Ondertexts
Charles Dickens
Search

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens Charles Dickens[2†]

Charles John Huffam Dickens[1†][2†] (born February 7, 1812, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England—died June 9, 1870, Gad’s Hill, near Chatham, Kent) was an English novelist and social critic who created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters[1†][2†]. He is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era[1†][2†]. His many volumes include such works as A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend[1†].

Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity during his lifetime than had any previous author[1†]. Much in his work could appeal to the simple and the sophisticated, to the poor and to the queen, and technological developments as well as the qualities of his work enabled his fame to spread worldwide very quickly[1†]. His long career saw fluctuations in the reception and sales of individual novels, but none of them was negligible or uncharacteristic or disregarded[1†].

Early Years and Education

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England[1†][3†]. He was the second of eight children born to John and Elizabeth Dickens[1†][4†]. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in a payroll office of the navy[1†][4†]. His mother, Elizabeth Barrow, was known for her love of parties, dinners, and family functions[1†][4†].

Dickens’s early years were spent in Portsmouth and later in Chatham (1817–22), an area to which he often reverted in his fiction[1†]. His family moved to London when he was three years old, where he attended school[1†][3†]. However, his education was abruptly halted at the age of nine when his father was incarcerated at Marshalsea’s Debtors Prison[1†][3†][5†].

Despite the financial difficulties his family faced, Dickens had dreams of becoming a gentleman and yearned for an education[1†][4†]. His parents had limited funds set aside for the education of one of their children. They chose to send their daughter, Fanny, who had a talent for music, to an academy[1†][4†]. This decision deeply affected Dickens, as he was not the chosen child to receive formal education[1†][4†].

The defining moment of Dickens’s life occurred when he was 12 years old[1†][6†]. With his father in debtors’ prison, he was withdrawn from school and forced to work in Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, a shoe polish factory[1†][4†][5†][6†]. Here, he worked long hours attaching labels on pots of blacking, earning six shillings a week[1†][4†]. This experience deeply affected the sensitive boy and became fictionalized in two of his better-known novels, ‘David Copperfield’ and 'Great Expectations’[1†][5†]. Though he returned to school at 13, his formal education ended at 15[1†][6†].

Career Development and Achievements

Charles Dickens began his literary career as a journalist[2†]. He edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed readings extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, for education, and for other social reforms[2†].

Dickens’s literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers[2†]. This was a publishing phenomenon—thanks largely to the introduction of the character Sam Weller in the fourth episode—that sparked Pickwick merchandise and spin-offs[2†]. Within a few years, Dickens had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire, and keen observation of character and society[2†].

His novels, most of them published in monthly or weekly installments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication[2†]. Cliffhanger endings in his serial publications kept readers in suspense[2†]. The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback[2†]. For example, when his wife’s chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield seemed to reflect her own disabilities, Dickens improved the character with positive features[2†].

His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognized him as a literary genius[2†]. His novels and short stories are widely read today[2†].

Dickens’s writings led to a reformation of the prison system in the west[2†][7†]. It is through Dickens’s writings that Victorian morals would come to be emulated throughout the world[2†][7†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Charles Dickens began his literary career with the publication of “The Pickwick Papers”, also known as “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club”, which was his first novel[8†][2†][9†]. It was published in monthly installments from March 1836 until November 1837[8†][2†][9†]. This work was a publishing phenomenon that sparked “Pickwick” merchandise and spin-offs[8†][2†].

Following “The Pickwick Papers”, Dickens published “Oliver Twist” from February 1837 to April 1839[8†][2†]. The character Fagin in this novel was named after Bob Fagin, a fellow employee that young Charles Dickens met when he worked at a blacking factory[8†].

In 1838, Dickens published "Nicholas Nickleby"[8†][2†]. The first installment of this novel was published on March 31, 1838, and the last installment was published on October 1, 1839[8†].

“The Old Curiosity Shop” was published in installments in the periodical, “Master Humphrey’s Clock”. The first installment was printed in April of 1840 and the last was printed in February of 1841[8†][2†].

“Barnaby Rudge” was published in installments from February to November of 1841[8†][2†]. This historical novel is set during the Gordon Riots of 1780[8†].

“Martin Chuzzlewit” was first published by Chapman & Hall in installments that began in January of 1843 and ran through July of 1844[8†][2†]. The novel was written after Dickens traveled to America in 1842[8†].

