moved to Chatham, Kent. When he was ten, the family relocated to Camden Town in London.
His early years were an idyllic time for him. He described himself then as a “very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of-boy”. He spent his time in the out-doors, reading voraciously with a particular fondness for the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding. He talked in later life of his extremely strong memories of childhood and his continuing photographic memory of people and events help bring his fiction to life.

His family was moderately well off and he received some education at a private school but all that changed when his father, after spending too much money entertaining and retaining his social position, was imprisoned for debt. At the age of twelve Charles was deemed old enough to work and began working for 10 hours a day in Warren’s boot-blacking factory located near the present Charing Cross railway station. He spent his time pasting labels on the jars of thick polish and earned six shillings a week. With this money he had to pay for his lodging and help support his family who were incarcerated in the nearby Marshalsea debtors' prison.

In May 1827 Dickens began work as a law clerk, a junior office position with potential to become a lawyer. He did not like the law as a profession and after a short time as a court stenographer he became a journalist, reporting parliamentary debate and travelling Britain by stagecoach to cover election campaigns. His journalism informed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz and he continued to contribute to and edit journals for much of his life. In his early twenties he made a name for himself with his first novel, The Pickwick Papers.

On April 2, 1836 Charles married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he was to have ten children. In 1842 they traveled together to the United States; the trip is described in the short travelogue American Notes and is also the basis of some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit.

Later life

Dickens separated from his wife in 1858. In Victorian times divorce was almost unthinkable particularly for someone as famous as Charles Dickens and he continued to maintain her in a house for the next twenty years until she died. Although they were initially happy together, Catherine did not seem to share quite the same boundless energy for life which Dickens had. Her job of looking after their ten children and the pressure of living with and keeping house for a world famous novelist certainly did not help. Catherine's sister Georgina moved in to help her but there were rumours that Charles was romantically linked to his sister-in-law. An indication of his marital dissatisfaction was when in 1855 he went to meet his first love Maria Beadnell. Maria was by this time married as well but she seems to have fallen short of Dickens' romantic memory of her.

Dickens managed to avoid an appearance at the inquiry into the crash, as it would have become known that he was travelling that day with Ellen Ternan and her mother, which could have caused a scandal. Ellen, an actress, had been Dickens' companion since the break-up of his marriage and as he had met her in 1857 she was most likely the ultimate reason for that break-up. She continued to be his companion, and probably mistress, until his death.

Exactly five years to the day after the Staplehurst crash, on June 9, 1870, he died. He was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads: "He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world."

In the 1980s the historic Eastgate House in Rochester, Kent was converted into a Charles Dickens museum, and an annual Dickens Festival is held in the city. The house in Portsmouth in which Dickens was born has also been made into a museum.


Dickens' writing style is florid and poetic, with a strong comic touch. His satires of British aristocratic snobbery — he calls one character the "Noble Refrigerator" — are wickedly funny. Comparing orphans to stocks and shares, people to tug boats or dinner party guests to furniture are just some of Dickens' flights of fancy which sum up situations better than any simple description could.

"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
"Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail." —"A Christmas Carol"
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The word boredom first appeared in print in Bleak House.
Since their publishing, not one single Dickens novel has gone out of print in England.


Major novels
The Pickwick Papers (1836)
Oliver Twist (1837-1839)
Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839)
The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841)
Barnaby Rudge (1841)
The Christmas Books:
A Christmas Carol (1843)
The Chimes (1844)
The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
The Battle for Life (1846)
Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844)
Dombey and Son (1846-1848)
David Copperfield (1849-1850)
Bleak House (1852-1853)
Hard Times (1854)
Little Dorrit (1855-1857)
A Tale of Two Cities (July 11, 1859)
Great Expectations (1860-1861)
Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished) (1870)

Selected other books

Sketches by Boz (1836)
American Notes (1842)
A Child's History of England (1851-1853)

Short stories

"A Christmas Tree"
"A Message From The Sea"
"Doctor Marigold"
"George Silverman's Explanation"
"Going Into Society"
"Holiday Romance"
"Hunted Down"
"Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy"
"Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings"
"Mugby Junction"
"Perils of Certain English Prisoners"
"Somebody's Luggage"
"Sunday Under Three Heads"
"The Child's Story"
"The Haunted House"
"The Haunted Man And The Ghost's Bargain"
"The Holly-Tree"
"The Lamplighter"
"The Seven Poor Travellers"
"The Trial For Murder"
"Tom Tiddler's Ground"
"What Christmas Is As We Grow Older"
"Wreck Of The Golden Mary"