|Image Credit: “Charles Dickens, ‘Hard Times’ and Hyperbole” by Gresham College is marked with CC0 1.0.|
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on 7th February 1812 in Landport, Portsea, England. He was the second of eight children (but the first son) born to John and Elizabeth Dickens. After his family moved to London in 1822, his father was incarcerated in Marshalsea debtors’ prison, and young Charles was forced to leave school and work in Warren’s Boot Blacking Factory, in the Strand, to help support his family. This traumatic experience deeply impacted Dickens and later influenced his writing. He rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most celebrated writers Britain has ever produced and is certainly regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.
After his father was released from Marshalsea prison, Dickens worked as an office boy and a court reporter before becoming a journalist and eventually a successful novelist. He published his first novel, “The Pickwick Papers,” in 1836 when he was only 24 years old. He went on to write many more stories, including “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and “Great Expectations,” which are now considered literary classics.
Having no formal education, Dickens was self-taught and drew upon his own experiences to create stories that captivated audiences and explored important social issues. He was a voracious reader known for his keen powers of observation, vivid imagination, and sharp wit, drawing upon his experiences, both good and bad, to create characters and situations in his novels that were both entertaining and socially critical.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a British novelist and social critic. He was born in Portsmouth, England and lived through a childhood of poverty. Despite this, he was able to educate himself and eventually become a successful writer and journalist. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era, and his works continue to be widely read today.
His stories are known for their vivid characters, social commentary, and portrayal of life during the Victorian era. In addition to his writing, Dickens was a passionate campaigner for social justice and was involved in various social and political causes. He was also an accomplished public speaker, giving hundreds of public readings of his works throughout Britain and America.
The works of Dickens enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime; by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are widely read today. The legacy of Charles Dickens continues to this day. His works are considered masterpieces of English literature and have been adapted for film, television, and stage productions. He is also credited with popularising the serialised novel and helping to establish the modern novel as a form of storytelling.
Charles Dickens’ Books, Novellas, Essays etc.
Dickens’ output as a writer was prodigious, as you can see from the following list, together with dates of publication:
- Sketches by Boz (1836): This is a collection of short stories and essays Dickens wrote for various magazines and newspapers. The pieces offer a glimpse into the life and society of early 19th-century London.
- The Pickwick Papers (1837): This is Dickens’ first novel and follows the adventures of Mr Pickwick and a group of friends as they travel around England, encountering a variety of characters and experiences. The story is known for its humour and satire and is considered a classic of English literature.
- Oliver Twist (1838): This novel tells the story of the young orphan Oliver, who is forced to live in a workhouse and then sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. Oliver eventually escapes and makes his way to London, where he meets the Artful Dodger and the criminal Fagin. The book is a critique of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and is one of Dickens’ most famous works.
- Nicholas Nickleby (1839): This novel follows the adventures of Nicholas Nickleby as he tries to support his family after his father’s death. The story is known for portraying the harsh realities of life in 19th century England, including debtors’ prisons, schools for destitute children, and the exploitation of workers.
- The Old Curiosity Shop (1841): This novel tells the story of Little Nell, a young girl who lives with her grandfather in the Old Curiosity Shop. The book is a mixture of tragedy and comedy, underscored by its vivid characters and powerful storytelling.
- Barnaby Rudge (1841): This historical novel is set during the Gordon Riots of 1780. The story is known for its vivid depiction of the riots and exploration of the themes of mob violence and the fragility of social order.
- American Notes (1842): This is a travelogue that Dickens wrote after a visit to the United States in 1842. The book offers a critical commentary on American life and society, including the treatment of Native Americans, slavery, and the prison system.
- Martin Chuzzlewit (1843): This story follows the adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, a young man who travels to America in search of a better life. The novel is known for its portrayal of American life and its criticism of American greed and materialism.
- A Christmas Carol (1843): This novella tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean and miserly old man who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. The ghosts show Scrooge the error of his ways and help him to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. The book features Timothy’ Tiny Tim’ Cratchit, the young, ailing son of Bob Cratchit, Ebenezer Scrooge’s underpaid clerk. Although seen only briefly, Tim is a major character and serves as an important symbol of the consequences of the protagonist’s choices.
- The Chimes (1844): This novella tells the story of Toby Veck, a poor man driven to despair by his poverty and the harsh realities of life. The novella is known for its powerful message of hope and its exploration of the theme of social justice.
