Great Expectations

Category: Writing & Reading | Type: | Title: Great Expectations (in Context) | Author: Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens's life was short—he died at fifty-eight—yet with a furious and restless energy he compressed several lives into one: a twenty-two-year marriage and ten children, followed by a public separation and his relationship with an actress, who is eighteen when it begins and he forty-five; fifteen novels, most very substantial; many Christmas stories and other novellas; two opera libretti; farces; and full-length plays; more than 14,000 letters, totaling twelve volumes, to more than 2500 recipients (about the time of Great Expectations he burned all of the letters he had received and kept); five successful careers—novelist; editor; actor and director; philanthropist and practical social reformer; and the first writer to devise the role of public reader of his work for money—a great deal of money—to very large, adoring audiences that could number 3500 or more people, in England, Scotland, and America. He took dozens of trips to and from the Continent, sometimes for only a few days, on others living for extended periods in Genoa, Lausanne, Boulogne, and Paris. He was a wanderer who however feared becoming a vagabond. Home—hearth and home—was vital. But he was propelled by“Restlessness, you [John Forster, his intimate friend] will say. Whatever it is, it is always driving me, and I cannot help it.” He spent entire nights walking about London and Paris, avidly observant and capable of recalling every shop in order lining an entire city street. He walked marathon distances, on several occasions thirty miles through the night at his customary pace of four miles per hour, and regularly walked two to three hours a day after writing from 9am to 2pm. His personality and the elements of his life were extraordinary enough that they would hardly be credible unless captured in fiction by a genius such as Dickens. (You will find below an extensive chronology of Dickens's life in conjunction with some of the events and achievements of Victorian times.)

 David Copperfield's first words, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life...” describe an uncertain condition defining all of us. Will we be the heroes of our own lives? There is never any question with Dickens, whose will—that combination of determination, discipline, and power—defines him. In Dickens's life there are points at which he's carried off in quite different directions from writing novels. Yet the more diffuse the claims upon him, the more energy he musters. We come to grasp that his will—other than his imagination it is his titanic will that most distinguishes him—made him the hero of his life and the acknowledged genius of his age, its representative man, its hero. Only two names have survived as adjectives defining the age—Dickensian, Victorian. Dickens's life is heroic in energy, scope, and achievement. He was himself a force, and, vastly beyond the range of most writers, a force for good. Probably no one in 19th-c. England affected more people beneficently, revealing to them the hidden places and forces of their society, helping them to feel nobly and generously, to understand better the plight of the unfortunate and the need for significant change, and, throughout, a grand achievement for which his audience was grateful, causing them to laugh uproariously, even at themselves.

 Not surprisingly, Dickens was also complex, at times paradoxical. Whether he was also may depend on how insightfully we read his fiction.

 This introduction focuses on three segments of his life, Acts I, III, and V. The first covers parts of his childhood and young manhood that bear especially on David Copperfield and Great Expectations. This includes the most famous childhood experience of any English novelist, Dickens's miserable time as a twelve-year-old working in Warren's Blacking (shoepolish) factory in a seamy area of London; the second is the period around the writing of Copperfield; and third, the time leading up to and including Great Expectations, that of his separation from his wife and encompassing his involvement with Ellen Ternan.

 It bears repeating: Dickens is the greatest novelist writing in English in the 18th and 19th centuries, two hundred years that include Defoe, Sterne, Scott, Austen, Melville, Hawthorne, the Brontës, Thackeray, George Eliot, and Trollope, and early Conrad and James. Dickens's prodigious capacity for invention of character equals Shakespeare's. He has an increasingly deep understanding of the mind and of the interface between the individual and society and an acid satire that can make one simultaneously laugh and feel a rage of indignation at the truth of his vision. His ability as a stylist exceeds that of any other 18th- or 19th-century novelist writing in English, as does his range from the comic to the tragic. Of course, to make such claims for Dickens's supremacy will only provoke this or that objection. So why make them? Because Dickens has been systematically underrated, and the reasons for that say something about him as well as us.

 Critics and pundits tend to be suspicious of great popularity, which is to say of middle- and working-class tastes. Dickens was the most popular and financially successful author of his day. When the ship carrying the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop sailed into New York harbor, a crowd was at the dock in suspense and yelling up to the passengers on deck, “Is Little Nell dead?” Such enthrallment by his audience, it is thought, may prove he is no subtle, complex novelist. Yet we should not allow passionate engagement to obscure a depth of understanding to which Dostoyevsky and Freud responded.

 Dickens's popularity depends in part on his appeal to middle-class values (another attribute that doesn't recommend him to intellectuals) and working-class politics, and most Victorians reacted relished the sentimentality, especially concerning women, and occasional melodrama that offend our taste. But this is a matter of taste only, and we must allow that what we find weaknesses there were Victorian strengths. His audience wanted to feel deeply, to the point of weeping and to being terrified, as his public readings proved. The Victorians inherited something of Methodism's sanctification of emotion and much of the Romantic sensibility. They were also not so suspicious of comedy as dourly post-Modernist readers tended to be. Dickens is the language's greatest comic novelist—the successor to Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne—and one of its most brilliant satirists. While appealing to middle-class readers, he also makes them his chief target (he rarely burlesques the poor, who can afford little but compassion). Dickens is proof, as if we needed any, that comedy does not come at the expense of deep and comprehensive insight about the individual in society.

 Still, the combined effects of comedy, melodrama, and sentimentality narrowed Dickens's audience for a half-century after his death in 1870, and then only slowly did his standing begin to recover in the next half century. Dickens appeals to younger readers because no 19th-c. novelist has written better and more originally about the child. Moreover, his plots are strong, characters well-drawn, his moral sense clear, and his characters vivid. These are also the reasons that his novels lend themselves to being filmed and staged.

 That young people delight especially in Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations does not, however, make Dickens a children's author. Yet Dickens has attracted the best, among them some of the 20th century's finest critical minds, beginning with the novelist George Gissing's 1898 study of Dickens and G. K. Chesterton's 1908 critical study. Dickens's reputation suffered with Bloomsbury's and Modernism's depreciation of Victorian art and culture, yet through the mid-century it steadily recovered and, indeed, he came to be recognized as far greater than even his contemporary audience grasped. The American critic Edmund Wilson's essay on Dickens in The Wound and the Bow (1941) inaugurated a far more searching inquiry into especially Dickens's darker novels. George Orwell (1940) described Dickens as a “sentimental radical” and was disappointed sometimes by his politics but acknowledged his greatness. He ends his study by remarking on how, with the greatest of writers, including Swift, Fielding, Stendhal, and Flaubert, he cannot help but conjure up a face, even if he's never seen a portrait or photo:

Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry—in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.

F. R. and Q. D. Leavis, leading English critics of the mid-century, recognized Dickens's place in the “Great Tradition” of the novel. Then in the 1960s two superb critics, Steven Marcus and J. Hillis Miller, helped us see Dickens's novels through two of the century's most revealing lenses, that of psychoanalytic thought and of phenomenology. And to these should be added F. W. Dupee's essay "The Other Dickens," the "Victorian Falstaff" who emerges in the letters.

 Dickens wrote many fine novels, among them Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, Hard Times, and Tale of Two Cities, but David Copperfield, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend are masterpieces. Dickens's prose is supple, his ear for diction, speech, and cadence unsurpassable. He appears the most natural of novelists, the least labored, the most able to meld genius of mind with profound emotion. To quote Copperfield, he possessed “the mind of the heart.” He thought with and through his heart. The poor adored him, because he included them in great numbers in his fiction, outraged by their suffering, appreciative of and amazed by their dignity. He sought with all the passion and imagination he could command the reform of conditions that degraded them and sucked joy from their precarious lives. His passionate social conscience powered much of his invention and dictated his extensive journalism, which constitutes many volumes in itself. He believed art could change people and society for the better. And he engaged his will to ensure that it did.

 That said, the most immediate support to be adduced for the claim of Dickens's sovereignty will be found in David Copperfield and Great Expectations. I hope that the annotations help make the case. Incidentally, nowhere do they do the unpardonable and reveal anything of the plot yet to come.


Act I.

Appropriate to a novelist enthralled by crime, we begin with one. Dickens's maternal grandfather, Charles Barrow, was convicted in 1810 of embezzling funds from the Navy Pay Office in Portsmouth where he was employed as a high-ranking clerk. He fled to the Isle of Man to avoid prison. Dickens's father, brothers, and some of his sons were chronic debtors.  

 While an embezzler and fugitive stigmatized any middle-class family, apparently Charles Barrow's crime was not so heinous or shameful that Dickens's parents refused to name their first-born son after him. Presumably Barrow's motive to steal was his living beyond his income, which his daughter Elizabeth, Charles's mother, seems to have pursued with the invaluable assistance of her charming husband, a congenital spendthrift and occasional insolvent. The family trait touched some of their children, though not Charles; however, he despaired of six of his seven sons, at least two of whom had money problems. David Copperfield's Micawber, a version of Dickens's father, spoke the irrefutable truth when he proclaimed: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

 John Dickens's parents occupied a humbler station than his wife's family. His were servants in the household of the wealthy, cosmopolitan Crewe family, a force in Whig politics. John's father rose to be butler but died shortly before he was born, making him a “posthumous child” as Copperfield says ruefully of himself. His mother did not remarry but steadily advanced to become housekeeper, a position of authority and responsibility in a household of probably forty or more servants. (She may be the model for the housekeeper of Chesney Wold in Bleak House.) John had a brother, William, three years older, who came to own a coffee house in London. His mother lived with him when she left service, and Charles came to know her then. She was reputed to be a good raconteur. She also was outspoken and seems to have had a fairly low opinion of her son John, whom she described as lazy. He was in fact not lazy so much as feckless if not delusional with respect to money, which left him trying to cadge funds from her as he did from his famous son.

