Life of Charles Dickens by John Roster (who worked with Dickens!) --complete book HERE
Animated short film about Dickens life HERE
CONDENSED BIOGRAPHYCharles John Huffam Dickens was born 7 February, 1812 in Portsmouth, England. He was the second child of John and Elizabeth Hoffman Dickens. His parents went on to have five more children to join Charles and his elder sister, Fanny, two of whom died in infancy.
The Dickens family was on shaky financial ground from the beginning. John Dickens did not have a particularly good head for numbers or finance, which was rather unfortunate, since he worked as a clerk in the Naval Pay Office. (He also dabbled in journalism, which influenced his young son but failed to bring the family much income.) The family moved frequently. By 1823, things had gotten bad enough that Dickens's parents were forced to withdraw him from school because they could no longer pay the fees.
The following year, 1824, was a nightmare for the whole Dickens family. On 9 February, two days after his twelfth birthday, Charles was sent to work at Warren's Blacking Factory, a London operation that made the polish for boots. That same month, John Dickens was sentenced to Marshalsea Prison for his failure to repay a debt. Though young Charles tried desperately to raise the money to keep his father out of jail, on 23 February John Dickens reported to prison. The entire family – with the exception of Charles, who was still working at the factory, and his older sister Fanny – moved in to John's prison cell.
The blacking factory was a miserable place. Living alone at a boarding house while his family was in prison was more than the sensitive 12-year-old Charles could bear. His depression andanxiety contributed to his sickly constitution. In May, John Dickens received an inheritance and was able to arrange to have the debt paid off. The family moved in together again at the boarding house where Charles had been living. By June 1824 he was able to go back to school at Wellington House Academy.
Charles Dickens never got over his terror of poverty. Nor did he ever forget the deprivations he endured during his family's crisis. Scenes from the factory, the boarding house, and the debtor's prison all peppered his fiction. Even as an adult, he could not pass the site of the old factory without crying. After his mother objected to his returning to school, saying that he should continue to work to support the family, he was never able to forgive her. "I do not write resentfully or angrily, for I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am," he wrote after becoming a successful novelist, "but I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget."
Just two years later, the family was back on financial hard times. Fourteen-year-old Dickens withdrew from school for the last time and went to work. He took a job as alaw clerk in London. He also started hanging out around London's theater district, nurturing what was to be a lifelong love of stagecraft and drama. (He later began acting in and writing amateur plays.) In 1828, when he was sixteen, Dickens got his first gig as a professional writer, working as a freelance reporter covering the courts.
Charles Dickens was a professional writer. Publishing novels in monthly installments did result in massive volumes once the books were completed. But the plan actually made a ton of sense for publishers and readers alike. By publishing a novel like Oliver Twist in a series of twelve to twenty-four cliffhanger installments, magazine publishers could guarantee themselves up to two years of magazine purchases from readers hooked on the story. Once the book was finished, they could sell it as a single volume and make money all over again.
Also, in mid-nineteenth century England, most people could not afford to fork over the cash for a whole novel, which was an expensive investment. The only person who partially lost out in this deal was the writer himself. Dickens had to work at a pretty ferocious pace to keep up with the magazine's schedule, and he didn't really get too great of a cut from either the magazine or bound-book sales. Add these factors to his killer work ethic and his deep-seated terror of poverty, and you've got a guy who is going to be cranking out some serious wordage.
Dickens was a literary rock star. All of his novels shared distinct characteristics that marked them as "Dickensian." His characters played into popular Victorian stereotypes: the innocent orphan, the unscrupulous businessman, and the sleazy criminal. They spoke with a strong social conscience, and reminded everyone that the much-heralded progress of the Industrial Revolution was also leaving some people in the gutter. Dickens unambiguously criticized the system of workhouses, debtor's prisons, and orphanages that kept England's poor virtually enslaved. His writing relied heavily on cliffhangers and suspense (a function of their publication in monthly parts). They were also extremely popular. Dickens's descriptions of poverty defined the way that Victorian England saw poverty. A Christmas Carol defined the concept of the Christmas spirit. Dickens was a tastemaker in a way few novelists – if any – have done before or since.