• 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.

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  • Early life

    Where was Dickens born?
    On 7 February 1812, Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. His parents named him Charles John Huffam Dickens.

    Portsmouth was the home of the Royal Navy. His father, John Dickens, worked as a clerk for the Navy. His mother's name was Elizabeth Barrow. She wanted to be a teacher and run a school.

    Happy times
    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.

    Hard times
    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.

    Growing up
    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!

    Charles learned shorthand. He got a job writing about Parliament. He travelled around England by stagecoach, writing for newspapers. He wrote stories about the people he met.

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  • 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.

    Oliver Twist
    Oliver Twist came out in 1837. It was a grim tale about an orphan boy (Oliver), who is sent to the workhouse. Oliver ends up in the London underworld, in a gang of thieves led by Fagin.

    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.

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  • 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.

    Family life
    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.

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  • What happened to Dickens?

    How was Britain changing?
    Dickens saw many changes during his life, made by the Industrial Revolution.

    In 1820 most people in England worked on farms. When Dickens died in 1870, most people worked in towns. Many poor people worked in factories and lived in slums.

    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.

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Charles Dickens Game

Charles Dickens

Take part in the What the Dickens? game show.

Fun Facts
  • While working in the blacking factory, Dickens visited his parents on Sundays - in prison.

  • People started saying 'Merry Christmas' more after A Christmas Carol was published. They also started sending Christmas cards by post.

  • The name 'Scrooge' has come to mean a mean person, someone who doesn't like spending money.

  • Dickens almost became an actor not a writer. Having a bad cold stopped him getting his first acting job.

  • Dickens was annoyed in America by people spitting a lot!

  • Dickens was always writing. He wrote thousands of letters.

  • The Dickens family had a pet raven (a large black bird). Its name was Grip.

Other famous writers, poets and musicians

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

Someone who works in an office, writing letters.

E to G

Someone who works on books and newspapers.
A building where things are made.
A ceremony held when a person dies.

H to L

Industrial Revolution
A time of changes in work and science from the 1700s through to the 1800s.

M to O

A mean person who does not like spending money.
A book telling a long story.
Someone who writes novels.
A child whose parents are dead.

P to S

The place in London where Britain's laws are made.
A name used by a writer, instead of their real name.
Royal Navy
Britain's navy, a fleet of warships.
A way to write quickly, using signs for words.
Parts of cities with poor houses, dirt and disease.
A horse-drawn coach for passengers.

T to Z

Someone whose job it is to arrange funerals.
A building where poor children, old people and jobless people had to live.