Charles Dickens

(1812 – 1870)

Charles DickensBiographical Sketch

Charles John Huffam Dickens (Landport/Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, February 7, 1812 – Gad’s Hill Place/Higham, Kent, England, June 9, 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters and is generally regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period. During his life, his works enjoyed unprecedented fame, and by the twentieth century his literary genius was broadly acknowledged by critics and scholars. His novels and short stories continue to be widely popular.

Born in Portsmouth, England, Dickens left school to work in a London factory after his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Although he had little formal education, his early impoverishment drove him to succeed. Over his career he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms.

Dickens sprang to fame with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers. Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire, and keen observation of character and society. His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication. The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience’s reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback. For example, when his wife’s chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield seemed to reflect her disabilities, Dickens went on to improve the character with positive lineaments. Fagin in Oliver Twist apparently mirrors the famous fence Ikey Solomon. Dickens’s caricature of Leigh Hunt in the figure of Mr Skimpole in Bleak House was likewise toned down on advice from some of his friends, as they read episodes. In the same novel, both Lawrence Boythorne and Mooney the beadle are drawn from real life – Boythorne from Walter Savage Landor and Mooney from ‘Looney’, a beadle at Salisbury Square. His plots were carefully constructed, and Dickens often wove in elements from topical events into his narratives. Masses of the illiterate poor chipped in ha’pennies to have each new monthly episode read to them, opening up and inspiring a new class of readers.

Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, is one of the most influential works ever written, and it remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. His creative genius has been praised by fellow writers – from Leo Tolstoy to G. K. Chesterton and George Orwell – for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. On the other hand Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism.

Read more about Charles Dickens on Wikipedia.

 

Bibliography

Novels
  • The Pickwick Papers (1836 – 1837)
    Originally published as: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club
  • Oliver Twist (1837 – 1839)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841)
  • Barnaby Rudge (1841)
  • Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844)
  • Dombey and Son (1846 – 1848)
  • David Copperfield (1849-1850)
  • Bleak House (1851 – 1853)
  • Hard Times (1854)
  • Little Dorrit (1855 – 1857)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  • Great Expectations (1860-1861)
  • Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865)
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)
Christmas and Ghost Stories
  • A Christmas Carol (1843)
  • The Chimes (1844)
  • The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
  • The Battle of Life (1846)
  • The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (1848)
  • A Christmas Tree (1850)
  • What Christmas Is as We Grow Older (1851)
  • The Holly-Tree (1855)
  • The Haunted House (1859)
  • A Christmas Carol and Other Haunting Tales (1961)
  • The Christmas Books (1971)
  • Christmas Stories (1971)
  • The Complete Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens (1982)
  • Christmas Tales (1988)
  • Charles Dickens’ Christmas Ghost Stories (1992)
  • Best Ghost Stories (1997)
Short Fiction
  • Sketches by Boz (1836)
  • The Black Veil (1836)
  • The Drunkard’s Death (1836)
  • The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton (1836)
  • The Story of the Bagman’s Uncle (1837)
  • The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton (1837)
  • The Trial from Pickwick (1837)
  • Master Humphrey’s Clock (1841)
  • The Child’s Story (1852)
  • The Poor Relation’s Story (1852)
  • The Schoolboy’s Story (1853)
  • The Seven Poor Travellers (1854)
  • The Wreck of the Golden Mary (1856)
  • The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices (1857)
  • The Perils of Certain English Prisoners (1857)
  • Going Into Society (1858)
  • Hunted Down (1859)
  • Captain Murderer (1860)
  • The Devil and Mr Chips (1860)
  • A Message from the Sea (1860)
  • The Rat That Could Speak (1860)
  • Tom Tiddler’s Ground (1861)
  • Somebody’s Luggage (1862)
  • Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings (1863)
  • Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy (1864)
  • Doctor Marigold (1865)
  • To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt (1865)
  • The Trial for Murder (1865)
  • Mugby Junction (1866)
  • The Signalman (1866)
  • No Thoroughfare (1867)
  • Reprinted Pieces (1861)
  • The Mudfog Papers (1880)
    A/K/A: Mudfog and Other Sketches
  • To Be Read At Dusk (1898)
  • Boots at the Holly-tree Inn: And Other Stories (1970)
Juvenalia and Nonfiction
  • American Notes (1843)
  • Pictures from Italy (1846)
  • The Life of Our Lord (1846)
    – Published posthumously in 1934.
  • A Child’s History of England (1851 – 1853)
    – Published serially in Household Words.
  • The Uncommercial Traveller (1860)
  • Speeches, Letters And Sayings (1870)
  • Letters of Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins (1982)
Online editions of Charles Dickens’s works:

