February 15, 2015

Charles Dickens: Literary Legend


Is there anyone who loves books and who is not familiar with these two quotes?
Seems the first quote still applies.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." 

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done". 

Sydney Carton from "A Tale of Two Cities". 


Born into a near poverty, Charles Dickens struggled with a childhood brimming with strife and disappointment. Despite this, he quickly became one of the most influential writers ever to live, garnering fame across the world.

To mark his 203rd birthday,(February 27th), Billionaires has taken a look at the life and career of this literary hero to explore his influences, inspiration and the path to his ever-lasting legacy.

The Early Life of Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on 7 February 1812 in Portsmouth, UK and grew up in the town of Chatham, Kent with his seven siblings. Despite his parents’ efforts to find financial security for their family, the Dickens were soon forced to move to Camden Town in London, where their financial situation became dire; at just 12 years old, Charles was forced to watch his father go into prison for debt. Following the loss of his father’s small income, Charles Dickens was forced to leave school and begin working at a boot-blacking factory near the River Thames, where he was paid just six shillings a week to label pots of fireplace blacking. Later, Charles would cite this as the moment he said goodbye to his childhood and was cast into adult life by those responsible for his wellbeing.

Much to the relief of Charles and his family, his father soon received a family inheritance, which he used to pay off the family debts, and Dickens was permitted to go back to school. However, this didn’t last long and by 1827 he was forced to leave once more and work as an office boy to contribute to his family’s earnings. Despite his initial frustration, Dickens found he enjoyed his work and was soon freelance reporting at the law courts of London. On the back of his early writing success, Dickens began submitting sketches to various magazines under the pseudonym “Boz”, and in 1836 his clippings were published in his first book.


Forging a Legacy
In the same year that Sketches by Boz was released, Dickens began publishing a series of sketches written as captions for artist Robert Seymour’s sports-themed illustrations: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Hugely popular with readers, the papers soon overshadowed the illustrations they accompanied, and the success prompted Dickens to begin publishing his first novel, Oliver Twist. Following the life of an orphan child living on the streets, the story was inspired by Dickens’ early life and earned a large following both in England and America through its monthly instalments in top magazines.

Between 1838 and 1843, Dickens continued to publish a wide range of work, including The Life and Adventures of Nicolas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and A Christmas Carol, with varying levels of success. However, it was during his first tour of the US in 1842 that Dickens began embracing a celebrity role, expressing his opinions via lectures across the country. Beginning in Virginia and ending in Missouri, Dickens’ lectures became a huge hit with the American public, prompting the now famous writer to return to the US between 1867 and 1868 for a second, 76-lecture tour that earned him $95,000. Successful overseas visits also proved the catalyst for fame in London, and upon his return from his second American tour Dickens had become one of the most recognised men in London.

A Darker Dickens
In 1845, Dickens returned from Italy having penned Pictures from Italy and Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son, the latter of which became the piece that set the darkened tone for his future novels. David Copperfield was Dickens’ next hit, although it was never considered his best work in 1800s England, but it was the publishing of Bleak House in 1852 and 1853 that would reaffirm the now negative outlook of his novels. Written following the death of his daughter and father, Bleak House dealt with the hypocrisy of British Society and was considered his most complex novel until he unveiled Little Dorrit, which was based on how human values come into conflict with the world’s brutality, in the late 1850s.

In 1859, Dickens began to emerge from his darker period, penning historical novel A Tale of Two Cities and later Great Expectations, both of which became two of his biggest hits. It was Great Expectations, however, that was to be considered Dickens’ finest work. Dickens went on to finish his next novel, Our Mutual Friend, but it was shortly afterwards that the literary icon was injured in a train accident.

After five years of touring in a fragile condition, Dickens suffered a stroke and passed away on 9 June 1870 aged just 58, leaving behind his unfinished final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Not only that, but Dickens also left behind a plethora of emotionally injured mourners, all of whom were desperate for another taste of the unique talents of the adored literary.
Despite his challenging childhood, and the tragic losses of beloved family members faced by Dickens during his lifetime, the admired writer had become an oracle of words. From the 1800s through to the 21st Century his writing has endured, bringing with it a continually relatable source of relief from the stress of the everyday.

By Joni Oneil
With many thanks to Billionaires Australia