Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

da Christiane Wilms

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

da Christiane Wilms

Charles Dickens, more precisely Charles John Huffam Dickens, was celebrated and revered even during his lifetime. Literarily, he depicted his time and its political, social and cultural currents – in his very own way.

The Victorian literary superstar was born near Portsmouth in 1812, but spent most of his childhood in London. His father, a clerk with higher ambitions, was too loose with the money he earned and ended up in debtor’s prison. Charles, only twelve years old, had to leave school and work in a shoe polish factory. This experience weighed heavily on him and humiliated him; for the rest of his life, the shame of his youth resounded in his works. This was typical for him; he always transformed profound experiences of his life or acquaintances who had impressed him into literary motifs.

Portsmouth, Blick auf die Altstadt; © 921563

As a young man, Charles Dickens flirted with acting, worked in a law office, as a journalist, and as a court reporter. In 1836, under the pseudonym Boz, he published The Sketches (see above) and made his first name as a writer. That year he also married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he had ten children. In 1858 he separated from Catherine. One reason was probably his secret lover Ellen Ternan, a second that Catherine had become depressed by the many births and life in the shadow of her famous husband and had lost her blooming appearance.

“The Pickwickians,” published in 1837, made Charles Dickens famous at a stroke. This was followed by historical novels (“A Tale of Two Cities”), realistic novels, educational novels, travelogues (“The Italian Journey” “Notes from America”) and, at Christmas, sometimes spooky and touching stories (“A Christmas Carol in Prose”, “The Cursed One”).

In all, Dickens wrote 15 novels as well as numerous stories, essays, stage plays, and he founded two magazines (“Household Words,” “All The Year Round”).

Dickens continued the detective stories developed by Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins from the popular Gothic novels with “Bleak House”. Towards the end of his life, he created a “real” detective novel with “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (1870), but unfortunately was unable to complete it.

His contemporaries appreciated in him and his works the sometimes grotesque humor, the overflowing imagination, the descriptions of maudlin fates or dark and macabre crimes, his criticism of social or political grievances.

With this author they could laugh, mock, sympathize and cry, be outraged, creeped out or tremble with excitement. Dickens also won over the middle and lower classes as readers, because they played a leading role in his socially critical novels (“Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield”) – a novelty in Victorian times. Ordinary people were able to read about themselves and their everyday lives and could even afford the novels, since they appeared as sequels in magazines and were cheaper than books.

And so Dickens earned very well from his works, he was able to offer himself and his family a comfortable life and continue to pay for his father’s debts.

Dickens knew many of the greats of his time personally, he had friends in political circles, among the nobility, writers, actors and journalists and that worldwide. Perhaps it was because Dickens’ interests were broad – he observed people very closely, acted in amateur theaters, liked to travel frequently, and presented himself and his works on tours of England, Scotland, Ireland, and America.

Der alte Kuriositätenladen in der Portsmouth Street, London; © lenschanger

In 1869, Dickens suffered his first stroke while on tour, and the exceptional writer died of a second stroke in 1870 at the age of only 58 – overworked and weakened.

Charles Dickens found his final resting place in Westminster Abbey in London.

Riferimento alla fonte

1. Hans-Dieter Gelfert, »Charles Dickens, der Unnachahmliche«, Biographie, 375 Seiten, über 70 Abbildungen, erschienen 2011 im C.H.Beck Verlag München.

2. »Charles Dickens in London«, Bernd Erhard und Angelika Fischer, Edition A•B•Fischer, erschienen 2020, Berlin.


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