- The Cricket on the Hearth (1845): This novella tells the story of John Peerybingle, a carrier, and his family. The novella is a celebration of the festive season and is known for its themes of love, family, and the true meaning of Christmas.
- The Battle of Life (1846): This novella tells the story of two sisters, Grace and Margaret, who are separated by love but brought back together by the Battle of Life. The novella celebrates the power of love and the importance of forgiveness.
- The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (1848): This novella tells the story of the Haunted Man, who is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and offered a deal to erase his memories of sorrow and pain. The story is a meditation on the nature of memory and the importance of facing our past experiences.
- Dombey and Son (1848): This novel tells the story of Paul Dombey, a wealthy merchant, and his son, also named Paul. The story is known for portraying the complex relationships between fathers and sons and exploring the themes of love, loss, and family – a reflection of Dickens’s own life and experiences.
- David Copperfield (1850): This novel is widely considered to be Dickens’ most autobiographical work. The story follows the life of David Copperfield from his childhood to adulthood and is known for its vivid characters, its exploration of the themes of identity and self-discovery, and its powerful storytelling.
- Bleak House (1853): This novel critiques the English legal system and follows the lives of a cast of characters, including the justice-seeking hero Esther and the virtuous heroine, as they navigate the labyrinthine court case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
- Hard Times (1854): This novel critiques utilitarian philosophy and the Industrial Revolution. The story follows the lives of the Gradgrind family and the workers of Coketown, a fictional factory town, as they struggle to find meaning and happiness in a world ruled by facts and figures.
- Little Dorrit (1857): This novel critiques the Victorian prison system and the corruption of the British government. The story follows the life of Amy Dorrit, who was born and raised in Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison, and Arthur Clennam, who is investigating his family’s past.
- A Tale of Two Cities (1859): This story is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and tells the story of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, two men who look alike but have very different personalities and paths in life. The novel is known for its exploration of the themes of sacrifice, love, and redemption and, perhaps most of all, for Sydnet Carton’s words in the final chapter as he goes to the guillotine in place of Charles Darnay saying: ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’
- Great Expectations (1861): This novel follows the life of Pip, a young man raised in poverty but given the opportunity to rise in society when he is unexpectedly provided with a large sum of money. The story is known for its vivid characters, exploration of the themes of identity, self-discovery, personal growth, and powerful storytelling, classic hallmarks of everything Dickens wrote. Great Expectations was Dickens’ 13th novel and his penultimate completed novel. It is Dickens’ second novel, after David Copperfield, to be fully narrated in the first person.
- The Uncommercial Traveller (1860-1870): This is a collection of essays and articles Dickens wrote for various magazines and newspapers. They offer a glimpse into the life and society of 19th century Victorian England and are known for their humour, wit, and insight.
- Our Mutual Friend (1865): The novel follows the lives of a cast of characters, including the foundling John Harmon, who returns to England to claim his inheritance, and the eccentric Mr and Mrs Veneering, who are determined to climb the social ladder.
- No Thoroughfare (1867): This is a play that Dickens wrote with Wilkie Collins. It tells the story of two men, one of whom is believed to be dead, who are searching for their true identities. Three years later, Charles Dickens died.
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870): This is Dickens’ final novel, which was left unfinished at the time of his death. The story follows the life of John Jasper, who is investigating the disappearance of his nephew, Edwin Drood. The mystery of Drood’s disappearance remains unsolved, and the story is one of Dickens’ most enigmatic works.
The Beginning of Literary Success
After leaving the boot blacking factory, following his father’s release from prison, Dickens worked as a shorthand reporter and then as a journalist, and he eventually became a successful novelist. The Pickwick Papers was Charles Dickens’ first novel and marked the beginning of his literary success. The book was first published in 1836 as a serial in Bentley’s Miscellany, the monthly magazine that Dickens was working for as an editor at the time.
The novel was an instant success, largely due to the introduction of the character Sam Weller in the fourth episode. Sam Weller was a cockney cab driver with a quick wit and a talent for storytelling, and his character quickly became popular with readers. Sam Weller merchandise, such as prints and figurines, soon flooded the market, and the character became one of the most recognisable figures of the time.
The success of The Pickwick Papers made Dickens one of the most popular and sought-after writers of the 19th century. He went on to publish several more novels, all of which appeared in serial form and became literary sensations in their own right.
Characters in Dickens’ Books etc.
