Welcome to this week's Author Focus on Charles Dickens! I have already featured George Eliot
and Wilkie Collins
Anyone who has read me for awhile knows that I haven't always been the biggest fan of Dickens. In fact, I used to hate him. Granted, I wasn't really being fair to him or his work, and as I have let myself explore his life and work, I've come around.
I still like to fondly refer to Mr. Dickens as my literary arch-nemesis. I don't think he would mind...but I think he would chuckle at my prejudices against some of his work. :) But I'm here to share what I've learned about Mr. Dickens in my explorations of his life-and what a life it was!
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 to John and Elizabeth Dickens as the second of eight children. When he was relatively young, Charles was sent to school and his family was doing okay. That changed in 1824 when his father, John, was sent to debtor's prison. His wife and the younger children lived with John in the prison while the older kids found homes with relatives and family friends. At only 12 years old, Charles found employment at Warren's Blacking House to help support his family. He would often work ten or twelve hour days for minimal pay. His experiences working as a child had a lasting impact on his life and writing (Oliver Twist
comes to mind).
Eventually, John inherited some money from a relative and found his way out of prison. Rather than remove their son from his place of employment right away, Elizabeth Dickens waited. Like his work experiences, this lack of care for his well-being had a significant impact on Charles. You can see evidence of his feelings towards women and mothers in many of his novels.
Charles eventually found work in a law office as a clerk. Again, his experiences working in this kind of environment impacted his writing later on in life (Bleak House
and Nicholas Nickleby
spring to my mind!). Charles eventually turned to a journalism career, working for various magazines for a number of years.
It was during his time working for magazines and journals that Charles began to seriously start writing. His first set of periodicals was eventually collected into a book, Sketches by Boz
(Boz was a pseudonym). These sketches caught the attention of publishers Chapman and Hall, who hired Dickens to write in accompaniment to a series of illustrations done by Robert Seymour. The result was The Pickwick Papers
, Dickens' first novel.
In 1836, Charles married Catherine Thomson Hogarth and continued to publish new novels in episodic form. By only releasing one portion of his new novels at a time, Dickens began to master the form of writing. Readers would wait anxiously for the next installment to be published. His fame began to rise with each new publication. As he aged, his novels also began to tackle more difficult themes-namely socioeconomic issues.
Dickens was prolific even while he was alive. He was a major voice in the era and befriended many of his contemporaries, including Wilkie Collins. Together, they wrote numerous plays and short stories. It was during one of these co-written plays that Dickens met Ellen Ternan. He fell so in love that he made the decision to leave Catherine for Ellen in 1858. Since divorce was still relatively taboo, Charles and Catherine agreed on a separation, but Charles spent the rest of his life with Ellen. Yet another Victorian writer scandal (that makes us 3 for 3!).
It was after this that Dickens began a series of reading and speaking tours. He traveled throughout Europe and the United States on his tours. It was during this time that many of his "major works" were published, including Great Expectations
and A Tale of Two Cities.
Many critics believe that he entered a serious mode of thinking about his writing and changes he could make in society. It what around this time that he also began some serious philanthropic work in England.
On June 9, 1865, Dickens' life took a turn. He was involved in the Staplehurst Rail Crash. It was a horrific event at the time, and Dickens was in one of the only cars that wasn't overturned. He was on board with Ellen and a few other friends when the train crashed. He spent hours attending to those who were injured or dying until further help came. He even risked going back into the train to rescue the unfinished manuscript of Our Mutual Friend
The crash and the result changed his life. After the crash, he began to be very introspective and never seemed to fully recover to where he was before. His works took a darker turn and his health deteriorated. Charles eventually passed away on June 9, 1870-five years to the day AFTER the rail crash. He was laid to rest, against his wishes, in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey.
Dickens is known not only for his life and legacy, but for his popularity, characters, and enduring themes. He is one of the world's most popular authors and continues to have a lasting impression on our society and popular culture (I think we all know what a "Scrooge" is). Not only did he have humor and laughter in his works, but also depth and social commentary. I know that I have begun to look past the surface of his novels to find the deeper meaning. And while I may be coming around to his novels and style of writing, I'll always think of him as my literary arch-nemesis. :)
Dickens' complete novels include, in order of publication:
- The Pickwick Papers
- Oliver Twist
- Nicholas Nickleby
- The Old Curiosity Shop
- Barnaby Rudge
- Martin Chuzzlewit
- Dombey and Son
- David Copperfield
- Bleak House
- Hard Times
- Little Dorrit
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Great Expectations
- Our Mutual Friend
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished)
To celebrate Charles Dickens, his life, and his works, I am giving away a copy of the Dickens Bicentenary
. I discussed my own copy in this post
. It is a phenomenal collection, complete with inserts, photographs, and way more information about Charles than I could include in this post. To enter, read the following and comment below:
- This giveaway is open to anyone! As long as the Book Depository delivers to your country, you can enter (I reserve the right to ship from another company if you live within the U.S.).
- You MUST be a participant of A Victorian Celebration to enter.
- You MUST be 13 years or older
- You do not have to follow me or subscribe to qualify
- You MUST leave me your e-mail so that I contact you if you win
- The winner will have 48 hours to respond or I will pick a new winner.
- To enter, comment on this post with your answer to this question: What Dickens character do you think is the most memorable and why?
- The giveaway will be open until 11:59 PM on Friday July 6, 2012 EST.
*Information in this post was taken from wikipedia.org and the Dickens Bicentenary*