Charles Dickens

nicholas-nicklebyVictorian novelist Charles Dickens was born 7 February 1812 in Landport, Portsea and moved to Norfolk Street, Bloomsbury then to Chatham, Kent. He spent his early years outdoors and reading voraciously. His father’s job as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office afforded him a few years of private education at William Giles’s School, in Chatham. In 1822 the Dickens family moved from Kent to Camden Town, in London. Unfortunately his His Father John Dickens continually lived beyond his means and the Dickens family, apart from Charles, were eventually imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Southwark, London in 1824.Charles himself was boarded with family friend Elizabeth Roylance in Camden Town. whom Dickens later immortalised, “with a few alterations and embellishments”, as “Mrs. Pipchin”, in Dombey and Son. Later, he also lived in the house of an insolvent-court agent who was a good-natured, kind old gentleman, with a quiet old wife”; and he had a very innocent grown-up son; these three were the inspiration for the Garland family in The Old Curiosity Shop. To pay for his board and to help his family, Dickens left school and began working ten-hour days at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, on Hungerford Stairs, near Charing Cross railway station, pasting labels on blacking.The terrible working conditions made a deep impression on Dicken which later influenced his fiction and essays, & formed the foundation of his interest in the reform of socio-economic and labour conditions, the rigors of which he believed were unfairly borne by the poor.

Whilst in Marshalsea, John Dickens’s paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dickens, died and bequeathed him the sum of £450 and Dickens was released from prison. Under the Insolvent Debtors Act, After paying his creditors, he and his family left Marshalsea for the home of Mrs. Roylance. Although Charles attended the Wellington House Academy in North London, his mother did not immediately remove him from the boot-blacking factory. This incident may have been a factor in his dissatisfied attitude towards women.Righteous anger stemming from his own situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived became major themes of his works, and it was this unhappy period in his youth to which he alluded in his favourite, and most autobiographical, novel, David Copperfield.From May 1827 until November 1828 Dickens worked at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore, attorneys, of Holborn Court, Gray’s Inn, as a junior clerk. He then became a freelance reporter. reporting legal proceedings for nearly four years. This experience informed works such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, and especially Bleak House whose vivid portrayal of the machinations and bureaucracy of the legal system did much to enlighten the general public.

LITERARY CAREER

a christmas carolIn 1833 Dickens’s first story, A Dinner at Poplar Walk was published in the London periodical, Monthly Magazine. The following year he becoming a political journalist, reporting on parliamentary debate and travelling across Britain to cover election campaigns for the Morning Chronicle. His journalism, in the form of sketches in periodicals, formed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz, published in 1836. This led to the serialisation of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in March 1836. He continued to contribute to and edit journals throughout his literary career. In 1836 Dickens accepted the job of editor of Bentley’s Miscellany, At the same time, his success as a novelist continued, producing Oliver Twist (1837–39), Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and, finally, Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty as part of the Master Humphrey’s Clock series. On 2 April 1836, he married Catherine Thomson Hogarth the daughter of George Hogarth, editor of the Evening Chronicle. Dickens and his family lived in London for two years. Dickens’s younger brother Frederick and Catherine’s 17-year-old sister Mary also moved in with them. Sadly Mary died in 1837 & became a character in many of his books, and her death is fictionalised as the death of Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. In 1842, Dickens and his wife travelled to the United States and Canada, where he supported the abolition of slavery. Which was the basis of some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens includes in Notes a powerful condemnation of slavery, with “ample proof” of the “atrocities” he found. He also called upon President John Tyler at the White House to abolish it.

In 1851 Dickens moved into Tavistock House where he wrote write Bleak House, Hard Times and Little Dorrit. In 1856 he moved to Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Kent, The area was also the scene of some of the events of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and this literary connection pleased him. In 1857, Dickens hired professional actresses for the play The Frozen Deep, which he and his protégé Wilkie Collins had written.Dickens separated from his wife, Catherine, in 1858. whilst pondering about giving public readings for his own profit, Dickens was approached by Great Ormond Street Hospital to help it survive its first major financial crisis through a charitable appeal. Dickens, whose philanthropy was well-known, was asked to preside by his friend, the hospital’s founder Charles West. In 1858, Dickens spoke at the hospital’s first annual festival dinner at Freemasons’ Hall and later gave a public reading of A Christmas Carol at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church hall. The events raised enough money to enable the hospital to purchase the neighbouring house, No. 48 Great Ormond Street, increasing the bed capacity from 20 to 75.

coveredwinIn the summer of 1858 Dickens undertook his first series of public readings in London, and then began an ambitious tour through the English Provinces , Scotland and Ireland, he read eighty-seven times, on some days giving both a matinée and an evening performance. Major works, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations soon followed and both proved resounding successes. During this time he was also the publisher editor & major contributor to, the journals Household Words and All the Year Round. Dickens also furthered his interest in the paranormal becoming one of the early members of The Ghost Club. Arctic Exploration was also a A recurring theme in Dickens’s writing The heroic friendship between explorers John Franklin and John Richardson gave Dickens the idea for A Tale of Two Cities, The Wreck of the Golden Mary and the play The Frozen Deep. After Franklin died in unexplained circumstances on an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, Dickens wrote a piece defending him in Household Words.

IN 1865, Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst rail crash. The first seven carriages of the train plunged off a cast iron bridge under repair. The only first-class carriage to remain on the track was the one in which Dickens was travelling. Dickens tried to help the wounded and the dying before rescuers arrived. Dickens later used this experience as material for his short ghost story The Signal-Man in which the central character has a premonition of his own death in a rail crash AND IS based around several previous rail accidents, such as the Clayton Tunnel rail crash of 1861. Dickens never really recovered from the trauma of the Staplehurst crash, and his normally prolific writing shrank to completing Our Mutual Friend and starting the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Much of his time was taken up with public readings from his best-loved novels. Dickens was fascinated by the theatre as an escape from the world.

In 1867 Dickens sailed from Liverpool for his second American reading tour and met such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his American publisher James Thomas Fields. He maintained a hectic schedule giving readings in both Boston and New York, which took it’s toll on his health. His final appearance was at a banquet the American Press held in his honour at Delmonico’s on 18 April and boarded his ship to return to Britain shortly after. Between 1868 and 1869, Dickens gave a series of “farewell readings” in England, Scotland, and Ireland, until he collapsed on 22 April 1869, at Preston in Lancashire showing symptoms of a mild stroke. further provincial readings were cancelled, he began work on his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In an opium den in Shadwell, he witnessed an elderly pusher known as “Opium Sal”,who subsequently featured in his mystery novel. Dickens arranged, for a final series of twelve performances between January and March 1870. Although in grave health by this time, he read A Christmas Carol and The Trial from Pickwick. On 2 May, he made his last public appearance at a Royal Academy Banquet in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, paying a special tribute to his friend, illustrator Daniel Maclise.

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home, after a full day’s work on Edwin Drood. The next day, on 9 June, and five years to the day after the Staplehurst rail crash 9 June 1865, he died at Gad’s Hill Place, never having regained consciousness. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral “in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” he was laid to rest in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: “To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England’s most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world. five days after Dickens’s interment in the Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley delivered a memorial eulegy, lauding “the genial and loving humorist whom we now mourn”, for showing by his own example “that even in dealing with the darkest scenes and the most degraded characters, genius could still be clean, and mirth could be innocent.” Dickens’s will stipulated that no memorial be erected to honour him. The only life-size bronze statue of Dickens, cast in 1891 by Francis Edwin Elwell, is located in Clark Park in the Spruce Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. The couch on which he died is preserved at the Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth.

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