From his youth John was given to pretensions to gentlemanly status, which included signing himself “Esquire,” a title associated with a “gentleman” (Search). Appearances counted for much among his peers, and in a mobile, anonymous urban world supported by elastic credit there was considerable latitude to one's standing in the broad range of a somewhat amorphous middle classes. Dickens's novels dwell a good deal on financial hypocrisy and chicanery among the middle classes. The poor and struggling lower middle class and artisans are generally far more honest. But those in the aspiring middle classes are self-conscious about their social position. John Dickens was a habitual bankrupt owing to his inability to live within his income. Soon after his son became famous, John Dickens took to forging Charles's name on I.O.U.'s until Charles was compelled to put a notice in the newpapers to alert would-be lenders that he was not responsible for his father's debts.

Dickens's life is at once entirely unique and also typical of his time. He was the grandchild of servants on one side, aspiring lower middle-class figures on the other, with one grandparent a criminal. His parents seemed on a trajectory to exceed in money and respectability their parents and did in fact earn more. Charles was a largely self-made man though he was also the beneficiary of a rapidly changing and growing society. Newspapers, the publishing industry, and vast changes in reading habits and audience assisted Dickens's fame, and this was then supplemented by his public readings. Dickens rose from intermittent poverty compounded by a profound social insecurity and minimal education to become one of only two figures to bestow their name on the period, Victorian and Dickensian. He rose strictly through his talents, and we should not forget his ingenuity in making money, to a position of unprecedented fame and wealth for a novelist. A victim of his family, he was also a beneficiary of his time. He was born in 1812, just when the rigidities of the class structure were disintegrating and when men and some women could acquire through their own talents fame and wealth never dreamed of even by their own parents.

 John Dickens met Elizabeth Barrow when he too was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office in Portsmouth. Charles, the second child, was born in Portsmouth eighteen months after his sister, Frances Elizabeth (Fanny). In January 1815 his father was transferred to the Navy's headquarters in London and two years later to the Navy offices at Chatham, a coastal town on the River Medway, where the Medway and the Thames empty into the North Sea. This is the area Pip calls “the marsh country.” The ensuing period lasting some six years was the happiest of Dickens's childhood. Chatham, on the southeast coast, is a bustling port abutting the cathedral town of Rochester. (Miss Havisham lives here, and. Pip is born and lives until adolescence in a nearby village.) The growing Dickens family rented a small, pleasant house that overflowed with three children, Aunt Fanny Barrow, and two servants. The hold upon Dickens of the marsh country persisted throughout his life. He returned for his honeymoon; he situated David Copperfield in Yarmouth, a coastal town resembling aspects of Chatham; and in 1856, the consummation of a dream, he bought Gad's Hill Place, a prepossessing house with considerable land near Rochester. He often stood before it as a child, sometimes with his father, who told him that someday he would live there.

 Both of Charles's parents had quite sophisticated tastes in literature and music. His mother's father had been for a time a music teacher and instrument maker; one of Elizabeth Dickens's three brothers wrote fiction and poetry, and another, a parliamentary reporter, was also an amateur musician who had married a painter of portrait miniatures. Charles's mother taught him to read and then the rudiments of Latin. His father's own childhood on the fringes of the Crewe family introduced him to the advantages of great wealth, endowed him with a grandiloquent style tinged by bravura and a taste for 18th-c. literature. He collected a small library, to which he gave his young son free run, just as Jane Austen's father had her. Charles briefly attended a dame school, which was an elementary school run for profit generally by an older widowed or single woman. His sister's talent as a pianist and singer flowered years before he began to demonstrate his as a writer.

Literature seized Dickens's imagination from the moment he learned to read. He had as a young boy an astonishing capacity for intense concentration and focus. Reading afforded him scenes of such vividness that the reality around him paled. He read omnivorously, transported. This was not so much escape as a higher form of living. He began with fairy tales and illustrated books and advanced to The Arabian Nights and such 18th-c. imitators and spin-offs as Tales of the Genii. The reading in the miraculous and exotic left its imprint upon his imagination. When he came to write his first published work at twenty-two, the Sketches, he discovered among ordinary people and commonplace England the marvelous and strange. Nothing in Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, a favorite as a child, and Swift's Gulliver's Travels was weirder than what he saw in daily life but which had never before been observed no less recorded.

 Dickens's imagination is more acutely visual than any other English novelist of the 19th c. It is fitting that in the portraits and photographs of him his eyes dominate, and acquaintances and friends commented upon their arresting power. His friend and earliest biographer, John Forster, recalled the first time he saw the twenty-year-old Dickens, “whose keen animation of look would have arrested attention anywhere....” To see for Dickens was to penetrate to a deep reality; to write was to actualize. So powerful was his imagination that he often felt himself more an observer of them than their creator; they acquired life through him but it is just as fair to say that he lived through them. His passionate interest in the theater is partly a consequence, for the stage is the palpable realization of illusion. He had an uncanny capacity for observation and a stupendous visual memory. He saw with the eye of a painter, a William Hogarth or Daumier, or a great photographer, a Diane Arbus or a Lee Friedlander. He made exacting demands upon his illustrators.

By about ten Dickens was reading the most sparkling, robust of novels: “From that blessed little room [where his father's books reposed], Roderick Random, Pereginre Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones. The Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas and Robinson Crusoe came out, a glorious host, to keep me company.” John Dickens's collection did not include early 19th-c. fiction—not Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Walter Scott; not the Gothic novel of Mrs. Radcliffe or Maria Edgeworth or “Monk” Lewis; and not the new science fiction of young Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It isn't as if sensational and melodramatic fiction wouldn't have appealed to the child Dickens (it will soon, especially the so-called “penny dreadfuls” based on infamous crimes, and Frankenstein appears in Great Expectations), but he didn't have access to it at this formative period of his development. Instead, his reading cultivated his comic genius and affection for the “bright” (the word he will later use as novelist and editor to mean uplifting) and ebullient and often beguilingly picaresque. He believed from the outset in the capacity, indeed the necessity of art to bring immediate joy. To quote Sleary, the circus owner in Hard Times,“people muht be amuthed.” Dickens saw this as a central obligation—the addition of bountiful light to an often bleak world. There are scenes in Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne (and in Dickens) of such uproarious comedy that one laughs uncontrollably. and, read aloud to an audience, I've seen people literally falling out of the chair convulsed with laughter.

Dickens's description of his 18th-c. reading—“a glorious host, to keep me company”—captures something of those authors' conviviality and perhaps his own sense of apartness if not aloneness as a child. “Company,” meaning here good-natured companionability and bonhomie, is a hallmark of most of these novels, which celebrate food, drink, boisterous spirits, gusto, lovemaking and love-longing, tolerance, and the accomplished raconteur, for what goes better with food, drink, and tobacco than anecdotes and stories. Infusing the novels is the atmosphere of the tavern-pub-club-coffee house—a distinctly masculine world that, however, is readily susceptible to women, whom they regarded sentimentally at times. Yet there were often appetitive, strong, capable women who were worthy of being the center of hearth and home.

Notably absent from Dickens's syllabus of 18th-c. reading is that moralizing prefiguration of the earnest Victorian, the novelist Samuel Richardson. The title alone of Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded, would exclude Richardson from the relaxed urbanity typified by Fielding, who parodies Richardson in Shamela. The “company” Dickens speaks of had an easy morality that was humane, practical, one derived from real human nature and what is possible rather than ideal for it, a morality that cherished a broad common sense which allowed for robust pleasures. His style of dress—colorful waistcoats, cravats, and coats, plentiful jewelry, colorful cravats—was legendary and expressed a pleasure in cutting a distinguished figure. He deplored the abstemious and puritanical, especially when it comes clothed in a sanctimony that outlaws conviviality and joy. (He was a vigorous opponent of Sabbatarian legislation that turned a London Sunday into a day of mourning, which had a vicious impact on the poor.) Dickens viewed joy as a natural right that the Victorian middle classes, stiffened by their bleak religiosity, seem determined to eliminate.

Dickens's novelists had a relaxed belief in the possibility of a benevolent nature, morally good without being supported by any sectarian religious dogma, which they generally detested, and not scared or bribed into good conduct by the fear of Hell or the promise of Heaven. Their tastes were ecumenical, formed more by the library than by the church. Wit trumped moralizing, and irony diluted the occasional temptation to pontificate. Their learning was in the deepest sense liberal, easy and allusive, not pedantic. To these writers earnestness was a greater sin than folly. An important feature of Dickens's social and political thought is rooted in the lively benevolence and optimism of the 18th century.

This conviction, though, darkens over time as Dickens penetrates deeper into the psyche and examines the abscesses of Victorian society, prostitution, the workhouses, prisons, slums, the festering pools of insanitation composed of animal offal and human feces that help spread cholera, dysentery, and typhoid; the thieves' dens, sadistic, mercenary schools, the overcrowded cemeteries, the riverside traffic in corpses. And he looks upward as well, ascending to the society's highest regions, the Circumlocution Office (a metaphor for Parliamentary government) and the powerful financier. Dickens's reasons for being intrigued by the lowest circles of the urban inferno are complex (he repeatedly visited the Paris morgue), but more important is his exposure of urban human wretchedness that the middle and upper classes in many cases chose literally not to see and to deny any connection with—that is, as Dickens shows in Bleak House, until smallpox spread by contagion the sepsis of slums. Dickens was determined to make his readers see something of what he saw, even though he had to purge it of its most offensive matter to make it fit for middle-class readers. No other English novelist of the century comes close to matching Dickens's investigation of the teeming labyrinths of degradation never before known in England.

Dickens's fellow novelist and friend W. M. Thackeray, when asked what period in English history he'd most prefer to have lived, said the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). The dozen years usher in the ebullient, confident period that saw the composition of most of the novels Dickens loved. Nevertheless, he would almost surely have chosen to be born as he was in 1812, a boy of precisely that family, place, time, and class, a boy with a dicey and at times desolate, humiliating childhood, and a family edging along the curbstone of shabbiness and disgrace. He was the man, the apotheosis of his time: rising from inimical circumstances strictly by his talents, a man of indomitable energy who parlayed his abilities as writer, actor, editor, and innovator into international fame and financial success.

