I will let this get to my head, Charles Dickens and I share the same birthday as each other. Obviously, this is a sign . . . right? Not just that but, as I have mentioned several times on my blog before, Dickens also stayed at the hotel where I work, alongside Wilkie Collins in 1857. It was during this trip that they penned The Lazy Tour of the Two Idle Apprentices, featuring a glimpse into one of the most famous friendships in English Literature. Today marks 208 years since the birth of Dickens (and 27 years since the birth of me, just in case you were curious) and I think we should celebrate by remembering the literary hero’s life and some of his greatest work.
Dickens was born Charles John Huffam Dickens, on the 7th of February 1812 in Landport, Hampshire, England. He was the second of eight children to John and Elizabeth Dickens. His early life was rather pleasant, with the short-lived luxury of private education, however, this came to an end when his father, previously a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, became imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison in Southwark for bad debt in 1822. His whole family, excluding Charles, were sent to Marshalsea, whilst Charles was forced to leave school and start working in Warren’s Shoeblackening Factory where he sadly endured appalling conditions to his physical and mental wellbeing. Charles worked in the factory for three years before being able to return to school, however, he retained strong memories of all of his childhood experiences, and he frequently used his memories in his writing. Charles’s experiences at Warrens Shoeblackening factory emphasised many aspects of his writing and is said to be crucial to understanding why in so many of his novels, the main character is lost or helpless: Oliver Twist and Little Nell, and the factory itself heavily influenced David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Although this was the darkest period for Charles, it was possibly the time that influenced his writing style the most.
After his family were released from debtors prison, Dickens was sent to Wellington House Academy in Camden Town for two years, where he remained until March 1827. He did not think particularly highly of the school, describing it as having “desultory teaching”, “poor discipline” and that the headmaster was “sadistically brutal”. More hardships which inspired him to create the memorable and impressive characters that he wrote.
After he left Wellington House Academy, he began working at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore Attorneys. Here he worked as a junior clerk from May 1827 before leaving in November 1828 to become a freelance reporter. By 1833 he had become a parliamentary journalist for the Morning Chronicle and by 1836, came the publication of the famous Pickwick Papers from this point onwards, his life had changed forever.
He became a celebrity of his time, famous for his witty humour and satire and his extraordinary ability to create unique and believable characters. His novels were mostly published in monthly and weekly instalments, which pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction. He was one of the first authors to leave readers in suspense after cliffhanger endings. By having his novels published in this way, he was able to acquire feedback from the readers and tweak his characters and storyline before releasing his next piece. This certainly helped Charles to writ literature that the public really did want to read.
Despite his huge success during his lifetime, there were still some people who could not appreciate his unusual literary style. For instance, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf complained that Charles’ witing was void of all psychological depth, however, I feel like such a statement was made by people unable to appreciate the true depth of his work.
His masterpieces include; A Christmas Carol (1843), Oliver Twist (1837), Great Expectations (1861), David Copperfield (1850), Hard Times (1854), Bleak House (1852), Little Dorrit (1855), A Tale Of Two Cities (1859). His passion didn’t stop at writing incredible novels, he also wrote travel books, novellas, plays, and performed before Queen Victoria in 1851. He was a man with magical talent and an inspiration to those of us who dream of bigger things but were not gifted an easy beginning in life.
Charles Dickens addressed serious subjects such as child labour, poverty and the evils that come along with the industrial world, approaching them with his famous satire. He made education entertaining and was one of the first authors to engage readers in this unique way.
Dickens fathered ten children within his lifetime, however, in 1858, he became estranged from his wife and pursued a relationship with his mistress, actress, Ellen Ternan. He was by no means a perfect man but especially for his time, he was progressive, kind-hearted, witty, even lecturing against slavery, and he worked tirelessly throughout his life to provide us all with some of the greatest stories ever written.
Dickens passed away from a stroke on 9th June 1870, aged just 58 years old, leaving his final novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished.
Charles Dickens will forever be regarded as a literary genius and the greatest novelist of the victorian era. He created some of the worlds best known fictional characters and even has his own term nowadays, “Dickensian”, used to describe something reminiscent of Dickens work, such as poor social conditions and comically hideous characters.
An author who makes me proud to be British and even prouder to share the same birthday! His stories are unforgettable and if you haven’t already, you should certainly pick one up and dive into the Dickensian world of this victorian hero.