Charles Dickens wrote many novels and short stories during his career, and his works are brought vividly to life by a vast array of memorable characters. Here are some of the most well-known and significant characters. They are beloved by many readers and continue to capture the imagination with their quirky personalities, thrilling adventures, and emotional journeys:
- Arthur Clennam: a protagonist in “Little Dorrit”.
- Augustus Snodgrass: a friend of Pickwick in “The Pickwick Papers”.
- Barsad: a spy in “A Tale of Two Cities”.
- Bella Wilfer: a character in “Our Mutual Friend”.
- Betsey Trotwood: a former dragon in “David Copperfield”.
- Bill Sikes: a criminal in “Oliver Twist”.
- Charles Darnay: a French aristocrat in “A Tale of Two Cities”.
- Charley Bates: a street urchin in “Oliver Twist”.
- David Copperfield: the narrator and main character of “David Copperfield”.
- Dolly Varden: a character in “Barnaby Rudge”.
- Dr Marigold: a character in “Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions”.
- Ebenezer Scrooge: the main character in “A Christmas Carol”.
- Estella: a love interest in “Great Expectations”.
- Fagin: the criminal leader in “Oliver Twist”.
- James Harthouse: a politician in “Hard Times”.
- Jenny Wren: a character in “Our Mutual Friend”.
- John Harmon: a character in “Our Mutual Friend”.
- Little Dorrit: the title character in “Little Dorrit”.
- Little Emily: a character in “Our Mutual Friend”.
- Little Nell: a central character in “The Old Curiosity Shop”.
- Madeline Bray: a love interest in “The Old Curiosity Shop”.
- Magwitch: a convict in “Great Expectations”.
- Martin Chuzzlewit: the title character in “Martin Chuzzlewit”.
- Merdle: a financier in “Little Dorrit”.
- Miss Havisham: a wealthy spinster in “Great Expectations”.
- Mr Brownlow: a philanthropist in “Oliver Twist”.
- Mr Bumble: a beadle in “Oliver Twist”.
- Mr Chuckster: a character in “The Chimes”.
- Mr Gradgrind: a wealthy businessman in “Hard Times”.
- Mr Jack Dawkins: a street urchin in “Oliver Twist”.
- Mr Mantalini: a fashionable tailor in “Nicholas Nickleby”.
- Mr Micawber: a comic character in “David Copperfield”.
- Mr Pancks: a collector of rents in “Little Dorrit”.
- Mr Pancks: a rent collector in “Little Dorrit”.
- Mr Pecksniff: a hypocrite in “Martin Chuzzlewit”.
- Mr Pickwick: the central character in “The Pickwick Papers”.
- Mr Quilp: a villain in “The Old Curiosity Shop”.
- Mr Sleary: a circus owner in “Hard Times”.
- Mrs Corney: the matron of the workhouse in “Oliver Twist”.
- Mrs Sairey Gamp: a nurse in “Martin Chuzzlewit”.
- Mrs Gamp: a nurse in “Martin Chuzzlewit”.
- Mrs Nickleby: Nicholas’ mother in “Nicholas Nickleby”.
- Mrs Sparsit: a former lady’s maid in “Hard Times”.
- Nancy: a tragic figure in “Oliver Twist”.
- Nathaniel Winkle: a friend of Pickwick in “The Pickwick Papers”.
- Nicholas Nickleby: the title character in “Nicholas Nickleby”.
- Oliver Twist: the protagonist of “Oliver Twist”.
- Pip: the narrator and protagonist of “Great Expectations”.
- R. Wilfer: a character in “Our Mutual Friend”.
- Ralph Nickleby: a main character in “Nicholas Nickleby”.
- Riderhood: a character in “Our Mutual Friend”.
- Sam Weller: a servant to Mr Pickwick in “The Pickwick Papers”.
- Silas Wegg: a character in “Our Mutual Friend”.
- Sissy Jupe: a circus performer’s daughter in “Hard Times”.
- Smike: a former circus performer in “Nicholas Nickleby”.
- Sydney Carton: a drunken lawyer in “A Tale of Two Cities”.
- The Artful Dodger: a street urchin in “Oliver Twist”.
- The Marchioness: a character in “The Old Curiosity Shop”.
- Thomas Gradgrind: a wealthy businessman in “Hard Times”.
- Tiny Tim: a young boy in “A Christmas Carol”.
- Tracy Tupman: a friend of Pickwick in “The Pickwick Papers”.
- Lucy Manette: a French doctor’s daughter in “A Tale of Two Cities”.
- Uriah Heep: a villain in “David Copperfield”.
