Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens



Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812 -1870)

Charles Dickens is much loved for his great contribution to English literature. He was a Victorian author: his epic stories, vivid characters and careful description of his life and times are unforgettable.

His own story is one of rags to riches. He was born in Portsmouth on February 7, 1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens The good fortune of being sent to school at the age of nine was short-lived because his father was imprisoned for bad debt The entire family, apart from Charles, were sent to Marshalsea. Charles was sent to work in Warren's blacking factory and endured appalling conditions as well as loneliness and despair. After three years he was returned to school but the experience was never forgotten and was used in two of his better- known novels David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

Like many others, he began his writing career as a journalist. His own father became a reporter and Charles began with “The Mirror of Parliament” and “The True Sun!.  Then in 1833 he became parliamentary journalist for The Morning Chronicle. With new contacts in the press he was able to publish a series of sketches under the pen name of 'Boz'. In April 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth. Within the same month came the publication of the highly successful Pickwick Papers, and from that point on there was no looking back.

 As well as a huge list of novels he published an autobiography, edited weekly periodicals including “Household Words” and “All Year Round”, wrote travel books and managed charities. He was also a theatre enthusiast, wrote plays and performed before Queen Victoria in 1851. His energy was inexhaustible and he spent much time abroad—for example lecturing against slavery in the United States and touring Italy with companions, Augustus Egg and Wilkie Collins, a writer who inspired Dickens' final unfinished novel Mystery of Edwin Drood.

He was separated from his wife in 1858 after the birth of their ten children and died of a stroke in 1870. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

Task - How many of the following statements are true or false?

  • Dickens lived while Victoria was queen of England
  • Dickens was born in Portugal
  • John Dickens, Charles’ father went to prison for theft
  • Charles enjoyed working in the blacking factory
  • Dickens began writing as newspaper reporter.
  • Some of his stories were written as weekly extracts in newspapers.
  • Charles had ten children with his wife.
  • Dickens was in favour of slavery
  • Dickens died of a heart attack.
  • He is buried in Westminster Abbey.


Now read the following information

Charles Dickens

 Biographical notes

1812.         Dickens born in Portsmouth. Father was a clerk in naval pay office: hard-working but unable to live within income. Several brothers and sisters.

1822.         Family settles in Camden Town, London. Father gets into debt. Charles put to work in shoe-blacking factory (a disturbing event for a child). Father sent to prison for debt.

1827.         Dickens becomes a clerk in Grays' Inn at a firm of solicitors. Studies shorthand and becomes a reporter. Praised for his speed and accuracy.

1830.         Dickens meets Maria Beadnell and falls madly in love with her. She treats him coldly and calls him 'boy'.

1833.         Dickens publishes his first story -'Dinner at Poplar Walk' in Monthly Magazine.

1836.         Sketches by Boz successful, early fiction, he earns £150.  Asked to write stories to accompany sporting prints. He invents Mr Pickwick for “Pickwick Papers” which is a big success. He marries Catherine Hogarth. Ten children follow.

1837.         Writes his fiction as regular monthly instalments for magazine publication. Publication of Oliver Twist begins.

1838.         Dickens and illustrator Hablot Browne travel to Yorkshire to see the boarding schools. Publication of Nicholas Nickleby begins.

1841.         Publication of The Old Curiosity Shop begins. Travels in Scotland and United States. Disappointed by experience of the U.S.

 1842.         Begins work on Martin Chuzzlewit.

1844.         Dickens and family travel to Italy. Successfully treated Madame de la Rue with hypnotism.

1846.         Family tours in Italy, Switzerland and France, returning to London the following year. Dickens involved in charity work. Publication of Dombey and Son begins.

 1848.         Dickens' sister dies.

 1849.         Publication of David Copperfield begins.

1850.         Begins his own weekly magazine, Household Words. Heavy work both writing and editing it. Dickens a journalist with amazing energy.

1851.         His wife Catherine Dickens suffers a nervous collapse. John Dickens,       the father of Charles Dickens, dies. His daughter Dora Dickens dies when she is only eight months old.

