Here’s another installment of my author biography pages, once written for my Sixth Form’s Newspaper, Sixth Sense. The full edition of this November copy is available here. If you’re interested in reading more about Charles Dickens, you can check out my review of what is arguably his most famous novel, Great Expectations.
Charles Dickens was one of the greatest writers of all time, renowned, more than anything else, for the magnitude and diversity of his writing. In only fifty-eight years, he wrote fifteen novels, five novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles. He also edited a weekly journal for over twenty years. These achievements would be remarkable in any context, but the most admirable thing about Dickens has to be the challenging circumstances that he had to overcome in order to pursue his passion for the written word.
He was born in Portsmouth to a middle-class family, the second of eight children, yet only six of these children survived to adulthood. This was because the Dickens family was thrown into poverty when Charles’ father, John Dickens, lost control of his own finances, in an apparent lack of organisation. Charles had been living a comfortable life in private education, but was pulled from this luxury when the family was forced to move to a much smaller house in Kent.
There, however, their poverty was only worsened, until, when Dickens was only twelve years old, his father was placed in a debtor’s prison. As custom stated in the Victorian era, the entire family then had to move to London in order to reside in the rooms of the prison that were specifically reserved for the families of the prisoners.
Dickens, still only twelve years old, was then sent to work in a blacking factory, where he spent eleven hours a day labelling an assortment of bottles. This continued until he turned fifteen, which was when he started his new job as a solicitor’s clerk. He had clearly been deeply affected by his time in poverty, and so fought to prevent this from happening to him again. It did not matter that he was young and still somewhat ignorant to the world, because he had a hunger for learning, and not just for the intellectual, but for the knowledge that would help to better his own life in the future, and, essentially, to prevent him from becoming his father.
Three years later, Dickens took up a different job yet again, but, this time, he had found something that he knew he genuinely enjoyed. He became a journalist, allowing him to explore the world through non-fiction writing. At night, however, Dickens would pursue his other interest; he would use the skills that he had learnt from his career to write his own fiction stories, creating characters and storylines that are now renowned for their intriguing natures. Many critics now argue hat this was because Dickens had already experienced the positives and negatives of human life, and so when he described it for himself, he had the power to make it seem real.
In the same year that he published his first novel, Pickwick Papers, Dickens met Catherine Hogarth, who he later made his wife. Just as his happiness reached its peak, however, it then began to deteriorate once more; rumours circulated, questioning his drunkenness, and potential admittance into a lunatic asylum. Society began to doubt his sanity, and it is not too difficult to imagine why. He kept a raven as a pet, named it Grip, and had it stuffed and mounted after its death. Large portions of his writing were also, for many of his readers and critics, grotesque, considering criminality as well the supernatural.
His marriage to Catherine ended when he met Ellen Turnan at the age of forty-five. She was only eighteen years old, but their relationship escalated to the point that he was forced to leave Catherine, even though his reputation decreed that he could not file for an official divorce. Dickens’ writing continued to flourish once again, all the time using his experiences to implement his own stories and characters.
Then, one day, Dickens and Ellen were travelling home, when their train crashed. Dickens himself helped to administer medical care to those most in need, but the traumatic experience deeply affected him. He only remembered at the last minute that a portion of Our Mutual Friend had been left in the wreckage. Although he saved the novel, however, his mind had been traumatised, and, a short time after, Dickens died of a stroke, fifty-eight years old.