Charles John Huffam Dickens (February 7, 1812 - June 9, 1870) was an English writer. Many of his stories deal with the injustices he saw in his society. Most of his novels were originally written as serials, that is published chapter by chapter, usually in a magazine. This manner of publishing meant that his novels often had cliff hangers at the end of each chapter, to keep people waiting eagerly for the next installation.
Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire on 7 February 1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. His father, John, worked as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, which allowed Charles to be privately educated at William Giles' School, in Chatham. Unfortunately at the age of nine, Charles’ father; along with the rest of his family were sent to Marshalsea debtor’s prison. Charles was spared custody and was sent to live with a close family friend, Elizabeth Roylance in Camden Town, London. Mrs Roylance was later immortalized as Mrs Pipchin, in Dombey and Son. Charles took a job at Warrens blacking factory in order to aid the plight of his family. In later life he recalled his experiences to John Forster, a biographer and close friend.
"The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary's shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label, and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist."
The time spent at Warrens blacking factory was later fictionalized in his most autobiographical novel 'David Copperfield' and 'Great Expectations'. It was these experiences that cemented his views on the poor treatment of the working classes and the Victorian class system. Dickens used his novels to highlight the horrendous conditions and social injustices of the poor. His humanization of the lower classes was often shocking and much criticized by the upper classes.
The death of John Dickens’ paternal grandmother and her bequest to the family of £450 allowed John to secure their release from prison. Unfortunately, Charles’ mother; Elizabeth, did not send for him and he remained in the service of Warrens blacking factory for some time. Eventually, Charles was able to complete his education at Wellington House Academy.
In May 1827 Charles left the academy and took a position as a junior clerk in the law office of Ellis and Blackmore. His experience gained here allowed him to move on to become a freelance reporter of Doctor’s Commons where he remained for a further four years. In the coming years his reputation as a reporter grew and he became a political journalist, commenting on local and national election campaigns.
Charles married Catherine Thompson Hogarth on 2nd April 1836 and during their marriage he fathered ten children. The marriage, although not short, did not last and the couple separated in 1857. Charles never divorced, however; he continued a relationship with his mistress Ellen Ternan, an actress he hired for his play ‘The Frozen Deep’. He remained with Ellen until his death.
Charles Dickens died at home on June 9th 1870 after suffering from a stroke. At the time of his death his obituary in The Times alleged his last words to have been: “Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.” His epitaph was printed and circulated on the day of his funeral and 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."
Some of his more well known works are:
- The Pickwick Papers (1837)
- The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1839)
- The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1839)
- The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
- Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty (1841)
- The Christmas Books:
- The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)
- Dombey and Son (1848)
- David Copperfield (1850)
- Bleak House (1853)
- Hard Times: For These Times (1854)
- Little Dorrit (1857)
- A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
- Great Expectations (1861)
- Our Mutual Friend (1865)
- "The Signalman" (1866)
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)
- The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices (1890)