 1852.         Publication of Bleak House begins.

1853.         Dickens gives the first of what were to be popular public readings from his works.

 1854.         Publication of Hard Times begins.

1855.         Secret meetings with Maria Beadnell, his first love, at her suggestion. Dickens disappointed by the experience. Family move to Gad's Hill, Rochester.

 1857.         Hans Christian Anderson visits Gad's Hill.

1858.         Separates from wife with considerable publicity and bitterness. Begins new weekly, All the Year Round. Gives public readings and acts out dramatised scenes from his work which are very popular.

 1859.         A Tale of Two Cities published.

1860.         Begins publishing Great Expectations in “All the Year Round” Death of Dickens' brother Alfred.

 1863.         Dickens' mother dies.

1864.         Death of Dickens' son, Walter, in India. First instalment of Our Mutual Friend is printed.

1867.         Despite poor health, embarks on punishing tour of American to give readings which help to boost sales of his magazine and novels.

1869.         Dickens ordered by his doctors to end the public readings. Begins writing Mystery of Edwin Drood.

1870.         Further public readings as a 'farewell tour' in England. Private meeting with Queen Victoria. More amateur theatricals. Dies of stroke. Buried in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, with full public honours.

Task - Use the following headings to collect important facts about Dickens’ life.

(Try to collect at least five facts under each heading - your teacher will show you how to use bullet points)

  • Life as a child
  • Life as a writer
  • Family Life
  • Other interests


Task – Share your points with the rest of the class in the form of a PowerPoint presentation

Task – You are now going to select ten important facts that everybody should know about Dickens

1. Work with a partner and start by taking out the least important facts you have recorded
2. Make sure you include something from each of the headings above


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The Early Victorians / 2
The Art of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) – born in Portsmouth into a well-to-do family with eight children. However, Dickens’s father had overspent his income by the time Dickens was 12. Dickens’s father was sent to debtor’s prison and the boy had to work at a boot-blacking factory 12 hours a day. Married Catherine Thompson Hogarth in 1836 with whom he had ten children. Buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Education: Wellington House Academy in London.
Early literary favourites: the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding.
Career: law clerk, court stenographer, political journalist, editor, novelist, lecturer.
Some early works:

  • Sketches by Boz (1836)
  • The Pickwick Papers (1836)
  • Oliver Twist (1837- 1839)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1840-41) (a historical novel)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1842)
  • A Christmas Carol (1843) (perhaps his most popular tale)

Mature novels:

  • Dombey and Son (1848)
  • David Copperfield (1849-50)
  • Bleak House (1853)
  • Hard Times (1854)
  • Little Dorrit (1857)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  • Great Expectations (1861)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1865)
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished crime story)

Most of the novels were first written in installments and only later published in book form. This made it possible for him to be influenced by the reading public. A great deal of social commentary, attacks against poverty and crime characterize most of the novels (e.g. Oliver Twist). Victorian judicial system, institutional apparatus was also criticized (Bleak House, Little Dorrit). Introduced the theme of children as victims of adults and society into literature. Many autobiographical elements can be found in David Copperfield. Dickens was excellent in constructing story-lines and in character-drawing. He created many memorable characters (Scrooge, Fagin, Oliver Twist, Micawber, Magwitch, Miss Havisham, etc.). His writings are rich in imagination and humour. Gave many lectures and public readings.

Great Expectations - A Bildungsroman or “novel of self-cultivation” or “Coming –of Age Story”, concentrating on the moral, spiritual, social development of the protagonist usually from childhood until adulthood. Pip has to learn among many other things that goodness is not equal to social standing and respectability (Magwitch, his benefactor is a convict). He will become disappointed in his expectations. The ending was originally meant to be unhappy but Dickens conformed to the wishes of the contemporary reading public and turned it into a “happy” one for the readers.
Narrator: Pip is narrator and protagonist at the same time, focusing on his younger self from a wiser and more critical point of view.
Main themes: betrayal and madness, the plight of children, mystery and crime.
Structure: tripartite. Tricks in constructing the plot: sudden relationships, false and real clues, all characters are somehow connected to each other.
Style: Dickensian --some examples:

“It was not in the first moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white had been white long ago, and had lost its luster, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress…I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman…Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me”.