- Young Barnaby: a character in “Barnaby Rudge”.
Dickens’ Personal Life
Charles Dickens’ father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, while his mother, Elizabeth Dickens, was a homemaker. The family moved around a lot in Charles’ youth – from Portsmouth to Kent and London. When Charles was young, his father got into debt and was sent to prison for delinquent debtors. This experience profoundly impacted Charles and shaped his views on social justice and the treatment of the poor.
Charles was the second of eight children, and due to his father’s financial difficulties, he was forced to leave school and sent to work at a young age in a factory, where he was responsible for wrapping blacking (polish for shoes and boots). However, he was eventually able to return to school and continue his education. This experience was traumatic for Charles and contributed to his lifelong hatred of workhouses and his advocacy for social reform. Later, he wrote about the harsh realities of factory life in many of his novels, including Oliver Twist, which is often considered one of his most powerful works.
Image Credit: Dickens at his desk, 1858
Attribution: George Herbert Watkins, born 1828, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dickens_by_Watkins_1858.png
At first, Dickens did not know what he wanted to do with his life. Initially, he decided to try his hand at acting. Despite his difficult upbringing, Charles was a gifted storyteller and showed an early talent for writing. He began his writing career as a journalist, contributing to various magazines and newspapers. He quickly became known for his vivid descriptions and ability to create memorable characters, and he soon began publishing his own works, including his first novel, “The Pickwick Papers“.
In 1836, Charles married Catherine Hogarth, and the marriage produced ten children. However, their marriage was not a happy union. Charles and Catherine separated in 1858. Charles’s personal life was plagued by financial difficulties, health problems, and the deaths of several of his children.
Despite his challenges, Charles continued to write and produce some of English literature’s most memorable and enduring works. His most famous works include Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. Throughout his life Dickens was interested in the theatre and organised and participated in many amateur theatricals. For instance, he presented Not so Bad as We Seem, before Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort.
Dickens was also a passionate advocate for social reform and used his writing to draw attention to the plight of the poor and the injustices of Victorian society. He died (it is believed of a stroke) on 9th June 1870 at the age of 58, having been ill for the last five years of his life, although no diagnosis has yet accounted for his various symptoms. He remains one of the most widely read and beloved writers in the English language, and his legacy continues to influence literature and popular culture to this day. Dickens is buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, a place of pilgrimage for literature lovers (more than 100 poets and writers are buried or have memorials there).
Image Credit: [Cropped] A 1905 transcribed copy of Charles Dickens’ death certificate
Attribution: Simon Burchell, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Dickens_Death_Certificate.jpg
Publishing by Instalments
Charles Dickens was one of the first writers to adopt the format of publishing his novels in serialised instalments. The idea of publishing in instalments was a response to the changing reading habits of the public, as more and more people were looking for convenient and accessible ways to enjoy literature.
The serialised format worked by regularly releasing a new episode or instalment of a novel in a magazine or newspaper, typically once a month. It allowed readers to follow the story as it unfolded and created a sense of anticipation and excitement for the next instalment. For Dickens, the serialised format was a way to reach a wider audience and ensure a steady income as he wrote. It also allowed him to engage his readers and incorporate feedback into his work, as he could note and act upon their reactions to the story as it developed.
The serialised format allowed Charles Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction to his work and incorporate their feedback into his writing. This was a unique aspect of Dickens’ writing style, as it allowed him to shape the direction of his stories as he was writing them based on the response of his readers. For example:
- When publishing The Pickwick Papers, Dickens received letters from readers eagerly anticipating the story’s next instalment. Some readers offered suggestions for the plot or asked questions about the characters, and Dickens was known to have taken these suggestions into consideration as he wrote the subsequent episodes.
- Similarly, as he was publishing Oliver Twist, Dickens received feedback from readers who were concerned about the welfare of the main character, Oliver. In response to this feedback, Dickens changed the story’s direction to give Oliver a happier ending.
The serialised format also allowed Dickens to build suspense and keep his readers engaged. He was able to create cliffhangers and plot twists that kept his audience on the edge of their seats, and the monthly publication schedule helped to maintain a sense of anticipation and excitement for the next instalment.
The success of Dickens’ serialised novels inspired other writers to adopt the format, and it became a popular way to publish fiction in the 19th century. Today, the serialised format is still used in some forms of media, such as television shows and podcasts, and continues to be a way for writers to engage with their audiences and build anticipation for their work.
