Charles Dickens

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Charles Dickens
Dickens signature
Charles Dickens, 1843

Charles John Huffam Dickens , (as a pseudonym also Boz ; born February 7, 1812 in Landport near Portsmouth , England , †  June 9, 1870 at his country estate Gads Hill Place in Higham near Rochester , England) was an English writer .

Great importance is attached to the history of literature. In 2015, 82 international literary critics and scholars selected four of his novels as the most important British novels : David Copperfield , Bleak House , Great Expectations and Dombey and Son . His best-known works also include Oliver Twist , A Story from Two Cities and A Christmas Carol .


parents house

Charles Dickens' birthplace

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812 in Landport near Portsmouth ( Hampshire ). He was the second of eight children of John Dickens (1786-1851), a penniless Navy clerk in the Navy Pay Office in Portsmouth, and his wife Elizabeth (née Barrow, 1789-1863). In January 1815 the family moved to London , shortly afterwards to Sheerness and finally to Chatham in Kent . In 1822 the Dickens family settled in London at 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town , as the father was transferred to the Naval Pay Office headquarters.

Early working life

The family had already left Kent in debt and lived beyond their means in London. In 1824 the father was therefore forced by the creditors into the debt prison in London. The mother also moved to prison with her seven siblings, which was common at the time. Only Charles lived outside to support the struggling family. He worked with other children in a warehouse. His experiences there inspired him to write some passages in David Copperfield . At the age of twelve, Dickens had to work as an unskilled worker in a shoe polish factory. Because of this, he could no longer attend school regularly.

After his father was released from prison in 1824, Charles went back to school until 1826 and was employed as a clerk by a lawyer in 1827. During this time he was able to study types of people while doing literary studies in the British Museum . Dickens worked his way up to parliamentary stenograph (parliamentary reporter) in 1829 . He used the Stenografiesystem by Thomas Gurney ; to this day he is its most famous user.

Relationships and offspring

In 1830 Dickens met Maria Beadnell. He proposed to her, but her parents disapproved of the association and sent their daughter to a Paris girls' school to prevent further contact with Dickens.

In 1836 Dickens married Catherine Hogarth (1815–1879). The couple had ten children.

In 1858 Dickens separated from his wife; a formal divorce in Victorian times was unthinkable for a person of his position. After the separation, she moved to a house on Gloucester Place in Brighton with her son Charles Culliford Dickens . Charles Dickens moved back to Tavistock House with the rest of the children, where his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth took care of the servants and housekeeping. She stayed with Dickens until his death.

Dickens had a twelve-year relationship with actress Ellen Ternan from 1858 until his death.

Journalist and writer

In 1831 Dickens worked for the True Sun newspaper , but was soon called in to co-edit the Parliamentary Mirror and eventually became a journalist for the Morning Chronicle . The Pickwick Papers , through which Dickens gained fame as a writer, appeared in monthly issues from 1836–37 . His following first novels were also serialized in newspapers. He often wrote to several at the same time. In this work Dickens developed an original narrative power which found its source and its pattern in itself and in the rich popular life, especially of the lower classes. Dickens wanted to wake up not only literary success, but also the conscience of his time and pave the way for social reforms. The sharpness of the view, paired with humor, creates the typical Dickensian atmosphere.

Oliver Twist first appeared in 1838 . Dickens became editor of the major liberal Daily News as well as Household Words magazine . He was also a member of the renowned Garrick Club , which is primarily open to artists . In the meantime, Dickens' works had also become very successful in North American countries. In 1842 Dickens appeared in the United States and Canada as a reader of his own works; the rush was very large. However, when Dickens dared to raise the idea of ​​international copyright law (numerous American newspapers had printed his stories without asking or involving him), he set off a wave of indignation. Dickens himself was disappointed in America because he had expected an open, republican and tolerant society in contrast to the English aristocracy and instead came across class differences, class thinking and slavery.

