Today we are celebrating Charles Dickens‘ 200th birthday.
Charles Dickens, the author of some of the most iconic novels and characters in English literature, was born at Landport, Portsea, on 7 February 1812. There he spent perhaps the happiest time of his life. In 1822, the family moved to London due to financial difficulties, which were shortly followed by the imprisonment of Dickens’ father. At the age of 12, Dickens was forced to leave school and work at a tumble-down warehouse infested with rats. This experience became formative for Dickens, and greatly influenced his works.
After his great-grandmother died and bequeathed some money to his family, Charles was able to continue his education. However, the school’s run-down condition, inept teaching methods and brutality of the headmaster would be later portrayed in his David Copperfield.
Dickens’ working career began at a law office, but shortly after he decided to dedicate himself to writing. Dickens became a reporter, and his sketches in periodicals formed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz that was published in 1836. During that time, he also published his novels Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and, finally, Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty, which were very well-received.
A Christmas Carol, Dombey and Son and David Copperfield that mark a shift in his oevre towards more serious themes, his major works A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations further reinforced his literary success.
Dickens wrote 15 novels, numerous short stories, several plays and non-fiction books.
Claire Tomalin, the author of Dickens’ biography Charles Dickens: A Life, precisely expresses what one feels when reading Dickens:
“We are reading and rereading your novels, your journalism and your story A Christmas Carol with its pointed message that a decent society depends on the rich learning to be generous and the poor being saved from ignorance and want.”
“We are talking about your heroes and your villains: Pecksniff, Squeers, Quilp, Murdstone, Headstone; your jokes and your pathos; your silly, pretty little women; your strong women – Betsey Trotwood, Peggotty – and your glorious comic women: Mrs Gamp, Mrs Todgers, Flora Finching.”
“We are enjoying the way you bring London to life before our eyes: streets, river, bridges, shops, dust heaps, markets, prisons. … Novels and letters give us a panoramic view of 19th-century England.”
“Mr Dickens, you are still, and always will be, the Inimitable. Many happy returns”.