Charles John Hoffman Dickens was born February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth England. He was the son of a naval clerk and his wife and he was the second of eight children not all of whom survived.
Dickens Father changed his place of employment more than once, though he kept the same job. This eventually landed Mr. Dickens in London doing the same work but for less money. Dickens was not very good with money and found himself in debt. Not being able to repay the money he owed he ended up in debtors prison with all of his children except Charles who was 12 at the time.
Debtor’s prison was not a pleasant place. And in many ways it is a good thing that they do not exist today as most of the USA population would end up in one at some point in their lives. When you borrowed money in the 19th century you were to repay in the way it was agreed upon. If you did not you went to debtor’s Prison until a relative or a friend paid the debt. You could not work in the prison and many would spend the rest of their lives there if no one helped them. Your spouse and children went with you and could come and go but you could not.
Charles at 12 did not go with his family. He got a job in a boot blacking factory where he pasted labels on bottles of boot blacking which today we call shoe polish. The boot blacking manufacturer would be used in Dickens’s novel David Copperfield. The debtor’s prison showed up in more than one of Dickens’s books, most notably The Pickwick Papers and Little Dorritt,
Dickens education was interrupted by his father’s time in prison. However when his father was released, do to the help of an inheritance, Charles was able to return to school. This did not last long and at the age of 15 in the year 1827 Charles went back to work to help support his family. This time, however, he found a job as a court reporter and so found his way to a writing a career.
After one year of being hired as a court reporter, Dickens reputation became well known and he found he could do freelance writing for two different papers. Not long after this he began to write short sketches or stories about life in London. He used the pen name Boz for these and they were collected into a book entitled Sketches By Boz in 1836.
After the publication of Sketches By Boz, Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and with her would have 10 children.
Soon after the Sketches By Boz was published Dickens was approached to do a series of stories based on the sports artwork of Robert Seymour, a popular illustrator, This would become Dickens first novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. In those days many novels were done in serialization form, one chapter at a time in an issue of a magazine. When the serialization was completed the novel would then be published as a whole.
With the work of The Pickwick Papers, the name the book is more commonly known as, completed Boz had become the mystery of England. No one knew who he was and when Dickens did reveal himself he became one of the most popular celebrities of his time.
From there Dickens wrote three more immensely popular novels. Oliver Twist, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop. He was not only popular in England but in America as well and in 1842 he traveled to The United States to do a series of lectures. The problem with this situation was that international copyright laws had yet to be established and so, though Dickens was hugely popular in the U.S. he saw very little money from it. During his trip he spoke many times on the issue of Copyrights and this did not make him popular.
On his return Dickens wrote American Notes for General Circulation a mockery of American culture and ideals. This was not received well. He then began a new novel The Life and Adventure of Martin Chuzzlewit. This in part also took a swipe at the U.S. and also was not very popular with readers.
Charles Dickens after two failures began to feel depressed and believed his talent had left him. But it is always darkest before the dawn and late in the year of 1843 a miracle happened. He had given a lecture in Manchester on the needs of the poor, a theme almost always a part of Dickens work. When he left the lecture hall he went for a walk and began to think about ignorance and want and an idea sprang into his head. That idea became A Christmas Carol. The book was written in 6 weeks and was released on December 17, 1843. The book sold out in four days.
After the publication of A Christmas Carol Dickens was back in full form, in the time that followed he would write David Copperfield, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. He also would write what many critics call his best work, Bleak House.
Dickens however did not only write. He did many lecture tours; he made a second trip to America and participated in amateur theatricals. He also became very popular for doing public readings of his most popular books.
On June 9, 1870 with his last work The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished, Dickens died of a stroke in his home. He was 58.
I don’t think much needs to be said about the legacy of Charles Dickens. His works speaks for itself and there is always a movie company or a theater or a television station working on a new script based on one of his books. Dickens like Shakespeare touches an inner part of us. We see life as he does, with his eyes as his prose flow out of his pen like water on to a dried out land. He makes us see people in ways we don’t normally see them. The poor become more worthy of our attention, those well off less so. Dickens was a master of his craft.