 Despite his family's unsteady social status, their flights from creditors, and his own spotty education, despite debtors' prison and Warren's Blacking, despite his obsessive, demeaning, futile pursuit when eighteen of a young woman considerably wealthier and more respectable, he could say, and did say, that these conditions made him what he was, the “Inimitable.” Among his great triumphs was to become the leading novelist of the century with a marginal education. The Scotsman Smollett, the Englishman Fielding, and the Irishmen Goldsmith and Sterne were all college-educated, and all but Sterne were people who excelled in more than one genre, as did Dickens. He at twenty-two became a national sensation. He would make a good deal of money through the sales of his fiction and the periodicals he started, edited, or owned, and edited, and a great through the public readings of his work he gave, a form of entertainment he originated. To echo Mel Brooks in History of the World, it's good to be the genius of the age.

I do not write resentfully or angrily: for I know how all these things have worked

together to make me what I am: but I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget,

I never can forget....

 In early 1821 the nine-year-old Dickens transferred from his dame school to one run by a young Oxford graduate, William Giles, where he was enrolled until 1822, when John Dickens was once more transferred back to London. Dickens was happy at the school but probably unaware that his family was beginning a precipitous economic slide, hastened by their move to London. John Dickens was again in debt and needed to be bailed out by his brother-in-law, Thomas Barrow, on an I.O.U. of £200 on which John Dickens could not afford even the interest. The Dickens family had continued to grow and attrit, Alfred being born and the infant Harriet dying of smallpox. When the family left for Camden Town, then a rural village three miles north of London, Charles moved into Giles's house and remained for another three months at the school. Sometime in this period Dickens wrote his first known work, a lost drama, Misnar, the Sultan of India, based on the Arabian tales he loved.

The family's financial situation sunk further with the move, for he earned less when not “outported” to a naval office beyond London. Still, he was earning £350 per year, a significant sum, and paying only £22 in annual rent. But he had accrued debts and was improvident. The family took with them to London a young female servant, an orphan from the Chatham Workhouse, and there were besides the five children a lodger, a young man named James Lamert, the stepson of Aunt Fanny's husband. Matters becoming dire, Mrs. Dickens decided to open a school for girls. The project was costly to undertake and required that they rent a more centrally located, larger house for prospective boarders. Naturally they ordered a brass plaque signifying “Mrs. Dicken's Establishment” that was mounted on the housefront, and they had advertisements printed. These Charles distributed. It was a bold plan—but not a single student enrolled. The expenses ensured the family's even speedier descent into bankruptcy.

 The seven-thousand word Autobiographical Fragment Dickens wrote at thirty-five dwells particularly on this period. He indicts both his father and mother for their casual, callous neglect of him. He writes of his father that “in the ease of his temper, and the straitness of his means, he appeared to have utterly lost at this time the idea of educating me at all, and to have utterly put from him the notion that I had any claim upon him, in that regard, whatever.” He, the first son and a child of obvious abilities and promise as well as sensitivity, was abandoned just when he needed an education to assure him of a promising future. He lost not only a portion of his childhood but the experience tainted his adulthood, leaving him always anxious about his future. Vestigial fear, shame, and insecurity shadowed him; he sought entire control, and he could be unforgiving with anyone who he thought took advantage of him. Withdrawn from school, he became little better than a servant in the household and hardly better off than the Chatham orphan. He became his father's bootblack and errand-boy—and a small, silent witness to his parents' betrayal.

Worse was yet to come. His withdrawal from school helped fund his sister's pricey tuition. Fanny was enrolled as a student-boarder at the Royal Academy of Music, the tuition nearly £40 per year. She studied piano, voice, Italian, grammar, arithmetic, and received instruction in moral thought and religion. The young Dickens's errands become increasingly directed to pawnshops, which slowly digested the Dickens household, culminating in the sale of his father's library.

Worse was yet to come. James Lamert, their former lodger from Chatham, received an offer from a cousin to manage a business, Warren's Blacking, a manufacturer of shoe polish at Hungerford Stairs in a grim district on the banks of the Thames. Lamert offered to hire Charles, who had just turned twelve, and his parents gratefully agreed. Dickens was put to work pasting labels on blacking bottles ten hours a day, six days a week. His hopes for a respectable future dissolved. He believed, and it was hardly unrealistic, that he would be a “labouring hind” for life. His companions at Warren's were poor, uneducated boys. Dickens, who was small as a child, tramped to work each morning, a dingy working-class boy indistinguishable from the tens of thousands of others whose miserable futures were for lack of an education cast in iron.

 Worse still was to come. Within a few days of his beginning at Warren's his father was arrested for debt and taken to a sponging house, a half-way jail where he'd have a week or so to settle the debts or go to prison. He could not raise the funds and some ten days later was locked up in the Marshalsea. There he could either raise the money, stay in prison indefinitely, or seek relief in the Insolvent Debtors' Act. This required the family's converting virtually everything of any monetary value into cash to pay off creditors and schedule payments for the balance. Charles was permitted the clothes he was wearing, and Dickens recalls a man's appraising even these. To have recourse to the Insolvent Debtors' Act, one had to prove that the debts were not intentionally incurred with a view to deceiving the creditor. All debts had to be detailed, which included those in Chatham. John Dickens's brother, William, paid the £40 debt that had put him in prison, but there were others that kept him behind bars.

 For five weeks Mrs. Dickens and the children excepting Fanny continued to live in their rented but swiftly emptying house. Two months after her husband's arrest, she and the children moved into the prison, but now Charles was first boarded with a stranger, then with a family acquaintance. Mrs. Roylance had lodged Mrs. Dickens's father, the fugitive Charles Barrow, before he decamped for the Isle of Man. It's unclear if Charles knew at the time that had he been allowed to live in the Marshalsea with his parents, he would have been eligible for the schooling provided the children of inmates.

 Possibly Mr. and Mrs. Dickens kept their son at Warren's in order to collect the bulk of the six shillings a week he was earning, though that hardly seems a credible reason. Despite his desolation, he quickly became a nimble worker. He generally visited the Marshalsea twice daily, joining his family for breakfast and then returning at night for supper, leaving upon lock-up and walking the dark streets to his room. Sometimes he ate alone in a coffee house, whose letters, he recalled, seen from the inside spelled MOOR EEFOC, which sounds like a character in The Arabian Nights. To his co-workers he maintained the fiction that his family lived in a respectable house up whose steps he would walk if accompanied by Bob Fagin, one of the workers, pretend to ring, and wait until Fagin had rounded the corner. His workmates referred to him as “the young gentleman,” a phrase that must have both galled and yet pleased for their recognition that he was different—small but erect, punctilious in manner, self-possessed, determined.

 With the timing of a deus ex machina we might lament in a Dickens novel, John Dickens's mother died soon after he was imprisoned, bequeathing him the substantial sum of £450 or some $27,000 to $31,500. But, blending Kafka with Dickens, the money did the bankrupt no immediate good, for the will took months to probate. Backed by an inheritance that would soon be distributed, he made a case after some four months in prison before the Insolvent Debtors' Court, which arranged a schedule of payments over the next years and then released him from the Marshalsea.

 Inexplicably, Charles's family kept him working at Warrens'. He was again living at home—another rented house north of London—and with his father walked the five miles to their neighboring places of employment and after ten hours walked home. How long Dickens worked at Warrens is not known for a certainty, but it appears to have been six months though some have maintained a year. His liberation resulted from an argument between John Dickens, now honorably pensioned from his job owing to ill health, and James Lamert over Charles, possibly over the nature of his work. His father took him from Warrens', but to the boy's astonishment his mother intervened, reconciled her husband and Lamert, and prepared the way for Charles to return to Warren's. Finally his father refused, insisting now that his son must resume his education. Whatever his father's faults, his mother's willingness to consign him to degradation and hopelessness was, he thought, criminal, and he “never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget that my mother was warm for my being sent back.”

 He was enrolled in Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy in 1824 and, before he left, had won a Latin prize, learned some mathematics, participated with the other boys in running a hand-written newspaper, and in theatricals. Although in Copperfield he satirizes this school, particularly the headmaster, it afforded him besides education welcome companionship. His three short years at Wellington constitute his last formal education, though the adult Dickens's library indicates that he continued to read broadly as an adult.

Dickens's time at Wellington House ended, because, with the certainty of the ebb tide, the family's situation declined over the next three years until in the spring of 1827 they were evicted and compelled to remove Charles from school. Once again a lodger in their house was instrumental, this one a lawyer who found work for Charles as a solicitor's clerk in his law firm. The title belies the job. Dickens was paid a starting salary of 10/6 a week but is not an articled clerk or apprentice. He was not there to learn and advance himself but to be little more than a laboring hind in a law office, copying documents and being a messenger and courier for the three months, March to May, 1827, before he moved to another firm, where he worked until November of 1828.

 Dickens gained a reputation in the law offices as a wit, a master of comic songs, and a gifted mimic. He made some friends he would keep for life and with his small income began to enjoy London's coffee houses and above all theaters. For some three years he devoured theater and seriously considered becoming an actor. Apart from the major London theaters, there were countless small amateur ones known as “penny gaffs”: “I went to some theatre every night, with very few exceptions, for at least three years....” He did not merely go, he studied “the bills first...going to see where there was the best acting...,” and he himself imitated several actors, one a famous monologuist, and practiced at home sometimes for hours. His experience would contribute to his ability to capture in his fiction a signature gesture and bit of speech that rapidly defined a character. His daughter recalled that decades later while writing he would leap up to mouthe the words, assume poses, and replicate the gestures and expressions he envisioned for his characters, sometimes doing so before a mirror.

 During his stint at the solicitors' offices, his uncle John Barrow and father were working as journalists. His uncle knew shorthand, which enabled him to report verbatim public speeches, a valuable skill. Charles saw this as a means to more lucrative, interesting work, ideally as a parliamentary reporter. He bought a book on the Gurney method of shorthand and with his customary zeal taught himself. When he did become a reporter, he was reputed to be the fastest, most accurate one covering Parliament. Dickens not only failed at nothing, he triumphed, with one exception, in all he undertook.

