Charles Dickens facts for kids

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Charles Dickens
Born Charles John Huffam Dickens
(1812-02-07)7 February 1812
Landport, Portsmouth, England
Died 9 June 1870(1870-06-09) (aged 58)
Gad's Hill Place, Higham, Kent, England
Resting place Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey
Occupation Novelist
Notable work(s) Sketches by Boz, The Old Curiosity Shop, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Barnaby Rudge, A Christmas Carol, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Hard Times, Our Mutual Friend, The Pickwick Papers

Signature

Charles John Huffam Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unmatched popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors' prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed readings extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and other social reforms.

Dickens's literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers. Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire, and keen observation of character and society. His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication.

Twist serialcover
Cover of Dickens serial, "Oliver Twist" 1846

Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction.

Dickens has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell, G. K. Chesterton and Tom Wolfe—for his realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is like that of of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.

Dickens-at-the-Blacking-Warehouse
Illustration of Dickens at work in a shoe-blacking factory 1892

Early life

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth,England. His parents were John Dickens (1785-1851), a naval pay clerk, and Elizabeth Barow (1789–1863).

When Charles was ten years old, his family moved to Camden, London. He worked in a blacking factory there while his father was in prison for debt. Dickens's hard times in the factory served as a foundation of ideas for many of his novels. Many like Oliver Twist soon became famous. When his great-grandmother died Charles' father paid off his debts and was released from prison. Charles then finished his schooling, and got a job as an office boy for an attorney. After finding that job dull, he taught himself shorthand and became a journalist that reported on the government. Dickens was a Unitarian.

Journalism and early novels

Portrait of Charles John Huffman Dickens (crop)
Portrait of Charles John Huffman Dickens 1843

In 1832, at age 20, Dickens was energetic and increasingly self-confident. He enjoyed mimicry and popular entertainment, lacked a clear, specific sense of what he wanted to become, and yet knew he wanted fame. In 1833, he submitted his first story, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk", to the London periodical Monthly Magazine. He was offered him a job on The Mirror of Parliament and he worked in the House of Commons for the first time early in 1832 and worked as a political journalist, reporting on Parliamentary debates, and he travelled across Britain to cover election campaigns for the Morning Chronicle.

In January 1835, the Morning Chronicle launched an evening edition, under the editorship of the Chronicle's music critic, George Hogarth. Hogarth invited Dickens to contribute Street Sketches and Dickens became a regular visitor to his Fulham house, excited by Hogarth's friendship with a hero of his, Walter Scott, and enjoying the company of Hogarth's three daughters—Georgina, Mary, and nineteen-year-old Catherine.

Certosa Bologna lapide Dickens
Plaque with Dicken's writings, dedicated to his visit to the Certosa di Bologna, Italy

Dickens made rapid progress both professionally and socially. The success of Sketches by Boz led to a proposal from publishers Chapman and Hall for Dickens to supply text to match engraved illustrations in a monthly letterpress. The resulting story became The Pickwick Papers, and though the first few episodes were not successful, the introduction of the Cockney character Sam Weller in the fourth episode marked a sharp climb in its popularity. The final instalment sold 40,000 copies.

In November 1836, Dickens accepted the position of editor of Bentley's Miscellany, a position he held for three years. In 1836 as he finished the last instalments of The Pickwick Papers, he began writing the beginning instalments of Oliver Twist—writing as many as 90 pages a month—while continuing work on Bentley's and also writing four plays, the production of which he oversaw. Oliver Twist, published in 1838, became one of Dickens's better known stories, and was the first Victorian novel with a child protagonist.

His success as a novelist continued. The young Queen Victoria read both Oliver Twist and Pickwick, staying up until midnight to discuss them. Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–41) and, finally, his first historical novel, Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty, as part of the Master Humphrey's Clock series (1840–41), were all published in monthly instalments before being made into books.

