Friday, February 19, 2016

Champions of Creativity

               Charles Dickens

Earlier this month marked the 204th birthday of Charles Dickens. He is famous for writing such books as A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, and Oliver Twist to name just a few. Since he is one of my all-time favorite authors, I've chosen him as the focus of Champions of Creativity today.

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth, England. Charles was the second of eight children born to John and Elizabeth Dickens. Mr. Dickens worked for the Royal Navy pay office and was transferred several times, thus, the family later lived in London, Sheerness, and then in Chatham, in the county of Kent.

Charles enjoyed playing out of doors, but he also loved to read. Two of his favorite books were: Robinson Crusoe and The Arabian Nights. Up to the age of eleven, his life appears to have been quite happy. In 1824 Mr. Dickens was transferred back to London, leaving behind debts - due to the family living beyond their means. John Dickens was subsequently sent to debtors' prison in Southwark, London by his creditors. Since the practice at that time was for a prisoner's family to live nearby, Charles ended up boarding with a variety of colorful characters. It was at this time that the twelve-year-old boy was forced to leave school and work at Warren's Blacking warehouse (which manufactured boot polish) to pay for his room and board, and to help support the family. The conditions were horrible, and it is believed - and quite rightfully so - that the strenuous, and often harsh working conditions put upon the young Charles influenced not only his later writings, but his socio-economic and political views as well.

A few months after the imprisonment of Mr. Dickens, Charles's father inherited a large sum of money. That allowed him to pay off his debts, and he and his family moved into the home of a family friend. However, Mrs. Dickens felt that there was no hurry for Charles to leave his work. His mother's lack of desire to see her son join them was to forever leave a mark on him, and how he felt towards women. Charles was sent to Wellington House Academy where he remained until 1827.

Upon leaving school, he went to work as a clerk in a law office, and subsequently entered the world of writing by penning political pieces and sketches. Later, some of those were published as the famous Pickwick Papers, which while they were not successful at first, they later became quite popular.

In 1836 he married the daughter of a newspaper editor, Catherine Thomson Hogarth, after a one-year engagement. That same year he began writing his first novel, Oliver Twist - it was published in 1838. Charles and Catherine Dickens went on to have ten children.

Despite his lack of any real formal education, he accomplished much during his lifetime. He wrote 15 novels, five novellas, and hundreds of short stories & non-fiction articles. In addition to his writings he edited a weekly journal for over 20 years, and  constantly lectured & performed (he was a great mimic). He also campaigned tirelessly for children's rights, education, and other social reforms throughout his life.

On June 8, 1870, Dickens suffered a stroke after a full day of writing; he died the next day. While his desire had been to have a very simple burial, he was laid to rest in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in London amongst other famous writers, historians, and scholars.

Charles Dickens has been honored in countless ways in England, and abroad. His numerous novels remain quite popular, and a few of them, including  A Christmas Carol, are regularly adapted to the stage. I'm sure that fact would have greatly pleased Dickens, since he loved the theater. Another popular novel by Dickens is The Old Curiosity Shop.

In July of 2014, I was lucky enough to visit this literary landmark. There is some debate as to whether or not this building was the inspiration for the novel by Dickens, or if it was built later. And, while it now houses a small shoe shop, it is still regarded as one of the oldest buildings in the Aldwych area. (I was a typical tourist on our visit to historic London!)


  1. How fun to visit The Old Curiosity Shop. That's a book I haven't read, yet, although I've read a few of Dickens's novels. I love how he used his novels to highlight the social change that was needed in England at the time.

    1. Exactly. After learning a bit about his childhood, it's easy to understand where his passion for social justice originated. Have a great weekend!