(Portsmouth, 1812; Kent, 1870)
The firstborn of Elizabeth and John Dickens was born on February 7. For as long as he could remember, he suffered the hardships caused by his father’s disordered life. His father, a professional shaman, could not provide him with a dignified education. But his gambling problems hit rock bottom when he went to jail, which meant for Charles to be employed in an ominous factory at the age of 12.
This situation would mark him notoriously, would make him reject any act of exploitation and inequality, made him a severe critic of the prevailing industrialization of the nineteenth century. Those images would also give him enough material for his future career as a novelist, whose first steps he took as a press man. Taking advantage of this innate talent for observation, it would be very easy for him to portray his contemporaries and gain early prestige as a chronicler in Parliament. By then, less than twenty years old and more than settled in the colourful London, he was already an expert stenographer to whom it seems that all doors opened.
So he got his second major job. From the end of 1833, using the pseudonym “Boz”, he would sign a weekly chronicle in which the Londoners would be the protagonists. In this profile of the people on foot his most sarcastic and satirical side would emerge, a resounding success that would guide all his literary work and help him to profile his famous characters.
At the age of twenty-five, the serial novel Oliver Twist gives him plenty of space and fame. It allows him to settle down in a marriage of two decades and ten children. It would give him the opportunity to continue writing without hardship and also to travel to the United States, a country from which he would return disgusted by the terrible reality of slavery, the same that he condemns for knowing for himself what it is to work from sun to sun for practically nothing.
A man of strong religious convictions and no academic training, in his early years he tempted acting, but his last years were spent recovering from a terrible railroad accident. He died in the Victorian era, on June 9, 1870, being one of the great English intellectuals of the time.
10 famous works of Dickens
1. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club . London, 1836-1837.
Surrendering to his humorous vein, his first novel makes him a promising exponent of his country’s literature. Published in installments, the origin of the text is in Robert Seymour’s drawings and the idea was for Dickens to imagine the adventures of the grotesque members of a club of aged hunters. Led by Sam Pickwick, an aristocrat as naive as he is unhealthy, they lead us on an unforgettable journey through England.
2. Oliver Twist. London, 1837-1839.
A product of his traumatic years as a labeler in a bitumen factory, this is the novel that accredits him as a social writer and father of the marginalized. Oliver Twist is the same Charles overdimensioned by the sorrows of being orphaned and poor in such an inhuman city. An editorial phenomenon in his time, something to emphasize is that the protagonist never stops seeing the future with optimism, which is key to his survival.
3. The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. London, 1838-1839.
Young Nicholas Nickleby must take charge of his home after the sudden death of his father. Adversity is represented by the figure of his uncle Rudolf, who will do everything in his power to humiliate his sister-in-law and nephews. The mixture of drama and comedy serve to denounce the injustices that the protagonist will find. Theatre, television and cinema have adapted it countless times.
4. Christmas Carol. London, 1843.
A history as universal as the message it leaves: the claim of humanity is possible. The dreaded Ebenezer Scrooge will receive a lesson on Christmas Eve when he is visited by three ghosts who will show him the true meaning of life. In this way, Dickens moves away from realism, but without forgetting the social background. The novel is divided into five “stanzas” that tell how the old protagonist manages to correct his old mistakes and comes to understand that money will never replace the warmth of people.
5. David Copperfield. London, 1849-1850.
The most autobiographical, and perhaps because of that, the work that he loved the most in his life. Which would also explain his decision to write it in the first person. As was customary in his plots, the dichotomies are at the service of a story that returns to the subject of orphanhood and the dilemmas faced by the dispossessed within the new system imposed by industrialization. David is a boy who seeks to get ahead without losing his soul along the way. An unprecedented bestseller in his time.
6. Bleak house. London, 1852-1853.
This time Dickens points his criticisms at the English judicial system. A legal dispute has gone unresolved for too long in the Chancery Court, a situation that will cause one inconvenience after another for those involved. Esther Summerson, one of the novel’s narrators, introduces us to the heart of London’s apathetic bureaucracy without losing humour and finesse. In this fable about the relationship between the state and citizenship, the author also introduces one of the first detectives in literature.
7. A tale of two cities. London, 1859.
It is the great novel by Charles Dickens, in which he distances himself from his characters for children and adolescents and goes back a century to tell what the French Revolution meant in Europe. Although London is one of the cities alluded to by the title, this time it presents it in an idyllic way, in contrast to the chaos in which Paris is submerged. The action takes place between the two capitals, deepening the loving relationship between Charles and Lucia, two young Frenchmen who will be protected by Sydney, an English lawyer who will sacrifice himself to make them happy. Their powerful beginning is still one of the best in literature.
8. Great expectations. London, 1860-1861.
The immortal “Pip” Pirrip is a victim of chance and of those characters he will encounter from his childhood. For example, the fugitive he helps will return the favor many years later, when thanks to him he becomes a gentleman and can thus aspire to the love of the cold Estella, who was poisoned from a very young age by the resentment that her adoptive mother felt for all men. This learning novel is one of Dickens’ most rounded stories, with hundreds of adaptations to back it up.
9. Our mutual friend. London, 1864-1865.
The story in which he brings out his most pessimistic and gloomy side is also considered a masterpiece for the precise way in which he exposes the values of the Victorian era. John Harmon becomes involved in a criminal story when he arrives in London to collect a strange inheritance, when it comes as a surprise that “his corpse” has been found on the Thames and the police claim it is him. With surrealistic touches, Dickens in his latest novel sets out to show how money can easily move the gears of society.
10. The Guardian. London, 1866.
It is a story published in the magazine All the Year Round, one of the many newspapers he founded, which reflects his interest in supernatural issues. He will again turn a passage related to his life into fiction. A train accident will leave Dickens with physical and psychological sequels, the same ones he transmits in the lines of this ghost story that reigns with great inventiveness in the fields of death.