In 1843 Dickens published A Christmas Carol in Prose , the German title mostly A Christmas story, in which a fantastic plot is linked to a moral purpose. Similar Dickens stories are: The Chimes (1844), Das Heimchen am Herd (1845) and The Battle of Life (1846). In 1852 he made the newly established children's hospital Great Ormond Street Hospital widely known with an article in Household Words . In the same year he gave his first reading in England on December 27th in Birmingham, the audience were industrial workers from the English Midlands . Since then, extracts from A Christmas Carol have been part of Dickens' regular reading program. In 1856 his income allowed him to purchase the Gad's Hill Place manor in Rochester. In 1858, after separating from his wife, he made his first reading tour of England.

Illustration of the Staplehurst rail disaster in The Illustrated London News
Dickens 'grave in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey

On June 9, 1865, on his way back from Paris, Dickens survived the serious railway accident at Staplehurst , Kent physically unharmed, but was haunted by the event for the rest of his life. Immediately after this incident, Dickens, having provided first aid, climbed back into the car to rescue his manuscript Our Mutual Friend . An attempt to process the accident is the horror story The Signal-Man . There the main character experiences the vision of a railroad accident, which is based on the railroad accident in the Clayton Tunnel in 1861, in which 23 people were killed and 176 injured. Dickens was on this trip with his lover Ellen Ternan and her mother. Had this fact become public, it would have sparked a scandal. But Dickens managed not to have to testify when investigating the accident.

At the end of 1867, already suffering from health problems and therefore only after some hesitation, he traveled again for six months on a reading tour to America. In 1869 he made one last reading tour of Great Britain, during which he suffered a stroke while reading . The trip was then canceled. Recovered to some extent, it made up for twelve canceled appointments from January to March 1870. He appeared in public for the last time on May 2, 1870.

On June 9, 1870, Charles Dickens died of a second stroke on his country estate. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on June 14th , against his express wish. He wanted the funeral to be as inexpensive as possible.

The Dickens Rocks , two reef rocks off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula , bear his name in his honor. Other objects in the vicinity of these rocks are named after characters from his serial novel The Pickwick Papers .

Dickens is one of the most widely read writers in English literature. The Chapman & Hall (London) publishing house alone sold 700,000 copies of his works between 1857 and 1892 . Dickens, who was considered to be enterprising, left a considerable fortune on his death, including real estate.

Most important works

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist is born in a poor house . The mother dies shortly after the birth, leaving only a small, mysterious medallion that an old poor house worker takes from her. The boy grows up as an orphan with twenty to thirty other children under the care of Mrs. Mann, with no knowledge of his parentage . At nine he had to go to the poor house because he was too old for the orphanage. When the other boys send Oliver one day to ask for more food, the poor house is forced to punish the "impudent fellow" who "will surely end up on the gallows". Oliver is given away five pounds to the undertaker Sowerberry to do an apprenticeship with him. But there, too, fate means poor Oliver badly, and before he falls victim to another accident, he fled to London. Once there, he falls into the clutches of Fagin , an old Jewish fence who trains orphaned children to become criminals.

Together with the Baldowerer and his buddy, Oliver is supposed to learn the trade of pickpocketing, but although the boy can only watch the act in horror, he is caught by the police. The injured party, a kind man named Brownlow, speaks out for Oliver and takes care of him. Oliver is treated well for the first time, but his luck doesn't last long. He is caught again by Fagin and has to commit a break-in with one of the greatest criminals in London. This goes wrong - Oliver is left unconscious and shot in a ditch. Fortunately for him, the family takes him in, from whom he was supposed to steal beforehand. However, a new hunt for Oliver begins and a creepy person named Monks comes into play.

With Oliver Twist , Dickens denounced the social grievances of the time. The orphaned boy Oliver is physically and mentally abused and only experiences kindness and mercy from a few people. The poor and sick appear as nothing more than lepers in a world of the stronger and socially superior. Injustice, hunger and death are not the exception but the rule. Charles Dickens adorns his story with ironic, often cynical descriptions. Child labor is discussed in the work as well as child crime . The descriptions of the brutalities towards the poor and the weak are - from today's perspective - often so absurd that one can hardly believe them. After the novel was published, the poor law was discussed and successfully changed for the first time.