 Having mastered shorthand, he quit the steady pay of the law office—though he had considered becoming an attorney, he found the law tedious—to become a freelance reporter at Doctors' Commons, an ecclesiastical court that dealt with that matters under the jurisdiction of the national church, Anglicanism. Nearly as momentous was his applying on his eighteenth birthday, the soonest possible day, for a reader's card to the British Museum. The card offered the prospect of limitless education. The Museum did not permit books to be checked out, so he subscribed to a circulating library (Search) to read contemporary drama and fiction.

 Dickens pursued his desires and ambitions with preternatural will approaching obsessiveness. In one instance—the single exception to success—the result was devastating. This occurred when he fell in love for the first time. He met Maria Beadnell in May, 1830, just four months after he received his citizenship in the British Museum. Pretty, blonde, and educated, she was two years older than he and well above him in class and wealth, having also just returned from finishing school in Paris. She was probably no more vain and shallow than many young women of her class and it seems no better.

 How deep her feelings were for him, if anything more than trifling, is unclear, for her family were adamantly opposed to Dickens as a suitor. Yet he persisted...and persisted. Great Expectations explores Pip's motives for his self-immolating devotion to Estella, a situation that loosely mirrors Dickens's attachment to Maria Beadnell. She seems to have been emotionally immune to him and occasionally demeaning. He pursued her for three years, with only intermittent encouragement from her. So passionate was his devotion to her and so vulnerable his situation that years later he attributed his subsequent emotional detachment from even his children as a consequence. The closest he came to repeating this vulnerability came in the months when he was forty-five and met Ellen Ternan and before he attached her to him.

 We can gauge Dickens's suffering by that some of his protagonists experience in a similar quest. These include David, Pip, and Bradley Headstone (Our Mutual Friend), a figure whose obsession drives him to criminal desperation. Maria may have enjoyed his attention but she was too conventional and he too precarious for her to oppose her family, respond to his marriage proposal, and have to elope. He spent money outfitting himself in gentlemanly clothes and affected the ways and manners of a solid middle-class suitor, writing poems for Maria and buying her gifts. As sensitive and proud as he was, a man who was especially keen to personal slights and any perceived injustice, the Beadnell family's tolerance of him and yet discouragement of the match had to have been hurtful. Yet he persisted, possibly hoping that his perseverance as a suitor would demonstrate the force of his will and validity of his ambitions. Yet his class, his uncertain future as a freelance reporter at Doctors' Commons, and his family did not enhance his suit. Then in late 1831 John Dickens once more became an insolvent debtor.

 The climax but not the end came when he gave a party upon his turning twenty-one. Maria seems to have insulted him by saying that he was still a boy. Joke or not, Dickens was hurt, for his boyhood loomed large with abandonment, humiliation, and shame. Something of the same elements characterized his pursuit. He wrote that her comment “scorched his brain.” If so, the ashes remained as fertilizer for Great Expectations. Estella calls Pip “boy” to humiliate him by reminding him of his callowness and ignorance of fashionable manners.

 Dickens told Forster that his devotion to Maria “exluded every other idea from my mind for four years.” He was like the obsessive gambler (Dostoyevsky knew first-hand about this) who will win or go bankrupt. Why Dickens persisted in his quest of Maria for so long with so little encouragement remains unclear, though defeat even at that age was foreign to him. Then, too, if he won her he'd have achieved the respectability that would distance himself from his comparatively disreputable. His passion for her also demanded just the sort of determination that distinguished his nature. She was a prize that would prove his past was no enduring impediment to success, and gaining Maria's love would perhaps compensate for his mother's rejection. But anyone so obsessively, riskily invested in a victory that rests entirely with someone else must also have some investment in failure. We know that the author of Great Expectations understood this, for Pip's pursuit of Estella employs just such perverse logic. Her rejection proves his unworth, which in turn justifies his shame and guilt. For Dickens to fail with Maria would affirm the justice of his father's neglect and his mother's rejection.

 Finally the current of Dickens's life began to carry him beyond Maria's rejection. At twenty he was bored with the stultifying proceedings in Doctors' Commons but enthralled with the theater. There were days he practised acting, including such matters as assuming a seat, for five or six hours, and he mimed the behaviors of his stage idols. Feeling accomplished, he applied to Covent Garden Theatre for an audition. On that day he was to appear, accompanied by Fanny, he became ill. His application to audition was not so surprising as his ignoring a subsequent appointment for an audition. Though as an adult he was to give some riveting performances—Thackeray said that he could be making £20,000 a year as an actor—he seems at this time to have determined that the theater would be only a vigorous avocation.

 Dickens's energy was generally highest when he was miserable. During the last months of his ordeal with Maria he raced about England indefatigably as a reporter while he also rehearsed relatives, including Fanny, and friends for his own theatrical evening at home. The program was large, consisting of an opera, an “interlude” (a short piece between the two principal ones), and concluding with a farce or burletta. Dickens expected as much of others as of himself. He was a martinet and a perfectionist when it came to such productions, but his intensity was infectious. Writing, producing, directing, and acting in private theatricals was to become a lifetime passion.

 In March, 1832, he became the parliamentary reporter for a new paper while yet maintaining his position on the current one. His expertise was such that he was dispatched throughout England and to Scotland to cover political events. To a mind that absorbed hungrily all that came before it, the travel became the compost for the two works that soon made him a sensation, Sketches by Boz, I, II, and Pickwick Papers.

 Dickens's career as a writer of fiction began with a sketch that he deposited anonymously “at twilight, with fear and trembling” in the mailbox of the Monthly Magazine, which was immediately published in December, 1833, as “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” (later titled “Mr. Minns and His Cousin”). Seeing itt in print at a newstand “my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride” that he sought a place to weep. He soon wrote another eight “sketches,” all anonymous, until that published in August, 1834. The author was “Boz,” a name that originated with a nickname for his younger brother.

 The sketches sprung from what Dickens knew intimately: London, the lower middle class of clerks trying to appear at ease, sophisticated, and fungible. Dickens draws some of his most notable characters from this class of young urban men trapped by the circumstances of class and personal history in a condition that frustrates their aspirations and whose pressures distort their public personas, often comically, or tragically rend their sanity. His knowledge of London even then seems unparalleled among writers. The quintessential man of his time and place, and he became Victorian England's most observant, provocative, and influential documentarian and social historian.

 At twenty-two Dickens was hired by the Morning Chronicle, a distinguished paper. He was a successful reported and by now had published seven short comic pieces. Playful and inventive, requiring observation rather than a slavish exactitude to someone else's speech, these compositions were an antidote to a faceless journalism. By the end of 1834 fourteen sketches had appeared, half of them now paid for by the Morning Chronicle. (From Dec., 1833, to Dec., 1836, he would write sixty sketches.) Apart from his extra-curricular writing, he was earning £273 a year, a respectable sum and soon to exceed his father's best earning years.

 And his father had been arrested again, his creditor his wine merchant. The Dickens family had to flee their current house, downsizing to a smaller one. Charles, believing himself financially secure, abandoned the family ship and rented rooms in Furnival's Inn, lightening the family vessel by taking his fourteen-year-old brother, Frederick, with him. He was encouraged by his editor at the Morning Chronicle, who was a discerning judge. He not only paid Dickens for the sketches but encouraged him to write more even if that meant less reporting, and he raised his salary from five to seven guineas a week, or £382 per year. The “boy” who little more than a year before was dismissed as an impecunious, prospect-less suitor was advancing with quite remarkable rapidity.

 The editor of the companion paper, the Evening Chronicle, was a Scotsman, George Hogarth, a talented man, an Edinburgh lawyer who numbered Sir Walter Scott among his clients, a musician, musicologist, and music critic who had miraculously brought into one enterprise Scott, Robert Burns, and Beethoven. He had three daughters, Catherine, Mary, and Georgina, and Helen, a newborn. Hogarth represented the sort of accomplished man of diverse talents and strong artistic interests who appealed to Dickens, and it was natural that he found the Hogarth household happily different from the Beadnell one in its congeniality and faint bohemianism. The Hogarth family more nearly resembled in its artistic interests his mother's family, the Barrows. Hogarth recognized Dickens's genius, encouraging him to develop his “Street Sketches” for the Morning Chronicle. The family genuinely liked Dickens, allowing him to feel good about himself rather than ashamed. The three older daughters became central in his life. He married Catherine (she was nineteen when they met); Mary, fifteen, came to live with the married couple when she was seventeen; Georgina, then ten, would eventually replace Mary, who died at seventeen, and become for the remainder of Dickens's life his confidante and the real manager of his large household, especially following his separation from his wife. (A fourth daughter, Helen, had just been born.)

 The Hogarth family's warmth toward Dickens accelerated his recovery from unrequited love. Catherine was an attractive brunette, petite, and unlike Maria accommodating and pliable. She accepted his design of a relationship in which he was the center and the power. He was not in love, it seems—he would not prostrate himself again—but in control. He extended to courtship and marriage his style of managing his theatricals—firm, demanding, writer, director, producer, and hero. Dickens found them a more suitable place to live, just next door it happened, bought the furniture, decided when they would be married (April 2, 1836), and where they'd honeymoon (in Chalk, near Chatham, Rochester, and Gad's Hill, the prepossessing house and property he would eventually buy). Catherine became pregnant almost immediately.

At this juncture an enterprising young publisher, John Macrone, offered to buy the copyright to the sketches and publish them as a collection, illustrated by Cruikshank. The illustrator was talented but difficult, for he assumed that prerogative accorded him the dominant role in any collaboration. The partnership with Dickens was stormy. Sketches by Boz, totaling three volumes, was, though, an enormous success, Macrone making more than £2000. Though the volume made Dickens famous, financially it yielded only £350—a bitter lesson about selling copyrights. Dickens wass angry over the disparity, though it was not merely the money but, proud of his craft, what Dickens believed was owed the artist. This—the belief in the artist as central to social life—was a conviction and principle that extended throughout his life and motivated his activities on behalf of other writers and actors. In 1836 he was asked to write the libretto to a comic opera, which became The Village Coquettes. While that was in rehearsal he transformed one of the early Sketches into another musical farce titled The Strange Gentleman, which was a success. On its fiftieth performance The Village Coquettes debuted.

