Charles John Huffam Dickens! I wonder how many realised that the greatest writer ever to grace this fair land had such a fantastic name?
We all had the good fortune to be recently reminded of Dickens on what would have been his 200th birthday (had he not been dead) and as a result the old ‘fools lantern’ was awash with programmes about the great man and his work. They included a riveting portrayal of Great Expectations in which Gillian Anderson played a ghostly and extremely convincing Miss Havisham.
As a writer, considering the fact that I hold all writers who make a name for themselves in the highly competitive world of publishing with almost unworldly high regard, the accomplishments of Charles Dickens are mind-bogglingly incredible. Not only did he fashion a career as a writer in an age where his social and economic background would undoubtedly have been a hindrance, but he endured and continues to be widely read approximately 142 years after his death.
Born in Landport, Portsea on 7 February 1812, Dickens was the son of a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. He was privileged enough to receive a few years of private education, but his early years were more punctuated by poverty and hardship than any leg-ups in the direction of literary stardom. His father, John Dickens, in fact fell on hard times to the point that he ended up in Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Southwark, London.
If you have ever read any of Dickens’s work, you will be familiar with the common themes of poverty and social struggle. If you haven’t read any of his work, then you really should. It is not hard to see why his literature took a socio-economic slant when you consider the environments that he was exposed to as a youngster. He was forced to work in a boot blacking factory when still a child and was appalled at the rat-infested conditions. He later famously commented that he had an almost photographic memory for places and characters – good thing for the rest of us.
It is probably fair to say that what Dickens himself would have seen – at that time anyway – as great misfortune in his life, turned out to be very beneficial to his life as a writer. There has been volumes written about his early years, the people he came across and their links to future literary characters. Mrs. Pipchin in Dombey and Son was based on an old lady he lodged with as the rest of his family (all 8 of them) joined his father at Marshalsea. He later lived with an insolvent court agent and his wife and son – the inspiration behind the Garland family in The Old Curiosity Shop. Arguably, the most famous character inspiration – at least in name – was a boy who showed him the ropes at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse. The boy’s name was Bob Fagin.
So, for the future of English literature, the events that cut short Dickens’s childhood were fairly significant. But what was it about his writing that so inspired generations? After all, there have been many great writers that have had little of the success which Dickens enjoyed. I think the best way to address this question is to call upon another great writer that has had a major impact on English literature – George Orwell. He was a well-known admirer of Dickens and famously said, ”Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing.” You can read an essay by George Orwell on Charles Dickens by following this link - George Orwell on Charles Dickens
After concluding an interrupted and largely unhappy education, Dickens went on to become a freelance reporter. He began his career reporting on legal cases and went on to cover election campaigns, often travelling extensively. He later drew upon the law in novels like Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son and Bleak House. It is, on reflection, a formidable back story of pure literary inspiration that Dickens racked up, what with the first hand experiences of deprivation and the insights into the background mechanics of an England that produced such polarised socio-economic situations. If you are interested in learning how to create an income from writing Click Here! now to access the best guidance available on the internet.
The route which Dickens took to literary success is curious for other reasons. He was initially published in monthly magazines where his short stories became serialised. As a boy he would read works by the likes of Henry Fielding and had a particular liking for Picaresque novels. This sub-genre is seldom refered to by this name – at least in the popular press – but they were usually works of satire in which a loveable rogue hero would survive by wit alone in a cruel society. It is really not surprising that Dickens’s style was to be so anti-establishment.
His first story was published in 1833 and was called ‘A Dinner at Poplar Walk.’ It appeared in ‘Monthly Magazine’ and it was to set the scene for a distinct leaning towards monthly installments of his work and very clever use of cliffhangers to maintain reader interest. Was Dickens the earliest popular writer of the Soap Opera? Discuss. His first novel ‘The Pickwick Papers’ was serialised in 1836 and it was from here that his popularity grew to gargantuan levels.
So what else is there about Mr. Dickens that gives me inspiration? Yes, he was a phenomenally popular and successful writer; a genius who has achieved the almost unthinkable for a fiction writer. (I wonder if JK Rowling will be read in 200 hundred years time? I am not ashamed to say that I haven’t read a single word of her writing. Tell, a lie, she wrote an article in the Writers and Artists Yearbook which I glanced through, but there wasn’t a single wizard or annoying little shit with glasses anywhere in sight.) Aside from his mammoth achievements as an author, he was – interesting. Below is a list of things that make Dickens interesting without a single mention of writing.
- He almost certainly visited opium dens – at least once.
- He had an illicit affair with a woman named Ellen Ternan (not that I’m condoning this behaviour you do understand, but we don’t know what his wife was like.)
- He had 10 children – good job he was rich (did they have CSA in the 1800′s?)
- He bought a house in adult life that he had decided he was going to live in when he was a child (Gad’s Hill Place – a house that had appeared in a scene in Shakespear’s Henry IV, Part 1.)
- He was an early member of The Ghost Club (A paranormal investigation and research organisation).
- He was on the only carriage that did not plunge off a cast iron bridge in the Staplehurst rail crash.
- He worked himself to death.
What a shame it is that such an intriguing and great man was not even shown the decency of having his dying wish honoured - to be buried without fuss and great expense at Rochester Cathedral. He was instead buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph read:
“To the memory of Charles Dickens (England’s most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world…”
Dickens’s last words were reported in The Times as being:
“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”