Charles Dickens 1812 - 1870

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Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, to John Dickens (1786-1851), a naval pay clerk, and his wife Elizabeth Dickens nee Barrow (1789-1863). When he was five, the family moved to Chatham, Kent. When he was ten, the family relocated to 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town in London. His early years were an idyllic time. He thought himself then as a "very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy"[2]. He spent his time outdoors, reading voraciously with a particular fondness for the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding. He talked later in life of his extremely poignant memories of childhood and his continuing photographic memory of people and events that helped bring his fiction to life.

His family was moderately well-off, and he received some education at a private school but all that changed when his father, after spending too much money entertaining and retaining his social position, was imprisoned for debt. At the age of twelve, Dickens was deemed old enough to work and began working for ten hours a day in Warren's boot-blacking factory, located near the present Charing Cross railway station. He spent his time pasting labels on the jars of thick polish and earned six shillings a week. With this money, he had to pay for his lodging and help to support his family, most of whom were living with his father, who was incarcerated in the nearby Marshalsea debtors' prison.

After a few months his family was able to leave the Marshalsea but their financial situation only improved some time later, partly due to money inherited from his father's family. His mother did not immediately remove Charles from the boot-blacking factory, which was owned by a relation of hers. Dickens never forgave his mother for this, and resentment of his situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived became major themes of his works.

As Dickens wrote in David Copperfield, judged to be his most clearly autobiographical novel, "I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone, that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to heaven!" In May 1827, Dickens began work as a law clerk, a junior office position with potential to become a lawyer.

He did not like the law as a profession and after a short time as a court stenographer he became a journalist, reporting parliamentary debate and travelling Britain by stagecoach to cover election campaigns. His journalism formed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz and he continued to contribute to and edit journals for much of his life. In his early twenties he made a name for himself with his first novel, The Pickwick Papers.

In the same year, he accepted the job of editor of Bentley's Miscellany, a position he would hold until 1839 when he fell out with the owner. Two other journals in which Dickens would be a major contributor were Household Words and All the Year Round. In 1842, he travelled together with his wife to the United States; the trip is described in the short travelogue American Notes and is also the basis of some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit.

Shortly thereafter, he began to show interest in Unitarian Christianity, although he remained an Anglican, at least nominally, for the rest of his life.[1] Dickens' writings were extremely popular in their day and were read extensively. In 1856, his popularity allowed him to buy Gad's Hill Place. This large house in Higham, Kent, was very special to the author as he had walked past it as a child and had dreamed of living in it. The area was also the scene of some of the events of Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 1 and this literary connection pleased Dickens.

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