Alliteration (repetition)
It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets. Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an Eternity of cloud and wind. So furious had been the gusts, that high buildings in town had had the lead stripped off their roofs; and in the country, trees had been torn up, and sails of windmills carried away; and gloomy accounts had come in from the coast of shipwreck and death. Violent blasts of rain had accompanied these rages of wind, and the day just closed as I sat down to read had been the worst of all.”

Simile (like, as):
“Without this arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, nor even the withered bridal dress or the collapsed form could have looked so like grave clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.

“It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief.”

(Miss Havisham) “Now waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.”
(Wemmick) “His mouth was such a post-office of a mouth that he had the mechanical appearance of smiling.”

Abrupt listing of descriptive details
A fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

Oratorical question and answer
“Why should I pause to ask how much of my shrinking from Provis might be traced to Estella? Why should I loiter on my road, to compare the state of mind in which I had tried to rid myself of the stain of the prison before meeting her at the coach-office….? ….The road would be none the smoother for it, the end would be none the better for it….”

Oblique description of speech (Jane Austen). Greater samples of speech description without quoting the character directly.
“I mentioned to Mr. Pumblechook that I wished to have my new clothes sent to his house, and he was ecstatic on my distinguishing him. I mentioned my reason for desiring to avoid observation in the village, and he lauded it to the skies. There was nobody but himself, he intimated, worthy of my confidence, and in short, might he? Then he asked me tenderly if I remembered our boyish games at sums, and how we had gone together to have me bound apprentice, and, in effect, how he had ever been my favourite fancy and my chosen friend?”

Play on words and sounds
“Saving for the one weird smile at first, I should have felt almost sure that Miss Havisham’s face could not smile. It had dropped into a watchful and brooding expression – most likely when all the things about her had become transfixed – and it looked as if nothing could ever lift it up again. Her chest had dropped, so that she stooped; and her voice had dropped, so that she spoke low, and with a dead lull upon her; altogether, she had the appearance of having drooped, body and soul, within and without, under the weight of a crushing blow.”

Funny names: Gargery, Pumblechook, Wopsle, Magwitch, Drummle.

Some characters are linked to animals or inanimate objects: Magwitch compared to a dog, Jaggers linked to his pocket handkerchief (and soap), Wemmick compared to a letter-box, Miss Havisham corpse-like, Bentley Drummle compared to a Spider.

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Charles Dickens’ Biography


  Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 7,1812, in Portsmouth but left it in infancy.  From 1822 he lived in London, until, in 1860, he moved permanently to a country house near Chatham.

   His origins were middle class but in 1824 the family reached bottom. Charles had been withdrawn from school and was now set to manual work in a factory and his father went to prison for debt. These shocks deeply affected Charles.

   Three years later he became a clerk in a solicitor’s office, then a short-handed reporter in the lawcourts, and finally, like other members of his family, a parliamentary and newspaper reporter.

   In 1833 he began contributing stories and descriptive essays to magazines and newspapers; these attracted attention and were reprinted as Sketches by Boz (1836), seven weeks later the first instalment of Pickwick Papers appears.

   In April 1836 he had married Catherine, eldest daughter of a respected Scottish journalist and a man of letters, George Hogarth.

   In the following years he published Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nicklaby, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge.  He then took a five-month vacation in America, receiving honours as a literary celebrity but he found more vulgarity and sharp practice to detest than social arrangements to admire.  Some of these feelings appear in American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit. Later appear Dombey and Son and David Copperfield.

   In 1850 Dickens published his own magazine Household Words and he contributed some serials Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

   His health remained precarious after the punishment American tour and was further impaired by his addiction to giving the strenuous Sikes and Nancy reading. His farewell readings tour was abandoned when, in April 1869, he collapsed. He began writing another novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which is already unfinished and gave a short farewell season of readings in London.

