A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DICKENS
By Tim Lambert
Charles Dickens was born in a house in Mile End Terrace on 7 February 1812. (It was given the name Mile End because it was about a mile from the gate in the wall around Portsmouth). At that time Dicken's house was on the edge of Portsmouth, which at that time was dominated by the dockyard. His father John Dickens worked as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. Charles Dickens was one of six children. He had an older sister Frances (Fanny) born in 1810 (she died in 1810), another sister Letitia was born in 1816 (she died in 1893), a sister named Harriet was born in 1819 but she died in childhood. A brother Alfred was born in 1822 (he died in 1860). Dickens had another brother, Augustus who was born in 1827 (he died in 1866).
In 1815 the family moved away to London. In 1817 Dickens and his family moved to Chatham in Kent. However in 1823 they moved to Camden in London.
However John Dickens spent beyond his means and he was sent to Marshalsea debtors prison when Charles was 12. (In those days people in debt could be imprisoned until their debts were paid off). Charles was found a job in a boot blacking factory. Fortunately after a few months a relative of John Dickens died and left him some money so he was able to pay his debts. Charles was eventually able to leave the blacking factory and return to school. However Charles never forgot this horrid experience.
Charles Dickens left school at the age of 15 and he started work in a solicitors office. However when he was 16 Charles became a journalist. Then in 1833 Dickens had his first story published. It was called A Dinner at Poplar Walk and it was published in a periodical called Monthly Magazine. Then in 1836-37 the first novel by Dickens, The Pickwick Papers was published as a serial. Meanwhile Charles Dickens married a woman named Catherine Hogarth in Chelsea on 2 April 1836. They had 10 children but the marriage was not a happy one. Charles and Catherine separated in 1858.
Charles Dickens wrote many more novels including Oliver Twist (1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), The Old Curiosity shop (1841) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1844). He also wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 In 1848 Dickens wrote Dombey and Son.
Meanwhile in 1842 Dickens and his wife Catherine visited the USA. The visit was successful although Dickens annoyed some Americans by attacking slavery. Charles Dickens also visited Italy, Switzerland and France.
When Charles Dickens was growing up and when he was a young man Britain was being transformed by the Industrial Revolution. When Dickens was born in 1812 most of the population lived in small villages and towns were much smaller than they are today. However industry boomed during the first half of the 19th century and towns and cities mushroomed. They grew so fast that by 1851 more than half the population of Britain lived in towns.
Industrialisation created huge problems. The new towns lacked drains or sanitation and new houses were often appalling. Furthermore there was a great increase in the demand for child and female labour. Before the 19th century women did certain jobs and children often helped their parents or did seasonal work like scaring birds away from crops. In the early 19th century women and children worked dreadfully long hours in the new factories and they worked underground in coal mines.
In 1834 a new law stated that anyone without an income must enter a workhouse. Conditions in the new workhouses were deliberately made as harsh as possible to discourage people from seeking help from the state. In workhouses you could not wear your own clothes. You had to wear a uniform. Husbands and wives were separated and children were separated from their parents. Inmates had to do hard, unpleasant work such as breaking stones or pulling apart old rope. There were also many strict rules. The stories by Charles Dickens reflect the social and economic problems of his era.
Dickens himself was passionately interested in reform. In 1850 he started a weekly magazine called Household Words to promote reform. It ceased publication in 1859 but it was replaced by another magazine called All The Year Round.
Meanwhile in 1853 Dickens wrote a child's history of England. In 1853 Dickens wrote Bleak House. In 1854 Hard Times was published. It was followed by Little Dorrit in 1857. In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote a Tale of Two Cities in 1859 and Great Expectations. He wrote Our Mutual Friend in 1865. In 1866 Dickens wrote a famous ghost story called The Signal Man. Then in 1866-67 Dickens visited the USA again. Charles Dickens died on 9 June 1870. He was 58 when he died. At the time of his death Dickens was working on a book called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Charles Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Charles Dickens Museum
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