Born to John and Elizabeth Dickens in a small terraced house at 1 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsea
on 7th February 1812, Charles Dickens
was the second of their eight children. Dickens father was a clerk in the Naval Pay Office, but despite this was famously bad with money, a theme that would haunt Dickens throughout his life.
One of Dickens early influences was Mary Weller, the woman who was hired as his nurse, who used to terrorise him with bedtime stories about unsavoury characters such as Captain Murder. At the age of five Dickens' family moved to Chatham in Kent after his fathers job was moved to nearby Somerset House, and it was here that he was introduced to the worlds of literature and drama after a relative took him to visit the theatre, and introduced him to many of the works of Fielding and Smollett, among others. Five years later his family moved to Camden in London,. Tragedy struck the family in 1824 when his father was imprisoned in Marshalsea Debtors' Prison, Southwark, and they were forced to move into the prisons one-room hovel nearby for three months, whilst the young Charles was sent to work at a Warren's Blacking Factory at Hungerford Market.
The situation did improve though and soon afterwards Dickens returned to his education at Wellington House Academy, where he stayed until 1827. After finishing his education he started work as a solicitor's clerk, intially for the firm of Ellis and Blackmore, and then for Charles Molley before finally deciding that a career in law wasn't for him.
He left the law firm and decided to become a freelance court stenographer, which involved him learning the Gurney Shorthand system, a task which took most people 3 years, but took Dickens only three months. In 1829 he began his new career in the Doctor's Common, and in 1830 he met and fell in love with Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker. This relationship didn't last long, due in part to the disapproval of the match by her parents, and Dickens left the Commons to become a shorthand reporter with the Mirror of Parliament two years later. The publication gave accounts of the activity in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and Dickens gained a reputation of being one of the most accurate and speedy shorthand reporters around.
In 1835, the same year as he became engaged to Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of his friend George Hogarth, he published his first short story, 'Dinner at Poplar Walk', under his reporting pseudonym 'Boz', and a year later a collection of his work was released in 'Sketches by Boz' which was illustrated by George Cruikshank. This anthology did bring him to the attention of Robert Seymour, a popular cartoonist who hired him to write short texts to accompany a series of humorous sporting illustrations. Unfortunately Seymour committed suicide shortly afterwards, and Dickens reworked the idea as the The Pickwick Papers, along with the illustrator by Hablot K. Browne, working under the moniker of 'Phiz' whose association with Dickens would continue for many years. This year also saw him taking over the role of editor for of Bentley's Miscellany, and in December, publishing the second volume of Sketches by Boz. The Pickwick Papers continued to be published until November 1837 and were a huge success.
After to popularity of The Pickwick Papers, Dickens decided to become a full time novelist producing work of increasing complexity at an ever increasing rate, although he continued his editorial work at Bentleys. In 1837 Dickens fathered the first of his ten children, also called Charles, and work on Oliver Twist was begun and continued with monthly releases until April 1839. In 1838 Dickens began work on Nicholas Nickleby, and continued through until October 1839.
1840 saw the start of the work that would provide Dickens with his next two novels, Master Humphrey's Clock and also The Old Curiosity Shop which he finishes in February of the following year. 1841 saw the publication of Barnaby Rudge, which continued through until November.
In 1842 Charles and Catherine travelled to America, during which he spent a large proportion of his time campaigning for an international copyright law, as he was becoming increasingly incensed by illicit copies of his work being published in the country, as well as speaking out for the abolition of slavery. His writings about the trip, which were published in 'American Notes' was highly critical of the country. This theme which was repeated in his next novel, 'Martin Chuzzlewit' which was started in 1843 and completed in July 1844, the same year as his first Christmas novel was published, 'A Christmas Carol' in December.
Shortly after returning from their jaunt to America, Catherine's sister, Georgina, came to live with the family in an attempt to help her sister cope with the ever increasing strain caused by her growing family, and eventually she ended up assuming the running of the household. Dickens started to become irritated by his wife's 'ineptitude' in coping with the children and running the household, and slowly, the marriage started to go downhill.
Dickens was taken with travelling, and from 1844 he spent little time in Great Britain, and spent much of the next three years travelling throughout Italy, Switzerland, and France. He returned briefly to publish 'The Chimes' in 1844, and 'The Cricket and the Hearth' a year later in 1845. Upon his return from Italy in 1846, he serialised his second travel novel 'Pictures From Italy' in his short lived paper 'The Daily News'
Dickens was becoming more and more interested in the performing arts, an area which he had briefly flirted with earlier on in his life, and started up his own theatre company, who's achievements culminated in enacting Dickens own play entitled 'The Frozen Deep' for Queen Victoria in 1857.
In 1847, whilst residing in Switzerland, Dickens began work on 'Dombey and Son', which ran until April 1848, and shortly after published the Battle of Life. All this was whilst continuing to direct his theatrical work, and working on what would be his last Christmas book, 'The Haunted Man', for release in December that year. Late 1847 saw Dickens show his philanthropic side which led him to help establish Miss Coutts's Home for Homeless Women.
The spring of 1849 saw the start of his work on his semi-autobiographical work 'David Copperfield', which was completed in 1850, the same year as Dickens founded the weekly Household Words, which would be succeeded, in 1859, by All the Year Round, which he edited until his death. 1851 found him at work on Bleak House, which appeared monthly from 1852 until September 1853.In late 1853 he returned to Italy and on his return, started to give public reading of his works. A year later 'Hard Times' started to appear weekly in 'Household Words' and continued to do so until August that year. Dickens and his family then took in an extended tour of France, and ended up living in Paris until the summer of 1855, when he returned to the UK to promote 'Little Dorrit' which he wrote whilst travelling. Upon his return to the country, Dickens purchased Gads Hill Place, an estate that he had admired since his youth, and spent a significant sum renovating the buildings before moving his family.
Dickens spent the summer of 1857 in Great Britain, and was visited by several of his literary associates, most notably Hans Christian Anderson, and William Makepeace Thackery. Life with Catherine had become increasingly difficult, and Dickens ended up having an affair with Ellen Ternan, who was appearing in one of his plays. One year later Dickens was divorced, claiming that he and his wife were 'tempermentally unsuited' to one another.
Dickens continued his reading tours throughout 1858 and 1859, and also started to release A Tale of Two Cities through his All the Year Round magazine. The public readings continued until 1863, with the only major novel being released in this time was 'Great Expectations', and a collection of some of his travel essays entitled 'The Uncommercial Traveller'.
Our Mutual Friend was begun in 1864, and appeared monthly until November 1865, but the years of constant overwork had taken their toll on Dickens and he became too ill to continue writing at his usual hectic pace. Despite this, by 1866 Dickens had returned to his rounds of public readings appearing throughout England and Scotland, and in 1867 he carried on his tour into Ireland, whilst still editing All the Year Round, against his physicians advice.
By 1868, his body could no longer take the gruelling schedule Dickens had attempted to maintain, and he collapsed after suffering a stroke, but he carried on writing and commenced work upon The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickens never completed this book. He died of a further stroke at Gads Hill Place, his home in Kent, in 1870. He was buried in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. His epitaph reads 'He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world'