Charles Dickens: Early Life, Family, Journey As a Writer


John and Elizabeth Dickens were a wealthy and prosperous couple, living in Landport, Portsmouth, UK. On February 7, 1812, a boy was born to them who went on to give the world some of the greatest classical literature works it has ever known.  A blend of the rich imagination of the father and the seriousness of life of the mother made Charles John Huffam Dickens as we know him now.

His parents were intrigued by his writing abilities and his father went to the extent of forcing him into enacting various scenes, read poetry, etc., thus shaping him into a small actor. His father, who worked in the Naval Pay Office, was soon transferred. Hence, the family moved to Chatham.

He received his former schooling at a Baptist school, where he was taught by pastor William Gilles, who was also responsible for Charles’ love in the literature and art. But soon fate took its turn and the family went into a huge debt. His father was sent to a jail, where his mother and he, along with other siblings were also held as debt slaves. While his sister, Fanny continued going to school, he had to drop out of school and work for the survival of the family. He relented it and told his friend John Forster about that who mentioned this resentment in his book on Charles named ‘The Life of Charles Dickens’.

He worked at a factory, where he received six shillings a week. The horrors of poverty and that of debt can be significantly seen in his works. 


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These poverty-ridden times were the worst of his life and were like an insult to him. He had a great urge to be wealthy again. He never did like to talk about those hard times to anyone. But there can be no denial in the facts that because of those times, Charles developed his feelings for the needy and understood their situations better than others. His works show his deep understanding of their suffering, the exploitation of the child laborers, and of life itself. His father then inherited the property of a relative which enabled him to clear off his debts. Dickens then worked as a reporter in a local newspaper and continued to work and study, graduating in 1827 from Wellington Academy.

He worked for a year at the law office. After mastering shorthand, he became a free reporter. There he surprised his fellow mates by his richness of language and his presentation skills.


His journey as a writer


In 1833, he wrote a short story named ‘A Dinner at Poplar Walk’ and he submitted it to the Monthly Magazine, who published it. He wrote 8 more stories for the same magazine after which he was invited to the editorial office of the Morning Chronicle in 1833. In 1834, he was appointed as the editor of the Evening Chronicle. In 1836, his work ‘The Essays on Bose’ was published. The sketches first appeared in the newspaper version, like all other subsequent novels. The work elevated his social status and earned him high acclamation. He realized it was his literary pursuits that would help him gain entry into the high-class. Soon after, his chapters of the ‘Pickwick Club Posthumous Notes’ were published, further faming him. The main character in the work is Mr. Pickwick. It describes old England and its inhabitants. It is because of his work that people came to know about English life, their customs, and traditions prevailing at that time. ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, followed soon after in the period 1838-1839.

He stayed in America from January to June of 1842, where he was greeted by the public with great enthusiasm. But Charles found that the Americans were vulgar and too concerned with money and business. When he returned back to England, he wrote American notes and ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’.

In1846, Dickens launched a newspaper called the Daily News. At the end of 1849, he began to work on ‘David Copperfield’. Most of the events in the life of the protagonist David Copperfield mirrors the events in his own life. In 1850, he was working on another journal ‘Household Words’ with his friend Wilkie Collins. But due to some reasons, his ties were severed with the publishers, Bradbury and Evans. They also refused to publish ‘Punch’, a self-justifying piece over his separation with his wife.

He received fame, wealth and influence largely in the 50s which helped him compensate for his previous misfortunes. He also gave public speeches of his works, the first being in December 1853. These public readings helped him discover the actor in him.


Love and marriage


Charles fell in love with Maria Bidnel around the 1830s. She was the daughter of a bank manager. His reputation as a mere reporter and the soiled image of his father as a debt prisoner made his bad image in the eyes of her family. In order to separate the two lovers, her family sent her to Paris. The attempt was a success because upon returning back, she didn’t hold any feelings for Charles.

In 1836, Charles proposed to Catherine Thomson Hogarth who was the daughter of his journalist friend. They married and had 7 sons and 3 daughters. Soon, misunderstandings and quarrels took over their relationship and his family became a burden on him as they took a lot of his free time. Soon, they were separated and he attempted to blame Catherine for their separation, as he tried to publish a self-justifying piece in Punch which was denied publication.

In 1857, Charles Dickens met the 18-year-old artist Ellen Ternan. Soon, a budding romance developed between them. Their relationship lasted until Charles’ death. She also became the main heiress after his death. 




Such a legendary writer bid his farewell to the world on June 9, 1870, in Gads Hill, Kent, UK. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. His death didn’t lessen his fame,in fact, it increased many folds. He was turned as the real god of literature, not much less than Shakespeare. Monuments in his memory can be seen in America, Russia, and Australia. Many films, television series, and cartoon serials have been filmed in his novels. His works are said to touch the minds of the readers and to make them empathize with the protagonists. Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian writer, called Dickens “a master of writing”.


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List of some best novels with publication year


The Pickwick Papers  – 1836

Oliver Twist  – 1837

Nicholas Nickleby  – 1838

The Old Curiosity Shop  – 1840

Barnaby Rudge  – 1841

Martin Chuzzlewit  – 1843

Dombey and Son  – 1846

David Copperfield  – 1849

Bleak House  – 1852

Hard Times  – 1854

Little Dorrit  –  1855

A Tale of Two Cities  – 1859

Great Expectations  – 1860

Our Mutual Friend  – 1864

The Mystery of Edwin Drood  – 1870


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