The serial publication of The Pickwick Papers marked a turning point in Dickens’ career and the publishing industry as a whole. It demonstrated the potential of the serialised format to reach a large and diverse audience and sparked a publishing phenomenon that changed the way fiction was produced and consumed. The novel remains a classic of English literature and a testament to Dickens’ genius as a storyteller.
In this way, the serialised format allowed Dickens to create a dynamic and interactive relationship with his audience, and his work reflects this unique and collaborative process. His novels remain popular and widely read today, and the serialised format is still seen as an innovative and influential way of storytelling.
Dickens’ Time as a Journalist
Charles Dickens had a background in journalism before he became a celebrated novelist. He began his career as a court reporter, covering legal proceedings and court cases. He then worked as a parliamentary reporter, covering debates and proceedings in the House of Commons.
In 1833, Dickens became a journalist for the Morning Chronicle, a newspaper based in London. He was soon made a junior editor for the publication and was allowed to write various articles, including political pieces and travel writing.
In addition to his work at the Morning Chronicle, Dickens wrote for several other newspapers and magazines during this period. He wrote articles on a wide range of topics, including social issues, politics, and sports. He was known for his vivid and engaging writing style and was able to use his skills as a journalist to bring attention to important social and political issues.
In 1834, Dickens left the Morning Chronicle and went on to write for Bentley’s Miscellany, a monthly magazine where he eventually became the editor. He used this platform to publish some of his earliest works of fiction, including “The Pickwick Papers” and “Oliver Twist“.
Dickens’ early career as a journalist provided a solid foundation for his later work as a novelist. He was able to develop his writing skills and gain experience as a storyteller, and his journalism gave him a strong sense of the pulse of the public and an understanding of the social and political issues of the time.
Charles Dickens’ Legacy
Following Dickens’ death, there was an immense outpouring of grief in Britain and as far away as America. The New York Times said:
‘No writer of the age was more beloved than Dickens. Just as people had once clamoured for the next instalment of his serialised novels, they now sought new details about his life and death at 58. For months, the newspaper brimmed with stories about Dickens’s final hours, his funeral, his will, the auction of his art collection, even his estate sale, where a set of old flowerpots went for a guinea. On June 12, The Times followed its report of Dickens’s death with a melancholy editorial tribute to the man “whose works are more or less associated with the events of our lives,” pointing out that “people of middle age cannot but feel that they have “grown up,” as it were, with Charles Dickens. The appearance of each successive story from his pen is linked with a thousand domestic recollections, for he was eminently the novelist of the household.‘ 
Dickens was more than a great writer:
- Travelling performer: Besides his writing, Charles was known for his public readings of his works, which he performed across England, Scotland, and the United States. He was a charismatic performer and attracted large crowds; these readings were a significant source of income for him.
- Philanthropy: Charles was deeply committed to social reform and was involved in various charitable organisations throughout his life. He was a strong advocate for education and worked to improve the lives of the poor and the working class.
- Political views: Not only was he a radical political thinker and polemically critical of the government and the establishment, but Charles was also a strong supporter of democratic ideals and was particularly concerned with the treatment of the poor and the working class.
- Popularity: Charles was a highly popular and celebrated figure during his lifetime and was considered one of the greatest writers of the Victorian era. He had a huge following, and his works were widely read and enjoyed by people of all ages and social classes.
- Literary style: Charles was known for his distinctive writing style, characterised by vivid descriptions, memorable characters, and a strong sense of social commentary. He was also a master of suspense and is considered one of the pioneers of the modern novel.
- Dickens gave nicknames to his ten children, such as Skittles for his son Alfred, Lucifer Box for his daughter Kate, and Chicken Stalker for his son Francis.
- Dickens had a pet raven called Grip, who makes an appearance in Barnaby Rudge.
The Staplehust Rail Crash
Caption: Staplehurst rail crash
Attribution: Illustrated London News, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Staplehurst_rail_crash.jpg
The Staplehurst rail crash was a derailment at Staplehurst, Kent, on 9th June 1865 at 3:13 pm. The South Eastern Railway Folkestone to London boat train derailed while crossing a viaduct where a length of track had been removed during engineering works, killing ten passengers and injuring forty. The Board of Trade report found that a man had been placed with a red flag 554 yards (507 m) away, but the regulations required him to be 1,000 yards (910 m) away, which unfortunately, gave the train insufficient time to stop.
