Charles Dickens was an influential writer born on February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth, England. His father, John Dickens, was a minor clerk in the navy offices, a friendly man with a large family (Charles was the second of eight children) and they did not receive a very high income. The family drifted from one poor home in London to another, each worse than the last one. Soon Charles’ father and family ended up in the Marshalsea Prison because they were deep in debt.
This left young Charles working in a dirty, broken-down warehouse, living in a garret, visiting his family in prison on Sundays if he could, and feeling that his life was shattered before it had ever even begun. Then an unexpected inheritance, that had finally come after a long time, restored the family to an average lifestyle, and Charles had a few nice, quiet years at a private school. Charles later made his father into one of the characters in a book he wrote. His father was represented as Mr. Micawber.
Charles did this because of the great love and affection that he held for his father. When his own rising fortune and fame made Charles in charge of a great newspaper, he put his father on the staff to have control over the dispatches and bought him a small country house. Dickens’ mother ,however, was unsympathetic and unconscious of his genius. She meant much less to him than his father, and it didn’t help when she strongly disapproved of his leaving work to go to school. He made her into the character of Mrs. Nickleby.
A few years of secondary school was Charles’ only education where he was actually in a classroom reading books taught to him by a teacher. His real education came from his reading, observations, and daily experiences. Except for the English novels of the 18th century, he knew hardly anything of great literature. And he knew practically nothing about history and foreign politics. His novels all deal with his own day’s experiences, his surroundings, and they take place in his own time.
There are only two exceptions, his two historical novels ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Barnaby Rudge. These two novels were set in the recent past of the French Revolution and the Gordon Riots. By teaching himself shorthand, Dickens obtained the position of court reporter in the old Doctors’ Commons. This experience gave him a peculiar dislike of law that never left him. He also went to other cities and towns to report election speeches, transcribing his notes on the palm of his hand. This experience gave him a detailed and sometimes cynical view of government. He often put such feelings of his into his works. Charles Dickens was drawn to acting.
He loved the stage, the acters, the plays, and everything else that went with it. For many nights he would sit awake almost mesmerized by the dramas he had seen that day in the London theatre. He was very interested in all of the love, treachery, and battles in the plays. These melodramas affected Charles deeply, and he never forgot them for the remainder of his life. His intense concentration and curiosity on the subject of acting helped to give him that quality in his writing, which is known by some to be almost hypnotic, that so many people enjoy.
As we all know, Charles Dickens never did follow his passion and become an actor, but fate led him in a different direction to that of a writer, his other talent and passion. He turned in stories under a false name, “Boz”, to an editor. When one finally was published, Charles was overjoyed. He sent in more and soon had an agreement where he would be payed about seventy dollars for each monthly installment of his humorous literature. This was called the ‘Pickwick Papers’. The week they were released Charles was married to one of the daughters of a newspaper associate of his, named Catherine Hogarth.
They did not love each other very much, for although Charles was a genius, he was also a bit self-conceited. The ‘Pickwick Papers’ did not do well at first, but as Charles added more and more unique characters, new scenes, and twisting plots that were all based on his imagination, they started to sell. “Boz” was rising in the world to the height of success in only a few years because of the ‘Pickwick Papers’ and the books that followed, such as ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, ‘Old Curiosity Shop’, and ‘Barnaby Rudge. ‘ He was no longer a poor boy, but a wealthy, famous, married man.
He had conquered England. Now there was America, a whole new land who had never heard of Charles Dickens and was just waiting to be subjected to his writings and works. So Charles started to let them know. America had welcomed his books from the start, mostly because of the lack of international copyright that permitted American publishers to print his novels without paying him. One other reason that he wanted to move on to America was that Charles was, in his youth, a radical who hated Toryism and aristocracy. Therefore, he longed to study America and its freedom first hand.
