Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens's Early Life

Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens. The Man, the Myth (1812-1870).

The early years... Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on the 7th Feb. 1812 in a small terrace house in Portsea, Portsmouth.
Charles was the second child of eight. The first child being sister Fanny. He still held status as oldest boy to a father John Dickens who worked as clerk at the Admiralty's Portsmouth office. Charles' grandmother (mother of father John) had been housekeeper at Crewe and she was well renowned for her powers of storytelling.

Around the ages of two to four, Charles and the Dickens Family followed father Johns work to live in London.

The small and often sickly, Charles then moved with the family as fathers work as a naval clerk, took them next to live in Chatham, Kent (another famous Royal Navy base).
To pass the time as a sick child he was encouraged to read and he would watch the other children playing games. His mother, Elizabeth, taught him to read and he was soon reading his fathers small collection of classic books, among which were 'Tom Jones','The Vicar of Wakefield', 'Don Quixote', 'Gil Blas', and his favored choice, Smolett's novels.
These wonderful books inspired him to write his first tale, 'Misnar', which was based, in part, on the 'Tales of the Genii'.

A family friend took the young CHARLES TO THE THEATRE in which he greatly delighted.
Meanwhile his father was beginning to struggle financially, because of careless habits and despite a pay rise, and this forced the Dickens family to move to a smaller house.
This did at last lead to something of a better education for Charles as he benefited greatly for two years in the Baptist school almost next door. He thrived on this and his horizons and health expanded to reveal 'exuberant animal spirits' and a precocious talent for observing people; all of which was to inform his lifetimes work........

1823 when Charles was 11/12 saw Charles and family follow father (who was recalled to Somerset House in London) to the new family home in Bayham Street, Camden Town, London.
Alas Father was soon again in trouble with his finances and was forced to meet debts with his creditors. [[But for all his financial failings, Charles found his father to be a very affectionate parent who also followed Charles's literary talents and achievements with much pride. John Dickens' character is fairly well invested in the fictional character of wooly 'Mr Micawber'.]] Fanny, the eldest child was sent to the Royal Academy of Music of which Charles was not envious but to his bafflement, his own longings to a decent education were overlooked, and Charles was required, through lack of funds, to stay at home and help out the family.

Young Charles had not lost interest in reading and writing and with the help of his Uncle Barrow, who lived above a bookshop, he was given a steady source of reading material. Once again he ventured to write and wrote a description of his uncle Barrow's barber.

Mrs Dickens, Charles' mother, tried in vain to help her husband's financial situation by setting up a school called Mrs Dickens's Establishment in Gower Street London but no pupils materialized. But in the end her husband John was arrested for unpaid debts and sent to the well known debtors prison in Marshalsea Road, The Borough, near London Bridge in south London (later described and explored fully with much pathos by Dickens in 'Little Dorrit').

All the family belongings, including books and furniture, were sold to the pawnbroker's and Charles was obliged to take humble work of mere drudgery but he was still busy observing characters that later became central to his stories. The whole family decided to move into the debtors prison for a time and this provided a better standard of living than the previous strained circumstance.

Later all but father moved out to a boarding house in Camden Town, north London. The Landlady of this Boarding House was a Mrs. Roylance ('Dombey and Son's' Mrs. Pipchin.)

Eventually Charles found separate accommodation but closer to father in the debtors prison. Here Charles noted a family to feature in yet another book as 'the Garlands' in his 'Old Curiosity Shop'.

The elder Dickens' eventually decided to take the benefit of the Insolvency Debtors Act and that is when Father John left prison to join his wife and children in Camden with Mrs Roylance. Charles joined them, and the family was at last close together again. This experience of being behind the prison walls was drawn upon for his books 'Pickwick' and 'David Copperfield'.

Dickens's amazing faculties of observation and memory are proved by the use made of all that he had witnessed, especially in the prison scenes of 'Pickwick' and in the earlier part of 'David Copperfield'. That he suffered severely is proven by the unusual bitterness shown in his own narrative printed by Forster. He felt degraded by his humble occupation in a blacking warehouse especially when compared to his sisters prizewinning at the royal academy of music. He was ashamed of his status compared to hers but not begrudging her achievement.

In 1824 the family received a legacy which paid off their debts and John was able to find work as a reporter for The Morning Chronicle.
That same year, aged about 12/13 Charles was sent to a Hampstead school under the headship of Mr. Jones. Charles's health started to make a dramatic improvement and in the environment of education he flourished. He was considered handsome and full of practical jokes and enjoying theatrical pursuits.

Two years later aged 15/16 Charles left school to take a position as clerk in the office of Mr. Molloy Lincoln's Inn. With the new job came the inspiration to start reading again and he regularly visited the British Museum where he studied short hand writing later described in 'David Copperfield'.

Charles's ambition lead him to become a House of Commons reporter for the 'True Sun'. This job lead him to become the spokesman for all the Commons reporters for a strike. This strike was successful and Charles grew in confidence and took the position of reporter for the 'Mirror of Parliament' and the 'Morning Chronicle'.

With so much ambition still unfulfilled he decided to apply to become an actor. Mr. George Bartley (manager of Covent Garden) seems to have accidentally misplaced his application and Charles finally abandoned this path.

Charles started to become renown for his reporting abilities and the Morning Stars editor John Black became a good and close friend. Charles was soon given the opportunity to write in the periodicals and so was born the first of his published articles 'A Dinner at Popular Walk'.

Nine articles later his pseudonym 'Boz' was finally added as a signature. From this point onwards his life is well chronicled by his literary works which are as follows:

Click HERE for:- Charles Dickens - A Bibliography


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