Born in Portsmouth, on February 7, 1812, Charles Dickens is considered to be the greatest novelist of Victorian times.
He wrote 15 novels – including such famous titles as Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol – and hundreds of short stories and articles. Even if you have not read any of his work, perhaps you have seen one or more of over 400 television and film adaptations of Dickens’ immortal creations.
Dickens’ father was not very good with money, and in 1824, because of his debts, he was sent to prison. Young Charles, only 12 at the time, had to leave school and work in a factory to help the family survive. This experience was an inspiration for his second novel, Oliver Twist, which tells of the life of an orphan living on the streets of London.
Eventually, Dickens was able to return to school and finish his education. His first novel, like several others, was published in instalments while he was working as a reporter for The Morning Chronicle. This method of telling his stories bit by bit, usually week by week, meant that he could respond to his audience’s reaction and adapt the plot or the characters.
In 1836 he left the Chronicle and started editing a magazine called Bentley’s Miscellany. In the same year, he married Catherine Hogan, with whom he had ten children before husband and wife separated in 1858. Catherine was not very happy when a packet arrived at home containing a gold bracelet and a note written by Dickens, both intended for his lover, actress Ellen Ternan!
By now Charles Dickens was a household name, and in 1842 he went on a 5-month lecture tour of the USA, where he spoke in public of his opposition to slavery. He would return in 1867 for another very successful tour, and it has been estimated that the visit earned him the equivalent of $1.5 million in today’s money.
1843 saw the publication of A Christmas Carol, the first of Dickens’ extremely popular Christmas stories, the tale of the bitter old miser, Scrooge, who is transformed into a kinder, more thoughtful man after being visited by a series of ghosts from the past present and future. There have been over fifty television and film versions of this story alone!
Other major works followed, such as A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. Its opening sentence – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” – is one of the best-known in literature. Or David Copperfield, Dickens’ own favourite among his novels, and regarded by many as a kind of autobiography.
In 1865 Charles Dickens was involved in a train accident, and he never fully recovered. He died from a stroke in 1870, at the age of 58, leaving a final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But the many unforgettable characters he created will live on forever.