 

A Selection of Quotes

A Christmas Carol

“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

Oliver Twist

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”

“It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it,” urged Mr. Bumble; first looking round, to ascertain that his partner had left the room.
That is no excuse,” returned Mr. Brownlow. “You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and, indeed, are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.”
If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass – a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience – by experience.”

David Copperfield

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”

“The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ Consider nothing impossible, then treat possiblities as probabilities.”

“There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.”

“[W]e talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannise over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occassions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them. And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.”

Nicholas Nickleby

“Gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive of all his old senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal.”

The Pickwick Papers

“There are very few moments in a man’s existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.”

“She dotes on poetry, sir. She adores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up, and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces, herself, sir. You may have met with her ‘Ode to an Expiring Frog,’ sir.”

Bleak House

“LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time – as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.
The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.”

“The present representative of the Dedlocks is an excellent master. He supposes all his dependents to be utterly bereft of individual characters, intentions, or opinions, and is persuaded that he was born to supersede the necessity of their having any. If he were to make a discovery to the contrary, he would be simply stunned – would never recover himself, most likely, except to gasp and die.”

“Very strange things comes to our knowledge in families, miss; bless your heart, what you would think to be phenomenons, quite … Aye, and even in gen-teel families, in high families, in great families … and you have no idea … what games goes on!”

“Why, Mrs. Piper has a good deal to say, chiefly in parentheses and without punctuation, but not much to tell.”

“Where is your false, your treacherous, and cursed wife?”
“She’s gone forrard to the Police Office,” returns Mr Bucket. “You’ll see her there, my dear.”
“I would like to kiss her!” exclaims Mademoiselle Hortense, panting tigress-like. “You’d bite her, I suspect,” says Mr Bucket.
“I would!” making her eyes very large. “I would love to tear her, limb from limb.”
“Bless you, darling,” says Mr Bucket, with the greatest composure; “I’m fully prepared to hear that. Your sex have such a surprising animosity against one another, when you do differ.”

A Tale of Two Cities

“When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books, and casting his breeches and gaiters into the general weight of the establishment.”

Little Dorrit

“[Credit is a system whereby] a person who can’t pay, gets another person who can’t pay, to guarantee that he can pay.”

“A commission of haberdashers could alone have reported what the rest of her poor dress was made of, but it had a strong general resemblance to seaweed, with here and there a gigantic tea-leaf. Her shawl looked particularly like a tea-leaf after long infusion.”

Great Expectations

“There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did. To the best of my belief, our case was in the last respect a rather common one.”

“My sister having so much to do, was going to church vicariously, that is to say, Joe and I were going.”

“Mrs Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her clenliness more umcomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself. Cleanliness is next to godliness, and some people do the same by their religion.”

“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”

Martin Chuzzlewit

“[S]he stood for some moments gazing at the sisters, with affection beaming in one eye, and calculation shining out of the other.”

“The privileges of the side-table included the small prerogatives of sitting next to the toast, and taking two cups of tea to other people’s one.”

Dombey and Son

“Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,’ said Cleopatra, ‘with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!”

Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy

“My dear if you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head I should better understand your affairs.”

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain

“Everybody said so.
Far be it from me to assert that what everybody says must be true. Everybody is, often, as likely to be wrong as right. In the general experience, everybody has been wrong so often, and it has taken in most instances such a weary while to find out how wrong, that the authority is proved to be fallible. Everybody may sometimes be right; “but that’s no rule,” as the ghost of Giles Scroggins says in the ballad.”

Hunted Down

“A very little key will open a very heavy door.”

Frauds on the Fairies

In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected.”

Last words, according to Dickens’s obituary in The Times:

“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”

Unsourced/Attributed:

“What greater gift than the love of a cat.”

Find more quotes by Charles Dickens on Wikiquote and Goodreads.

 

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