Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812, the second of eight children. His father, John Dickens, worked as a naval pay clerk, but his poor financial habits landed him in debtor’s prison when the younger Dickens was 12. While the rest of his family was imprisoned with his father, Charles was forced to work in a blacking factory for several months, pasting labels on shoe polish bottles. Throughout the ordeal, Dickens worked six days a week in sordid conditions while missing his family and longing to return to school. When his father finally declared bankruptcy, the family was reunited and Dickens resumed his education. Then, at 15, Dickens took a job in an attorney’s office; a few years later he began to work as a freelance reporter. In 1833 his first stories, Sketches By Boz, were published in a magazine. He then began to write novels in serial form: chapters were published one at a time, leaving readers clamoring to buy the following edition so they could find out what happened next. Dickens would eventually become known for such works as Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities and Nicholas Nickleby; to this day, his books have never gone out of print in England.
Many of Dickens’ works are concerned with the socioeconomic problems of the increasingly industrial society in which he lived: child labor, low pay for factory workers and increasing social stratification. His own dismal experience as a child factory worker both haunted and inspired him for the remainder of his life, and his work often critiqued the lack of education and opportunity for poor children in Victorian England. Dickens penned A Christmas Carol in 1843. It became instantaneously popular and has inspired enduring admiration over the 172 years since its publication. Later in his life, Dickens toured Great Britain and America giving public readings of his works. Together with his literary celebrity, the dramatic readings catapulted him to great acclaim. He continued to write until his death in 1870.
Charles Dickens Reading Lists with Suggestions from the Chicago Dickens Fellowship
Dickens and Christmas: Beyond A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens penned four additional Christmas novellas. Each is no more than 100 pages and is frequently printed as a set.
– The Chimes (1844) – A story about a poor man who thinks the world would be better off without him. He’s shown the richness he has in his life by ghosts who appear in the form of church bells. This story could be the inspiration for It’s a Wonderful Life.
The Cricket on the Hearth (1845) – The story of a man whose overwhelming jealousy affects his relationship with his loving wife. The supernatural cricket shows him the error of his thoughts and brings the couple back together again.
The Battle of Life (1846) – Two sisters love the same man, and the sacrifice one sister makes to ensure the happiness of the other.
The Haunted Man (1848) – A man who obsesses over perceived wrongs done to him and grief from his past is given an opportunity to forget all remembrances by a ghost in order to learn a lesson about the value of both good and bad memories.
Dickens and social issues affecting children: Charles Dickens had a special interest in the social problems affecting children. Several of his most iconic works address the problems facing children in 19th century England.
– Oliver Twist (1837) – Dickens’s second novel is arguably one of his most powerful. It tells the story of an orphan who is thrown into the ugly workhouses for the poor and the criminal side of London.
– Nicholas Nickleby (1838) – In his third novel, Dickens exposes the mistreatment of children in the boarding schools in Yorkshire. While addressing a serious and dark subject, Dickens also successfully works in some of his best comic writing.
– Little Dorrit (1855) – Dickens takes on two social issues in this one novel, borrowing from his own childhood experiences. Little Dorrit addresses the hopelessness of a family living in a debtor’s prison due to the imprisonment of the father, and the effect on the children forced to find work to pay for basic needs within the prison.
To learn more about Charles Dickens and the Chicago Dickens Fellowship, visit ChicagoDickensFellowship.org.