Biography of Charles Dickens


There is something about Charles Dickens\' imaginative power that defies
explanation in purely biographical terms. Nevertheless, his biography shows the
source of that power and is the best place to begin to define it.
The second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens, Charles was born on
February 7, 1812, near Portsmouth on England\'s south coast. At that time John
Dickens was stationed in Portsmouth as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. The
family was of lower-middle-class origins, John having come from servants and
Elizabeth from minor bureaucrats. Dickens\' father was vivacious and generous but
had an unfortunate tendency to live beyond his means. his mother was
affectionate and rather inept in practical matters. Dickens later used his
father as the basis for Mr. Micawber and portrayed is mother as Mrs. Nickleby in
A Tale of Two Cities.
After a transfer to London in 1814, the family moved to Chatham, near
Rochester, three years later. Dickens was about five at the time, and for the
next five years his life was pleasant. Taught to read by his mother, he devoured
his fathers\' small collection of classics, which included Shakespeare, Cervantes,
Defoe, Smollet, Fielding, and Goldsmith. These left a permanent mark on his
imagination; their effect on his art was quite important. dickens also went to
some performances of Shakespeare and formed a lifelong attachment to the theater.
He attended school during this period and showed himself to be a rather solitary,
observant, good-natured child with some talent for comic routines, which his
father encouraged. In retrospect Dickens looked upon these years as a kind of
golden age. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, is in part an attempt to
recreate their idyllic nature: it rejoices in innocence and the youthful spirit,
and its happiest scenes take place in that precise geographical area.
In the light of the family\'s move back to London, where financial
difficulties overtook the Dickens\'s, the time in Chatham must have seemed
glorious indeed. The family moved into the shabby suburb of Camden Town, and
Dickens was taken out of school and set to menial jobs about the household. In
time, to help augment the family income, Dickens was given a job in a blacking
factory among rough companions. At the time his father was imprisoned for debt,
but was released three months later by a small legacy. Dickens related to his
friend, John Forster, long afterward, that he felt a deep sense of abandonment
at this time; the major themes of his novels can be traced to this period. His
sympathy for the victimized, his fascination with prisons and money, the desire
to vindicate his heroes\' status as gentlemen, and the idea of London as an
awesome, lively, and rather threatening environment all reflect these
experiences. No doubt this temporary collapse of his parents\' ability to protect
him made a vivid expression on him. Out on his own for a time at twelve years
of age, Dickens acquired a lasting self-reliance, a driving ambition, and a
boundless energy that went into everything he did.
At thirteen Dickens went back to school for two years and then took a
job in a lawyers office. Dissatisfied with the work, he learned shorthand and
became a freelance court reporter in 1828. The job was seasonal and allowed him
to do a good deal of reading in the British Museum. At the age of twenty he
became a full-fledged journalist, working for three papers in succession. In the
next four or five years he acquired the reputation of being the fastest and most
accurate parliamentary reporter in London. The value of this period was that
Dickens gained a sound, firsthand knowledge of London and the provinces.
Dickens was very active physically. He loved taking long walks, riding
horses, making journeys, entertaining friends, dining well, playing practical
jokes. He enjoyed games of charades with his family, was an excellent amateur
magician, and practiced hypnotism. One tends to share Shaw\'s opinion that
Dickens, in his social life, was always on stage. He was like an eternal Master
of Ceremonies, for the most part: flamboyant, observant, quick, dynamic, full of
zest. Yet he was also restless, subject to fits of depression, and hot tempered,
so that at times he must have been nearly intolerable to live with, however
agreeable he was as a companion.
In view of his very strenuous life it was not surprising that he died at
fifty-eight from a stroke. At his death on June 9, 1870, Dickens was wealthy,
immensely popular, and the best novelist the Victorian age produced. He was
buried in