A Christmas story / A Christmas Carol

Title page of the first edition of A Christmas Carol , 1843

In 1843 Dickens wrote the short story A Christmas Carol (German title: Eine Weihnachtsgeschichte ) with the intention of drawing the reader's attention to the plight of the poor in English society. On December 19, 1843 the work was published with illustrations by John Leech .

The heartless trader Ebenezer Scrooge turns into a kind old gentleman who alleviates the misery of the people. Dickens makes use of the grotesque for this purpose: On Christmas Eve, the old curmudgeon appears the ghost of his deceased business partner Marley, who was even more stingy than Scrooge during his lifetime, and Scrooge predicts a dark end if he does not fundamentally change his life. Then the ghost of Christmas past appears, which transports Scrooge back to his childhood, followed by the spirit of the present Christmas, which leads him into the house of his poor scribe Cratchit and his family and into the house of his nephew. The spirit of Christmas to come finally leads him to his lonely deathbed and shows him his gravestone. “People's ways foreshadow a certain end which they will lead to if one insists on them. But if you deviate from the path, the end changes too, ” Scrooge recognizes, purifies himself and from then on becomes a different person.

David Copperfield

An original illustration by
Hablot Knight Browne aka Phiz from "David Copperfield".

In 1849 Dickens began work on his novel, David Copperfield , based on experiences from his early life. Like Dickens, David works by sticking labels on bottles. He later also became a paralegal, reporter, and successful writer. Mr. Micawber is a satirical reference to Dickens father. With the strongly autobiographical novel David Copperfield , which he himself called his "favorite novel ", Charles Dickens created one of the few great educational novels in English literature, which is characterized above all by its convincing description of the humiliations and fears of childhood. The title hero David spends some time at the school of the brutal Mr. Creakle after the early death of his father and his mother, who is gradually tortured to death by his stepfather Murdstone and his domineering sister Jane. At the age of ten he was sent to work in the Murdstones factory. He escapes the unbearable conditions by fleeing to his aunt Betsey Trotwood in Dover , who allows him to attend the educational reform school of Dr. Strong in Canterbury made possible.

He is finally warmly received in the house of the lawyer Wickfield. Now David's professional rise begins from apprentice at the London law firm 'Spenlow and Jorkins' to parliamentary reporter and writer. Numerous subplots are woven into this plot. So the noble James Steerforth, the embodiment of pride of higher classes, ensnares the adopted daughter of the fisherman Pegotty, Emily - and runs away with her. Emily's adoptive father pursues the two and discovers the kidnapper, who has been abandoned by the kidnapper, after months with an old friend in London. Emily's former fiancé, Ham, is soon killed in a selfless attempt to save Steerforth from drowning by drowning himself. Another subplot deals with arch villain Uriah Heep, Wickfield's employee, who is intrigued against his employer and exposed by Mr. Micawber, with whom David has a close friendship. David falls in love with his employer's child daughter, Mr. Spenlow. After her death, David, now a successful writer, finds real fulfillment in his marriage to his childhood friend Agnes Wickfield.

Effect: David Copperfield is still regarded as one of the most important childhood and youth novels in world literature . In this novel, which has the clearest autobiographical traits, in which the eponymous hero goes through stations similar to those of Dickens in his youth, Dickens shows himself to be extremely talented in depicting moods, experiences and feelings of childhood. With the criticism of the disregard for the child, which precedes the criticism of social ills, he appealed to the conscience of the people - with the intention of paving the way for social reforms.

A Tale of Two Cities

Title page of the first edition of A Tale of Two Cities , 1859

This novel, set during the French Revolution, was written by Charles Dickens in 1859, when his own life was changing dramatically. He separated from his wife, his Household Words magazine died while he started a new All the Year Round magazine .

