|Image by me
Happy Birthday Charles Dickens! Considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of all times Charles Dickens is known by almost everyone for The Christmas Carol, in which Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. In fact he wrote 15 other major works, the Old Curiosity Shop and David Copperfield are two of my favorites but many are much more popular, such as Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities.
Dickens was born on February 7, 1812 to John and Elizabeth Dickens and had 8 brothers and sisters. His life was a challenge to say the least because his father continually lived beyond his means. Consequently, John and the rest of the family excluding Charles were sent to debtors prison. Charles at the age of 12 went to board at the home of a family friend who was also living in “reduced circumstances.” In order to pay his room and board and to help his family in prison Dickens began working 10 hour days in a rat infested warehouse where he pasted labels on pots.
Eventually his father John was left and inheritance of 450 pounds by his grandmother and he was able to pay his debts and get out of prison. Charles was permanently marked by his arduous days of work at such a young age and he used his experiences later in life to write David Copperfield. It is said that this book in the most autobiographical of all of his works. Dickens highlighted the lives of the poor and the disadvantaged and he used his books to change public opinion about class inequities. Through his journalism he campaigned against working conditions in the workhouses, sanitation and slavery to name just a few of his causes.
After leaving the workhouse, he went on to school and then to have 10 children with his wife Catherine and was able to travel and to see the world because of his early success. In 1857 he met and fell in love with Ellen Ternan, an actress preforming in a play he had written called The Deep Freeze, in 1858 he left his wife and would spend the rest of his life with Ellen. This relationship was a secret from society because Dickens built his relationship with his readers based on his family life and his morals. This secret relationship lasted 13 years and caused Dickens considerable angst because he was continually sneaking around the countryside to see Ellen and then over a four year period going back and forth to France. Charles Dickens suffered a stroke on June 8, 1870 and he died the next day never having gained consciousness.
Dickens was an incredibly successful author in his lifetime and his work was accessible to the masses because most often is was serialized in the paper, sometimes weekly and sometimes monthly. This allowed him to write longer books and to develop more complex characters.
During his lifetime Dickens was a “Rock Star” and he toured the United States twice to give readings and talks; his first trip was a bit overwhelming for him what with the slaves in the South and the over enthusiastic fans who would gather to greet him and then cut pieces from his clothes and hair. His second trip, in 1867 was much more successful as he was prepared for his reception and in fact he earned the equivalent of $1.3 million for a few weeks work.
He was so beloved by his fans that when he died the public outpouring of grief was akin to the mourning for Princess Diana. He was beloved by the poor because he called attention to their plight and to the disparity between them and the wealthy.
Dickens’s books by the way have been immortalized in over 300 movies and TV adaptations, the first being a silent movie in 1913 of The Pickwick Papers. His books are read the world over and are often on curriculum lists for high schools and colleges. Most of the books are available for free on E-readers if you are interested in re-reading one of your favorites or perhaps reading one or two for the first time.
If you are a Dickens fan you can visit Dickens 2012 for up to the minute information about celebrations around the globe today, which include Prince Charles and Camilla laying a wreath on his grave at Westminster Abbey, a read- a- thon in 25 countries and readings of his work worldwide. In addition the site features information about exhibitions, performing arts, education and many other projects which will be going on all year long to celebrate the life of Charles Dickens. To celebrate the life of Dickens The Museum of London has an exhibition until May of 2012 and the Victoria and Albert owns all of Dickens manuscripts and usually has at least one on display in the British Galleries.
Are you a fan of Charles Dickens? Do you have a favorite book of his? I would love to hear which are your favorites.
I hope you have a great day!