Charles Dickens was born on February 7th, 1812. Today, he is regarded as one of the greatest writers and certainly one of the best English-language authors. His fictional characters, like Pip in Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in Oliver Twist, are known worldwide.
- As a young boy, he spent a great deal of time outside and reading.
- Dickens’ writing eventually became so wildly popular that he toured America for five months.
- His final novels, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, were published in 1859 and 1861.
- Dickens suffered a stroke after writing full-time on his unfinished novel, Edwin Drood.
- He was buried on June 19th in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.
- Dickens’ first completed novel, Oliver Twist, was published in 1837.
- He wrote Bleak House, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit in the Tavistock House.
- In the 1840s, Dickens lived in Italy and Switzerland and wrote the works Dombey and Sons and David Copperfield.
- Dickens was involved in a deadly railroad crash and took a second tour through the United States.
- A Christmas Carol is now credited with establishing many of the enduring traditions of Christmas in American and Britain.
Famous Books by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations is Dickens’ thirteenth novel and one of his best-known. It is also his second to last completed novel. The book features the protagonist Pip, an orphan who grows up throughout the pages.
A Christmas Carol is another well-loved novel by Charles Dickens. It features the hard-to-love protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge who starts the book as a miserable and miserly man of business. As the book progresses, he is haunted by three ghosts—the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
David Copperfield is a bildungsroman or coming of age novel. It details David Copperfield’s life from the time he was born to his maturity. It’s primary themes are those of growth and transformation.
Oliver Twist is Dickens’ second novel. It was published as a serial from 1837 to 1839 then as a three-part book in 1839. It follows Oliver Twist throughout his life and spends time portraying criminal life in London.
The Pickwick Papers is a series of adventures written by Dickens in the mid-1830s. It was incredibly popular throughout Britain. It resulted in bootleg copies and even made its way into the theatre.
As a young boy, he spent a great deal of time outside and reading. He was the second of eight children born to his father, John Dickens who was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, and his mother, Elizabeth Dickens. When Dickens was still young the family moved to Chatham, Kent. It was here that Dickens lived until he was eleven years old.
The young Dickens was inspired by the works of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding. The Arabian Nights was also one of his favorites. This early experience, triggered by his father’s incarceration in debtors’ prison, inspired him for decades to come. Dickens’ family joined the patriarch in prison when Charles was 12 years old. The prison was used as a primary setting in Little Dorrit.
At a young age, he had to leave school to work. He started at Blacking Warehouse where he pasted labels on pots of boot blacking. Only a few months later, Dickens’ mother died, leaving behind enough money to free John Dickens from prison. This also resulted in Charles returning to school at fifteen. He was able to find work first as an office boy and then later as a freelance reporter and stenographer.
Within five years he had become a contributor for two London newspapers, signing his sketches of London life and society as “Boz.” This work would be compiled into his first collection titled, Sketches by Boz in 1836. This work was followed by The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (published in monthly installments) and Dickens’ marriage to Catherine Hogarth. Their first of ten children was born in 1837. This collection of adventures was incredibly successful and even spawned bootleg copies.
Dickens’ first completed novel, Oliver Twist, was published in 1837. It showed the true passion that Dickens had for the plight of the poor. It was also around this time that he was working as the editor of Bentley’s Miscellany. He would work for the publication for three years until he fell out with the owner. Dickens had become wildly popular, so much so that he toured America for five months. He gave lectures speaking out against slavery and social injustices. This tour had followed a number of less successful novels which included, Nicholas Nickleby, The Olde Curiosity Shop, and Barnaby Ridge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty, all published from 1838 to 1841.
The successful tour of America ended with his return to London and the publication of American Notes. This book criticized the American way of life for being too materialistic and wealth-focused. It was not received well. Nor was his next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit. It was soon after this that his first Christmas novel, A Christmas Carol, was published. This extremely popular work is now credited with establishing many of the enduring traditions of Christmas in American and Britain.
In the 1840s, Dickens lived in Italy and Switzerland and wrote the works Dombey and Sons and David Copperfield. This period is considered to be Dickens’ most mature as his novels became more serious. He also took up the editorship of Daily News which advocated for liberal social reforms.
In the 1850s, Dickens and his family moved to Tavistock House, where he wrote some of his best-known works, including some of his poetry. These included Bleak House, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit. The now very wealthy author hired actors and actresses for a play written by his close friend, Wilkie Collins. One of these women turned out to be Ellen Ternan, whom Dickens would love for the rest of his life. He separated from his wife in 1858 and never saw her again. Due to the fact that only a few letters belonging to the writer survived, it is unclear what kind of relationship, if any, he maintained with Ternan.
In an effort to once more secure his finances, Dickens embarked on another series of tours, the first of which lasted from 1858 to 1859. His final novels, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, were published in 1859 and 1861; both of these novels were great successes. He also continued to contribute to journals.
Later Life and Death
In the years that followed, Dickens was involved in a deadly railroad crash and took a second tour through the United States. He was quite unwell at this time, almost unable to eat solid food. He also embarked on a “Farewell” tour of England, Scotland, and Ireland. In June of 1870, Dickens suffered a stroke after writing full-time on his unfinished novel, Edwin Drood. Dickens never regained consciousness. He was buried on June 19th in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.