Dickens is probably the best-known and, to many people, the greatest English novelist of the 19th century. A moralist, satirist, and social reformer, Dickens crafted complex plots and striking characters that capture the panorama of English society.
Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, the son of John and Elizabeth Dickens. John Dickens was a clerk in the Naval Pay Office. He had a poor head for finances, and in 1824 found himself imprisoned for debt. His wife and children, with the exception of Charles, who was put to work at Warren’s Blacking Factory, joined him in the Marshalsea Prison.
In 1849 he showed a short account of his early years to his close friend John Forster, revealing a story he never told his own family: the shame-inducing months he spent, while his father was in a debtor’s prison, as a 12-year-old “laboring hind” in a factory that bottled shoe-blacking.
In 1829 he became a free-lance reporter at Doctor’s Commons Courts, and in 1830 he met and fell in love with Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker. By 1832 he had become a very successful shorthand reporter of Parliamentary debates in the House of Commons, and began work as a reporter for a newspaper.
Later he was reporter to the Mirror of Parliament and then to the Morning Chronicle. Several of his earliest letters are concerned with his exploits as a reporter, and allude to the experiences he had, travelling fifteen miles an hour and being upset in almost every description of known vehicle in various parts of Britain between 1831 and 1836. The family was now living in Bentwick Street, Manchester Square, but John Dickens was still no infrequent inmate of the sponging-houses. With all the accessories of these places of entertainment his son had grown to be excessively familiar. Writing about 1832 to his school friend Tom Mitton, Dickens tells him that his father has been arrested at the suit of a wine firm, and begs him go over to Cursitor Street and see what can be done. On another occasion of a paternal disappearance he observes: “I own that his absence does not give me any great uneasiness, knowing how apt he is to get out of the way when anything goes wrong.” In yet another letter he asks for a loan of four shillings. Actually, we went back and forth about what would be best to discuss on the topic of the works of charles dickens.
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His novels, most published in serial form, attracted a huge following making him one of the first international literary celebrities. His difficult early life led him to crusade for social justice, through his fiction and in life.
When the sketch he’d written, titled “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” appeared in print, Dickens was overjoyed. The sketch appeared with no byline, but soon he began publishing items with the pen name “Boz.”
The witty and insightful articles Dickens wrote became popular, and he was given the chance to collect them in a book. Sketches By Boz first appeared in early 1836, when Dickens had just turned 24. Buoyed by the success of his first book, he married Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of a newspaper editor. And he settled into a new life as a family man and an author.
Dickens would marry Catherine Hogarth in 1836 (they’d eventually have ten children), and followed up The Pickwick Papers with Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. The following two decdes would see the serialized publication of such other novels as David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. He’d also tour through Canada and America in 1852 (and create a bit of buzz upon publishing his American Notes, commenting a bit unfavorably on certain American habits such as tobacco chewing).
The 1850s were a sad and dark time for Dickens. In 1851, within a two-week period, Dickens’s father and one of his daughters died. In 1858, a year after he fell in love with an actress, he separated from his wife.
Partly in response to the deaths, Dickens’s next series of works were called his “dark” novels, though they rank among the greatest triumphs of the art of fiction. In Bleak House (1852-1853), perhaps the most complicated plot of any English novel, the narrative served to create a sense of the interrelationship of all segments of English society. In Hard Times (1854), Dickens describes an English industrial town during the height of economic expansion, and details an up-close view of the limitations of both employers and reformers.
Little Dorrit (1855-1857) may be regarded as Dickens’s greatest novel. In it he portrays the conditions of England as he saw it, and the conflict between the world’s harshness and human values in its most impressive artistic form.
“Bleak House” appeared in 1852-’53; “Hard Times,” 1854; “Little Dorrit,” 1855-’57; “A Tale of Two Cities,” 1859; “Great Expectations,” 1860-’61; “The Uncommercial Traveller,” 1860; “Our Mutual Friend,” 1864-’65, An interval of five years between this and the first number of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” was broken only by contributions to three Christmas numbers of “All the Year Round,” and “A Holiday Romance,” and “George Silverman’s Explanation,” written for an American publisher.
1861 found Dickens embarking upon another series of public readings in London, readings which would continue through the next year. In 1863, he did public readings both in Paris and London, and reconciled with Thackeray just before the latter’s death. Our Mutual Friend was begun in 1864, and appeared monthly until November 1865. Dickens was in poor health, due largely to consistent overwork.
When Charles Dickens died on 9th June 1870, he was the most famous man in the world. That seems difficult to imagine but it is absolutely true.
Charles Dickens is, in fact, perhaps the most prolific inventor of iconic characters in the world of English literature. Oliver Twist, the young hero of Dickens’ novel of the same name, has been immortalized in Oliver! the musical, as well as in numerous movie productions and even television shows and commercials. Pip of Great Expectations, another Dickensian orphan, although somewhat less prevalent in current pop culture, still resonates with modern audiences, especially in times of recession as his misfortunes and expectations are much the same as those of every child and young adult. Again from A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit, a mistreated and underpaid clerk, is such a literary icon that nearly anyone hearing the name knows of his position in life and his optimism in spite of it all.
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