Dickens was born on 7th February 1812 to John and Elizabeth Dickens, the second of seven children. John worked as a clerk in a Navy pay office in Portsmouth and later worked in Chatham. Charles had the good fortune of going to school aged nine, but this was short lived as in 1822, John Dickens’s struggle to provide for his family on his meagre income alongside his mounting debts resulted in his arrest – his inspiration for the character Mr Micawber in ‘David Copperfield’.
The family were sent to Marshalsea, apart from Charles who was instead sent to work at Warren’s Blacking factory, aged twelve. Paid six shillings a week and enduring appalling conditions, it provided the source for Dickens’s signature young male characters who suffer poverty and bad treatment – Oliver Twist (‘Oliver Twist’) and Pip (‘Great Expectations’), to name a couple. This experience scarred Dickens and was worsened when his mother insisted that he continued working there – perhaps a contributory factor in his negative female characters e.g. Mrs Gargery, Miss Havisham and Estella from ‘Great Expectations’.
After six months of imprisonment, John Dickens received an inheritance from his deceased mother which enabled him to pay off his debts and leave prison. Some of the inheritance was also spent on Charles for him to return to education. Charles was an average student and eventually left school at fifteen to work as an office boy in a firm of solicitors and learnt shorthand in the evenings.
The way his experiences so far in life affected him was notably expressed in ‘David Copperfield’ where the titled character is sent to work in a factory in London and his landlord Mr Micawber is sent to a debtor’s prison.
In 1829 Dickens became a freelance reporter and a year later he fell in love with Maria Beadnell. By 1832 he became a Parliamentary reporter and began to work for a newspaper. A year later his love affair with Maria ended and a unflattering portrayal of her is depicted in ‘Little Dorrit’. This break up was speculated as being because her parents disapproved of Dickens. It is at this time when Dickens also started publishing his own writing.
Three years later he married Catherine Hogarth daughter of his friend George Hogarth with whom he had ten children. However their relationship ended in 1858 and it is widely thought that it was because he was more in love with her sister Mary who lived with them and died in Dickens’s arms when she was just seventeen years old. He wore her ring for the rest of his life and even wanted to be buried next to her. She inspired his character Dora Copperfield. The same year that Maria died was the same year that Dickens started ‘Oliver Twist’.
Another Hogarth sister Georgiana moved in with them who Dickens too fell in love with. His romantic liaisons also included the actress Ellen Ternan.
The style of Dicken’s writing took shape through instalments which later turned into novels, such as, ‘Pickwick Papers’ and ‘Oliver Twist’. After the success of these, Dickens focused on being a novelist. Whilst his career was fully underway, he embarked on various reading tours and purchased a number of residencies. These readings continued for a number of years until 1870.
In the run up to this, Dickens experienced trauma where he was involved in a railway accident which affected him physically and psychologically. By 1869 his health continued to deteriorate but against doctor’s advice he continued with his tours. However, he collapsed during one of his readings and displayed signs of a stroke.
In 1870 Dickens took part in his final public readings in London when, on 8th June he suffered a stroke and died the following day. Charles Dickens, a literary genius was buried in Westminster Abbey.
A true story of rags to riches.