Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, the infamous English author who penned such literary greats as ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ and ‘David Copperfield’. And Google has given the prolific author and journalist a fitting artistic Doodle today to celebrate his life and the colourful characters he created to reflect the social and economic climate of Dickens’ time.
Born on 7 February 1812 at Landport, Portsea (an area of the English city of Portsmouth), Charles John Huffam Dickens is often termed the greatest novelist of the Victorian age.
Dickens created some of the most iconic characters of his time – think of the orphan Oliver in Oliver Twist and his line “Please sir, I want some more”, when pleading for more food from his master in a workhouse. Many of Dickens’ works were serialised, published in monthly installments, a type of practice advocated by Dickens himself. It meant that the public was left waiting in anticipation to lap up the next installment that would appear a month later.
Because his father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, it meant that Dickens, the second of eight children, had a few years of private education at William Giles’s School in Chatham. However, financial difficulties meant that the family moved from Kent to Camden Town, London, in 1822. Dickens’ father – John Dickens – apparently lived way beyond his means and was subsequently imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Southwark, London in 1824. The rest of the Dickens family soon joined him in the prison, apart from Charles, who was sent to board with a family friend, Elizabeth Roylance, in Camden Town. Dickens was 12 at the time. He would later base the character ‘Mrs Pipchin’ on Elizabeth Roylance.
Today’s Google Doodle
Dickens was later forced to leave school to pay for his board and help his family out. He started working 10-hour days at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, now the setting for Charring Cross railway station. Apparently he earned six shillings a week in difficult conditions, with the job supposedly influencing his later writings about poverty and the social and economic conditions in the England of his time.
Education and early jobs
Dickens subsequently attended Wellington House Academy in North London. Between 1827 and 1828 he worked as a junior clerk in a law office in London. He then departed to try his hand at freelance reporting. He spent four years working as a legal reporter.
In 1833 his first story, A Dinner at Poplar Walk was published in the London periodical, Monthly Magazine. In 1836 Dickens started working as an editor at Bentley’s Miscellany. Simultaneously, he was churning out novels, such as Oliver Twist (1837-39), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39) and The Old Curiosity Shop.
In 1836 Dickens married Catherine Hogwarth. They set up home in Bloomsbury and went on to have 10 children. The duo separated in 1858.
Dickens penned Bleak House between 1852 and 1853, living at Tavistock House. He also wrote Hard Times (1854) and Little Dorrit (1857) while living there.
A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859 and Great Expectations was published in 1861.
Dickens’ literary output is too vast to chronicle here, but here’s a link to an online resource, The Literature Network, that details his works.