Charles Dickens was travelling with Ellen Ternan (his mistress) and her mother on the train; they all survived the derailment. He tended to the victims, some of whom died while he was with them. The experience affected Dickens greatly, losing his voice for two weeks and afterwards was nervous when travelling by train, using alternative means when available. Dickens died five years to the day after the accident; his son said that he had never fully recovered.
Was Dickens a Racist?
The topic of racism in the work of Charles Dickens has been discussed in scholarly circles, increasingly so in the 20th and 21st centuries. While Dickens was known to be highly sympathetic to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged in British society, like many other authors of the time, he expressed attitudes which have been interpreted as racist and xenophobic in his journalism and works. Dickens frequently defended the privileges held by Europeans in overseas colonies and was dismissive of what he termed “primitive” cultures. The Oxford Dictionary of English Literature describes Dickens as a nationalist who frequently stigmatised non-European cultures.
For example, in some of his works, Dickens portrays non-white characters in stereotypical and demeaning ways, and some of his writing displays a general lack of understanding or sensitivity towards different cultures. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Dickens was a philanthropist and a social critic who used his writing to shed light on the injustices of his time, including poverty and social inequality. He was also an advocate for prison reform and sought to improve the conditions faced by the poor.
While it’s true that some of Dickens’ views and portrayals of non-white characters can be considered racist by modern standards, it’s important to understand the historical context in which he lived and wrote and consider the full range of his contributions to literature and social reform.
Has the Dickens Style been Copied?
Since Charles Dickens, many writers have been influenced by his writing style and have sought to emulate his distinctive voice and storytelling techniques. Some of the writers influenced by Charles Dickens and who have written in a similar style include:
- Charles Dickens’ son, Henry Fielding Dickens.
- Wilkie Collins, who was a close friend and collaborator of Charles Dickens.
- Anthony Trollope was a contemporary of Charles Dickens and was known for his social commentary and memorable characters.
- George Eliot was known for her vivid descriptions and exploration of complex psychological and social issues.
- Thomas Hardy was a contemporary of Charles Dickens and was known for his vivid descriptions and his exploration of social and psychological issues.
- Jack London, an American writer, was influenced by Charles Dickens in his portrayal of the struggles of the working class and his vivid descriptions of urban life.
- David Copperfield, a British magician and writer, was influenced by Charles Dickens in his storytelling and his use of humour and satire.
Stories made into Films or Plays
Over the years, Charles Dickens’s works have been adapted for the stage and screen with many adaptations, remakes, and reinterpretations of his stories. Some of the most popular and well-known adaptations of Charles Dickens’s works include David Copperfield (1935), Great Expectations (1946), Oliver Twist (1948), A Tale of Two Cities (1958), A Christmas Carol (multiple adaptations including the versions in 1951, 1984, 1999 and 2009), Little Dorrit (1988), Nicholas Nickleby (2002), and Bleak House (2005).
In addition to these full-length adaptations, there have also been countless stage productions and television adaptations of his stories, as well as adaptations of individual characters, such as Fagin from Oliver Twist and Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol.
The enduring popularity of Charles Dickens’s works and the timeless appeal of his stories have made them a staple of the theatrical and cinematic world, and they are likely to continue to be adapted for many years to come.
Challenges, Disappointments and Charity Work
Despite his great success as a writer, Charles Dickens had several disappointments and challenges in his personal life, some of which were:
- Failed marriage: Charles had a troubled marriage with Catherine Hogarth, his wife of 22 years. The couple had ten children together but grew apart over time and eventually separated in 1858. It was a great disappointment and heartbreak for Charles, profoundly impacting his life and work, although he took solace from a number of affairs.
- Health problems: Charles suffered from various health problems throughout his life, including migraines, exhaustion, and depression. He was often in poor health, affecting his energy and creativity.
- Death of children: Charles experienced the loss of several of his children, including his daughter Dora died aged eight months, and two sons – Walter, who died at the age of 12 and Alfred, who died at the age of 37. Their deaths caused Charles much grief.
- Financial difficulties: Even though he was a very successful writer, Charles had financial problems throughout his life, particularly later in his career. He was often in debt and had to work continuously to support his family and pay his bills.
- Public controversy: Charles was often in the public eye and was not immune to controversy. He was often criticised for his views and was involved in several public disputes, including one with a publisher over copyright issues.
- Charitable Work: Dickens was a well-known philanthropist committed to many good causes, particularly focusing on child poverty and education issues. In 1847, in collaboration with Angela Burdett-Coutts, he founded the charity Urania Cottage, a refuge for ‘fallen women.’