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..." is how his novel about the life of Dr. Manette and his daughter Lucy in two cities, London and Paris. A gloomy opening scene playing in the fog of London, a trip to Paris to find out about the innocent trapped in the Bastille for many years. Bringing Manette back to London, the love story of his daughter Lucy for Charles Darnay, a London-based Marquis de Evremonde , and the dramatic links with the Parisian capital during the reign of terror are the content of this novel, with an eternally drunk protagonist, Sydney Carton, from a supporting role becomes the tragic hero of this story.

The idea for this story came from Charles Dickens, as he himself wrote in the foreword to the 1859 edition, while participating in the theater drama The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins , which he staged with his children and friends. With the help of impressions from his stay in Paris in the winter of 1855 and based on the works of Thomas Carlyle , he wrote a book full of sadness, but also full of enthusiasm.

Great Expectations

Between 1860 and 1861 Dickens wrote the novel Great Expectations , which thematically has many similarities with David Copperfield . In this childhood and adolescent novel, in which he processed his own depressing childhood experiences, Charles Dickens thematized the miserable life of people in England in the 19th century in an unusually condensed atmosphere. He draws a living painting of society from the Victorian period, in which characteristics of his works such as keen observation, psychological sensitivity and social criticism are combined. Elements of the Gothic Novel are also used. In this late work Dickens criticized the gentlemanly ideal of a Victorian society characterized by materialism and moral hypocrisy. The almost surrealistic narrative technique heralds a move towards modernity.

The little boy Pip, an orphan, lives in the desolate, misty marshland. He is raised by his older sister and her husband, the honest village blacksmith Joe Gargery, in modest circumstances. In the cemetery, Pip meets the escaped convict Magwitch, whom he helps to free himself from his chains. He gets to know a world unknown to him when he is introduced to the eccentric Miss Havisham and her foster daughter Estella. After Miss Havisham was abandoned by her groom on the wedding day, she swore vengeance on the man's world and raised Estella to be a loveless being who is supposed to retaliate against the male sex in her place. Pip falls unsuspectingly in love with Estella and dreams of being a gentleman himself. In the second third of the book, Pip lives in London and is mainly occupied with spending money, as an unknown benefactor paid him a noble upbringing and promised a large fortune. He breaks with simple relatives and leads the life of a snob. In the last third of the novel, Pip's patron - the very convict he once helped - returns illegally from deportation to Australia, where he had become rich. Not only the secret of the unknown benefactor Magwitch, who was instigated to commit a crime by the gentleman Compeyson, is now revealed, but also several crimes described in the prehistory are cleared up and complicated relationships between some main and minor characters are illuminated. This is how Pip learns that Estella, who has meanwhile married a brutally good-for-nothing, is Magwitch's daughter. Pip tries to help Magwitch escape the country, but fails. Magwitch, who is sentenced to death, dies in the presence of Pip as a result of his attempt to escape. His fortune will be confiscated, and with that end the great expectations of Pip who will henceforth earn his money abroad. When he returned to Joe Gargery's smithy after years, the widowed, meanwhile refined Estella and Pip finally found each other.

John Forster reports in his Charles Dickens biography that his friend Dickens originally did not want to give the novel a happy ending, but rather wanted to end with an ending full of resignation and disillusion. It was only on the advice of his writer friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton that Dickens gave his novel a happy ending.

The novel, which is straightforward in spite of its complexity in the plot, can be regarded as Dickens' most mature work. The author understood the child's psyche with great understanding. From a stylistic point of view, the novel with its differentiated levels of mood and association stands on the threshold between the literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. Great Expectations formally fits into a popular genre of nineteenth-century narrative literature: the Bildungsroman . This type of novel focuses on the growth and personal development of the protagonist (here: Pip) from childhood to adulthood. This genre became popular through works such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe , Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Dickens' David Copperfield . Each of these novels focuses on the process of maturation and self-discovery, in which the protagonist develops from a child to an adult.