   He died suddenly, on June 9,1870, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.



Other Major Works:

   - Novels:  Bleak House (1853); Little Dorrit (1857); Our Mutual Friend (1865).

- Stories:  A volume entitled Christmas Stories (1850-1868).

- Christmas Books:  A Christmas Carol (1843); The Chimes (1845); The Cricket                                   
on the Heart (1846); The Battle of Life (1846); The Haunted         
Man (1848).

   - Others Works:  Sketches of Young Gentlemen (1838); Sketches of Young             
Couples (1840); A Child’s History of England (1852-54); etc.    

                                Summary: Hard Times.



   Thomas Gradgrind is an important citizen of Coketown, an imaginary industrial town in the north of England.  He has two children, Tom and Louisa, and brings them up according to his belief in practical necessity, denying them all imaginative or emotional outlets.  Gradgrind adopts Sissy Jupe, after her father ( a performer in Sleary’s circus) deserts her.

Some years later Gradgrind marries his daughter to Josiah Bounderby, a local bank-owner and manufactured.  Louisa never loves Bounderby, but does love her brother, Tom, and this is part of the reason why she marries, for Tom is employed in Bounderby’s bank, and she thinks that by marrying Bounderby she will increase Tom’s chances of promotion.  But Tom is an idle waster, and eventually robs the bank, trying to place the blame on an innocent factory-hand, Stephen Blackpool.

In the meantime, a young, unscrupulous politician visits Coketown and tries to seduce Louisa.  This experience suddenly awakes Louisa to the fact that she abhors Bounderby, and she runs to her father protection.  This likewise brings Gradgrind to his senses, and he is forced to recognise the foolishness of his beliefs about practical necessity being more important than emotions.

   In the meantime, suspicion for the bank robbery shifts from Blackpool to Tom, and he is speedily bundled out of the country with the assistance of Sleary’s circus performers.  Blackpool, having been sacked from Bounderby’s factory, and now working in another town some sixty miles off, hears that he is suspected of the bank robbery and attempts to walk to Coketown to prove his innocence.  But he falls into a disused mineshaft on the way, and, although discovered some days later by Sissy Jupe, he dies from his injuries. 

   Bounderby continues to live in his bank with his housekeeper, the detestable Mrs Sparsit, and dies of a fit in Coketown High Street five years later, while the sisterly bond between Louisa and Sissy grows ever stronger over the years, with Louisa doting on Sissy’s children.  Louisa herself, though, is never to remarry.



                           Main  Characters



   In Dickens’ novels there is always a conflict between money and love.  We can see  this conflict in the main characters in the novel.  There is a vast difference between the people with money (such as Gradgrind and Bounderby) and the people without money (such as Sissy Jupe and Stephen Blackpool).  Thomas Gradgrind comes from a good family and he is a schoolmaster.  He is the biological father of Tom and Louisa, and adoptive father of Sissy Jupe. He is a serious, cold and calculating man with capitalist ideas.  The learning at his school is strict, partial and mechanical; is a dehumanising education.

   Josiah Bounderby is a businessman without scruples, every thing he does is for his own advantage.  He personise the power of the nineteenth century bourgeoisie. In fact he is a self-made-man.  He lives with his housekeeper, Mrs Sparsit, who is devotee of the power from the past, from the aristocracy  and the privilege.  With these two characters, Dickens recalls the nature of the new leading class.

   Money is a the centre of the story, and it is the desire for power which money brings that provides the climax to the story.  Tom attempts to steal money from Bounderby’s bank, because in stealing that money he hopes he will the possess the kind of power already possessed by Bounderby and by his father.

   I have realised that money, and the power that it brings, is inevitably corrupting and causes the suffering of innocent people: Blackpool dies as a direct result of Tom robbing the bank, and Louisa sells herself to Bounderby in the hope that this will benefit Tom’s career.  Money not only physically controls people’s lives (by forcing them to work in dangerous factories) but also corrupts the emotions - Louisa prostitutes herself to Bounderby’s money and power, until shocked into recognising the importance of love and her emotions.

