CHARLES DICKENS
The Life of Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
 
 
The house in Portsmouth, then known as 387 Mile End Terrace, Landport, where Charles Dickens was born.  It is now a Dickens museum.
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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. 

 
In 1822, shortly after being transferred to London, John Dickens found himself deeply in debt.  The Dickens family were driven first to pawn and then to sell their household belongings.  It was with a heavy heart that the young Charles Dickens parted with the books his father had bought him - classics such as Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, The Vicar of Wakefield and Tom Jones.  But even such measures could not salvage the situation.  In 1824 John Dickens was sent to the famous Marshalsea debtors' prison.  Here he was joined by his wife and younger children.  Only the eldest child, Fanny, then studying at the Royal Academy of Music, and Charles, employed at Warren's Blacking Factory and cared for by the distant relative who owned the establishment, were not allowed to stay at the prison.
 
 
 
The remains of the Marshalsea Prison in Borough, south London
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Life in the Marshalsea was reasonably comfortable and John Dickens quickly became president of the committee controlling the prison's internal affairs. 

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.' 
 

 
 
 
 
 
The Life of Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
Part 2

 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. 
 

 
Dickens's house at 48 Doughty Street.  It is now a museum
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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.
 
 


dickens5
The Life of Charles Dickens
(1812-1870)
(Part 3)
 
 
 
Bleak (Fort) House, Rochester, Kent.  It is now another Dickens museum.
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By this time Dickens's social conscience had become clearly evident in works such as Bleak House (the title of which was inspired by Fort House), Hard Times (1854) and Little Dorrit - the last of these novels focusing especially on the law of debt, something Dickens had known all too well in his younger days. 

Despite his success as a novelist, Dickens's family life was gradually disintegrating.  Catherine had never been much interested in his work; and by 1857, after 21 years of marriage, Dickens had fallen in love with a young actress called Ellen Ternan, whom he met while working as an actor-producer on a Victorian melodrama.  A year later, Dickens separated from his wife amid tremendous recriminations. 

 

In spite of family problems, however, Dickens did discover happiness in certain areas.  In 1856 he purchased a country house at Gad's Hill near Rochester in Kent.  This villa, built in the reign of Queen Anne (1685-1714) had fascinated him since his boyhood days when he had visited it on walks with his father.
 

Gad's Hill, Higham, Kent.  It has been used as a school since 1925
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Shortly after the breakdown of his marriage was made official, Dickens embarked on a new form of activity, arising from his passion for drama - public readings of famous passages from his works.

The first of these took place on 29 April 1858 in London's St. Martin's Hall; and it proved so successful that Dickens was encouraged to continue them.  His acting talent was so considerable that the readings could better be described as dramatic performances.  He soon decided to turn them into a new source of revenue; indeed, they became the principal source of revenue until his death in 1870.

The strain caused by the popularity of the readings took its toll on Dickens's health.  In 1868-9 he gave performances abroad, at the British Embassy in Paris, and in the United States (where he had been forgiven for past misdemeanours).  In Washington President Andrew Johnson and his ministers attended the readings every day for a week.  Dickens was almost dropping with fatigue.  His voice was rough and harsh and so as not so lose it completely he applied mustard plasters to his neck.  Towards the end of the tour a cough forced him to go on a predominantly liquid diet of custards, soups, eggs, sherry and champagne.
 
 

 
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On his return to England, he began what was to be his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  As with David Copperfield, he made use of buildings in the area: the 'Nuns' House', the girls school Rosa Bud had attended, described by Dickens as 'a venerable brick edifice, whose present apellation is doubtless derived from the legend of its conventual uses', was actually Eastgate House, a sixteenth century building in Rochester High Street, (pictured left) which at the time was a school for young ladies.  Now the building houses the Charles Dickens Centre, containing an exhibition of Dickens's life and works, items of furniture used by Dickens, plus pictures and photographs relating to his life. 
On 8 June 1870 Dickens was writing busily at his chalet summer-house at Gad's Hill.  At dinner that night he suddenly announced that he was going to London, rose to his feet, and immediately collapsed unconscious.  The doctors' efforts to revive him were of no avail and he died the following day at six o'clock in the afternoon on 9 June.  Ten days later he was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
 
 
The Swiss Chalet where Dickens died, now preserved in the Charles Dickens Centre, Rochester.
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CHARLES DICKENS AND HIS WORK
 
 
6th British Novelists seminar
Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey
March 1998
 
Choose from the following topics:
 
 
Conference Report
Conference Papers
More about Middle East Technical University
Links to other Dickens websites
 
 
 
 
Conference Report
Pinar Ussakli
14 papers on the theme of the seminar were delivered over the two days. The keynote speaker was Professor Grahame Smith of the University of Stirling, who delivered two papers 'Dickens and Critical Theory', and 'Dickens and the City of Light'. The rest of the papers were delivered by academics from various universities in Turkey. The seminar was wound up by a panel discussion. The chair of the panel summarised the main points discussed on the works of Charles Dickens. There was very enthusiastic contribution from amongst the audience as well as the panellists.

The BBC television film of Hard Times, starring Alan Bates and Bob Peck, was shown on the first day after the formal programme.

Grahame Smith was very well prepared. He delivered his papers very professionally. He was at all times ready to mix with the audience, to answer questions, propose solutions to problems, show alternatives to students. He made an excellent impression on the audience. The majority of papers delivered by other academics were also very interesting and stimulating. A feature of this seminar, as opposed to previous events, was the fact that all speakers kept within the specified time-limits.

The 6th METU British Novelists Seminar continued the tradition of providing a series of stimulating papers, followed by intense discussion. Enthusiasm for these seminars prevails, the academics all express the belief that each year the quality of these seminars improves and that they all look forward to the next one. The organisers feel that the series has become especially important, in that more colleagues from universities in more remote areas of Turkey, as well as the big cities, make room in their programmes to attend these seminars.
 
 

 
Conference Papers
 

Deniz Ceylan, Intimidation and Embarrassment in Conversations of Dickens' novels

Feryal Cubukcu, Duality in A Tale of Two Cities

Nursel Icoz, Evil Intentions are the Evil Person's Own Undoing

Valerie Kennedy, Three of Dickens' Marginal Women

Anthony Lake, Ghosts, bodies, selves and others in David Copperfield

Meltem Kiran Raw, The French Revolution in the Popular Imagination: A Tale of Two Cities

Grahame Smith, Dickens and Critical Theory

Grahame Smith, Dickens and the City of Light