Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens!

Old-Fashioned Charm
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." 
- Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Born: Charles John Huffam Dickens on February 7th, 1812 in Landport, Portsmouth, England.  
Died: June 9th, 1870 at Gad's Hill Place, Higham, Kent, England

Charles Dickens is one of the most (we might even say the most) influential writers of the late 1800's. His works bear great influence on the world as we know it. TV, movies, books and even our vocabulary shows the lasting mark of his writings.  
His hard work and great achievement can be traced to this day and much is known about his life through letters and biographies. 

In searching for info for this post I came across an overload of information so I decided to just share 12 facts about Mr. Dickens that I found quite interesting! 

12 Facts About Charles Dickens

#1. His parents were named John and Elizabeth. Dickens' father John was a clerk in the Navy Pay-office which required the family to move a few times in young Charles' early childhood. His family finally settled in Chatham, Kent, England - a place Charles remembered fondly as his childhood home.

#2. He was the second of eight children. His sibling's names were Fanny (older sister), Letitia, Harriet, Frederick, Alfred and Augustus (all younger). (Though all sources I read said there were eight children I could only find seven named.) Charles had good relationships with all of his siblings but his younger brothers were his playmates. As the oldest son he held a lot of responsibility and throughout his lifetime he used his success and money to help his brothers find jobs and care for his elderly parents.

#3. He had real life experience with the Marshalsea Debtor's Prison. Although Charles' parents were very loving his mother could be vain and his father did not always make the wisest financial decisions. In 1824  John Dickens was put in  Marshalsea debtor's prison in Southwark, London. His wife and children lived with him except for Charles who boarded with a kind lady and worked to provide for his family. Charles' parents were said to be the inspiration for Mr. & Mrs. Micawber in David Copperfield and his experiences inside the Marshalsea would be used in works like Little Dorrit.

#4. He worked in a Blacking Warehouse as a child. While his family endured the discomforts of the Marshalsea 12-year-old Charles worked ten hours a day in a warehouse pasting label on the containers of blacking or shoe polish. He earned a mere six shillings a week for the strenuous hours and endured cruel working conditions. His experiences would fuel his passionate writings in novels such as Oliver Twist and David Copperfield.

#5. He worked as a clerk in a law office. From 1827-1828 Charles would work as a clerk, but always learning he quickly picked up short hand and left the law office to become a political journalist. Over the next four years he would report on cases heard in Doctors' Commons - the insights into the intricacies of the legal profession would be used in several of his novels including Bleak House and Dombey and Son.

#6. All of his major novels were first published in the newspaper. As Charles journalistic career took off he started covering parliamentary debates and election campaigns. His journalistic sketches soon led to the serialisation of his first book The Pickwick Papers in 1836. Monthly and weekly publications of fourteen kept his busy and kept his readers clamoring for more!

Charles Dickens with daughters Mamie & Katey
#7. He had ten children in all. Charles Dickens married Catherine Hogarth in April 1836 and by January of the next year their first son had arrived. Their ten children were: Charles "Charley", a writer; Mary "Mamie", cared for her father in later years and wrote about him; Catherine "Katey", attended college and later married popular artist Charles Edward Perugini; Walter, died as a navy lieutenant in India at age 22;  Francis "Frank", an Inspector in the Canadian Mounties; Alfred, moved to Australia where he worked in and owned train stations; Sydney, a Navy officer; Henry "Harry", a barrister; Dora, a sickly child who died before her first birthday; and Edward, an Australian politician.
He gave many of his children funny nicknames among some were "Lucifer Box" for hot tempered Katey,  "Young Skull" for Walter, “Chickenstalker” for Francis born while his father was writing The Chimes, "Sampson Brass" and "Skittles" for Alfred, "The Ocean Spectre" and "The Admiral" for Navy cadet Sydney, and "Plorn" for Edward.

#8. He purchased a house he'd dreamed about since childhood. About age nine Charles would take walks with his father past Gad's Hill Place near their home in Kent and young Charles was quite taken with the house and his father told him "if you do very well you may one day buy a place like this one". He never forgot that and after working very hard and earning a good income from his writings he purchased Gad's Hill Place in 1856.

