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The Influence of Charles Dickens on Literature Education

Charles John Huffam Dickens, born on February 7, 1812 and died on June 9, 1870, was the second child of John and Elizabeth Barrow Dickens. He grew up poor as his father was terrible with finances. John Dickens was thrown into debtors’ prison in 1824. His wife and three of his children joined him at the prison while Charles stayed with a family friend. Charles could not attend school for a time as he was sent to work at a shoe polish factory—an experience he rarely talked about but haunted his days. His father was released from prison after receiving an inheritance from his mother. Young Charles was able to return to his education. His first love was Maria Beadnall, but her banker father forbid any relationship with Charles and sent her away in 1833 to Paris. Later that year, Charles met his future wife, Catherine Hogarth, while working as a newspaper reporter. They married on April 2, 1836. They had 10 children, Charles, Marie, Kate, Walter, Francis, Alfred, Sydney, Henry, Dora, and Edward.

His Life and Career

The year 1836 was both a turbulent and a transitional year for Dickens. He went from freelance reporter under the pseudonym “Boz” to editor of Bentley’s Miscellany. He married Catherine, who became pregnant quickly. His father once again became imprisoned for debt in 1834, but by 1836 many family members, including his father, bothered him for money. He published his first serial set “Sketches for Boz” and went to work for illustrator Robert Seymour writing short prose for his art. Seymour committed suicide that same year. Their project, The Pickwick Papers, became a successful serial and later a novel for Dickens. He met his biographer, John Forster and the two became fast friends.

Dickens became a full-time novelist after the success of his comical first novel, The Pickwick Papers. Social mores began to infiltrate his next novels: Oliver Twist (1837), Nicholas Nickleby (1839) and A Christmas Carol (1844). During this time, Dickens experienced both joy and tragedy—the death of his sister-in-law, Mary; and, the birth of his first child, Charles and four subsequent children. During this time he also visited America and felt utter distaste for the poverty and ill manners (tobacco spitting) of those he encountered. He wrote American Notes, depicting such American desolate locations as “Five Points” a mythical American slum. As he aged, Dickens became more and more critical of society and human nature and it showed in his novels and short stories. Many consider him a literary journalist and social reformer.

Three Dickens Novels to Note

A Christmas Carol

No other Dickens novel has been revisited as much as A Christmas Carol. The novel follows miserly Ebenezer Scrooge through a night of visits from Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. He gets to see his hand in others’ lives and what would have happened had he not been born. He gets a rare glimpse and opportunity to change that most people are not graced with.

David Copperfield

One of his best works, David Copperfield is semi-autobiographical. In it, Dickens begins to reveal a bit about himself and his weariness with human nature. The novel is about a wounded soul and a social commentary about Dickens times and on emigration. The character, Dora, was named for his ninth child, Dora Annie, who died at 8 months old.

Oliver Twist

Perhaps Oliver Twist was born because of the debt and poverty that beset Dickens’ parents and many of his siblings throughout their lives. Orphan Oliver is befriended by “The Artful Dodger” and his gang of pickpockets. The saga is set in an impoverished London setting that mirrors some of the social degradation Dickens witnessed throughout his life. Oliver Twist is a story about how survival of the fittest can turn into a comfortable life.

The Dickens Project

Two hundred years have passed since Dickens was born. In that time, his novels have taken on many incarnations and have impacted generation after generation. They are studied both in high school and college literature, sociology and journalism courses. Dickens influenced Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-81) novels in that Dostoevsky felt that Dickens style and vision conveyed a great understanding of spirituality, social reconstruction and morality. Other authors Dickens is said to have influenced were John Irving, Anne Rice and Jane Austen. His influence is so strongly felt that the Dickens Project was founded by the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1981 as part of a consortium of universities throughout the United States dedicated to the study of Charles Dickens life and literature.

A Brief Biography of Charles Dickens: This biography covers the early years with his family and his work.

Personal Events: This timeline details the personal life of Charles Dickens—one beset both by success and tragedy.

Dickens Boyhood: This brief essay depicts the boyhood life of Charles Dickens.

Young Charles Dickens: The story of a young boy lost and found, debt and prison.

A Man and His Reputation: Dickens was considered the most famous writer in America and Europe during his career.

The Dickens Project: Created to share everything about Charles Dickens to new generations.

Lit2Go Dickens: Several of Dickens’ works are available: A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations to name a few.

Project Gutenberg Titles: Read all of Charles Dickens’ writing, including some in French and in audio.

Project Boz: Each of Dickens’ novels will be digitalized on this site—it is taking time to accomplish, but many of his works are linked either in part or in full.

The Dickens Page: A resource page including digital works, publishers and audio books.

Five Points: Dickens wrote of this New York City intersection known for its desolation and poverty.

Settings in Dickens Literature: Sir Derek Jacobi takes you around 100 locations of places that Dickens used in his literature and where he lived as he wrote that literature—funded by the Dickens Fellowship. See the preview.

Life and Times of Charles Dickens: An overview of Dickens’ religious beliefs and how they influenced his body of work.

The Charles Dickens Museum: This London museum houses over 100,000 items belonging to and regarding Charles Dickens. The museum is based on his home located at 48 Doughty Street in London.

His Works, Life and Family: Includes information on his years in journalism, speeches, criticisms and reviews as well as his genealogy, wife and children.

A Christmas Carol: Images, interviews and educational resources on A Christmas Carol from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Great Expectations Recording: Complete audio book from the National Archives.

A Christmas Carol - Read one of the most well known books by Charles Dickens on this page.

Timeline - To learn more about the man responsible for some of the most loved books in history, view this biography timeline.

Author Profile - To read a biography of the author, visit this web page.

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