Charles Dickens

Photograph of Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, author of over 15 novels including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol.
Charles Dickens, British Library

Biography

Charles Dickens is perhaps as famous today as he was in his lifetime, the author of 15 novels, five novellas, and countless stories and essays, he also generously promoted the careers of other novelists in his weekly journals, and concerned himself with social issues. He excelled in writing about London settings and grotesque and comic characters (Uriah Heep and Fagin, Miss Havisham and Scrooge, the Artful Dodger and Sam Weller).

He was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, son of John Dickens, a feckless and improvident navy clerk with a great love for literature, and his wife Elizabeth: Charles drew an ironically affectionate portrait of them in Mr and Mrs Micawber (David Copperfield). A happy childhood in Chatham, during which he read voraciously, ended with a move to London in 1822. Family poverty meant the young Charles had to earn money, and he spent a humiliating year labelling bottles in a blacking factory; during this period, his father was imprisoned for debt. Both experiences informed later novels.

After leaving school, he became a parliamentary journalist and sketch-writer. He first won fame in 1836 with the antics of the cockney sportsmen portrayed in The Pickwick Papers, which was issued in 20 monthly parts. In the same year he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of Evening Chronicle editor, George Hogarth; they had 10 children.

Next, written in monthly instalments with prodigious speed, came Oliver Twist (1838) and the semi-comedic Nicholas Nickleby (1839). Dickens soon graduated to writing the complex and resonant masterpieces that have ensured his enduring fame, including David Copperfield (1850), Bleak House (1853), Great Expectations (1861) and Our Mutual Friend (1865).

An enthusiast for the theatre, he enjoyed performing his own works, and twice toured America lecturing. After the collapse of his marriage in 1858, he continued his liaison with the actress Nelly Ternan. He died of a stroke in 1870, leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished.

Name
Charles John Huffam Dickens
Also known as
Boz
Occupation
Novelist, Journalist
Born
7 February 1812, Portsmouth, England
Died
9 June 1870, Rochester, Kent, England
Gender
Male
Literary period
Victorian
Genre
Victorian Literature

Related articles

Ragged Schools

Article by
Imogen Lee
Theme: 
Childhood and children's literature

Ragged Schools provided free education for children too poor to receive it elsewhere. Imogen Lee explains the origins and aims of the movement that established such schools, focusing on the London’s Field Lane Ragged School, which Charles Dickens visited.

Ghosts in A Christmas Carol

Article by
John Mullan
Themes: 
The novel 1832 - 1880, The Gothic

The ghosts in A Christmas Carol are by turns comic, grotesque and allegorical. Professor John Mullan reflects on their essential role in developing the novel’s meaning and structure.

Crime in Great Expectations

Article by
John Mullan
Themes: 
The novel 1832 - 1880, Crime and crime fiction

Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.

Related collection items

Related people

Related teachers' notes

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: Poverty, Money and Miserliness

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: Poverty, Money and Miserliness

The influence of economic and political crises on Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

PDF Download Available

Dickens’s Hard Times: Industrialisation

Dickens’s Hard Times: Industrialisation

Dickens's critique of industrialisation in the novel Hard Times.

PDF Download Available

Dickens’s Oliver Twist: Depictions of Childhood

Dickens’s Oliver Twist: Depictions of Childhood

19th century narratives of childhood and Dickens's Oliver Twist

PDF Download Available

Related works

Hard Times

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) published this ‘Condition of England’ novel in 1854. His setting was ...

A Christmas Carol

Created by: Charles Dickens

A Christmas book by Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870), published in 1843. Dickens was prompted to write this ...

Great Expectations

Created by: Charles Dickens

A novel by Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870), which first appeared in All the Year Round in 1860–61, and in ...

Nicholas Nickleby

Created by: Charles Dickens

A novel by Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870), published 1838–9.  Impoverished after his father’s ...