Charles Dickens was known for his strong opinions and desire to bring attention to social injustices, particularly the plight of the poor and working class. Through his writing, he sought to raise awareness about the difficult living and working conditions faced by many people during the Victorian era, and he used his stories to argue for reforms and changes to the social and economic systems of the time.
In works such as Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and Bleak House, Charles Dickens wrote about the dangers of the workhouses, the criminal underworld, and the corrupt legal system, among other social issues. He used his writing to make a political statement and bring attention to the problems marginalised and oppressed people faced.
Charles Dickens struggled with managing his finances due to his extravagant lifestyle and tendency to overspend, exactly like his father. He made several large investments that did not work out, including a failed attempt to establish a newspaper, which added to his financial problems. He was also known to be very generous and often supported friends and family members in need, further depleting his precarious wealth. It seems that Dickens did not learn from the financial misfortunes of his father and continued to struggle with managing his finances despite having a steady income from his writing. He continued to live an extravagant lifestyle and make imprudent financial decisions.
The Consequences of John Dickens’ Downfall
John Dickens, Charles Dickens’ father, was employed as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office but tended to live beyond his means and accumulate debt. He often spent money on expensive clothes, dining, and other luxury items, despite having a modest income.
In addition to his spending habits, John Dickens also invested in several business ventures that failed, adding to his financial problems. He was eventually declared bankrupt and was imprisoned in Marshalsea debtors’ prison, along with his wife and children (except Charles), as was customary in those days.
This experience profoundly impacted Charles Dickens, who was just 12 years old when his father was imprisoned. Charles Dickens had a private education, attending a boarding school in Chatham, Kent, from age 9. His father’s employer, the Navy Pay Office, reportedly had paid the school fees.
When John Dickens was made bankrupt and imprisoned for debt in 1824, the family was plunged into poverty, and Charles was forced to leave school and go to work in a boot-blacking factory, working long hours in difficult conditions. This experience of poverty and hardship at a young age shaped his views and attitudes towards social justice and had a lasting impact on his writing and his worldview.
Charles Dickens was a talented writer and had a keen eye for detail, even before he experienced poverty and hardship. He may have turned to writing about social injustices and reform even without these experiences, but his personal experiences likely gave him a deeper understanding and empathy for the plight of the poor and marginalised in society.
The Last Word, by Charles Dickens
Finally, in the words of Dickens, a letter he penned that captures his sharp wit, intelligence and inimitable style, to make a point says:
“If the people at large be not already convinced that a sufficient general case has been made out for Administrative Reform, I think they never can be, and they never will be… Ages ago, a savage mode of keeping accounts on notched sticks was introduced into the Court of Exchequer, and the accounts were kept, much as Robinson Crusoe kept his calendar on the desert island. In the course of considerable revolutions of time, the celebrated Cocker was born and died; Walkinghame, of the Tutor’s Assistant, and well versed in figures, was also born, and died; a multitude of accountants, book-keepers and actuaries, were born, and died. Still official routine inclined to these notched sticks, as if they were pillars of the constitution, and still the Exchequer accounts continued to be kept on certain splints of elm wood called “tallies.” In the reign of George III an inquiry was made by some revolutionary spirit, whether pens, ink, and paper, slates and pencils, being in existence, this obstinate adherence to an obsolete custom ought to be continued, and whether a change ought not to be effected. All the red tape in the country grew redder at the bare mention of this bold and original conception, and it took till 1826 to get these sticks abolished. In 1834 it was found that there was a considerable accumulation of them; and the question then arose, what was to be done with such worn-out, worm-eaten, rotten old bits of wood? I dare say there was a vast amount of minuting, memoranduming, and despatch-boxing on this mighty subject. The sticks were housed at Westminster, and it would naturally occur to any intelligent person that nothing could be easier than to allow them to be carried away for firewood by the miserable people who live in that neighbourhood. However, they never had been useful, and official routine required that they never should be, and so the order went forth that they were to be privately and confidentially burnt. It came to pass that they were burnt in a stove in the House of Lords. The stove, overgorged with these preposterous sticks, set fire to the panelling; the panelling set fire to the House of Lords; the House of Lords set fire to the House of Commons; the two houses were reduced to ashes; architects were called in to build others; we are now in the second million of the cost thereof, the national pig is not nearly over the stile yet; and the little old woman, Britannia, hasn’t got home to-night… The great, broad, and true cause that our public progress is far behind our private progress, and that we are not more remarkable for our private wisdom and success in matters of business than we are for our public folly and failure, I take to be as clearly established as the sun, moon, and stars.”