First visit to the United States

Charles Dickens c1860
Charles Dickens c1860

In 1842, Dickens and his wife made their first trip to the United States and Canada. At this time Georgina Hogarth, sister of Catherine, joined the Dickens household, now living at Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone, to care for the young family they had left behind. She remained with them as housekeeper, organiser, adviser, and friend until Dickens's death in 1870.

He described his impressions in a travelogue, American Notes for General Circulation. Dickens includes in Notes a powerful condemnation of slavery, which he had attacked as early as The Pickwick Papers. From Richmond, Virginia, Dickens returned to Washington, D.C., and started a trek westward to St. Louis, Missouri. While there, he expressed a desire to see an American prairie before returning east. A group of 13 men then set out with Dickens to visit Looking Glass Prairie, a trip 30 miles into Illinois.

During his American visit, Dickens spent a month in New York City, giving lectures, raising the question of international copyright laws and the pirating of his work in America. His trip to the U.S. ended with a trip to Canada: Niagara Falls, Toronto, Kingston and Montreal where he appeared on stage in light comedies.

Return to England

A Christmas Carol frontpiece
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 1843

Soon after his return to England, Dickens began work on the first of his Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol, written in 1843, which was followed by The Chimes in 1844 and The Cricket on the Hearth in 1845. Of these, A Christmas Carol was most popular and, tapping into an old tradition, did much to promote a renewed enthusiasm for the joys of Christmas in Britain and America. As the idea for the story took shape and the writing began in earnest, Dickens became engrossed in the book.

After living briefly in Italy (1844), Dickens travelled to Switzerland (1846), where he began work on Dombey and Son (1846–48). This and David Copperfield (1849–50) mark a significant artistic break in Dickens's career as his novels became more serious in theme and more carefully planned than his early works.

In June 1862, he was offered £10,000 for a reading tour of Australia. He was enthusiastic, and even planned a travel book, The Uncommercial Traveller Upside Down, but ultimately decided against the tour. Two of his sons, Alfred D'Orsay Tennyson Dickens and Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, migrated to Australia, Edward becoming a member of the Parliament of New South Wales as Member for Wilcannia between 1889 and 1894.

Second visit to the United States

Buying tickets for a Charles Dickens reading at Steinway Hall, New York, New York, 1867
Crowd of spectators buying tickets for a Dickens reading at Steinway Hall, New York City in 1867

While he contemplated a second visit to the United States, the outbreak of the Civil War in America in 1861 delayed his plans. On 9 November 1867, over two years after the war, Dickens set sail from Liverpool for his second American reading tour. Landing at Boston, he devoted the rest of the month to a round of dinners with such notables as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and his American publisher, James Thomas Fields.

In early December, the readings began. He performed 76 readings, netting £19,000, from December 1867 to April 1868. Dickens shuttled between Boston and New York, where he gave 22 readings at Steinway Hall. Although he had started to suffer from what he called the "true American catarrh", he kept to a schedule that would have challenged a much younger man, even managing to squeeze in some sleighing in Central Park.

During his travels, he saw a change in the people and the circumstances of America. His final appearance was at a banquet the American Press held in his honour at Delmonico's on 18 April, when he promised never to denounce America again. On 23 April he boarded the Cunard liner Russia to return to Britain, barely escaping a Federal Tax Lien against the proceeds of his lecture tour.

On 2 May, he made his last public appearance at a Royal Academy Banquet in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, paying a special tribute on the death of his friend, the illustrator Daniel Maclise.

Last years

Staplehurst rail crash
After the Staplehurst rail crash

On 9 June 1865, while returning from Paris, Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst rail crash. The train's first seven carriages plunged off a cast iron bridge that was under repair. The only first-class carriage to remain on the track was the one in which Dickens was travelling. Before rescuers arrived, Dickens tended and comforted the wounded and the dying with a flask of brandy and a hat refreshed with water, and saved some lives. Before leaving, he remembered the unfinished manuscript for Our Mutual Friend, and he returned to his carriage to retrieve it. Dickens later used this experience as material for his short ghost story, "The Signal-Man", in which the central character has a premonition of his own death in a rail crash. He also based the story on several previous rail accidents, such as the Clayton Tunnel rail crash of 1861.