 Dickens's career was accelerating, but the direction it would take did not yet declare itself until early in 1836 when the publishing house of Chapman and Hall approached him. They were acting upon a proposal from their illustrator, Robert Seymour, that he do a volume of humorous sporting sketches—these were in vogue—and they thought of Dickens to compse the text. The sketches would appear monthly, beginning with the first of April, the day before Dickens's wedding, and be supported by a short piece for each picture. The presumption was the illustrations would be the basis for sales and the illustrator primary. Dickens imagined a bachelor, whom he named Pickwick after a stagecoach owner he'd once encountered, and the strange picaresque hero was conceived. But again there were problems with the illustrator. Chapman disliked Seymour's rendering, for he'd made Pickwick thin, whereas, Chapman maintained, since Falstaff congeniality and cheerfulness were associated with the rotund and ruddy.

 In mid-April Seymour commited suicide, three days after his only meeting with Dickens, who proposed to Chapman and Hall that they continue the series, though with fifty percent more text and half the number of illustrations. Following a brief search, they hired Robert Buss, who managed only two illustrations for the third number before he was fired (Buss forty years later painted the charming work to be seen below, Dickens's Dream.) Among the candidates now for an illustrator was Thackeray, who was passed over, in favor of the young Hablot Knight Brown. He was already known to Dickens and Chapman and Hall, for he had illustrated the former's pamphlet attacking proposed Sabbatarian legislation that would prohibit all but public religious services on Sunday. It was to be a happy collaboration, and Brown adopted the pseudonym “Phiz” to complement to Boz.

 Despite the brilliant comedy, much embodied in the extraordinary figure of the compulsive raconteur, Jingle, Pickwick proceeded with only modest sales until Dickens invented the clever, fast-talking Cockney servant Samuel Weller. Sales immediately hit 40,000 copies per month, a staggering number at the time, especially when multiplied by the many readers each copy had. Not to make Macrone's mistake, Chapman and Hall voluntarily revised their remuneration of Dickens to £2000 for the twenty numbers. They could afford to: owning the copyright, they made over £10,000. Dickens was not unhappy. At twenty-four he was a national celebrity and treasure, the creator of a charming, rotund bachelor prone to difficulties from which only his savvy, loyal, and proud servant could extricate him. Pickwick and Weller are a version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, filtered through the 18th-c. picaresque novels of Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne and enlarged by Dickens's distinctive comic vision, which spread centrifugally to include the society through which the pair ambled.

 Dickens's energy and invention were boundless. While still completing Pickwick, he began writing in monthly numbers the very different Oliver Twist, which dwells on a child, on London's criminal underworld, on cruelty, loyalty, demonic evil, and infinite benevolence. There are any number of hilarious characters who might have come from the Sketches, but the prevailing sense of the novel is of a society that, apart from veins of kindness, exploits those who are most helpless, its children.

 Dickens's success was unprecedented, and its impact on his life instantaneous, catapulting him into a cosmopolitan culture of painters, actors, and writers, some of whom would become lifetime friends. Among the gifted portrait painter Daniel Maclise (his charming portrait of the young Dickens is below); William Charles Macready, the chief tragedian of the day; Thomas Noon Talfour, an MP and playwright; Clarkson Stanfield, a painter; Harrison Ainsworth, a novelist. And there was John Forster, a journalist and critic who would be his confidant, advocate, and first biographer. Dickens from this time will always have about him a circle of boon companions for dinners, celebrations, theatricals, and travel. They are the bohemian version of the Pickwick Club.

 One final event in this period of Dickens's life. Five months after the birth of his first child, Charles, Jr., in January, 1837, he was devastated by an unexpected death, that of his seventeen-year-old sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, following a sudden illness of only some twenty hours. She died in Dickens's arms. He removed a ring from her finger, which he wore for the remainder of his life, and cut off a lock of her hair, which he kept with him. She represented to him the iconic young woman, chaste, virtuous, kind, serene, insightful, and lovely. (He sought such types and found the yet unmarried Queen Victoria, who ascended the throne the year Mary died, to be another such idol.) Mary had come to live with Catherine and him shortly after their marriage and helped, it seems, to stabilize the marriage by assisting her sister, especially through a post partum depression, and was an inspiration if not the model for Dickens's idealization of some young women in his fiction, namely Agnes in David Copperfield. The only two publishing deadlines Dickens missed of the hundreds if not thousands in his life followed upon her death.


Act III.

Dickens was obsessively secretive about that part of his childhood that involved his working at Warren's Blacking and his family's imprisonment in the Marshalsea. Yet just the sort of coincidence we might associate with a Dickens novel blew his cover, at least with respect to Forster. Charles Dilke, who had been a friend of Dickens's father and who had visited Warren's Blacking with John Dickens more than thirty-five years before, recalled seeing young Charles working there. He had at the time given a half-crown to the well-mannered child pasting labels on blacking pots. He recalled that young Dickens bowed low in accepting the gift. In the spring of 1847 Forster told Dickens of his encounter with Dilke. Dickens was stunned, but the account freed him to confront rather than simply conceal this period.

One response was to write the 7000-word, so-called “Autobiographical Fragment” that dwelt on this experience, and to write it, Forster believed, straight out, as one would a letter, without significant corrections, as if his mind were waiting to dictate it. Dickens recalled composing it “just before Copperfield.” He gave the Fragment to Forster in January of 1849 by way of explanation, and Forster published it nearly thirty years later in Chapter II of his biography. Without that we would have no or very little notion of that determining period.

 Forster, too, loved Copperfield as Dickens's finest novel and argues that this time surrounding the novel, which appeared in monthly numbers from April, 1849, to October, 1850, was his happiest. It was his favorite novel, and his most autobiographical. He was most decidely in his past and yet able to play at finctionalizing his life. Copperfield ushers in a group of more searching novels, focused less on a particular venality than upon the state of mind and upon the social forces that would produce and tolerate such ubiquitous misery. The first of these novels, following an uncustomarily long period of gestation, was Bleak House, which was followed by Hard Times and Little Dorrit. When he came to write Great Expectations, which is autobiographical though in the way of an impressionistic psychological self-study, Dickens re-read Copperfield, his favorite novel, to avoid unconscious repetitions. Copperfield was of a piece with the “Autobiographical Fragment,” which dwelt on Warren's, his parents' treatment of him, and how he dealt with these memories, subjects that, loosely, shape Great Expectations. Memory itself was a subject of Copperfield and of his Christmas story for 1848, The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain, which describes the centrality of memory to our moral life.

 The year 1848 was also a pivot in European political history, a year of revolutions throughout the Continent and consequently a time of anxiety in England. For Dickens 1848 initiates, Forster claims, his happiest period, though he also fincluded three momentous deaths, that of his sister, his father, and his infant daughter.

 One positive event was conceived now and engaged him for years. This was Dickens's partnership with England's wealthiest unmarried woman, the banking heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts. Energized by Dickens's philanthropic vision, she agreed to subsidize the acquisition and maintenance of Urania Cottage, “a home for the homeless,” meaning fallen women who had had to take to prostitution. (The subject will enter Copperfield.) Dickens interviewed and selected the residents on the basis of their commitment to changing their lives and being able to benefit from Urania's disciplined life and educational program of two hours per day. And their willingness not to leave the cottage all. They would be housed, fed, and clothed, old habits broken, new ones instilled regarding cleanliness, discipline, and order. They would be rewarded or penalized on the basis of “Truthfulness, Industry, Temper, Propriety of Conduct and Conversation, Temperance, Order, Punctuality, Economy, Cleanliness.” When they reached a reassuring level of competence and reliability, they would receive a ticket and funds to emigrate, thus beginning a new life, their past left behind, on a respectable footing that would, it was hoped, enable them to marry.

 The death of Fanny Dickens Burnett at thirty-seven of consumption also contributed to Dickens's exploration of the past. It appears that he wrote the Autobiographical Fragment between her death and his beginning Copperfield. She was eighteen months older than he and had been central to his childhood and the most talented of his siblings. In 1847 she and her husband left their home in Manchester and moved just north of London for her treatment and to be near her family. Dickens visited nearly daily and was struck by her courage, her serenity, and her faith they would meet again. At the end of August, just days before she died, she described to her brother an overpowering memory from their childhood. She recalled that “in the [previous] night, the smell of the fallen leaves in the woods where we habitually walked as very young children had come upon her with such strength of reality that she had moved her weak head to look for strewn leaves on the floor at her bedside.” Fanny's memory and death were another tributary that drove his exploration of the past in the Autobiographical Fragment.

 From his explorations of past time sprung another work preparatory to Copperfield, the Christmas story for 1848, The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain. The novella pivots upon a plea and injunction hanging beneath the portrait of a prime donor to a college founded in Queen Elizabeth's reign, “Lord, keep my memory green!” Superficially, the statement is obvious—let me be remembered—but it holds a warning: keep my memory, the memory of me, green, fresh, and youthful. Yet also, “Let MY memory be green,” in the sense of may I retain vivid recollections of my green time, my childhood and youth, that time when we were morally innocent and hopeful, loving and desirous of love.

 Owing to bitter sorrows and injuries that have isolated the story's subject in a cocoon of recollective misery, he agrees to allow his ghostly self and alter ego to extinguish his memory or, how horrified Dickens would have been, to lobotomize him. With no memory Mr. Redlaw, who had formerly been kind and charitable, becomes cold and heartless. Memory, which preserves our most shameful and painful moments, can also be the source of our noblest being. Dickens writes in the Autobiographical Fragment that “I do not write resentfully or angrily: for I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am....” What “I am” is a novelist of prodigious imaginative power, empathy, and sympathy, a boundless capacity to recognize and feel most acutely injustice, especially that of the poor, and a moral vision that, accompanied by affecting sentiment, refreshed and elevated Dickens's readers. The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain left him, as he completes it, “crying my eyes out over it.”