Leaving their four children at home, he landed with his wife in Boston in January 1842. The town welcomed him with open arms, and he attended many parties, dinners, and receptions. Many thrilled people were often praising him, and he loved the adulation and admiration. Here he made many friendships that he never lost, even when he found out that America wasn’t as great as he had thought it to be in the beginning. After Boston, he traveled on to New York, then Philadelphia, and then Baltimore and Washington. In all places he was treated as royalty, receptions and crowds waited to meet him at every stop.
He even met the President and the Congress. Always ready to raise his voice in defense of a cause he believed in, Charles spoke everywhere of the need for an international copyright agreement that would protect the rights of both American and British writers. He felt that it was unfair and unjust that American publishers should print and sell his or anyone else’s books without permission from him and without paying him any royalties. Charles Dickens, although, did not speak of himself as the only victim of this practice. He pointed out that all British writers deserved this right.
Also he acknowledged that American writers, such as Edgar Allan Poe, suffered from the illegal selling or reproducing of their works in England. The newspapers in America were appalled by these statements and accused Charles Dickens of bad taste and of abusing American hospitality. In time Charles’ view of America as a great country faded. One of his writings, called the ‘American Notes’, revealed his views on this and showed his disgust of America. Everything he had seen before of America now seemed different, his views changed on everything he laid eyes on.
In Charles’ new viewpoint, Americans all seemed to chew tobacco. And they kept slaves, whom he was constantly comparing with the factory slaves of England. To him the American Government seemed to be full of nothing but fraud, trickery, and cheating. Then he traveled West, traveling as far as Cairo, Illinois. His vision of the West contained nothing but foul and reeking canal boats, dank swamps, loud bullfrogs, and that horrible tobacco juice. He refused to see the beauty of America, the hard work that settlers had done to make it what it had become, to give it it’s government and to produce the goods that came rom it’s factories.
He had become impatient, irritable, and cross. No one could please him. After spending a short time in Canada with his friends, he left headed back to England where he would damage the credit and reputation of America in his writings. The years that followed Charles’ return from America were filled with more activity, fame, and success than in the early stages of his life. In 1851 he made a grand home at Tavistock Square and lived in great style. His friends were the leading artists, authors, and actors of the day. Later on, he purchased a large country house at Gad’s Hill.
This had been a dream of his ever since his childhood. His novels, which now were appearing in continual monthly episodes, were very popular. Their success, when looking like it was about to be diminished, only rised to fame once again. Most people think that ‘David Copperfield’ was the best of his works at this time. Through all of Charles Dickens’ works of sadness and those of joy, people saw the difference between the ones when he was young and carefree, to those of his more serious middle aged years. Soon, Charles became dissatisfied with his writing. He wanted more.
He decided that what he wanted to do was become a newspaper editor. This way, he could reform all of England. When he told his friends of the idea, they enthusiastically took their money and founded the Daily News. In January of 1846 gave himself the job of editor, but after only nineteen days of the work, he quit. In 1850 he started a weekly journal, called Household Words, and then a magazine in 1859, called All the Year Round. In this magazine he published many of his famous works, such as ‘Christmas Stories’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, and ‘Great Expectations. ‘
During this time Charles Dickens began to remember his passion for the theatre. He started to do amateur theatricals, which was made possible by his management, energy, and enthusiasm. He also added public lectures and readings from his works to his theatricals. Charles even made a few tours in Ireland, England, and in Scotland that were very successful for him. Charles got seperated from his wife, Catherine, in 1858. Her younger sister, named Georgina, had lived with the couple for many years. She remained with Charles until his death, and his will provided for both sisters.
The public were always curious about his personal life, and Charles found relief and refuge in the excitement of his work. He traveled to America again in order to tour, and it turned out to be very successful, but also very tiring for aging Charles. Once he returned home to England, he continued on with his lectures, and made his last appearance in March of 1870. During his retirement, he put great effort and strife into finishing his last work, ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood. ‘ The book, a tale of murder, was left unfinished on June 9, 1870, the day that England’s most remarkable and creative writer, Charles Dickens, died.
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