Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was a nineteenth-century novelist who was and still is very popular. He was born in Landport, a region of Portsmouth, on February 7, 1812 (Kyle 1).

Charles Dickens was the son of John Dickens and Elizabeth Barrow. John

Dickens was a minor government official who worked in the Navy Pay Office. Through

his work there, he met Elizabeth and eventually married her. By 1821, when Charles was

four months old, John Dickens could no longer afford the rent on his house. John

Dickens loved to entertain his friends with drinks and conversation. Throughout his life,

he was very short of money and in debt. He often had to borrow money to pay off the

debt and borrow more money to pay off the people he borrowed the money from. Later

on, John Dickens was transferred again to work in the naval dockyard at Chatman. It was

here that Charles Dickens' earliest and clearest memories were formed (Mankowitz

9-14).

Charles’ education included being taught at home by his mother, attending a

Dame School at Chatman for a short time, and Wellington Academy in London. He was

further educated by reading widely in the British Museum (Huffam).

In late 1822, John was needed back at the London office, so they had to move to

London. This gave Charles opportunities to walk around the town with his father and

take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the area. This gave him early inspiration that he

would use later on in his life when he started to write (Mankowitz 13-14).

James Lamert, the owner of a boot-blacking factory, saw the conditions that the

Dickens family was going through. He offered Charles a job there and he was paid six

shillings a week which was reasonable at that time. Soon, he was moved downstairs in

the sweatshop-like room. Charles had been working at the factory for less than two

weeks when his father was arrested for debt. He was sent to debtors prison where he did

work to pay off his debt. John paid for Charles' lodging, but Charles had to pay for his

food and everything else with the six shillings he earned every week. The details of

London and of prison life were imprinting themselves into Dickens' memory and would

one day help him in the novels he wrote. After John was in prison for three months, his

mother died leaving him enough money to get out of debtors prison (Mankowitz 20-22).

Late in Charles' teens, he became a court reporter. This introduced him to

journalism, and he also became interested in politics. Some of his early short stories and

sketches, which were published in various London newspapers and magazines, were

compiled in 1836 to form his first book, Sketches by Boz. This book sold well (Huffam).

In 1837, he wrote another book called Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.

It was written in monthly installments. Dickens had become the most popular author in

England by the time the fourth installment was done. This period is now known as

Dickens’ “early period” because of the interest he was gaining for his novels. During this

period, he wrote Sketches by Boz, Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Oliver

Twist (1838), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1839), and The Old

Curiosity Shop (1841) (Huffam).


In 1842, Dickens traveled to the US hoping to gain support for his liberal political

ideas. He returned to England deeply disappointed. He wrote two books expressing how

he felt about the US. These books mainly criticized the US for not having a copyright

law, the acceptance of slavery, and the vulgarity of the people. These books were

American Notes for General Circulation (1842) and The Life and Adventures of Martin

Chuzzlewit (1844). Chuzzlewit was a big failure, but many critics believed it was a

critical turning point in his career because he realized that greed corrupted the human

soul. This is known as his “middle period”. During this period, he became more

concerned with human life (Huffam).

The first book that would start Dickens’ “middle period” would be A

Christmas Carol (1843). During his “middle period”, he wrote two more Christmas

books. They were The Chimes (1844) and The Cricket on the Hearth (1845). Dealings

with the Firm of Dombey and Son (1848) was his