Charles Dickens: Biography and Works

Biography: Charles Dickens was born on February 7th, 1812 in Landport, Portsmouth, England, the second of eight children, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. His father was a poor manager of the family’s finances, and was eventually sent to a debtor’s prison. The family’s poverty forced Charles to leave school when he was 12 years old to begin working ten-hour days at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse. He earned six shillings a week pasting labels on blacking. The strenuous — and often cruel — work conditions made a deep impression on Dickens, and later influenced his fiction and essays, forming the foundation of his interest in the reform of socio-economic and labour conditions.

Fortunately, Charles was able to leave this work behind and find employment as a newspaper reporter. By the mid-1830s he was also starting to write fiction – his first novel, The Pickwick Papers was published in 1836. That work was a popular success, allowing Charles more time to write other works – Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby and The Old Curiosity Shop. In December of 1844, A Christmas Carol, was published.

It is likely that A Christmas Carol stands as his best-known story, and it has inspired many versions and adaptations. This is a simple morality tale of the redemption of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and for many the true meaning of Christmas. A prominent phrase from the tale, ‘Merry Christmas’, was popularised following the appearance of the story.The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, with ‘Bah! Humbug!’ dismissive of the festive spirit. More importantly, Dickens developed a new secular vision of Christmas, which focused on the importance of family, generosity and the joy and happiness of the season.

Dickens continued to write more successful novels, including David Copperfield, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities – the latter of which was published in 1859, and has sold over 200 million copies.

Dickens’s novels were not just great literature, but also works of social commentary. At a time when Britain was the major economic and political power of the world, Dickens highlighted the life of the forgotten poor and disadvantaged within society. Through his journalism he campaigned on specific issues—such as sanitation and the workhouse—but his fiction probably demonstrated its greatest prowess in changing public opinion. He often depicted the exploitation and oppression of the poor and condemned the public officials and institutions that not only allowed such abuses to exist, but flourished as a result.

Many of his readers will know also remember Charles Dickens for the characters he created. The hundreds of people who filled his novels had believable personalities and vivid physical descriptions. They are among the most memorable in English literature. The likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, Oliver Twist, The Artful Dodger, Fagin, Miss Havisham, David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber, Samuel Pickwick, Wackford Squeers, Uriah Heep and many others are so well known that they continue to this day to be household names.

In his later years Charles traveled throughout Europe and the United States, and often gave readings of his works. Charles Dickens continued to write and work until the day of his death

In 1870 he was buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, and a printed epitaph circulated at the time of his funeral said, “He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.”

Articles about Charles Dickens and his works

“The wife of Lucifer” : women and evil in Charles Dickens, by C.A. Ebelthite

Dickens’s Haunted Christmas: The Ethics of the Spectral Text, by Brad Fruhauff

The anatomy of Charles Dickens: a study of bodily vulnerability in his novels, by Adrienne Elizabeth Gavin

The Voice of Objects in The Old Curiosity Shop,  by Michael Hollington

Law, Literature and Symbolic Revolution: Bleak House, by Dolin Kieran

A Mechanized Society in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, by Nadir Meddouri

The importance of Charles Dickens in Victorian social reform, by Jeffrey Frank Teachout

More Videos about Charles Dickens

More Resources

Dickensian Christmas dreamt up by marketers, says historian

Dickens’s fans sought to celebrate author’s bicentenary

Charles Dickens Museum to shut for 200th anniversary year


The Dickens Fellowship

BBC Radio 4 Program In Our Time: Dickens 

Victoria and Albert Museum – section on Dickens

Celebrating Dickens – from the the University of Warwick

Dickens2012 – follow the bicentenary of his birth

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