was born on February 7, 1812 at Landport (now called Portsmouth), Hampshire,
England. He was the second of eight children of John Dickens, a Navy clerk, and
his wife Elizabeth. Following John Dickens's job transfers, between 1814 and
1822 the family moved to London, then to Chatham in Kent, and then back to
London. Dickens attended school in Chatham from 1821 until 1822. In 1824, John
Dickens, who was well paid but financially irresponsible, was arrested and sent
to Marshalsea debtors' prison in London. Dickens's mother moved with seven of
her children into the prison with her husband. Only Charles was sent to work in
a shoe-blacking factory to earn money for the family. Dickens was traumatized
by this experience, which found its way into his partly autobiographical novel,
David Copperfield (published 1850). Six months after being sent to
Marshalsea prison, one of John Dickens's relatives died and left him enough
money to pay off his debts and leave prison.
Some of the
inheritance was used to pay for Dickens's education at a private school,
Wellington House Academy. At the age of fifteen he left school to become a law office clerk, and then worked
as a shorthand reporter at the Doctors' Commons, a society of church lawyers
who dealt with marriage and probate. Dickens did not enjoy the job, and decided to become a reporter.
He taught himself shorthand and at the age of sixteen, found work as a court
reporter. In the 1830s, he reported the daily proceedings in
Parliament for the newspaper Mirror of Parliament, and was a contributor to the Monthly
Magazine and The Evening Chronicle. He became interested in social reform and wrote articles for
the radical newspaper, True Sun. In the 1840s, Dickens founded the weekly periodical Master
Humphrey's Clock and edited the London Daily News.
Dickens's first story was published in the Monthly Magazine. Using the
pen-name "Boz", Dickens published stories in the Morning Chronicle and
the Evening Chronicle. These stories were so popular that they were published
as a book called Sketches by Boz (1836).
novel, The Pickwick Papers (1837), met with huge popular success. From
this time until the end of his life, Dickens was the most popular writer in
Britain. His second novel, Oliver
Twist, was published in Bentley's
Miscellany (1837-38) and his third novel, Nicholas Nickleby
(1838-39), was also published monthly. Other novels included The Old
Curiosity Shop (1840-1), Barnaby Rudge (1841), Martin Chuzzlewit
(1843-4), A Christmas Carol (1843), Hard Times (1854), A Tale
of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1860-1861).
1840s and 1850s, Dickens continued to work tirelessly for social reform. He
gave a lecture tour in America in 1842, and then offended his hosts by condemning
slavery. From 1847, he
advised his wealthy friend Angela Burdett-Coutts on the establishment of her
home for the redemption of prostitutes, Urania Cottage, and supervised its
day-to-day running for a decade. He gave speeches on behalf of charities and made
generous donations from his own pocket. He wrote so often about the plight of
the poor that he was accused of inciting class warfare.
In 1846 Dickens
invested money in a new radical newspaper, The Daily News, of which he
was editor. The paper was intended to provide a forum for Dickens's ideas on
social reform, but it failed commercially. In 1850, Dickens became founding
editor of Household Words. Dickens wrote articles for this journal
campaigning for parliamentary reform, public health, better education for the
poor, and reform of the workhouse system and legal system. He closed the
journal in 1859 and replaced it with All the Year Round, which still
covered social issues, but also carried literary articles and serialized
Dickens lived in Italy, Switzerland and Paris. He gave lecture tours in Britain
and the United States in 1858-68.
In 1836, Dickens
married Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of the newspaper editor George Hogarth.
The couple had 10 children, but separated in 1858. Some biographers believe
that Dickens preferred Catherine's sister, Mary, who moved into their house and
died in 1837 at the age of 17 in Dickens's arms. Dickens was devastated at her
loss, and was unable to complete the next installment of Pickwick Papers
and Oliver Twist. He even asked to be buried with Mary. Another of
Catherine's sisters, Georgina, moved in with the Dickenses, and Dickens fell in
love with her. Dickens also had a long-standing relationship with the actress
Ellen Ternan, whom he met in the 1850s.
Dickens lived at Gads Hill Place, near Rochester, Kent. He died of a stroke at
Gads Hill on June 9, 1870. Georgina, who ran his household at Gads Hill, was at
his side when he died, as was Ellen Ternan. His unfinished novel, The Mystery
Of Edwin Drood, was published in 1870.