Thursday, February 7, 2013

Charles #Dickens - A Horrible #Childhood Inspires Greatness

 Dickens's Dream.
 Painted 1875 by Robert William Buss (1804-1875)
US Public Domain
February 7

Charles Dickens Day

Happy Charles Dickens Day. Today we honor the creative genius who brought to the world Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Charles Dickens' classical stories have not only become some of our best beloved tales but have also transcended across a wide variety of media. Charles Dicken's tales have inspired authors, artists and musicians throughout out time.

Humble Beginnings Inspire Greatness
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England to John and Elizabeth Barrow Dickens on February 9, 1812. He was the second of eight children. Charles was baptized and reared in the Church of England although later on in his life he would convert to Unitarianism. 

John Dickens (August 21, 1785 – March 31, 1851) was a clerk with the  Royal Navy Pay Office at Portsmouth in Hampshire who aspired to strike it rich. Although he had the dream he didn't possess the financial skills to make his dream a reality. He kept his family in poverty because he lived well past his financial means. Elizabeth aspired becoming a school teacher and director. She ensured her children received an education by becoming their first teacher. It was through his mother that Charles developed a love for reading. 

Two years after Charles' birth, John moved his family to Norfolk Street in London. The young family didn't stay long in their new home. In 1816, John Dickens moved his family to Chatham, Kent after he was transferred to the Chatham Royal Dockyard. Charles and his siblings were free to roam the countryside and explore the nearby old castle at Rochester.  He had a very happy childhood and many of his experiences there inspired his literary works. He loved to spend his time in the outdoors and reading books. When asked about his boyhood, Dicken's once stated he was "very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy." Charles had a photographic memory that served him well in his later years in that he could remember everything pertaining to his youth. 

A Young Charles Dickens
US Public Domain
Charles Dicken's early education was limited but was supplemented through his love of reading. When he was nine years old he left his mother's tutorage and continued his studies at the private William Giles’s School. A year later, his father was recalled to London and his income substantially lessened after the English Reforms in the Admiralty closed the Chatham Royal Dockyard. Despite the interruption in finances John continued to send his children to private school. John had moved his family into the poorest section of London yet continued to live well above his financial means. Two years later, John was arrested for bad debt. His entire family, with the exception of Charles, were sent to Marshalsea Prison with their patriarch. Charles was forced to leave his schooling and was sent to work in a black boot factory to help pay off his father's debts. His experience in the rodent infested, run down factory was horrible and left lifetime mental scars. Twelve year old Dickens suffered from loneliness and despair for the next three years. He felt abandoned by the adults who were supposed to be taking care of him. His abandonment issues are a reoccurring theme in his books. The setting of his books David Copperfield and Great Expectations were the fictionalized accounts of his time spent in the factory. The character Mr Micawber in David Copperfield was largely inspired by his own father. 

Despite the loneliness, Charles wasn't completely without contact with his family. During the time of his father's imprisonment his sister, Francis, was studying at the  Royal Academy of Music. Every Sunday, he would accompany her to Marshalsea to visit with their family. Dickens would later use Marshalsea as the inspiration for his serial novel, Little Dorrit. 

In 1825, much to the relief of Charles and his family, his father received an inheritance that paid off all of his debts. Charles' family returned to London but his father was not permitted to return to his previous employment. Instead he was granted a pension. John Dickens sought employment elsewhere and became a reported for The British Press. Charles returned to his family and completed his last two years of education at the private Wellington House Academy in London. He unable to complete his education because The British Press failed and his parents were evicted from their home. Once again, Charles had to help his family with the finances. Now fifteen years of age, Charles was employed by a firm of solicitors. Yet he never gave up on his writing dreams. Charles' first job actually helped launch him in the literary world. Many law firms began to take notice of his superb writing skills and within the year they were hiring him to write freelance reports. A few years later, he was writing articles for two London newspapers. 

Without the traumatic experiences Charles Dickens went through in his early life he never would have become the "greatest novelist of all time." Charles Dickens didn't dwell on the negatives of his past he transformed them into something positive and used those experiences to enrich his stories. 

You can learn more about Charles Dickens here:

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