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Charles Dickens

Updated on December 21, 2016
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Victor Doppelt is a professional consultant, writer, and world traveler. He lives in San Diego with a menagerie of assorted rescue animals.

Charles Dickens at His Desk
Charles Dickens at His Desk
An Illustration from The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
An Illustration from The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens] Life and Career

Charles Dickens was a famous British author and ranks with Shakespeare as one of the great authors in the English language. He drew very heavily on his own life experiences to write many classics, which he peopled with characters and incidents from his own life. He lived deeply in the world he wrote about, and also worked to enact positive changes for the benefit of the less fortunate in society.

After being born in Portsmouth, Hampshire in 1812, Charles Dickens and his family moved into London in 1815. His father, John Dickens, spent more heavily than he earned and was sentenced to debtor's prison after Charles had been in school for only a few years. This would leave a lasting mark on the Dickens' family. Charles went to work in a shoe polish factory, spending ten hours a day pasting the labels on cans of shoe polish. Earning just 6 shillings a week for this brutal work schedule, Charles Dickens also had to put up with cruel supervisors and generally terrible working conditions. This experience would impact his view of labor conditions, and showed through heavily in his writing later on. He became an advocate for labor reform and workers' rights, speaking out for the poor that had no voice. His works made the upper classes of British society aware of the appalling social conditions in the factories and among the working poor, which led to legislative reform, including restrictions on the use of child labor.

Charles Dickens Movie Adaptation

David Copperfield and Little Em'ly
David Copperfield and Little Em'ly

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He went back to school when his father was released from prison, after an inheritance paid off what John Dickens owed. He was done with school at the age of 15 and went on to work as a junior clerk in the law office of Ellis and Blackmore. 18 months of this was more than Dickens could stand, and at the end of 1828 he left his clerk position to become a freelance reporter.

He drew upon the experience from his job as a legal clerk and reported on legal proceedings from the courthouse. This freelance position also afforded him time to write and led to the publication of his first story in 1833, A Dinner at Poplar Walk. This was published by Monthly Magazine in London. Dickens continued to write, and in 1836 his first novel (The Pickwick Papers) was published.

This cemented his writing career and led into his most famous pieces. He published A Christmas Carol in 1843 and David Copperfield in 1849. Both were huge popular successes, and provided him the money to continue to write, travel and give to charity. These three activities would be the focus of the rest of his life. He spent the next few years doing public readings of his works and setting up a charity that educated women and taught them to read and write. Charles Dickens' last two major works were A Tale of Two Cities (published in 1859) and Great Expectations (published in 1861).

Charles Dickens' died on June 9th, 1870 at the age of 58, after suffering a heart attack following a dramatic reading of one his works. He was given the rare honor of being buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in London, in the company of such literary greats as Chaucer. His legacy speaks to a man who survived and rose up out of a brutal and oppressive poverty, and used his success to help others do the same.


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