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Author Study: Charles Dickens Curated by Naomi LaDine '17

A page dedicated to Charles Dickens, the great Victorian writer, including Dickens' personal life, historical context, works, criticisms, and literary style

Fun Facts

  1. Charles Dickens had a secret door in his study disguised as a bookcase filled with fake books.
  2. A Christmas Carol was not Dickens' only Christmas story. He actually wrote a total of five Christmas novellas between 1843 and 1848.
  3. Dickens suffered from epilepsy, as do many of his characters.
  4. An ivory toothpick once regularly used by Dickens was sold at an auction in 2009 for over $9,000.
  5. Dickens always slept with his head pointing north, believing it would improve his writing.
  6. He was interested in the paranormal, and ghosts make a frequent appearance in his writing.
  7. Dickens was also interested in hypnotism and tried to use it to cure the ailments of his wife and children.
  8. Dickens was obsessive about the arrangement of furniture in the rooms in which he stayed and compulsively combed his hair.
  9. He kept a pet raven named Grip, which he stuffed when it died.

Early Life

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England in 1812 to the lower-middle class family of John and Elizabeth Dickens. Because his father was employed by the Navy Pay Office, the family moved rather frequently, and the happiest time of Dickens’ childhood was spent at Chatham, where young Charles discovered is passion for reading and love of the theater.

However, John Dickens struggled to manage his finances, and soon after the family had returned to London, was incarcerated at the Marshalsea debtor’s prison. The family moved in with him, except Charles. At age twelve he dwelt alone in rented rooms and worked to support the family at Warren’s Blacking Factory. His dark sense of abandonment, as well as his experience as a poor laborer in the dark city, had a deep psychological impact, despite his experience in the factory lasting for months only.

After his family had been restored, Dickens attended Wellington Academy and read avidly at the British Museum in order to further his education. During this time and the following years spent working as an assistant for a solicitor’s firm, he developed his skills at shorthand, eventually becoming a freelance reporter.

When he was 24, Dickens embarked on the creation of what would be his major breakthrough. Published in monthly installments, Pickwick Papers brought Dickens fame not just in England, but in America and Russia also. From that time on, Dickens published success after success, (many of which were also in regular installments and consolidated into novels later) until his death in 1870.