Charles Dickens was born in Portsea, England, in
1812. His father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office,
stationed at Portsmouth. Although his job was well
paid, his father had a weakness for spending money and
spent much of his life in chronic bankruptcy.
In 1824, when Charles was just 12 years old, his
father was sent to debtor's jail. Charles Dickens was
sent to a boarding house and given a 12 hour-a-day job
preparing bottles of shoe polish in a blacking
But Dickens' fortunes improved: a sudden inheritance
allowed his father to pay off his debts and he sent
Charles to school.
At age fifteen Charles was placed as a clerk in the
office of an attorney, a friend of his father's. In his
spare time he studied hard to become a Parliamentary
At age nineteen he entered the parliamentary gallery as
a reporter for The Mirror. It was a well paid job and he
soon became known as one of the best shorthand
reporters in London.
Dickens began writing fiction at age 21, under the nom
de plume of 'Boz'. In 1836, when Dickens was 23, he
began writing a series of short stories (The
Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club) which appeared
in cheap monthly installments. By the age of 24 he had
become internationally famous.
Charles Dickens burst onto the literary scene at a
unique moment in English history
Until the end of the 18th century, England had been a
mainly rural society. But from the late 1700's onwards,
land holders started forcing people off their land to
make way for sheep farming.
At the same time the Industrial Revolution was
creating new towns and cities with belching smoke
stacks and factories that needed workers – the English
countryside was emptying and a new urban working class
The concentration of people in towns and cities
created something that had never existed before – a
mass audience. Newspapers, Magazines and Newsletters
sprang up to cater for this new and growing demand.
Books were being serialized in Newspapers and
Magazines – those who could not afford to buy a book
could read it in weekly installments. Dickens wrote and
published most of his novels in this fashion – a chapter
at a time.
Between 1837 and 1839, Dickens wrote three of his most
famous novels Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and
In the first ten years of his writing career, the
manic part of Dickens' manic depression had given him
an endless source of energy and inspiration, but now
he began to succumb to depression.
In the 1840's he started to experience writer's block.
He would spend days locked up in a room, unable to put
words on paper. He wrote: "Men have been chained to
hideous walls and other strange anchors but few have
known such suffering and bitterness … as those who
have been bound to Pens. "
Dickens was an extremely energetic man and a compulsive
traveler. He traveled the length and breadth of England,
Scotland and Wales and also made frequent trips to
France and Italy. In 1842 he spent six months in America,
where he was given the kind of reception reserved for
modern day rock stars.
In 1856 Dickens purchased a large residence in Kent,
the kind of house he had always dreamed of owning.
Although Dickens became wealthy, he never forgot
his origins. Throughout his life he visited the
factories, the slums, the jails and the poor houses.
Indeed, his novels were a social commentary on the
appalling conditions of 19th century England. He was
well known for his generosity and received requests
for money wherever he went.
He is considered by many to have been a genius and
the greatest English writer of the 19th century.
When Dickens died in June 1870, he left an estate
valued at over $ US6.5 million (2001 value).