Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Shortly thereafter his family moved to Chatham, and Dickens considered his years there as the happiest of his childhood. In 1822, the family moved to London, where his father worked as a clerk in the navy pay office. Dickens’ family was considered middle class, however, his father had a difficult time managing money. His extravagant spending habits brought the family to financial disaster, and in 1824, John Dickens was imprisoned for debt.
Charles was the oldest of the Dickens children, and a result of his father’s imprisonment, he was withdrawn from school and sent to work in a shoe-dye factory. During this period, Dickens lived alone in a lodging house in North London and considered the entire experience the most terrible of his life. Nevertheless, it was this experience that shaped his much of his future writing.
After receiving an inheritance several months later, Dickens’ father was released from prison. Although Dickens’ mother wanted him to stay at work, resulting in bitter resentment towards her, his father allowed him to return to school. His schooling was again interrupted and ultimately ended when Dickens was forced to return to work at age 15. He became a clerk in a law firm, then a shorthand reporter in the courts, and finally a parliamentary and newspaper reporter.
In 1833, Dickens began to contribute short stories and essays to periodicals. He then provided a comic narrative to accompany a series of engravings, which were published as the Pickwick Papers in 1836. Within several months, Dickens became internationally popular. He resigned from his position as a newspaper reporter and became editor of a monthly magazine entitled Bentley’s Miscellany. Also during 1836, Dickens married Catherine Hogarth. Together, they had nine surviving children, before they separated in 1858.
Dickens’ career continued at an intense pace for the next several years. Oliver Twist was serialized in Bentley’s Miscellany beginning in 1837. Then, with Oliver Twist only half completed, Dickens began to publish monthly installments of Nicholas Nickleby in 1838. Because he had so many projects in the works, Dickens was barely able to stay ahead of his monthly deadlines. After the completion of Twist and Nickleby, Dickens produced weekly installments of The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge.
After a short working vacation in the United States in 1841, Dickens continued at his break-neck pace. He began to publish annual Christmas stories, beginning with A Christmas Carol in 1843. Within the community, Dickens actively fought for social issues; such as education reform, sanitary measures, and slum clearance, and he began to directly address social issues in novels such as Dombey and Son (1846-48).
In 1850, Dickens established a weekly journal entitled Household Words to which he contributed the serialized works of Child’s History of England (1851-53), Hard Times (1854), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1860-61). At the same time, Dickens continued to work on his novels, including David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852-53), Little Dorrit (1855-57), and Our Mutual Friend (1864-65). As his career progressed, Dickens became more and more disenchanted. His works had always reflected the pains of the common man, but works such as Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend expressed his progressing anger and disillusionment with society.
In 1858, Dickens began a series of paid readings, which became instantly popular. Through these readings, Dickens was able to combine his love of the stage with an accurate rendition of his writings. In all, Dickens performed more than 400 times. The readings often left him exhausted and ill, but they allowed him to increase his income, receive creative satisfaction, and stay in touch with his audience.
After the breakup of his marriage with Catherine, Dickens moved permanently to his country house called Gad’s Hill, near Chatham in 1860. It was also around this time that Dickens became involved in an affair with a young actress named Ellen Ternan. The affair lasted until Dickens’ death, but it was kept quite secret. Information about the relationship is scanty.
Dickens was required to abandon his reading tours in 1869 after his health began to decline. He retreated to Gad’s Hill and began to work on Edwin Drood, which was never completed. died suddenly at home on June 9, 1870. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
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Author’s last name, first name, middle initial. “Title of biography.” SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw