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Great Literature

Charles Dickens And His Works

Charles Dickens
1812 - 1870

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on 7th, February 1812 to John Dickens and his wife Elizabeth Barrow in Portsmouth, England (Bio, n.d.). John Dickens was a naval pay clerk. Elizabeth came from a moderately well to do family.

By Victorian standards, the Dickens family was moderately well off. Charles was allowed the luxury to attend a private school where his father had connections to get him in. Formal education at this time was not a reality for most people.

Due to trying to impress his peers, John had acquired a huge debt for which he was unable to pay. In those time, no matter what social position you held, if you could not pay your bills you would be put in a debtor's jail and your family could be forced to work to pay for your jail support (Pulham & Beaven, n.d.).

Those who could swing paying a little extra could have semi-reasonable acomadations within the jail that could allow them perhaps a private cell and a few barely tolerable meals. Others were so far down the social ladder that they had to compete with other cellmates in a crowded pen and fight for food and survival hoping they would not get any form of deadly disease. Many have died in debtor's prison.

When only 12 years old, young Charles was forced to work to help out with his father's debt and to pay for his own lodging and help support his family who were incarcerated in the nearby Marshalsea debtors' prison.

His family was able to leave the Marshalsea after John inherited some money, however, Elizabeth insisted Charles continue working in the factory due to the fact her relatives owned the establishment and it helped her relatives to have him as cheap labour (Simkin, 2015). It was assumed that her family connections have helped them get out of this bad situation a lot faster than the ordinary debtors with no way out. Perhaps she felt she owed them for sparing her family.

Charles never forgave his mother for forcing him to work in that sweat shop while the rest of his family could live a life of moderate luxury. However, this period in his life made him alert to the conditions working class people which became major themes of his works.

In May of 1827 Charles attempted a career in law where he started as a law clerk. He decided the law was not for him and he pursued a passion for writing as a journalist. He was able to cover parliamentary sessions and election campaigns.

The Pickwick Papers, officially known as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club started when he was a young journalist (Perdue, 2016). It was an idea by Robert Seymour who knew about Dickens' first success of Sketches by Boz, published in 1832. According to Dickens, the name Boz came from, "The nickname of a pet child, a younger brother, whom I had dubbed Moses, in honour of The Vicar of Wakefield, which, being pronounced Bozes, got shortened into Boz."

Charles eventually took over the unsuccessful monthly publication and made a real name for himself. Unfortunately, Seymour committed suicide and Dickens moved on to greener pastures.

On 2nd, April 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth (Charles Dickens Info, 2016). Together they had 10 children and most people assumed they were a happy couple.

In 1842 they travelled together to the United States which inspired some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit. While visiting the States he made a particular point of visiting prisons and mental institutions. He wrote scathing parodies about the Americans as ignorant hicks, but in a sense also admired much of the United States. The one thing he could not overlook was the acceptance of slavery.

The once happy couple were having problems as Charles was always away leaving Catherine alone to raise all those children. She resented that as a wife of a famous author that she should have to work as hard as she did.

It certainly did not help when her sister moved in to help out. Charles supposedly was having an affair with his sister-in-law which finally made that marriage fail.

As divorce during the Victorian era was a scandalous thing to do, especially for someone like Charles Dickens, they had to pretty much keep their failed marriage a secret. He paid to keep his wife in a separate home so she could have her freedom and he could keep his career.

In 1855 he went to meet his first love Maria Beadnell. Maria was already married and this encounter was less than what he expected. He thought by going back to his first love it would end up like David Copperfield, but life did not work as well as his fiction.

Dickens' novels were works of social commentary. He was a critic of the poverty and the conditions the poor had to endure. He wanted to prick the consciences of the well-to-do in order that those with power could do something to help the ones who could not help themselves. His works seem to have inspired many more people to address problems and inequalities. His influence is often credited with having the Marshalsea and Fleet Prisons shut down.

On 9th, June 1870, Charles Dickens died. He was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey instead of Rochester Cathedral which was his request (The Dean And Chapter Of Westminster, 2016).

His tombstone says "He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world."