Why is Charles Dickens famous?
Who was Charles Dickens?
Charles Dickens is a famous English writer. People all over the world enjoy his stories. One of them is Oliver Twist, the story of a poor boy in Victorian times. Books by Dickens can be funny and sad. His stories are full of interesting 'characters' (people).
When did Dickens live?
Dickens was born in England in 1812. He died in 1870.
His first big success was The Pickwick Papers. This was in 1837, the year Victoria became Britain's Queen.
Dickens lived through the Industrial Revolution. He wrote about how life was changing, especially for poor people.
Why do people read Dickens?
Many of Dickens' stories came out in weekly or monthly parts, as serials. Each month people could read a new chapter in the story. Perhaps this is why Dickens' books make good films and TV serials too.
Readers like a good story, with interesting characters. Dickens was very clever at making up characters. People all over the world know Oliver Twist, Scrooge and David Copperfield, even if they have not read the books in which these characters appear.
Where was Dickens born?
On 7 February 1812, Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. His parents named him Charles John Huffam Dickens.
The Dickens family never had much money. Charles had seven brothers and sisters. Mr Dickens dreamed of being rich. Mrs Dickens dreamed of owning a school. Somehow things never went right.
In 1816 the family moved to Chatham, in Kent. Charles was happy there. He went to school. He explored the countryside. He loved the old castle at Rochester.
In 1822 the family moved to London. Now times were hard. Mr Dickens was sent to prison for six months for not paying his bills.
Charles (aged 12) had to work in a dirty old factory, beside the River Thames. He could hear rats squeaking and running about. His job was to put labels on pots of 'blacking', used to clean fireplaces.
Dickens never forgot this unhappy time. He wrote about it later.
By 1824 Mr Dickens had enough money to send Charles back to school.
At 15, Charles got a job in a lawyer's office. He hated it. In his books he makes most lawyers horrid!
Dickens the writer
Dickens is a success
In 1833, he sold his first story. At first Dickens called himself 'Boz'. This was his pen-name.
In 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth.
Suddenly he became famous. His funny stories called The Pickwick Papers were a success.
The story ends happily for Oliver, but people were shocked. Were poor children really treated so badly?
Life for poor children
Life for poor children in Victorian times was very hard. Small children worked in coal mines and factories.
Little boys were made to climb inside chimneys and clean them. Oliver Twist almost becomes a 'chimney-boy'. Instead he is made to work for an undertaker.
Life in London
London was a big, crowded city. Many poor people lived in slums. Homeless children slept on the streets. Many people died from diseases. Almost half the funerals in London in the 1830s were of children under 10.
London did not have a police force until 1829. Even young children were sent to prison.
Dickens the celebrity
A famous man
Dickens became so famous people knew him as he walked about London. He was a celebrity.
Dickens walked for miles around the city, watching and listening. He made notes for new stories.
Dickens keeps busy
In 1846 Dickens became editor of the Daily News, a newspaper. He did not like being told what to do by the owners, so in 1850 he started his own magazine, Household Words. Now he could write what he liked.
Dickens was a show-off. He loved to give public readings from his books. In 1842, he visited America.
Two famous books
Of his many books, Dickens liked David Copperfield best. In it he wrote about Mr Micawber, who seems very like Dickens' father.
In 1843, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. It is one of his most famous stories. In it, we meet the miser Scrooge - and three ghosts!
Why did people like long books?
In Victorian times, there was no radio, no television, no internet, no cinema. People read lots of books. Readers liked long stories, to pass the time.
Grown-ups read novels and magazines. Children had their own books too.
Dickens was the most famous novelist in Britain. There were lots of others, such as Sir Walter Scott and Charlotte Brontë.
Dickens and his wife had 10 children. But their marriage was not happy. In 1858, they split up.
Dickens loved acting. He had his own little theatre at home. While acting in a play in 1857, Dickens fell in love with Ellen Ternan, an actress.
What happened to Dickens?
How was Britain changing?
Dickens saw many changes during his life, made by the Industrial Revolution.
What made Dickens angry?
Dickens was angered by the sad things he saw. In his books, he tried to show what was wrong. In Nicholas Nickleby, he wrote about a terrible school, Dotheboys Hall, where unwanted children were cruelly treated.
He wanted to make life better for people. He wanted new libraries, hospitals and schools.
Pictures in Dickens
Many of Dickens's books had pictures. The pictures helped readers follow the story. Two artists were famous for their Dickens drawings. They were George Cruikshank and Hablot K Browne, known as 'Phiz'.
How did Dickens die?
In 1864 Dickens and Ellen Ternan were in a train crash. Dickens was not badly hurt, but he was never very well after this accident.
In 1868 he went on a tour of the United States. He read to large audiences, on stage. It was very tiring. He came home worn out and sick.
Dickens died in June 1870, at home in Kent. He was working on a new book. It was The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Charles Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey.