A Brief Biography of Charles Dickens

By Tim Lambert

His Early Life

Charles Dickens was born in a house in Mile End Terrace on the edge of Portsmouth on 7 February 1812. (It was given the name Mile End because it was about a mile from the gate in the wall around Portsmouth). At that time Portsmouth was dominated by the dockyard. His father John Dickens worked as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office.

Charles Dickens was one of six children. He had an older sister Frances born in 1810 (she died in 1848), another sister Letitia was born in 1816 (she died in 1893), and a sister named Harriet was born in 1819 but she died in childhood. A brother Alfred was born in 1822 (he died in 1860). Dickens had another brother, Augustus who was born in 1827 (he died in 1866).

In 1815 the family moved away to London. In 1817 Dickens and his family moved to Chatham in Kent. However, in 1823 they moved to Camden in London.

However, John Dickens spent beyond his means and he was sent to Marshalsea debtors prison when Charles was 12. (In those days people in debt could be imprisoned until their debts were paid off). Charles found a job in a boot blacking factory. Fortunately, after a few months, a relative of John Dickens died and left him some money so he was able to pay his debts. Charles was eventually able to leave the blacking factory and return to school. However, Charles never forgot this horrid experience.

Charles Dickens left school at the age of 15 and started to work in a solicitor’s office. However, when he was 16 Charles became a journalist.

Then in 1833, Dickens had his first story published. It was called A Dinner at Poplar Walk and it was published in a periodical called Monthly Magazine. Then in 1836-37 the first novel by Dickens, The Pickwick Papers was published as a serial. Meanwhile, Dickens married a woman named Catherine Hogarth in Chelsea on 2 April 1836. They had 10 children but the marriage was not a happy one. Charles and Catherine separated in 1858.

Dickens wrote many more novels including Oliver Twist (1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), and Martin Chuzzlewit (1844). He also wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. In 1848 Dickens wrote Dombey and Son.

Meanwhile in 1842 Dickens and his wife Catherine visited the USA. The visit was successful although Dickens annoyed some Americans by attacking slavery. Charles Dickens also visited Italy, Switzerland, and France.

Charles Dickens was passionately interested in reform. In 1850 he started a weekly magazine called Household Words to promote reform. It ceased publication in 1859 but it was replaced by another magazine called All The Year Round.

Meanwhile, in 1853, Dickens wrote a child’s history of England. In 1853 Dickens wrote Bleak House. In 1854 Hard Times was published. It was followed by Little Dorrit in 1857. In 1859 Dickens wrote a Tale of Two Cities in 1859 and Great Expectations. He wrote Our Mutual Friend in 1865. In 1866 Dickens wrote a famous ghost story called The Signal Man. Then in 1866-67, Dickens visited the USA again.

Charles Dickens died on 9 June 1870. He was 58 when he died. At the time of his death, Dickens was working on a book called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Charles Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey.