Charles Dickens' Biography

Backgrounds by T. Charles Erickson, Mike McCormick and Jann Whaley.

Charles Dickens was born to a struggling lower-class family on February 7, 1812. At 10, Dickens moved with his family to Camden Town, London. They resided in the house that would later inform the setting for the Cratchit family in A Christmas Carol.

 

Dickens' family paralleled the Cratchit family in other ways. Charles Dickens' youngest brother was a sickly boy known as “Tiny Fred.” And like Bob Cratchit, Dickens’ father was a clerk supporting six children.

 

At 12, Dickens was sent to work 10 hours a day in a factory applying labels to shoe polish jars. But Dickens’ wages were not enough to help support his family. They were sent to Marshalsea debtors' prison for three months.

 

Dickens only received a limited formal education, which he supplemented by reading. After teaching himself how to write shorthand, Dickens worked as an office boy at a law firm. He later became a journalist covering elections and parliamentary debates. Dickens also wrote comedic sketches for magazines. He eventually collected and published them as Sketches by Boz.

 

Dickens established himself as a successful writer at 24 with his publication of The Pickwick Papers. He followed this success by publishing monthly installments of Oliver Twist. The novel was well received. But despite publishing numerous other works, Dickens had a difficult time matching its success. Interest in Dickens’ work plummeted.

 

During the Victorian period, Christmas traditions were in decline. When Dickens released A Christmas Carol, the overarching themes of redemption, goodwill, and compassion helped popularize the holiday. Christmas’s new popularity, along with the reception of A Christmas Carol, helped readers find their way back to Dickens’ other works. For Dickens, A Christmas Carol was an opportunity for financial salvation as well as a call to action to address economic injustices.

 

Dickens died June 9, 1870. He left behind one unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He was buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abby. His tombstone read, "He was a sympathizer to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world."

Copyright Alley Theatre Education & Community Engagement 2015.