Memory of a time when we were innocent, quite helpless, and sensitive is the incubator of the compassion that binds us as adults to the good and the suffering. For those who are crippled in some way at the time they arrive at self-awareness, all that suffices is a return to features of the childhood self and, as in Great Expectations, a re-forging. The recovery of our childhood self enables us to love selflessly and, failing that, to be kind.

 Yet our memories can betray us, by leaving us fixed upon a moment or condition in our past. Pain is indelible, engendering what Nietzsche describes as “the mnemonics of pain.” Some of us, and Dickens bordered on the condition, cannot prevent early pain from crystallizing in the memory—until the memory insinuates itself into the will, driving and limiting choices or possibly leaving one marinating in resentment and anger. Dickens knew something of that prospect when he wrote, “I do not write resentfully or angrily.” A critical stage in Pip's maturation occurs when he anatomizes Miss Havisham:

she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind,

brooding, solitary, had grown diseased, as all mind do and must and will that reverse

the appointed order of their Maker; I knew equally well. And could I look upon her

without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound

unfitness for the earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had

become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity

of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in the world?

(Chapter 49)

 Dickens's relation with his father had never been easy but was always strong, a mixture of love, admiration, and dismay. Despite his frustrations with his father's congenital appetite for money, he wrote in the Autobiographical Fragment that “I know my father to be as kindhearted and generous a man as ever lived in the world. Everything I can remember of his conduct to his wife, or children, or friends, in sickness or affliction, is beyond all praise.... He never undertook any business, charge or trust, that he did not zealously, conscientiously, punctually, honourably discharge. His industry has always been untiring.” The description could apply equally to Dickens himself, allowing us to appreciate just how exemplary and troublesome a figure his father was for him.

 John Dickens was a character, a man of great abilities and sabotaging flaws. But he was a vivid presence possessed of style, bravado, and intelligence. Dickens understood his father's strengths, and when in 1845 the son became editor of the Daily News, a position he held for only a few weeks, he appointed his father to supervise the reporters. John Dickens did well and held the post until he died in 1851.

 Another gruesome death. John Dickens had suffered from some sort of bladder problem for years (the occasion for his being pensioned from the Navy Pay Office). There was nothing to do but, Dickens writes, to operate, (without chloroform, “the most terrible operation known in surgery.... He bore it with astonishing fortitude, and I saw him directly afterwards—his room a slaughter house of blood. He was wonderfully cheerful and strong-hearted” (letter to Catherine D., Mar. 25, 1851). Nevertheless, he died a week later. The effect upon his son took the form of sleeplessness, which drove him from the house to walking for three nights through London until each grim dawn sent him home.

 David Copperfield, Dickens's first first-person novel. affords many opportunities for weeping and a great many for laughing. For many, as it was for him, it remains a favorite among his novels, shedding a pervasive sweetness and light prevailing over selfishness, callousness, and erotic appetite. His procedure for writing Copperfield followed that of his other novels. He got out of bed at 7, ate breakfast at 8, and by 9 was at his desk, which was decorated by fresh flowers and outfitted in precise order with his various amulets and talismans. He insisted on absolute quiet, upon a goose-quill pen, blue ink, on blue-grey paper, eight and three-quarters inches by seven and one-quarter, which he called “slips,” each slip holding about a thousand words. He worked until two p.m., rarely later, aiming for about two thousand words, though when transported he might double that. At two he promptly arose and set out upon his customary two to three-hour walk. Six o'clock was dinner, which, with friends, could last several hours. He generally went to bed at midnight.

 Immediately upon completing Copperfield, he wrote, “Oh, my dear Forster, if I were to say half of what Copperfield makes me feel to-night, how strangely, even to you, I should be turned inside-out! I seem to be sending some part of myself into the Shadowy World.” He thought of returning to Chatham, so as to affirm his connections with his happy childhood.

 Among the many women characters in the novel is Dora Spenlow, whom David woos. Dickens named his next child Dora. On April 14 he spent the afternoon with his children, Catherine being away recuperating at a spa in Malvern from what seems a depression, aggravated by migraines, dizziness, and anxiety. Following his time with the children, which included carrying about Dora, who was some eight months old. Dickens attended a philanthropic function at which he was a speaker. When the evening ended, Forster, who had not wanted to interrupt the proceedings, told him that Dora had died from convulsions sometime soon after he had left the house. Dickens returned home and seemed well enough, but two nights later, little Dora lying upstairs in her coffin, “he suddenly gave way completely.”


Act V. 

In 1856 Dickens bought Gad's Hill Place, the house's name associated with Falstaff and consecrated by Henry IV. Here Falstaff had fled from a set-up robbery that revealed his cowardice. Gad's Hill was the house on the Dover Road before which little Charles and his father would stand admiringly, his father, succumbing to his usual bravado, assuring his son that one day he would be successful enough to make it his. He paid $1790.

 On January 6, 1857, Dickens acted the tragic lead in a play titled The Frozen Deep, written by Wilkie Collins and substantially revised by Dickens. The play is novelistic in that it has substantial passages of description and authorial interpretation punctuating the dialogue. One suspects that much of this portion is Dickens's work and, second, that for a modern reader it may be more appealing to read the play with its auxiliary prose than to see it.

 The Frozen Deep originates in the calamitous Franklin expedition to the Arctic that set sail in three Royal Navy ships in the spring of 1845 in search of a Northwest Passage. Not one of the officers and crew of 128 survived, and for some years the final resting place of crew and ships remained unknown. Not until 1992 were substantial facts known about the causes of death, though by 1854 some evidence, supplemented by stories from the Inuit, had been discovered. Most shocking to the English public were some signs of cannibalism, a notion Dickens refused to accept as dishonoring the men. Subsequent forensic research indicates cannibalism.

 But The Frozen Deep is less about the expedition—the play allows for a few survivors—than about a young woman, Clara Burnham, a Highland Scot (linked perhaps to Birnam Wood, for she has “Second Sight”; Dickens had been interested in the more modest forms of clairvoyance) and two men, Frank and Richard, cabled into a bizarre triangle that results in one of the men, already peculiar, turning misogynistic and murderous. (The play foretells the plot structure of A Tale of Two Cities, while Wardour's violent nature is a presentiment of Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend.) The two men become stranded alone, Frank already sick and dying, so that the other does not have to murder him but merely allow him to die. Instead, in Richard Wardour's mind the battle between the vicious will and, if not forgiveness, at least understanding, is resolved by a memory, “I I have lost all memories but the memory of her, meaning the sadness, beauy, and purity her face embodied. “I keep her face in my mind, though I can keep nothing else. I must wander, wander, wander—restless, sleepless, homeless—till I find her!” The lines given by Dickens have too a prophetic ambiguity, for the Clara of the play will be for him Ellen Ternan.

 The play's title refers of course to the topography but extends to the psychological condition of Richard Wardour (played by Dickens), icy, frozen in resentment and hatred. Yet, assisted by the memory of Clara's face, he defeats “the fiend.” “Should I,” he answers Clara, “have been strong enough to save him, if I could have forgotten you?” The end, with Wardour's death, is Victorian kitsch. Wardour makes the passage, once urged by Clara, from envisioning her erotically to seeing her as “sister”: “Nearer, Clara—I want to look my last as you. My sister, Clara! Kiss me, sister, before I die!” She kisses him chastely on his forehead. The final lines, spoken by Wardour's friend, chisel into the audience's mind the inescapable moral: “The gain is his. He has won the greagtest of all conquests—the conquest of himself. And he has died in the moment of victory. Not one of us here but may live to envy his glorious death.” Central to especially the later Dickens novels is the matter of the will—good, passive, or demonic. Some of his most memorable characters undergo titanic internal struggles, so schismatic that madness seems inevitable.

 Wardour sacrifices himself to save a rival for the woman he loves. The reader may see the connection with A Tale of Two Cities, composed in 1859. This climatic scene elicited from Dickens his most passionate acting. All who witnessed were affected, many brought to tears. Something in Wardour's situation and character riveted Dickens, as if Wardour's thwarted life, “the one happiness that has eluded him,” expressed Dickens's own failure to find happiness. He seemed to believe that only a woman could be the vehicle, beginning with Maria Beadnell. Then there were others he appears to have fastened upon—Mary Hogarth, Christiana Weller, a classical pianist, Augusta de la Rue, on whom he practiced mesermism, Mary Boyle, an actress, Maria Winter, née Beadnell, briefly.

 The Frozen Deep changed that and introduced him to Ellen Ternan, Nelly. The strictly amateur play received a sudden revival, because Queen Victoria wished to see it and, more important, because Douglas Jerrold, a playwright, novelist, editor, and wit, died suddenly, leaving his family in poverty. Dickens leaped at the chance to do some good for the family of a fellow writer and planned through the play to raise some £2000. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert did attend a performance in which Georgina Hogarth and Dickens's daughters performed. Dickens decided to extend the play's run outside of London, selecting a large hall in Manchester that seated some two thousand. Yet the size presented a problem, for Dickens's daughters were not trained to project their voices in such a large space.

 He sought to hire professional actresses, and those recommended to him were the four Ternan women, a mother and three daughters, Fanny, Maria, and Ellen, eighteen. Mrs. Ternan was an accomplished actor, as had been her deceased husband—Dickens's close friend, Macready, considered the greatest actor of his day, knew the family well, had performed with them, and the three daughters had been on the stage throughout much of their lives. Ellen's two older sisters, one also a singer, were considered far more accomplished than she. Peter Ackroyd concludes that she was “self-willed, intelligent, her shyness and reserve concealing a young woman of remarkable natural gifts” (789). She read modern and challenging literature, including the philosophers David Hume, and poets such as Schiller, as well as George Sand. She was described as “pretty,” petite, fair-haired, and possessing a good figure. Dickens, twenty-seven years older, fell in love.