Characters

Charles Dickens characters
Dickens' characters

Dickens's was regarded as the greatest creator of character in English fiction after Shakespeare. Dickensian characters are amongst the most memorable in English literature, especially so because of their typically playful names.

The likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, Oliver Twist, The Artful Dodger, Fagin, Bill Sikes, Pip, Miss Havisham, Sydney Carton, Charles Darnay, David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber, Abel Magwitch, Daniel Quilp, Samuel Pickwick, Wackford Squeers, and Uriah Heep are so well known as to be part and parcel of British culture.

Reception

Charles Dickens (111435464)
Charles Dickens wax figure at Madame Tussauds London

Dickens was the most popular novelist of his time, and remains one of the best-known and most-read of English authors. His works have never gone out of print, and have been adapted continually for the screen since the invention of cinema, with at least 200 motion pictures and TV adaptations based on Dickens's works documented. Many of his works were adapted for the stage during his own lifetime, and as early as 1913, a silent film of The Pickwick Papers was made. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.

A Christmas Carol is most probably his best-known story. It is also the most-filmed of Dickens's stories, with many versions dating from the early years of cinema. Its archetypal figures (Scrooge, Tiny Tim, the Christmas ghosts) entered into Western cultural consciousness. A prominent phrase from the tale, "Merry Christmas", was popularised following the appearance of the story. The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, and his dismissive exclamation 'Bah! Humbug!' likewise gained currency as an idiom. Novelist William Makepeace Thackeray called the book "a national benefit, and to every man and woman who reads it a personal kindness".

In some cases nay names have passed into ordinary language: a scrooge, for example, is a miser – or someone who dislikes Christmas festivity. His characters were often so memorable that they took on a life of their own outside his books. "Gamp" became a slang expression for an umbrella from the character Mrs Gamp.

Marriage

Catherine Dickens
Catherine Hogarth Dickens by Samuel Lawrence 1838

On 2 April 1836, after a one-year engagement, Dickens married Catherine Thomson Hogarth (1816–1879), the daughter of George Hogarth, editor of the Evening Chronicle.

They were married in St. Luke's Church, Chelsea, London. After a brief honeymoon in Chalk in Kent, the couple returned to lodgings at Furnival's Inn. The first of their ten children, Charley, was born in January 1837, and a few months later the family set up home in Bloomsbury at 48 Doughty Street, London.

In 1858 they divorced. When Catherine left, never to see her husband again, she took with her one child, leaving the other children to be raised by her sister Georgina.

Death

Charles Dickens Death Certificate
Death certificate of Charles Dickens.

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered a stroke at his home after a full day's work. He never regained consciousness, and the next day, five years to the day after the Staplehurst rail crash, he died at Gads Hill Place. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive and strictly private manner", he was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.

In his will, drafted more than a year before his death, Dickens left the care of his £80,000 estate to his longtime colleague John Forster and his "best and truest friend" Georgina Hogarth who, along with Dickens's two sons, also received a tax-free sum of £8,000 (about £800,000 in present terms). Although Dickens and his wife had been separated for several years at the time of his death, he provided her with an annual income of £600 and made her similar allowances in his will.

Legacy

Charles Dickens Museum London
Dickens Museum, situated in a former Dickens House, 48 Doughty Street, London

Museums and festivals celebrating Dickens's life and works exist in many places with which Dickens was associated. These include the Charles Dickens Museum in London, the historic home where he wrote Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby; and the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth, the house in which he was born.

The original manuscripts of many of his novels, as well as printers' proofs, first editions, and illustrations are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Dickens's will stated that no memorial be erected in his honour; nonetheless, a life-size bronze statue of Dickens entitled Dickens and Little Nell, cast in 1891, stands in Clark Park in the Spruce Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Another life-size statue of Dickens is located at Centennial Park, Sydney, Australia. In 2014, a life-size statue was unveiled near his birthplace in Portsmouth on the 202nd anniversary of his birth; this was supported by the author's great-great grandsons, Ian and Gerald Dickens.