“Dombey and Son” was first published in installments that began in 1846 and ran through 1848[8†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Charles Dickens is generally considered one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era[1†][10†]. His works, which include such classics as “A Christmas Carol”, “David Copperfield”, “Bleak House”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Great Expectations”, and “Our Mutual Friend”, have had a profound impact on English literature[1†][10†].

Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity during his lifetime than had any previous author[1†]. His work appealed to both the simple and the sophisticated, to the poor and to the queen, and his fame spread worldwide very quickly[1†]. His long career saw fluctuations in the reception and sales of individual novels, but none of them was negligible or uncharacteristic or disregarded[1†].

In the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens dominated the literary world like few writers before or since[1†][10†]. His career coincided with the first half of the reign of Queen Victoria, before Charles Darwin and Karl Marx had eroded that century’s liberal consensus[1†][10†]. His exaggerated humor and sentimentality touched a deep chord in the reading public of the day, and his cast of legendary characters is legion[1†][10†].

A social commentator of both private and public evils, he criticized his age for the destructive nature of the new factory system in “Hard Times” (1854), the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham in “Oliver Twist” (1837-1839), the dehumanizing greed exhibited by Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”, and legal corruption in “Bleak House” (1852-1853)[1†][10†]. Not only did Dickens entertain, but also his moral concerns helped shape the public conscience of his own and later times[1†][10†].

Personal Life

Charles Dickens was married to Catherine Hogarth in 1836[11†]. Over the course of their marriage, they had ten children[11†]. However, after twenty years of marriage, Dickens fell in love with Ellen Ternan, an actress many years his junior[11†]. This led to the separation of Dickens and his wife, ending a long series of marital difficulties[11†].

In addition to his human family, the Dickens family also had a pet raven named Grip[11†][12†]. When Grip passed away, Dickens had it stuffed[11†][12†], showing his unique and enduring affection for the bird.

Dickens also had seven siblings[11†][12†]. His experiences with his large family, coupled with his own experiences as a father, undoubtedly influenced his writing and his portrayal of family dynamics.

Conclusion and Legacy

Charles Dickens, one of the most important writers of the 19th Century, left a lasting legacy that extends far beyond literature[13†]. His influence on modern culture is profound, with many of his phrases, characters, and ideas ingrained in it[13†]. Dickens’ work had a profound impact on literature and society during the 19th century[13†]. His realistic portrayals of social issues, engaging storytelling, and critique of societal norms challenged prevailing attitudes and influenced reform movements[13†].

Despite being tired and ailing, Dickens remained inventive and adventurous in his final novels[13†][14†]. His works, such as “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Great Expectations”, continue to be celebrated and studied today[13†][14†]. His exploration of themes of crime, evil, and psychological abnormality, and his obsession with death, added depth to his works[13†][14†].

Dickens’ romantic view of Christmas has permeated throughout the world[13†]. He is often described as “the man who invented Christmas”, not the religious festival, but the wider popular culture phenomenon that surrounds it[13†]. His popular depictions of the festive period became a blueprint for generations to come[13†].

In conclusion, Charles Dickens’ legacy is not just that of a novelist, but of a social critic whose work continues to resonate with readers around the world. His vivid characters, intricate plots, and commentary on social issues have cemented his place as one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era[13†].

Key Information

Charles Dickens is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era[1†][2†]. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognized him as a literary genius[1†][2†]. His novels and short stories continue to be widely read today[1†][2†].

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Charles Dickens: British novelist [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Charles Dickens [website] - link
  3. Celebrating Dickens - Biography of Charles Dickens [website] - link
  4. Charles Dickens Info - The Childhood of Charles Dickens [website] - link
  5. BBC History - Historic Figures - Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) [website] - link
  6. Britannica - Charles Dickens summary [website] - link
  7. The History Ace - Charles Dickens: His 3 Accomplishments That Changed History [website] - link
  8. Charles Dickens Info - List of Books, Novels and Short Stories by Charles Dickens [website] - link
  9. Order of Books - Order of Charles Dickens Books [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Charles Dickens Analysis [website] - link
  11. SparkNotes - Charles Dickens Biography, Works, and Quotes [website] - link
  12. BBC Bitesize - Who was Charles Dickens? [website] - link
  13. BBC News - Charles Dickens: Six things he gave the modern world [website] - link
  14. Britannica - Last years of Charles Dickens [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.