Charles Dickens Birthday Bicentenary
(Born: February 7th 1812 - Died 9th June 1870) by Helen Finch
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth on the south coast of England on Friday February 7th 1812.
He is a well-known Victorian writer who wrote a many novels some of which you may have heard of. Two that have been made into films that you may have seen are Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol with Scrooge.
Dickens did go to school but when he was 12 years old his father was sent to prison because he owed money. His mother, brothers and sisters also went with him to live at the debtors prison. Fortunately, Charles was sent to live with someone else but he had to get a job so that he could support his family. Charles went to work in a factory where he had to stick labels on to pots of boot blacking (a form of polish). Hours were long and conditions appalling for such young children. Imagine if children of 12 years old now had to go out to work to support their family. The experience of working in such a place and seeing how people struggled was imprinted on Dickens’ mind.
As he grew up Dickens wanted to make his life better. The life of poverty that Dickens experienced had an effect on him. He married Catherine Hogarth in 1836 and they had 10 children. Dickens’ writing was becoming well known, he became a journalist and a playwright. Unfortunately as his sons grew up they too became careless with money ending up in debt. Dickens wasn’t happy with this and this caused problems in the family. Eventually Dickens and his wife separated.
Charles Dickens also travelled. His first visit to America was in 1842. He sailed on the steamship “Britannia” from Liverpool on the west coast of Britain on 3rd January.
The journey across the Atlantic was rough but finally they arrived on 22 January where he was greeted with excitement.
Dickens travelled to Illinois and New York and other places in America, visiting hospitals, prisons and schools for blind and deaf children. He also went to Washington where he met President John Tyler. He then travelled south where he witnessed slavery first-hand, which he found most upsetting.
He wrote the events of this journey in a book entitled “American Notes”.
Charles returned to America for a second visit in 1867/68. Whilst he was there he was asked by Samuel Gridley Howe, the founder of the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts if he would give permission to have his book “The Old Curiosity Shop” published in Braille (this is in the format of dots on pages which blind people can read with their fingers).
Dickens was very pleased with this idea so paid for 250 Braille copies to be printed and ensured they were distributed to every blind school in the USA.
Charles Dickens had several places where he lived in England. There is now a Dickens Museum which is his only London property remaining. His country home in Gads Hill in Kent is where he died in 1870, leaving one book unfinished.
There are various places which have Dickens Festivals, Rochester in Kent has two a year, one in the summer and one at Christmas and Broadstairs in Kent, another place where he would go to write, has a week-long festival in June.
People will dress up in Dickensian costume and transform the area into a Victorian wonderland. Men wear long-tailed suits and top hats and ladies wear bonnets and ankle length dresses.
Back in London you can join a Dickens walk. Moving slowly through the streets and alleyways and passing buildings that inspired his writing.
On a quiet Sunday you can easily imagine Oliver Twist and his unlikely band of pickpockets stopping a well-dressed gentleman and asking for some coins. “Scuse me Mister, can you spare a coin or two?” whilst having his pocket watch or wallet plucked unnoticed from his pocket.
Although fiction, you must not forget that this was the sort of behaviour that Dickens witnessed at this time. Within his stories is an enormous amount of fact. So if you get the opportunity to read Dickens or see a film of one of his books, remember that most of it is based on what really happened.
AUTHOR BIO: Helen Finch is a working Mum of two boys aged 12 and 7. She loves writing all sorts and has two non-fiction books published, most recent Kiddiwalks in London. Her hobbies include: Painting, walking, cycling, genealogy, knitting, crafts and holidays beachcoming for fossils with our rescue mastiff, but she particularly enjoys spending time with her husband and boys.