Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend
Dickens' Life and Times: a brief biography
Charles John Huffam ('Boz') Dickens was born on the 7th of February 1812, in Portsmouth, England. He was the second son of John and Elizabeth Dickens. Dickens began his education under the Baptist minister, William Giles, in Kent. The Dickens family moved to London in 1822. They resided in Camden but their poor finances meant Charles Dickens could no longer attend school.
In February of 1824 the Dickens family face ruin, Charles was sent to work in Warren's Blacking warehouse. It was shortly after this that his father was sent to the Marshalsea debtor's prison. In May of that year
John Dickens' mother died, leaving him enough money to partially clear his debts and negotiate a release from prison.
Dickens was sent to Wellington House Academy, where he remained for three years, winning the Latin prize, and producing plays for a toy theatre. In 1827 the family faced financial troubles once again, Charles and his elder sister Fanny withdrew from their educations. Charles began work as a solicitor's clerk in the offices of Ellis and Blackmore. Dickens learnt shorthand reporting and by 1831 was working for Mirror of Parliament, a paper managed by his uncle, John Henry Barrow.
In May 1830 Charles Dickens met Maria Beadnell, a bankers daughter. Her family objected to the romance and she was sent to the continent, the romance continued over three years and was finally ended in May 1833, the same year that Dicken's first story 'A Dinner at Poplar Walk' appered in the December issue of Monthly Magazine.
In Febryary of 1836 Dickens sketches were collected into the first series of Sketches by Boz, which earned Dickens a reputation and contract with The Pickwich Papers. Dickens sucess allowed him to marry Catherine Hogath, the daugher of a music critic from the Morning Chronicle, a paper Dickens has worked on as a reporter. The marriage took place on the 2nd of April 1836 and the couple honeymooned in Chalk.
Dickens' first child Charles Culliford Boz Dickens was born in January 1837. Dickens continued to write, now devoting all his time to his stories. Oliver Twist and Pickwick began appearing monthly in Bentley's Miscellany. The novels were suspended for a month after the sudden death of Mary Hogarth, Catherine's younger sister, in May. Dickens was with her at the time of death, and was so grieved he took a ring from her finger and wore it until the end of his life. Charles and Catherine retired from Ldonon to Hampstead to recover.
In January 1838 Dickens travelled to Yorkshire with Browne to observe the infamous Yorkshire schools featured in Nicholas Nickleby. In January 1842 Dickens and his wife travelled from Liverpoor to America, visiting Boston, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and so forth. They befriended Washington Irving, Richard Henry Dana and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was criticised by the American press due to his advocasy of an International Copyright Agreement.
After the return to England Georgina Hogarth joined the household to help with book keeping and the care of the children. In 1824 Dickens published American Notes and continued his satire of America in Martin Chuzzlewit (1844). Dickens was facing money troubles after his publishers threatened to reduce his monthly payment due to the mixed reception of Martin Chuzzlewit. To fend off financial troubles Dickens aimed a book at the popular Christmas market. In 1843 A Christmas Carol was published. It did not bring the financial rewards Dickens had hoped for and with the birth of his fifth child, Francis Jeffrey, and continually disappointing book sales, Dickens moved the family to live cheaply in Italy.
Dickens sister Fanny died of TB in 1848, leaving behind her nine year old son, Henry Burnett, the original of Tiny Tim. He died in January 1849 as Dickens seventh child, Henry Fielding Dickens, was born. Shortly afterwards Dickens began to write David Copperfield.
In 1851 Dickens began to write Bleak House, it wasa difficult year. Catherine suffered a nervous breakdown and Dickens father died. Dickens daughter Dora Annie died in April 1851. The family took a holiday at Broadstairs, which improved Catherine's health. She wrote a cookbook under the pseudonym Lady Maria Clutterbuck. Dickens' tenth and last child was born in March 1852.
1856 saw Dickens buying Gad's Hill, the mansion Dickens has fantasied over buying as a boy. In 1858 Dickens marriage was in crisis. He and Catherine agreed to separate, Catherine than moved into a reisdence with her son Charley. Rummors began about Dickens relationship with his sister-in-law Georgina and the actress Ellen Ternan. Charles Dickens published a defense of his conduct in Household Words, against the advice of his friends and publisers. Dickens, aware of his aging and unhappy with the rumours, cast off many old friends in favour of a circle of young admirers. Dickens fell out with his publishers Bradbury & Evans to such an extent that he refused ot attend the wedding of his son Charley to Evan's daughter Bessie. Dickens also quarrelled with Thackeray, not reconcilling until shortly before Thackeray's death in 1863.
During this period Dickens began to suppliment his income with public readings. Dickens lost many friends, Arthur Smith died in 1861, Henry Austin in 1861, Augustus Egg, Thackeray, John Leech and both Dickens mother and mother-in-law died in 1863-4. Dickens son Walter also died, and Georgina suffered a severe illness. Dickens relationship with Ellen Ternan continued in this period. He and Ellen were both involved in the Staplehurst railway accident of June 1865, an accident which killed 10 and injured 50.
In mid 1863 Dickens began Our Murual Friend. He planned many readings after the novel was completed, but was dogged by ill health. In 1870 he began The Mystery of Edwin Drood. his final performance readings were in January of 1870. His first installment of The Mystery fo Edwin Drood appeared in April. In June 1870, after working on the novel, Dickens suffered a stroke and died. He was buried in Westinster Abbey on the 14th of June.
Dickens lived in a time where death, poverty and social inequality were taken as normal. He experienced first hand many of the hardships later written for his characters.
This project gratefully acknowledges the support of the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy.
|© Leon Litvack 2006|