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“If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.”
The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens

Storyteller extraordinaire Charles Dickens created a legacy of diverse literary work of lighthearted serials, historical fiction and platforms for social reform.  One of the most popular authors of the Victorian era, his fan base ranged from the “lower classes” to royalty.

His creatively named characters, such as Sairey Gamp, Mr. Wackford Squeers, Daniel Quilp, Mrs. Jellyby, Noddy Boffin, Ignorance and Want, Mr. Fezziwig, Peggotty, Jarndyce, Tattycoram, Abel Magwitch, Polly Toodle, Jeremiah Flintwinch and Mr. M’Choakumchild are timeless, and continue to captivate new readers.

Although his writings were published over a century ago, his insight and commentaries on the vulnerabilities of the human condition remain true today.

Jennie Scott teaches Honor English 1 and Junior English atRioAmericanoHigh School, and includes “Great Expectations” in her curriculum.  “It’s easy for the students to relate to, because the main characters in the book are setting out in life, and so are the teenagers in my classes.” Personally, the pathetic Miss Havisham is the character who has stuck with me all of these years.

If you read “A Tale of Two Cities,” your memory easily conjures up Dickens’ vivid portrayal of the stark realities and passion behind the French Revolution, and the dramatic ending as the main character approaches the guillotine. (Dickens actually witnessed a beheading by guillotine in Rome in 1845.)  And, who can forget the “resurrection men?”

Dickens’ legacy is such that an auction in December 2009 saw his ivory and gold toothpick (“used on last visit toAmerica”) sell for $9,150, and in December 2010, a leather dog collar with a brass inscription he once owned sold for $11,590.

It comes as no surprise, then, that international celebrations are planned to commemorate the bicentennial of the birth of Charles John Huffman Dickens on February 7, 2012.  TheCharlesDickensMuseumand Film London, in association with The Dickens Fellowship, have created a website – Dickens 2012 – showcasing events, films, and contemporary authors offering their responses to the query, “What Would Dickens Write Today?”  (

As often occurs with authors, Dickens’ personal experiences and people he knew were often incorporated into his work.

For example, Dickens’ father’s inability to manage his finances landed the entire family, except Dickens, in Marshalea Debtors Prison in 1824.  Dickens, at age twelve, was sent to work at a blacking (shoe/boot polish) factory, and left to fend for himself.  Those experiences were written into “Little Dorrit” and “David Copperfield.” (The character of Mr. Micawber in “David Copperfield,” was based on his father.)

He later worked as a law office clerk, shorthand reporter, and journalist, writing for The True Sun, Mirror of Parliament, and The Morning Chronicle, under the pseudonym “Boz.”  (His son, Charles, Jr., was given “Boz” for a middle name.)  In the 1840’s, he edited the London Daily News. 

In 1836, the same year “Pickwick Papers” was published, he married Catherine Hogarth, whose father was the editor of a paper for which Dickens was writing.  

A year later, Catherine’s sister, Mary, moved in with them.  Dickens was particularly fond of his 17-year-old sister-in-law, and when she suddenly died in 1837, Dickens was so griefstricken, he asked to be buried next to her and wore her ring most of his life.  He and Catherine’s first daughter was named after her.  In 1842, Catherine’s 14-year-old sister,Georgina, then moved in with them.

In 1857, actress Ellen Ternan entered his life, and they maintained a relationship until his death.

Dickens and Catherine separated in 1858 after 22 years of marriage, and the birth of their tenth child. Georginastayed with Dickens as a housekeeper, but also took on the role as the children’s guardian.  Although none of the children pursued a literary career, son Henry was knighted and son Edward was elected to Parliament inNew South Wales. 

Dickens had boundless energy, walking approximately twenty miles on a daily basis, writing travel books, entertaining and performing readings.  He produced fifteen novels, wrote essays, edited periodicals, and was active in innumerable causes, including an ongoing fight against corrupt institutions, such as Parliament and the education system.  

From the 1840s, Dickens traveled extensively, including a couple of tours in the United States, during which he met President Tyler.  His initial tour in 1842, a month shy of his 30th birthday, was intended to promote the idea of international copyright law, as Americans had been pirating his work fairly regularly. He tried to convince them that it would protect their writings as well, but his efforts fell on deaf ears. 

During his next trip to theUnited States(1867-68), he performed seventy-six readings of his work, one of which Mark Twain attended. Dickens’ readings were said to be entertaining, as he spoke with accents and mimed mannerisms of the various characters.

Twelve-year-old Kate Wiggin missed Dickens’Portland,Mainereading, but encountered him on a subsequent Boston-bound train.  Their long conversations made the journey more interesting.  In 1903, Kate Wiggin also entered the novelist arena with the publication of her book, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” 

Dickens probably would have enjoyed seeing Wiggin’s literary success, but, a stroke took his life in 1870, at age 58.  His popularity remained, unabated, at a high level.

Wherever the English language is spoken the intelligence we publish this morning of the decease of Mr. Charles Dickens will be received with feelings of deep regret.

The Guardian, June 10, 1870

His long-time friend, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow observed, “I never knew an author’s death to cause such general mourning. It is no exaggeration to say that this whole country is stricken with grief.”

His popularity didn’t cease with his death, as proved by The Dickens Game, created In 1886, which was played similar to the game of “Authors.”    

The publication “The Dickensian” was founded in 1905, and continues to thrive to this day.  It is published three times a year, with articles of literary criticism, reviews of plays and radio shows, and offers reportings on The Dickens Fellowship (founded in 1902).  (

“What the dickens?” Mr. Dickens may have found it amusing that so many of us assume this cliché refers to him.  Its origins are unknown, but the term first appeared in Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” – over 200 years before Dickens was born.

What Dickens character made the biggest impression on you?

You Are A Classic

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