#9. Hans Christian Andersen was an unwanted house guest. Mr. Dickens first met Mr. Andersen at a friend's party for intellectual and famous people in 1847 and they wrote letters back and forth for ten years. Mr. Andersen greatly admired Mr. Dickens' writings and his next visit to England in 1857 was primarily to visit "England's now living writer, whom I love the most." Unfortunately Mr. Andersen's visit came at a time when Mr. & Mrs. Dickens were having marriage difficulties and his odd habits, changing moods and poor English made his five weeks stay a trying time for   everyone. Not many of the Dickens children had nice things to say about Hans Christian Andersen and it is said Mr. Dickens wrote him into David Copperfield as the unearthly creature Uriah Heap!

#10. He had interesting ways of creating characters. Many of his characters came from people met and knew in his everyday life. It is said that often his family would find him standing in front of a mirror imitating the facial expressions and gesture of the characters he created. The illustrators of his books said Mr. Dickens was "ready to describe down to the minutest details the personal characteristics, and ... life-history of the creations of his fancy." He wrote constantly and with great concentration - in early years he would even write in the same room where his wife and sister-in-law were entertaining guests!

#11. He put on public readings of his famous works. As his popularity grew Mr. Dickens began doing public readings from his novels. He would stand at a podium in a meeting hall or theatre and read scenes from The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, A Christmas Carol and many others of his novels. And his performances were in no way dull for he always did the voices and read the works as they were intended to be heard. He was the very best reader of the very best writer!
During the summer and fall of 1858 he traveled through the English provinces, Scotland and Ireland giving eight-seven performances in all. More readings were done in 1866 and in 1867 he spent several months in the United States doing over twenty-two readings and meeting many influential people and fans. As his health declined in 1868-1870 Mr. Dickens gave a series of what was to be called his "Farewell Readings".

#12. He was in a train crash but was unscathed. In 1865 Mr. Dickens was traveling back from Paris, Frances when the train he was on in Staplehurst, Kent, England overturned. His first class car was the only one left on the rails and although much shaken up by the event he got out and helped others who were in danger. In the buzz of activity he almost forgot his manuscript of Our Mutual Friend that he had been working on. He later used this train crash experience in his short ghost story The Signal-Man

His Literary Legacy: During his lifetime Charles Dickens created hundreds of interesting characters and intricate plots. As most were published in newspapers his writings were enjoyed by a variety of people of every class from poor folk to Queen Victoria herself. He painted pictures with his words telling the often hard truths about the good and bad of society in his day. His little book, A Christmas Carol, helped to change the celebration of the holiday and restore the Christmas spirit. The book was so synonymous with Christmas that at the time of his death it was reported that a little flower girl was heard to say "Dickens dead? Then is Father Christmas dead too?"

His Personal Legacy: Charles Dickens was a hardworking man driven to better himself and help those around him. Along with the social reform in his novels are teachings of morality and Biblical truths. As he said himself: "I have always striven in my writings to to express veneration for the life and lessons of our Saviour - because I feel it." His last will and testament shows us that his last thoughts were of his children and his God - "I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and IO exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teachings of the New Testament in its broadest spirit, and to put not faith in any man's narrow construction of its letter here or there."

Timeline of Novels:

The Pickwick Papers (1837)
Oliver Twist (1838)
Nicholas Nickleby (1839)
The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
Barnaby Rudge (1841)
A Christmas Carol (1843)
The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)
Dombey and Son (1848)
David Copperfield (1850)
Bleak House (1853)
Hard Times (1854)
Little Dorrit (1857)
A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Great Expectations (1861)
Our Mutual Friend (1865)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)

"That I truly devoted myself to [my art] with my strongest earnestness, and bestowed upon it every energy of my soul, I have already said. 
If the books I have written be of any worth, they will supply the rest." 
- Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Dear Mr. Dickens, 
A very Happy Birthday! 
It's been 200 years since your birth and people are still enjoying your novels.
Thank you for the many truthful and insightful things you wrote. 
Your witty style and colorful characters continue to entertain and delight!  


In my search for information I found the Wikipedia pages about Charles Dickens and his family to be most enlightening. I encourage you if you have time to take a look. 
The BBC also have this charming animated video about Dickens' life which is about 5 minutes long and highly entertaining! 
Also I enjoyed watching A&E's Biography of Charles Dickens on Netflix.

What Birthday wishes would you give Mr. Dickens?
Do you have an interesting fact about Charles Dickens?


Miss Elizabeth Bennet said...

Very interesting post. I think I remember in one of the foot notes in my copy of Little Dorrit, I thought it said that there might be a connection between Edward's nickname "Plorn" and "Plornish" in Little Dorrit.

Thank you for this post!

Alexandra said...

I've so enjoyed these posts! Thank you so much for putting them together!

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