Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) was an English novelist and reformist writer felt by some to be second only to Shakespeare in English literature. He wrote many well-known books (see Dickens novels), including 3 of the 10 greatest British novels as ranked by the BBC. The most-read British author of the 19th century, Dickens wrote 4.6 million words and is the sixth most-cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. More than 75 movies are based on his novels. Dickens is buried at Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, and merits 6 full pages in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Dickens was devoutly Christian and wrote The Life of Our Lord for children, but felt he had to keep his faith and book private by prohibiting the publication of this work until the last of his children ultimately passed away, Dickens wrote in his last will and testament, dated May 12, 1869: “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”
Dickens' works, which are searchable online, include:
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Great Expectations (BBC #4 greatest ever)
- A Christmas Carol - a novella about a miserly Scrooge, who repents after three ghostly visions
- David Copperfield (BBC #8 greatest ever) - a masterpiece in celebrating ordinary heroes
- Oliver Twist - orphan who falls in with thieves in London
- The Pickwick Papers
- Bleak House (BBC #6 greatest ever)
- A Poor Man's Tale of a Patent (short story)
His father was incarcerated in Debtor's prison in 1824, during which Charles at age only 12 had to do hard manual labor at a blacking factory to support the family. This influenced how he portrayed Pip in Great Expectations.
Dickens was "suspicious of organized religion," perhaps because he had a secret adulterous affair with an 18-year-old actress which lasted for many years. Dickens mentioned "heaven" often in his writing, but rarely "hell". But Dickens donated generously to building a local church, St. John's, which he attended with his family.
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. Charles was a good student and an avid reader, and wrote his first story at age 9.
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.
By 1855, Dickens' marriage was falling apart and, after he began his affair with an 18-year-old mistress, Dickens and his wife separated in 1858.
Dickens was an enormous celebrity in London and gave hundreds of public presentations that were enormous entertaining and humorous. Despite this, some perceived him to be an unhappy man underneath the surface.
In 1833 Dickens became a newspaper reporter, and began writing under the pen name "Boz". In 1836 his first book, a collection of short pieces 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 installments in a newspaper. This was followed by his second novel, Oliver Twist, which was also serialized. More books followed, and Dickens became successful around the world, and traveled through Europe and to America to give readings. 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 completed.
Recognition of the "Unborn"
Dickens refers to the "unborn" child 21 times, including multiple references in many of his major novels.
Use of Christian concepts
As to heaven, Dickens wrote:
|“||Some of the craftiest scoundrels that ever walked this earth ... will gravely jot down in diaries the events of every day, and keep a regular debtor and creditor account with heaven, which shall always show a floating balance in their own favour.||”|
Dickens expressly referred to an "after life" 18 times, sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not.
Several of Dickens's books have been successfully adapted into movies and plays, notably:
- Oliver Twist 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: movie made in 1939, remade in 1999.
- Great Expectations: made into a movie in 1946, and 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.
|“||Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.||”|
|“||My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.||”|
"What if I am steeped in poverty? You lighten it, and we will be poor together," by a character in Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens' third novel.
- Dickens novels
- Online literature
- Victorian web
- Britain Express: Passionate about British Heritage
- Dickens Museum
- Works by Charles Dickens - text and free audio - LibriVox
- Freely available online in multiple formats
- Dickens is cited 9,218 times by the OED, ranking him just behind Shakespeare, Scott, Chaucer, Milton, and Dryden. See https://atkinsbookshelf.wordpress.com/tag/number-of-words-used-by-dickens/#:~:text=The%20total%20number%20of%20words,Chaucer%2C%20Milton%2C%20and%20Dryden.
- Charles Dickens (1867). “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby”, p.352 
- Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor Act III, scene ii.