   In Hard Times the central conflict is located in the opposition between the world of money, affectation and self-interest ( represented by Gradgrind and Bounderby), and the world of love and a natural simplicity of spirit ( represented by the circus and Sissy Jupe that even going to Gradgrind’s school she is as spontaneous girl  full of fantasy and imagination).

Between these two extremes are the children and innocents; like Blackpool: a humble worker who belongs to the low social class, and is known for his good sense; who all have the potential to partake of the virtues of the circus world, but who are all made to suffer under Gradgrind’s and Bounderby’s beliefs about the value of practical necessity.   




Structure of the Novel



   Hard Times was first published in weekly serial form between April and August 1854, and comes just about half way through Dickens’s writing career.  Now  this novel consist of three books, each one of them divided into chapters.  This type of division into three sections was a very extended practice in the Victorian age.

   The titles of these three books are: the first one Sowing, the second one Reaping, and the third one Garnering. These names have tried to reflect the social climate of the period; sowing and reaping, prize and punishment.

   In the first book Dickens introduces us the characters, the second book is the exposition of the novel and finally at the end we get to know the denouement in the third book.

   Each book consist in chapters, Sowing has sixteen, Reaping has twelve and Garnering has nine chapters.

          Narrative point of view  and  Literary style


   Dickens is an outside narrator. He relates the story like an omnipotent storyteller.  This novel Hard Times gains in quality through a global vision about the social problem of the time, but this quality suffers the effects of his social prejudices.  A question of law is that the circus is the heart of Dickens, his good wishes, his Christmas philosophy…

Dickens projects in his novel the ideological conflicts between the middle class and the low social class.  Dickens tried in Hard Times to reach the root of all society’s problems.  It could be said that he is focusing on the corrupting power of money, and the way in which it can poison both the physical and the emotional parts of people’s lives.

   Critics have often seen Hard Times as not truly “ Dickensian”: it lacks the sentimentality, jollity and grotesquely of the earlier novels, yet is not really as serious and probing as the later “social” novels.

Hard Times is one of the novels that is much darker than its predecessors, he has certainly found in his fiction the response of an acute, knowledgeable, and concerned observer to the social and political developments of “the moving age”.

In this novel he is emotionally more tragic, the satire is harsher, the humour less genial and abundant…  Technically is more coherent, plot is more fully related, and theme is expressed through a more insistent use of imagery and symbols.

There is a comic figure, Mrs Sparsit, like in the first novels, although in these years figures of this type are less frequent.  Characterisation also is more subordinate to “the general purpose and design”, Dickens presents characters of great complexity who provoke more complex responses in the reader.  Even the juvenile leads, who had usually bee thinly conceived conventional figures, are now more complicated in their make-up and less easily rewarded by good fortune.      
                         Personal Opinion

  The effect of Hard Times may be to encourage the readers to look more critically at our own society, since the novel is presenting that society as little more than an elaborate charade, founded on the most questionable moral and economic principles.  The novel achieves this effect by telling a story with characters who are nothing like real people in the real world.  The comic characters in Dickens’s novel are not real characters even in the sense that characters in a novel can be real.  They are caricatures or types who allow normally hidden, basic human desires and failings to be exaggerated to comic proportions and made fun of.  But there is a serious side to all this, since we see, in this view of the world, some of the essential characteristics and failings of our own society.
The novel offers an impression of the potentially poisoning and corrupting effect of the world of money and political and economic systems upon the natural love and affection we have for our fellow humans.
An interest thing to notice about this novel is the great quantity of dialect used by some characters.  This point difficult notably the reader because Dickens only writes the phonetic features of Cockney- <wi’>( with); <fro’>(from); <ashes>(asks); <monny>(many);etc.  And is for this question that it was almost impossible to understand everything.





- Hard Times, Charles Dickens. Editorial Alhambra.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica.  University of Chicago.
- Charles Dickens: A Critical Study. G. R. Gissing.
- The Life of Charles Dickens.  John Foster.

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Charles Dickens


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