A great novelist, short story writer, journalist, he was also an editor — and a father of 10 children!
Dickens’s life was much like that of his many characters, a rags-to-riches story.
Born in Portsmouth on the 7th of February, 1812, he was the second of eight children. When he was 10 years old his family moved to London. But there were serious money problems and his father went to prison for debt. His family later joined him. It was common in those days for the family of a debtor to live with him in prison.
Charles was taken out of school and sent to work in a blacking factory where he put labels on bottles of shoe polish. He worked long hours for very little money and lived away from his family, alone in London. Charles never forgot this. Even as a famous and successful adult, he carried a deep memory of the grief, humiliation and hopelessness he had felt.
Later, he went to school again, and left it at 15 to become a reporter. His genius for describing comical characters and his anger about social injustice were soon noticed. In 1836, he began The Pickwick Papers. The book was so popular that by the age of 25 Charles was the most popular novelist in both Britain and America.
Charles Dickens’ novels were funny and exciting, but they had a very serious message. He described the hard life of poor people and attacked injustice, hypocrisy and other social ills of Victorian England. He often wrote about real people and real events.
His stories were so powerful that Parliament sometimes passed laws to change things for the better. For example, after publishing Nicholas Nickleby, some of the cruel boarding schools in England were closed down.
London was Dickens’ muse. Throughout his life, he both loved and hated the city. When he was a boy, it filled him with horror and wonder. As a man, he regularly walked ten to twenty miles across the city, working out his plots. The city always inspired him, and when he was away from it he often found it difficult to work. He called it his ‘magic lantern’, and it never failed to spark his imagination.
Dickens is read and remembered today for the unique characters he created. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Uriah Heep, Ebenezer Scrooge, and many, many more live in our memories as real people. When Dickens created his characters, he often ran to the mirror and acted out their movements and facial expressions. Probably that’s why they are so memorable.
One his most famous characters is Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Today, this name is part of the English language: we often call a mean person a ‘scrooge’.
Dickens is as popular today as he was during his lifetime. To mark his birthday, there are celebrations all over the English-speaking world — performances, exhibitions, festivals and even parades!