 The role Dickens played in The Frozen Deep was instrumental, that of a man possessed by love, tormented, and finally obsessed. He had played that part with Maria Beadnell. Owing very likely to his own additions to The Frozen Deep, the play once again made memory, here the memory of a face, central. What begins as an obsession resolves itself as redemptive, transforming the selfish, bloody will into something whose fierce, indomitable energy goes to saving his rival. Wardour was possessed by the young Clara Burnham; Dickens appears to have been possessed by playing Wardour and acted the part with arresting intensity. His death scene was so powerful that Maria Ternan, who was playing Clara and at this point cradling his head in her lap, began weeping uncontrollably, her tears dropping into Dickens's mouth and eyes and hindering his speech. Some of the men in the play, Mark Lemon for one, though entirely familiar with the depictions, wept through parts of it. The audience was often convulsed.

 The play is schmaltz but effective schmaltz, predictable and heavy-handed in especially the dialogue, but its power to move was insured by Dickens's acting, which a reviewer described as embodying “savage energy.” (The play was so successful that a third night was added.) He was a man possessed by Wardour and then by his own acting, and these seamlessly developed into a passion for Nelly Ternan. Whether it would be reciprocated and whether it would be fulfilled he could not have known for some time. And if requited, then the options were appalling. What was he to do? He wrote some time after to Wilkie Collins about the period following the play's third performance, “I do suppose that there never was a man so seized and rended by one spirit.”

To see the Ternans again, who were appearing in a play in the north, Dickens cooked up with Collins a piece for Household Words,“The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices,” which conveniently required some research into the locale. That happened to be where the Ternans were performing. Colling and Dickens traveled to Scotland for a few days and then returned to where the Ternans were acting. Dickens attended the play at least once and seems also to have visited with the Ternans several times and then left suddenly. His letters at this time describe a nearly unendurable restlessness, even while he attended to placing Ellen at the Theatre Royal in London. He was anything but euphoric. If he imagined Ellen as the fulfillment of one happiness that eluded him, he was not rejoicing but in pain, for he did not know the outcome. He wrote to Collins, “...I want to escape from myself, for when I do start up and stare myself seedily in the face, as happens to be my case at present, my blankness is inconceivable—indescribable—my misery amazing.” The accounts take us to Pip's devotion to Estella (some have seen “Ellen Ternan” buried in “Estella”) and in the next novel, Our Mutual Friend, conceived and written after his relation with Ellen has been, we presume, consummated or at least stabilized, he describes a crazed passion.

 By now Dickens needed no additional reasons for his unhappiness with his wife, but an argument with her impelled him to order that their bedroom be completely partitioned. Several days later, following another argument, Dickens got out of bed at 2 and walked to Gad's Hill, a distance of thirty miles: “I fell asleep to the monotonous sound of my own feet, doing their regular four miles an hour. Mile after mile I walked without the slightest sense of exertion, dozing heavily and dreaming constantly.” Gad's Hill did not slake his restlessness. Yet sometime during this period A Tale of Two Cities took shape and, as significant for his life, he conceived of his next grand project, that of reading to paying audiences passages from novels, the first author to do so. The enterprise would be hugely lucrative, emotionally affirming in his direct contact with his audience, and fatally exhausting, causing or accelerating his death.

Shortly after his birthday on February 7, Dickens gave what Ackroyd describes as “arguably his finest and most powerful address,” dedicated to raising funds for the Hospital for Sick Children in London. The address engaged Dickens's deepest sympathies: the plight of small children; the criminal negligence of London in failing to address and make the obvious improvements in sanitation that were readily available; and the miseries of the urban poor. His talk included an account of an experience in the slums of Edinburgh when he saw a starving, sick boy “lying in an old egg-box.” He continued that the child “seldom cried, the mother said; 'he lay there, seeming to wonder what it was a' aboout'. God knows I thought, as I stood looking at him, he had his reasons for wondering...and why, in the name of a gracious God, such things should be!” As just this small moment shows, Dickens reaches levels of vivid actuality, indignation and stunned incomprehensibility at such a condition, and compassion that approach some of the most memorable episodes in his fiction. The talk earned £3000 for the hospital and had the collateral effect of further prompting Dickens to consider the prospect of earning money for himself through giving public readings of scenes from his novels, a prospect assisted by his brilliant success in The Frozen Deep. In March Dickens gave a preparatory reading from A Christmas Carol in Edinburgh; he did the same for the Hospital for Sick Children. In April he gave his first paid public reading, and then, the demand being seemingly unslakable, twice a week for the next three months in London before he embarked for the provinces and what became a career in which he found the deepest satisfaction in hearing his audience laugh and cry and be stunned into an unearthly silence by his creations.

Home life, however, was miserable, and in May he proposed that Catherine and he separate. He had hoped for a largely invisible division in which the appearances of family harmony were not overly disturbed. Such an arrangement favored him, but his several offers failed, in part owing to his conduct. To appreciate the events that follow, we must remember how closely domestic Respectability hinged upon a stable, closely-knit family life. Divorce was still exceedingly rare, costly, and often punitive for the woman. The Divorce Act of 1857 permitted men to divorce for virtually any reason, but a wife could initiate a divorce only on the grounds of bigamy, cruelty of a heinous sort, and incest.

 With the prospect of an easy resolution receding—easy for Dickens though none could be for Catherine—the relations between them turned hostile, and each gathered an armed camp of loyal recruits composed of relatives and friends, though as usual Dickens was more energetic. He, who we have seen had a sovereign will which was never to be thwarted, as his often bellicose, litigious, and triumphant dealings with publishers and copyright violators indicate, seems to have fired the first salvo. It was an ugly barrage. He maintained that his wife had been a deficient, withdrawn, ineffectual mother. He wrote to Miss Burdett-Coutts that “If the children loved her, or ever had loved her, this severance would have been a far easier thing than it is. But she has never attached one of them to herself...,” a charge that continues with a fusillade of cruel untruths. Dickens's general tactic when his own moral position was tenuous was to go on the offensive, camouflaging his wrongdoing in indignant anger. He expected unequivocal loyalty, even of his children, though Charley (“Boz”) bravely insisted on living with his mother, and the two girls contradicted his claim that Catherine “never presented herself before them [all ten children] in the aspect of a mother.”

Naturally rumors began to circulate about the state of the marriage and the causes for its troubles, owing in part to Dickens's own loose talk seeking support and sympathy. One rumor which Dickens believed traceable to Mrs. Hogarth intimated that he was having an affair with Georgina Hogarth, his sister-in-law. By both ecclesiastical and civil law this was considered incest. In 1835 marriage to one's deceased wife's sister was outlawed. (Almost immediately the act was challenged and ridiculed, challenges and ridicule lasting throughout the century, the prohibition becoming a comic symbol of a fastidious Victorian morality.) Dickens loathed Mrs. Hogarth prior to the negotiations; now she became for him evil, in part because it appeared that with her encouragement Catherine might initiate her own divorce proceedings, based on the charge of her husband's incestuous relation with her sister. Georgina was examined by a doctor, itself humiliating enough, and found to be a virgin. To appreciate the irony and menace of this scandalous family drama in which siblings were pitted against siblings and Dickens's own children were divided, no Victorian author had been a more passionate exponent of the virtues of hearth and home. Steven Marcus in Dickens: from Pickwick to Dombey remarks tersely and appropriately to the situation here, “Family life—a nightmare.”

 The dissolution of the marriage is terrible to read about in part because of Dickens's venomous conduct and Catherine's helplessness. Then there are subsidiary ruptures, such as his long friendship with Mark Lemon, whom Dickens had initially countenanced representing his wife as an adviser, interlocutor, and finally trustee. Another trustee, his long-term publisher, Frederick Evans (whose daughter Charley was to marry, though Dickens would not attend the wedding), was another casualty, as was Thackeray. Dickens took no prisoners.

 Breaking with his publishers compelled Dickens to terminate All the Year Round and to start an entirely new periodical, Household Words, which would be lifted into orbit by A Tale of Two Cities and sustained there by Great Expectations, the deepest exploration of his psychological genesis and growth. Everything was shifting: he took different offices in London for the new journal, outfitted an apartment for himself there, and moved to Gad's Hill. He began a secret life with Ellen Ternan, so secret that there is room for Ackroyd to maintain that Dickens never consummated his relationship with her, though scarcely anyone else agrees. However, no letters—none—survive. And no comments, even by Nelly, who survived Dickens by forty-four years. Dickens shrouded that relationship in the secrecy he once did the period at Warren's Blacking factory and the Marshalsea.

 Some of his animus is understandable. As the fragile settlement negotiations are proceeding, Mrs. Hogarth and her youngest daughter, Helen, either continued to spawn or spread the rumor that he had had an affair with Georgina, so that it was not only the Dickens children whose integrity as a family was being split but those of the Hogarth family. Dickens then said he would not proceed unless Mrs. Hogarth and Helen signed a statement admitting that the charges of incest were false and that they would no longer sanction such slander: “we solemnly declare that we now disbelieve such statements.” On the day they signed, Catherine left Tavistock House, the quite grand London house that was now to be sold, and the two never saw one another again.

The saga does not end here. Dickens was determined to exonerate himself completely, and so, as the nation's greatest novelist, and as a man for whom reality was indistinguishable from and consecrated by words, took to print. He had throughout been writing letters to various correspondents that contained hints and charges. But he improved on this by writing a long letter, the so-called Violated Letter, to the manager of his public readings, whom he did not instruct to keep it private. The letter predictably speaks of the “wickedness” of Mrs. Hogarth and Helen but now accuses Catherine not only of child neglect but of a “mental disorder,” a shameless charge adduced from her post-partum depressions and her brief breakown. That there were ten children and two miscarriages does not mitigate her guilt. How beyond this her “mental disorder” manifested itself is unclear, though we know that she suffered occasionally from something like free-floating anxiety. Dickens's accusation has to be partly if not entirely neutralized by her own letters during this period and later, her strength throughout the last, long years of her often lonely life (she died in 1879). She remained interested in all of her husband's writing even though he prevented his daughter Mary from inviting her mother to her wedding. He forbade his children ever to be in their mother's house when Mrs. Hogarth or Helen were present. The large repudiations and small insults to a wife and a marriage that were for many years generally solid, often happy, and mutually enhancing never embittered her. True, the marriage did not allow Dickens to discover that happiness that would yield contentment and placate his restlessness, but it is doubtful that would ever have been possible or finally even good for him, and we have no sense if Nelly placated his restlessnes. True, Catherine became stout and dowdy; she grew more anxious and subject to depression over the years; she wilted, for he demanded all of the ambiant nourishment. of ten births and two miscarriages. But her deportment following the separation was unfailingly loyal and dignified.

