Charles Dickens

nicholas-nicklebyVictorian novelist Charles Dickens was born 7 February 1812 in Landport, Portsea. He moved to Norfolk Street, Bloomsbury then to Chatham, Kent. He spent his early years outdoors and reading voraciously. He received a 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 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”; who he had a very innocent grown-up son; these inspired the Garland family in The Old Curiosity Shop. 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 Dickens and influenced his writing and kindled his interest in socio-economic reforms and improving labour conditions,

a christmas carolwhilst 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 and Charles attended the Wellington House Academy in North London, although his mother did not immediately remove him from the boot-blacking factory which soured their relationship. Righteous anger stemming from his own situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived, became major themes of his works. This unhappy period in his youth features in his favourite, and most autobiographical, novel, David Copperfield. From 1827 until 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. This experience informed works such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, and Bleak House. In 1833 Dickens’s first story, A Dinner at Poplar Walk was published in the London periodical, Monthly Magazine. In 1834 he becoming a political journalist, reporting on parliamentary debate covering election campaigns for the Morning Chronicle.

DroodHis journalism, in the form of sketches in periodicals, formed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz, published in 1836. his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was also published in March 1836. Dickens became editor of Bentley’s Miscellany and also wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and, Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty as part of the Master Humphrey’s Clock series. In 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 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 and supported the abolition of slavery. In 1851 Dickens moved into Tavistock House where he wrote Bleak House, Hard Times and Little Dorrit.

In 1856 he moved to Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Kent. In 1857, Dickens hired professional actresses for the play The Frozen Deep, which he and his protégé Wilkie Collins had written. Dickens, was very philanthropic and in 1858 he was approached by his friend Charles West, who founded Great Ormond Street Hospital, to help during a major financial crisis.So 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. In 1858 Dickens began a series of public readings in London followed by a tour of England, Scotland and Wales. He then wrote The novelsA Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. He also worked as the the publisher, editor & major contributor to, the journals Household Words and All the Year Round. Dickens also became interested in the paranormal was one of the early members of The Ghost Club. Arctic Exploration also featured 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.

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. This inspired the 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. The Staplehurst crash deeply traumatized Dickens, and his normally prolific writing shrank to completing Our Mutual Friend and starting the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In 1867 Dickens sailed to America and met Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his American publisher James Thomas Fields.

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 stroke. Dickens began work on his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. After, he witnessed an elderly pusher known as “Opium Sal in an Opium Den in Shadwell, who subsequently featured in his mystery novel. 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. Sadly 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, and 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 sympathizer 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 also delivered a memorial eulegy. 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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