Charles Dickens (2004)
Charles Dickens was born at Seaport on February 1812 and moved to London in 1814 with his father, a government clerk, in needy circumstances. He received a somewhat scanty education, but secured knowledge for himself by reading.
Dickens's father was imprisoned for debt, his wife and children, with the exception of Charles, who was employed as a bottle-washer in a blacking warehouse, joined him in the Marshalsea Prison.
When the family finances were put at least partly to rights and his father was released, the twelve year old Dickens, already scarred psychologically by the experience, was further wounded by his mother's insistence that he continued to work at the factory.
Later he became a clerk in an attorney's office and, improving his shorthand, he became a newspaper reporter. He also contributed humorous pieces to a magazine.
In 1835 he met and became engaged to Catherine Hogarth.
In 1836 an editor engaged the new writer to prepare a series of comic sketches on sporting subjects and suggested, as a subject, the adventures of an eccentric club. The result was the immortal Pickwick Papers published, as were many of Dickens's novels, in monthly parts.
The Pickwick Papers continued through November 1837, and it became an enormous popular success.
Dickens proceeded to marry Catherine Hogarth in 1836.
His great genius now fully appeared and his fame rose to its highest point. He then wrote Oliver Twist, a picture of criminal life, which exposed the conduct of workhouses and initiated that vein of pathos and satire on institutions that became a characteristic of his stories.
Next appeared Nicholas Nickleby (1838), which severely criticized the management of cheap boarding schools and The old curiosity shop (1840-1841), a blend of sadness and humour.
After finishing Barnaby Rudge (1841), Dickens set off for America. He went full of enthusiasm for the young republic but, in spite of triumphant reception, he returned disillusioned.
His experiences are recorded in American Notes (1842) and in Martin Chuzzlewit.
The series of Christmas books appeared in 1843, the most popular tales being A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth.
After a long visit to Italy in 1844 Dickens produced Pictures from Italy. Next followed the semi-autobiographical novel, David Copperfield, perhaps Dickens's greatest work.
In later works, such as Bleak House (1853) and Little Dorrit (1857), Dickens's social criticism became more radical and his comedy more savage.
In 1850 he started the weekly periodical Household Words, succeeded in 1859 by All the year round; in these he published A tale of two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860-1861) and other less important novels up to the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was being published as usual in instalments when Dickens suddenly died in 1870, in London, physically and nervously exhausted by the strain of his enormous activity.
Public grief at his death was considerable and he was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.