Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, the son of John and
Elizabeth Dickens. John Dickens was a clerk in the Naval Pay Office. He had a
poor head for finances, and in 1824 found himself imprisoned for debt. His wife
and children, with the exception of Charles, who was put to work at
In 1829 he became a free-lance reporter at Doctor's Commons Courts, and in 1830 he met and fell in love with Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker. By 1832 he had become a very successful shorthand reporter of Parliamentary debates in the House of Commons, and began work as a reporter for a newspaper.
In 1833 his relationship with Maria Beadnell ended, (a not very flattering version of her would appear years later in Little Dorrit). . In 1834, still a newspaper reporter, he adopted the soon to be famous pseudonym "Boz." His impecunious father (who was the original of Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, as Dickens's mother was the original for the querulous Mrs. Nickleby) was once again arrested for debt, and Charles, much to his chagrin, was forced to come to his aid. Later in his life both of his parents (and his brothers) were frequently after him for money. In 1835 he met and became engaged to Catherine Hogarth.
The first series of Sketches by Boz was published in 1836, and that same year Dickens was hired to write short texts to accompany a series of humorous sporting illustrations by Robert Seymour, a popular artist. The Pickwick Papers that continued in monthly parts through November 1837 soon followed this, and, to everyone's surprise, it became an enormous popular success. Dickens proceeded to marry Catherine Hogarth on April 2, 1836, and during the same year he became editor of Bentley's Miscellany, published (in December) the second series of Sketches by Boz, and met John Forster, who would become his closest friend and confidant as well as his first biographer.
After the success of Pickwick, Dickens embarked on a full-time career as a novelist, producing work of increasing complexity at an incredible rate, although he continued, as well, his journalistic and editorial activities. Oliver Twist was begun in 1837, and continued in monthly parts until April 1839. It was in 1837, too, that Catherine's younger sister Mary, whom Dickens idolized, died. She too would appear, in various guises, in Dickens's later fiction.
Nicholas Nickleby got underway in
1838, and continued through October 1839, in which year Dickens resigned as
editor of Bentley's Miscellany.
The first number of Master Humphrey's
Clock appeared in 1840, and The
Old Curiosity Shop, begun in Master
Humphrey, continued through February 1841, when Dickens commenced Barnaby Rudge,
which continued through November of that year. In 1842 he embarked on a visit
same year, Dickens and his family toured
Hard Times began to appear weekly in Household Words in 1854, and continued until August. In 1855, Dickens began Little Dorrit, which continued in monthly parts until June 1857.
Dickens's theatrical company performed The Frozen Deep for the Queen, and
when a young actress named Ellen Ternan joined the
cast in August, Dickens fell in love with her. In 1858, in
found Dickens embarking upon another series of public readings in
an incident occurred which disturbed Dickens greatly,
both psychologically and physically: Dickens and Ellen Ternan,
returning from a
Dickens was now really unwell but carried on, compulsively, against his doctor's advice. Dickens's health was worsening, but he took over still another physically and mentally exhausting task, editorial duties at All the Year Round.
During 1869 he began upon The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
In 1870 he suffered a stroke and died. He was buried at Westminster Abbey on June 14, and the last episode of the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood appeared in September.
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