Born in Portsmouth, England, on February 7,
1812, the second of John and Elizabeth Dickens's eight children,
Charles Dickens had a tragic childhood. His father ran into heavy
debts and his parents were put behind bars in the debtors’ prison at
Charles was forced to go to work at a factory, Hungerford Stairs,
which labeled bottles. Whenever he could, he visited his parents in
the prison. The experience, with its unfairness to an
eleven-year-old child, and his understanding of life in the prison
left a deep mark in his mind. The Pickwick Papers and
David Copperfield were reflections of this experience.
After a while, the fortunes of the family changed for the better and
Charles attended the Wellington House Academy from 1824 to 1826.
After this brief stint at formal education, he became an office boy
at a solicitor’s office. Soon he also mastered the technique of
shorthand and became a reporter.
Around this time, Charles began to write and draw sketches depicting
the lives of the lower and middle class families in London, under
the pseudonym Boz. He soon became very popular. Besides showing deep
concern for social issues, the creations of Boz also displayed a
refined sense of humor.
Charles married an ex-colleague’s daughter in 1836 and the couple
had ten children before they separated.
The work that catapulted Charles to fame was the Pickwick Papers.
It was considered a publishing phenomenon. Soon after he began
writing Oliver Twist, in which he exposed the way young boys
were encouraged to steal. Nicholas Nickleby, which was
serialized through twenty installments, followed this and it had had
the same vitality and comic exuberance that dominated the
Charles Dickens next launched a weekly magazine, Master
Humphrey's Clock. It is said that it was so popular that the
first issue sold seventy thousand copies. A Christmas Carol
appeared in December 1843, followed by The Chimes in 1844,
where he launched an attack on the prevailing philosophy that the
poor have no right to anything beyond meager subsistence. Bleak
House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend
were works wherein Charles integrated his ridicule of the prevailing
social philosophy into novels.
Among Dickens’ works, David Copperfield is considered
autobiographical. His boyhood experiences, the growing
dissatisfaction with his marriage and other aspects of his life find
expression in this serialized work. Here Dickens, through David,
launches into the philosophy of equating the world of vision with
the world of actuality. Dickens’ tirade against an inept government
found expression in Little Dorrit, which was published in
monthly numbers from December 1855 to June 1857.
A summing up of the life of Charles Dickens can never be complete
without the story of the birth of A Tale of Two Cities. It
appeared in the first installment of All the Year Round, a
weekly journal launched by Dickens in April 1859. Set in the
backdrop of the French Revolution, the novel continued to appear
until November of the same year. Similarly, Great Expectations
too was a serialized novel that appeared in All Year Round.
Besides the print medium, Charles Dickens also loved the theatre. He
was an extremely skilled and accomplished actor and he produced
plays to support the charitable concerns he associated himself with.
He also conducted public reading sessions of his novels. The success
of these sessions may be gauged from the fact that people used to
stand in queues one and a half miles long for procuring tickets.
Dickens’ last novel was The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. He died
on June 8, 1870.