Reference Sources for Further Reading
- Charles Dickens: A Life, by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Press, 2011.
- The Oxford Illustrated Dickens, edited by Peter Ackroyd, Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Dickens and the Twentieth Century, edited by John Gross and Gabriel Pearson, Methuen, 1962.
- Dickens and Other Victorians, edited by Michael Slater, Yale University Press, 1998.
- The Mystery of Charles Dickens, by A.N. Wilson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007.
- The Letters of Charles Dickens, edited by Graham Storey, Oxford University Press, 2012.
- Charles Dickens: A Critical Study, by F.R. Leavis, Chatto & Windus, 1948.
- Dickens and Popular Entertainment, edited by J.A. Hammerton, Atlantic Publishers, 1925.
- Charles Dickens: The Critical Heritage, edited by Philip Collins, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
- The World of Charles Dickens, by Peter Ackroyd, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.
- Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing, by Jenny Hartley, Yale University Press, 2013.
- Dickens and Religion, edited by David Paroissien, Macmillan, 2000.
- The Genius of Charles Dickens, by Richard Altick, Oxford University Press, 1970.
- The Life of Charles Dickens, by John Forster, Dent, 1872.
- Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor, by Ruth Richardson, Oxford University Press, 2012.
- Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women, by Elsa F. Roberts, Viking, 2008.
- The Mind of Dickens, by David Daiches, Chatto & Windus, 1970.
- Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London, by Peter Ackroyd, Thames & Hudson, 2011.
- Dickens and the City, edited by Gareth Stedman Jones, Oxford University Press, 1971.
- The Dickensian, edited by Harry Stone, The Dickens Fellowship, 1975.
- Dickens’s First Love – Maria Beadnell, at: https://youtu.be/5UX8ubTiB5g
- A Christmas Carol First Edition, Charles Dickens Museum, at: https://youtu.be/OJ7qLW0VYhA
- “The Real Charles Dickens” (BBC Documentary)
- “Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities” (Masterpiece Theatre)
- “Oliver Twist” (1948 Film)
- “A Christmas Carol” (1984 Film)
- “Scrooge” (1970 Musical)
- “Great Expectations” (1946 Film)
- “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” (1982 TV Mini-Series)
- “David Copperfield” (1999 TV Mini-Series)
CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.
End Notes and Explanations
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_the_work_of_Charles_Dickens, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens and machine-generated artificial intelligence answers to interrogative questions to https://chat.openai.com/chat ↑
Sources: (1) Mazzeno, Laurence W (2008). The Dickens industry: critical perspectives 1836–2005. Studies in European and American literature and culture. Literary criticism in perspective. Camden House. ISBN 978-1-57113-317-5, and (2) Chesterton, G K (2005) . Charles Dickens: A Critical Study. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4179-1996-3. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens ↑
Source: Charles Darnay, Charles D’Aulnais or Charles St. Evrémonde is a fictional character in the 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Darnay ↑
Note: There is a more comprehensive list at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dickensian_characters ↑
Source: Kastan, David Scott (2006). Oxford Encyclopedia of English Literature, vol 1. Oxford University Press. p. 157. ISBN 0-19-516921-2, 9780195169218, Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_the_work_of_Charles_Dickens ↑
Explanation: Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts, born Angela Georgina Burdett, was a British philanthropist, the daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet and Sophia, formerly Coutts, daughter of banker Thomas Coutts. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Burdett-Coutts,_1st_Baroness_Burdett-Coutts ↑
Comment: According to most biographical information available, Charles Dickens was sent to work at a boot blacking factory at the age of 12 in 1824, after his father was sent to debtors’ prison. He worked there for about a year and a half, until his father’s release from prison in 1825. It was only then that he was able to return to school, attending Wellington House Academy for a short time. Dickens worked at the blacking factory from 1824 to 1825, and attended the Wellington House Academy after that. Some sources suggest he started at the boot blacking factory at age 10, but that appears to be incorrect. ↑
From: Charles Dickens “Administrative Reform” (27th June 1855) Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Speeches Literary and Social by Charles Dickens, https://books.google.com/books?id=bT5WAAAAcAAJ (1870) pp. 133-134 Adopted from Wikiquote. Source: https://quotepark.com/quotes/1778686-charles-dickens-if-the-people-at-large-be-not-already-convinced-th/ ↑