Charles John Huffam Dickens was born 7th February 1812 in Landport, Portsmouth. The son of a naval clerk, the Dickens family had always been poor, although had remained happy during Charles’ early years. After first moving to Chatham, Kent, the family eventually moved to the deeply deprived London neighbourhood of Camden Town, where their financial situation took a dire turn. His father’s poor management skills came to the fore when he was imprisoned for debt. Charles was just 12 years old.
During the years of Charles’ life to follow, he began to grasp the sentiment for life that would reflect through his writings. Indeed, it would be that both ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Great Expectations’ would fictionalise the time that Charles now spent working in a rodent-ridden factory with a feeling of loneliness and despair. He was returned to school after enduring the experience and supporting the family for three years, but the experience was clearly never forgotten.
At 15 he was made to leave school yet again and contribute to the families’ income once more. He started off as an office boy, but within a year he started freelance reporting and within a couple of years was writing for a two major London Newspapers. Not that he knew it at the time, but this job became the launching point for his writing career.
The very first work of fiction Dickens ever published were short pieces which were illustrative of everyday life and people. He wrote them under the pseudonym “Boz” and his first book ‘Sketches by Boz’ was published in 1836. In the same year he got his first major success with ‘The Pickwick Papers’. It was during this part of his career in which Charles would marry Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have 10 children. Charles also became publisher of a magazine called ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’, in which he began publishing his first novel, ‘Oliver Twist’. This is widely accepted as been inspired by Dickens’ own childhood, during which he felt abandoned by the adults he had entrusted to protect him, forced to earn his own keep, and left to rely on his own wit to survive. ‘Oliver Twist’ was widely well received, with monthly followers always eagerly awaiting the next publication.
From them onwards Dickens was never poor again, despite over the coming years struggling to quite find the success ‘Oliver Twist’ had received. As well as his own large family, Charles’ also supported his extended family, numerous friends and beneficiaries, which only increased as did his earning power. He calculated that he needed around £9,000 a year (around £630,000 today) to continue to provide and live with the comforts he was accustomed to. An inventory of his house shortly before his death noted in his cellar sherry, brandy, rum and “one fine cask scotch whiskey”, although Charles is not deemed to have been an alcoholic.
After a five-month lecture tour of America with his wife in 1842, Charles returned home and wrote ‘American Notes for General Circulation’, a sarcastic critique of American materialism and their general way of life.
Over the next couple of years Charles would publish the literary classic ‘A Christmas Carol’, the tale of the protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, a man devoid of all kindness and heart despite his wealth, who is then with the help of three ghosts is exposed to the Christmas spirit and becomes something of a philanthropist. The popularity of this work remains today, as it continues to be adapted in all artistic genres.
As well as his esteemed works as a novelist, Dickens during his time was a well-known campaigner for children’s rights and education, plus founder of many charities. His greatest fame was experienced during his two American tours, which he took as an opportunity to voice his opposition to slavery. Charles initially bragged of the way the American crowds flocked to him, although later grew to resent the invasion of his privacy. Back home Dickens was famous enough to regularly be recognised as his strolled London seeking inspiration for his work.
‘David Copperfield’ was Charles’s personal favourite of his own works, despite not particularly his most successful. This novel itself was very much a first of its kind, as the first to follow one character through their everyday life. During it, Charles reflects upon his own impoverished upbringing and early life as a journalist.
Indeed, it is much of the turmoil and strife experienced by the young Charles Dickens which gives us some of the great novels enjoyed today, which give us a sense of how a young Victorian boy was forced to live, and explore Victorian England through his writings.
Dickens London Walking Tour
To visit the sites that are mentioned in his world famous stories such as Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend, Oliver Twist and many other books join us on our Dickens London Walking tour. The tour is led by a world expert of the life and works of Charles Dickens who shares surprising facts and stories.
Dickens Favourites Places featured in his novels in London:
Palace of Westminster (including the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Hall), St Pauls`s Cathedral, Strand, Bank of England, Covent Garden Market, Holborn, London Bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Bridge.