Birmingham History Galleries - Birmingham its people, its history - Forward - Charles Dickens (8165266047)
Birmingham History Galleries - Charles Dickens

Dickens was commemorated on the Series E £10 note issued by the Bank of England that circulated between 1992 and 2003. His portrait appeared on the reverse of the note accompanied by a scene from The Pickwick Papers.

The Charles Dickens School is a high school in Broadstairs, Kent.

A theme park, Dickens World, standing in part on the site of the former naval dockyard where Dickens's father once worked in the Navy Pay Office, opened in Chatham in 2007.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens in 2012, the Museum of London held the UK's first major exhibition on the author in 40 years.

Charles Dickens by James and Thomas Bevington, Staffordshire, 1870, porcelain - Château Ramezay - Montreal, Canada - DSC07564
Charles Dickens Exhibit in the Château Ramezay - Montreal, Quebec, Canada

In 2002, Dickens was number 41 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. American literary critic Harold Bloom placed Dickens among the greatest Western Writers of all time. In the UK survey The Big Read, carried out by the BBC in 2003, five of Dickens's books were named in the Top 100.

Dickens and his publications have appeared on a number of postage stamps including: UK (1970, 1993, 2011 and 2012), Soviet Union (1962), Antigua, Barbuda, Botswana, Cameroon, Dubai, Fujairah, St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla, St Helena, St Lucia and Turks and Caicos Islands (1970), St Vincent (1987), Nevis (2007), Alderney, Gibraltar, Jersey and Pitcairn Islands (2012), Austria (2013), Mozambique (2014).

In November 2018 it was reported that a previously lost portrait of a 31-year-old Dickens, by Margaret Gillies, had been found in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Books

Dickens published well over a dozen major novels and novellas, a large number of short stories, including a number of Christmas-themed stories, a handful of plays, and several non-fiction books. Dickens's novels were initially serialised in weekly and monthly magazines, then reprinted in standard book formats.

Pickwickclub serial
Pickwickclub serial 1836
Scrooges third visitor-John Leech,1843
"The Ghost of Christmas Present" from the original edition of "A Christmas Carol", 1843
  • The Pickwick Papers (The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club; monthly serial, April 1836 to November 1837)
  • Oliver Twist (The Adventures of Oliver Twist; monthly serial in Bentley's Miscellany, February 1837 to April 1839)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby; monthly serial, April 1838 to October 1839)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (weekly serial in Master Humphrey's Clock, April 1840 to November 1841)
  • Barnaby Rudge (Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty; weekly serial in Master Humphrey's Clock, February to November 1841)
  • A Christmas Carol (A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost-story of Christmas; 1843)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit; monthly serial, January 1843 to July 1844)
  • The Chimes (The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In; 1844)
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home; 1845)
  • Dombey and Son (Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation; monthly serial, October 1846 to April 1848)
  • The Haunted Man (The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas-time; 1848)
  • David Copperfield (The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery; monthly serial, May 1849 to November 1850)
  • Bleak House (monthly serial, March 1852 to September 1853)
  • Hard Times (Hard Times: For These Times; weekly serial in Household Words, 1 April 1854, to 12 August 1854)
  • Little Dorrit (monthly serial, December 1855 to June 1857)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (weekly serial in All the Year Round, 30 April 1859, to 26 November 1859)
  • Great Expectations (weekly serial in All the Year Round, 1 December 1860 to 3 August 1861)
  • Our Mutual Friend (monthly serial, May 1864 to November 1865)
  • The Signal-Man (1866), first published as part of the Mugby Junction collection in the 1866 Christmas edition of All the Year Round.
  • Edwin Drood (The Mystery of Edwin Drood; monthly serial, April 1870 to September 1870), left unfinished due to Dickens's death

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