Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) was an English novelist and reformist writer recognized for many well-known books including:
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Great Expectations
- A Christmas Carol - miserly Scrooge repents after three ghostly visions
- David Copperfield
- Oliver Twist - orphan who falls in with thieves in London
- The Pickwick Papers
- Bleak House
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in England. His first years were spent with his family and two household servants where they lived in Kent county. Charles was a good student and an avid reader.
John Dickens, his father, worked as a clerk in the Navy payroll office and as the years progressed had difficulty supporting his wife Elizabeth and eight children. In 1824 he was sent to debtors' prison. His wife and children went with him, with the exception of Charles, age 12, who went to work at Warren's Shoe Blacking Factory, to earn enough to pay off his father's debt.
After young Charles had earned enough to pay off his father's debt, the family was released from Marshalsea Prison, but due to their precarious financial position, his mother insisted Charles continue working at the factory. His father arranged for him to return to school before much time passed. In later years his father was again imprisoned for debt.
His harsh experiences at the Blacking Factory greatly affected his perspective on life and became the inspiration for the themes in several of his books including David Copperfield and Great Expectations, in which the good, kindly main character overcomes great hardships and poverty.
Charles attended school for three more years, then left at age 15 to work as a clerk in the law firm of Ellis and Blackmore. At night after work he studied shorthand in hopes of advancing to a better position. At 17 he found a job as a court reporter for the Doctors Common at the House of Commons.
At age 18 he met and fell in love with the daughter of a baker, Maria Beadnell; their relationship lasted three years and ended when Charles was 21 and Maria left for school in Paris. Maria was said to be his inspiration for the character of Little Dorit in his book by the same name. Dickens often used people from his real life as characters in his books: his father was said to be Mr. Micawber in his book David Copperfield, and the character of Mrs. Nickleby was patterned after his mother in the book Nicholas Nickleby. His siblings also appeared as characters in his books, and the character of David Copperfield was patterned after Dickens himself.
In 1833 Dickens became a newspaper reporter, and began writing under the pen name "Boz". In 1836 his first book, a collection of short stories called Sketches by Boz was published, and he became editor of the monthly magazine Bentley's Miscellany. He also met and became engaged to Catherine Hogarth, and they married on April 2, 1836. The first of their ten children, a boy named Charles, was born the following year.
In 1837, his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published in monthly segments in a newspaper. This was followed by his second novel, Oliver Twist, which also was published monthly in segments.
More books followed, and Dickens became successful around the world, and traveled through Europe and to America to give readings from his books. In 1845 he formed his own amateur theatrical company, personally choosing the actors and supervising the performances.
Dickens had many successful books published during the next decade. His health began to decline around 1865 and four years later he suffered the first of two strokes. He died from his second stroke on June 9, 1870. His final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was not yet completed.
Several of Dickens's books have been successfully adapted into movies and plays, notably:
Oliver Twist: published as a book in 1838, was made into movie in 1948, remade in 1968 and 2005, and as a TV movie in 1999. It is also a popular stage play and long running Broadway musical.
David Copperfield: original movie made in 1939, remade in 1999.
Great Expectations: published 1860, made into a movie in 1946, remade in 1998.
A Christmas Carol, one of Dickens's most famous books, published in 1843, is the story of a miserly old man (Scrooge) and how his spirit is redeemed, and has been made into movies many times, including versions for children including The Muppets' Christmas Carol and Mickey's Christmas Carol.