Literary style

Dickens uses a flowery and poetic style that has many humorous elements. His satires on the British aristocratic aristocracy - one character is called "Noble Refrigerator" - are very popular. Other of his imaginative ideas are comparisons: of orphans with stocks and shares, of people with smugglers or guests at a dinner party with furniture. He also hides in the names of his characters references to their appearance or role and meaning in the further course of the plot, such as the name "Tiny Tim" (small / tiny Tim).


Dickens' characters, distinguished by their quirky names, are arguably the most memorable in English literature. The traits of protagonists like Ebenezer Scrooge , Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley , Bob Cratchit , Oliver Twist , The Artful Dodger, Fagin , Bill Sikes , Pip , Miss Havisham , Charles Darnay , David Copperfield , Mr. Micawber , Abel Magwitch , Daniel Quilp , Samuel Pickwick , Wackford Squeers , Uriah Heep are so well known that they established themselves as part of British culture and in some cases even passed into everyday language, such as "a scrooge" as a synonym for "a miser" (curmudgeon or miser). Many of Dickens' characters are not entirely fictitious, but are based on people he knew himself. In a few cases these are very close to their role models, such as Harold Skimpole in Bleak House , which is based on James Henry Leigh Hunt , or Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield , who is based on his wife's short podiatrist.

Relation to social grievances

In his works there are often concrete references to the social grievances of the Victorian era , for example through the exemplary portrayal of the critical situation of the poor urban population or the prevailing social structures at the time . Thus, with Oliver Twist , his second novel from 1838, Dickens skillfully manages to bring his readership closer to the problem of poverty and the resulting crime, which at the time contributed to the difficult situation of the population of Jacob's Island , a slum in London at the time the novel plays to draw attention; as a result, the living situation there improved. Likewise, Dickens criticized the Victorian class system with the portrayal of the tragic character of the prostitute Nancy and also contributed to the dismantling of entrenched prejudices in the society of the time by emphasizing Nancy's human traits. But Dickens also criticized institutions of the Victorian state. In Bleak House, for example, he condemns the then Court of Chancery for the procrastination of legal disputes, while in Little Dorrit he denounces the ineffectiveness of a corrupt patent office.


Dickens with his figures, drawing by William Holbrook Beard


Film adaptations

Radio plays

Audio books



  • Charles Dickens Museum in Holborn
  • Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth
  • Dickens House Museum in Broadstairs and the Dickens Festival since 1937
  • Dickens World (theme park, opened May 25, 2007 in Chatham ) - permanently closed
  • Charles Dickens Center in Rochester and the Dickens Festival
  • Dickens Museum in Bronkhorst


  • 2011/2012: The Secrets of Charles Dickens 1812–1870 , Museum Strauhof, Zurich


The asteroid (4370) Dickens was named after him in 1990.

Web links

Wikisource: Charles Dickens  - Sources and full texts (English)
Wikisource: Charles Dickens  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Charles Dickens  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


Audio books




Individual evidence

  1. ^ The Guardian: The best British novel of all times - have international critics found it? , accessed on January 2, 2016
  2. Stefan Meetschen: He didn't want a memorial. Charles Dickens' 200th birthday. In: Die Tagespost , Würzburg, February 4, 2012, No. 15, p. 10.
  3. ^ Johann N. Schmidt : Charles Dickens. 5th edition. Reinbek near Hamburg, Rowohlt 1996, ISBN 3-499-50262-3 .
  4. Charles Dickens survives a train crash, 1865 ( Memento of the original from September 4, 2012 in the web archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. ^ Aisthesis Verlag - Ralf B. Korte / Elisabeth Hödl: FM dj [reading journey through the night ]
  6. Wishing for modernity: temporality and desire in Gould's Book of Fish. (Critical Essay) - Journal, Magazine, Article, Periodical ( Memento of the original from January 22, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked . Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. Popular tourist attraction closes as staff 'told of redundancies via social media'. (No longer available online.), October 12, 2016, archived from the original on August 9, 2017 ; accessed on June 8, 2017 (English). Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. Minor Planet Circ. 16445