Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview
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CHARLES DICKENS

(1812-1870)

A.L. Rogers II


BIOGRAPHY

In the nineteenth century, says novelist George Gissing, “Charles Dickens, in the world of literature, meant England” (Charles Dickens, 84). Today Dickens is still closely tied to that Victorian England his eccentric and supremely British characters bring to life for readers worldwide. Surprisingly, perhaps, the “eminently English” author spent much of his life abroad, traveling, living, and writing among other, non-English cultures.

After happy childhood years on England's southern coast, he was separated from his family at age twelve and put to work in a London shoe-blacking warehouse during his father's imprisonment for debt, an experience that scarred the sensitive boy deeply. Once family finances improved, he returned to school and became an apprentice law clerk, then a freelance reporter of court proceedings, later still a parliamentary and political reporter. After marrying Catherine Hogarth in 1836, he achieved instant fame with The Pickwick Papers (1837). Oliver Twist (1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), and The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) then established him as the preeminent English novelist of his day. In 1842 he toured the United States and Canada, experiences he related factually in American Notes (1842) and fictionalized in Martin Chuzzlewit (1844). Both books were critical of Americans, and a heated controversy between Dickens and the Americans ensued in the press. He learned Italian and in 1844 moved his nowgrowing family to Genoa, where at first he found it hard to work in unfamiliar surroundings. He soon mastered the difficulty, and his friend and biographer John Forster would later describe the year in Italy as the “turning-point of his career” (Life of Charles Dickens, 334). In addition to recording his Italian experiences in the travel book Pictures from Italy (1846), Dickens revisited the time in Italy, together with a seven-month 1846 stay in Lausanne, Switzerland, fictionally in Little Dorrit (1857). Dombey and Son (1848) was begun in Lau-

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