The Life of 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
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)
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 next novel. In this
novel, he tries to show the dehumanizing effects of wealth, pride, and
commercial values. He would write another novel during this period called The
Personal History of David Copperfield in 1850.