||Charles Dickens was born on 7 February 1812 in Landport, then a suburb
of Portsmouth, where his father worked as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office.
His grandfather William had been a footman in the household of Lady Blandford,
had married her housemaid, and had gone on to become the steward of Lord
Crewe at his country seat, Crewe Hall. Two children had been born
to the couple, William and John. John Dickens had married Elizabeth
Barrow, whose father was employed by the Navy Board.
For a time the newly-married pair lived quite comfortably on John's modest salary of £300 per year at the Pay Office, where he proved himself capable, hard-working and honest. In due course, however, as the children were born (there were to be eight, of whom Charles was the second), the gap between earnings and cost of living steadily widened and the family situation soon became desperate.
||Life in the Marshalsea was reasonably comfortable and John Dickens
quickly became president of the committee controlling the prison's internal
Unlike his father, however, Charles could not adapt to his new way of
life. He found the work hateful and humiliating: 'no words,' he later
wrote, 'can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this companionship,
compared these everyday associates with those of my happier childhood;
and felt my early hopes of growing up to be a learned and distinguished
man, crushed in my breast.'
After about six months in the Marshalsea, John Dickens was freed. Although Dickens's mother wanted Charles to go back to work, his father insisted that the boy should go back to school; thus Dickens was sent to Wellington House Academy between 1824 and 1827.
Having left school at the age of fifteen, Dickens began his career by
working in a solicitor's office: and later on became a political reporter,
working first for a journal called The Mirror of Parliament and
then for the Morning Chronicle (1833-5). This period was of
the greatest importance to Dickens's development as an author. His
interests widened, he mastered the art of rapid, fluent, popular writing,
and he acquired a stock of experience that gave his novels their tremendous
'immediacy' and impact.
|Dickens's first attempt at writing fiction, as opposed to news reporting,
was a short story published anonymously and without payment in 1833, in
an obscure periodical called The Monthly Magazine.
The editor of the magazine was sufficiently impressed, however, to commission from Dickens further articles, or sketches. Charles obliged with two more, adopting as a nom de plume the name of his brother Augustus - 'Boz'. In 1836 several of these sketches were published in two volumes as Sketches by Boz, which earned the author the princely sum of £150.
In the spring of 1835 Dickens became engaged to Catherine Hogarth, daughter
of the editor of the Evening Chronicle. They were married
on 2 April 1836, and by the beginning of the following year had moved into
a town house at 48 Doughty Street, London, where Dickens was to live during
the crucial two years when he was writing Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist
and Nicholas Nickleby. Also living with the couple was Catherine's
16-year-old sister Mary.
Tragedy struck in 1837, however, when on the evening of 7 May 1837 - a few months after Catherine had given birth to a son, also named Charles - Mary was unexpectedly taken ill, probably as a result of a heart attack. Within a few hours, she was dead. After Mary's death, for some twenty years, Dickens was almost totally taken up with his work as a writer, giving little time to family life. The real milestones were not so much the birth of his children (he had 10 of them) as the birth of his novels.
From 1837 onwards, the flow of novels never stopped. Pickwick Papers was followed by Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge.
By the end of 1839 Dickens and his family had moved to 1 Devonshire Terrace, Regents Park, in London (pictured below). Here Dickens set himself up in a thoroughly well-to-do style, with his own carriage and groom.
After tremendous exertions, and success to match, Dickens went in search of change to the United States in 1842. At first he was enthusiastically welcomed; but the mood towards him began to change after Dickens publicly rebuked the Americans in speeches for their disregard of international copyright - as yet there was no law governing the matter - by which authors such as himself were being deprived of their rightful income. This resentment also surfaced in Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), which soured his reputation in America for some considerable time.
By the late 1840s Dickens was earning good money as a novelist. David Copperfield (1849-50) at once became one of the most popular of his works. Dickens himself wrote the novel in a style more directly autobiographical than in any previous works, using his childhood experiences in the blacking factory as a basis for the plot.
Dickens also made use of some of the places he had visited; in a small
cottage in the Kent seaside town of Broadstairs (which he had first visited
in 1837) there lived a Miss Mary Strong, a kind and charming old lady who
fed him tea and cakes. She was also convinced of her right to stop
the passage of donkeys in front of her cottage. The donkey incident
was also used in David Copperfield; in the novel, Miss Strong became Betsey
Trotwood, whose cottage with 'its square gravelled garden full of flowers'
and the parlour with its 'old fashioned furniture' attracted David's interest.
To avoid embarrassment to Miss Strong, however, the location of the cottage
was moved from Broadstairs to Dover.