 Before the situation became better, it turned far worse. Dickens's betrayal of Catherine took several forms, yet the most outrageous was his seeking a sympathetic audience for his conduct. Imagining that the scandal and rumors had reached beyond his own immediate circle, Dickens ensured they did by writing another letter, this to the national press, which The Times published. To ensure its dissemination, he also published it in Household Words. Forster for one had tried to dissuade him. The result predictably was all that he sought to avoid—the spread of evil gossip, half-truths, and pointed speculations about “a young actress”—which now became table talk. The gossip received fresh fuel when a few weeks later the letter he had sent his manager, the Violated Letter, was now published, its accusations even more extreme and indiscreet than its sequel.

His most exhaustive biographer, Peter Ackroyd, speculates on Dickens's behavior throughout this drawn-out drama ending in the breakdown of family relations and friendships. For a man who extolled in his fiction and journalism hearth and home as fervently as the Romans did the household gods and for a man whose personal and professional life benefitted so palpably from the stability of marriage, children, and home, Dickens's behavior is uncharacteristically mean, foolish, and self-immolating. He is nearly out of control at times, and his judgment, Ackroyd concludes, deeply flawed if not manic, a view shared by his daughters. He carved up his world into friends and enemies, moving some trusted friends like Mark Lemon into the enemy camp. Ackroyd asks what overtook Dickens, what madness drove him? Beside him Catherine Dickens is the pillar of sanity. Ackroyd writes that Dickens had from childhood a terror of abandonment and “The fear of being unloved [traceable especially to his mother's treatment of him]. That is why he was so quick to anger and resentment,” as evinced by his fierce, prickly pride and even his martial bearing.

Ackroyd speculates further that Dickens bore a deep sense of guilt, indicated in part by his fascination with crime, condemned men, and prisons but adds unconvincingly that Dickens's “excessive punctuality, his obsessive love of order, his neatness and precision of dress, even the habit of constantly combing his hair in case a strand of it had fallen out of place” (829). How such traits prove the presence of a preponderant guilt is a mystery, all the more because Ackroyd maintains that “The roots of that guilt, if such it is, can never adequately be fathomed.” That, I believe, is quite wrong. If we need an explanation for what Dickens's guilt we need only go to the novels and above all to the most psychologically trenchant of them, Great Expectations. The opening chapter is a study in how an ambiant, free-floating sense of guilt is a condition of our arrival at consciousness and precedes any defined crime. Our crime is existential; it is simply coming into being, our offense being, Pip says, against nature and against all of the other contenders, even siblings, who like Pip are trying to “get a living in that universal struggle.” 




1809. John Dickens and Elizabeth m. in London.


Arthur Wellesley ( about to be made Duke of Wellington) defeats French at Oporto and Talavera in Spain. Beethoven, 5th Piano Concerto (“Emperor”).


1810. Frances (Fanny) Dickens b.


Sir Walter Scott, “The Lady of the Lake.”


1811. Austen, Sense and Sensibility; Luddites attack and destroy factory weaving machines in the the north of England.


1812. Charles Huffam Dickens b., Feb. 7, Portsmouth.


Napopleon's invasion of Russia and subsequent retreat results in the loss of 530,000 men out of an army of 550,000. Assassination of British P.M., Spencer Perceval. U.S. declares war on Britain. Emancipation of Jews in Prussia. Humphry Davy, Elements of Chemical Philosophy.


1813. First of many moves.


Pride and Prejudice. Byron, The Giaour. Shelley, Queen Mab. Prussia and then Austria declare war on France; Battle of Leipzig, Allies defeat Napoleon; Welling defeats French in Spain and enters France. The waltz.


1814. Alfred Dickens b. in Mar; d. in Sept.


Austen's Mansfield Park; Byron, The Corsair; Scott, Waverley; Wordsworth, The Excursion. Allies enter Paris, defeat Napoleon, who abdicates and is exiled to Elba. Congress of Vienna. British army burns Washington, D.C.; Treaty of Ghent ends Amer.-Brit. War. Steam presses print London Times. George Stephenson, first steam locomotive. Gas street-lighting of a section of Westminster, London. Schubert begins composition of lied, which until his death in 1828 will reach over 700. Goya, Second of May;


1815. John Dickens reassigned to Somerset House (Navy), London.


British defeated at Battle of New Orleans before ship bearing news of Treaty of Ghent peace arrives. Napoleon lands in France, start of “100 Days,” culminating in his defeat at Waterloo by Wellington and Blücher; Byron, “Hebrew Melodies”; Scott, Guy Mannering; “Beau” Nash re-builds Brighton according to the Prince Regent's tastes. Biedermeier style. Apothecaries Act: compulsory apprenticeship and qualifications for apothecaries, who were acting as both pharmacists and doctors; schooling in anatomy, botany, chemistry, drugs, and six months of training in a hospital. John Macadam's development of a safer, faster road surface of crushed rock. Beginning of econ. depression in Britain.


1816. Letitia D. b.; d. 1893.


Austen, Emma; Coleridge, “Kubla Khan” and “Christabel,” written 1797, 1797-1800 respectively; Shelley, Alastor; Byron, The Siege of Corinth; Elgin marbles become part of British Museum; Blackwood's periodical; Cobbett, Political Register (through clever avoidance of stamp duties, the first cheap periodical).


1817. John Dickens reassigned to Sheerness (the “marsh country”) and then to Chatham Dockyard.


Jane Austen d.; Byron, Manfred; Thos. Moore, Lalla Rookh; John Constable, Flatford Mill; Derbyshire riots. Assassination attempt on Prince Regent.


1818. Austen, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (posth.); Keats, Endymion; Thomas Love Peacock, Nightmare Abbey; Scott, The Heart of Midlothian; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Rossini, Moses in Egypt. Savannah becomes lst steamship to make trans-Atlantic crossing (26 days).


1819. Harriet Dickens b.; d. 1822.


Scott, Ivanhoe; Byron, Don Juan, I, II (-1820), Mazeppa; Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea; Gericault, The Raft of the Medusa; Keats, Odes to Psyche, a Nightingale, on a Grecian Urn, and on Melancholy, publ. 1820. Peterloo Massacre; opening of Burlington Arcade, London.


1820. Frederick D. b., d. 1868.


Shelley, Prometheus Unbound; Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.; King George III d., Prince Regent becomes Geo. IV, -1830; controversy over Queen Caroline; Cato Street Conspiracy to assassinate British ministers uncovered, leaders hanged; revol. in Portugal.


1821. CD enrolled at Wm. Giles's school; writes Misnar, the Sultan of India, a drama influenced by The Arabian Nights and Tales of the Genii.


Keats d. Thos. De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater; Scott, Kenilworth; Shelley, Adonais. Constable, The Hay Wain; founding of London Co-operative Society; George IV crowned; Greek war of independence from Turkey. Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship; Heinrich Heine, Poems.


1822. Alfred Dickens b.; John Dickens reassigned to Somerset House, London; CD remains for a time at Giles's school but then joins family—he will not return to school for nearly four (!) years.


Shelley d. Washington Irving, “Bracebridge Hall”; Stendhal, On Love; John Martin, Destruction of Herculaneum. Greeks proclaim indep. from Turkey, and Turkey massacres the residents of Chios and invade Greece; Daguerre and Bouton devise “diorama,” the illumination of paintings in a darkened room to give a heightened sense of realism; Schubert “Unfinished Symphony” (no. 8). Sir Wm. Herschel d.


1823. Fanny Dickens boards at Royal Academy of Music; Dickens family moves to comparatively expensive house in Gower St., London, which Mrs. D. intends to open a school for girls, the children of parents living abroad.


Death penalty abolished for over 100 crimes; Rugby developed at the Rugby School; the Erard, the first modern piano; Chas. Macintosh invents waterproof fabric; Chas. Babbage begins work on calculating machine, the prototype of the computer; Mechanics' Institute founded in London and Glasgow.


1824. A determining event of CD's life: his family places him at Warren's Blacking Factory at Hungerford Stairs, London, where he pastes labels on pots of shoe blacking while Fanny studies music at the Royal Academy. JD is imprisoned in the Marshalsea on 2/20 for JD's indebtedness, and the rest of the family, minus Fanny and Charles, joins him some five weeks later. CD lodges with a family friend, and then, upon his imploring, moves to another lodging house in London proper. John Dickens released from prison 5/28. Family moves to Somers Town.


Lord Byron d. at Missolonghi, leading a private army to aid the Greeks in their struggle for independence from the Turks; Scott, Redgauntlet; Mary Russell Mitford, Our Village (-32); repeal of Combinations Law, which prohibited unionization of workers in GB; founding of Athenaeum Club, London. Delacroix, The Massacre at Chios; J. Overbeck, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem (Nazarenes). Beethoven, 9th Symphony.


1825. JD retires from Navy Pay Office with pension; in late Mar. or early April JD recalls CD from working at Warren's and enrolls him in school at Wellington House Academy.


Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age. Constable, Leaping Horse. World's first r.r. line for passengers, Stockton to Darlington, England.


1826. JD gets job through relations as Parliamentary reporter for The British Press.


Benjamin Disraeli, Vivian Grey; Jas. Fennimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans. Founding of University College, London, as well as Royal Zoological Soc.


1827. Family evicted for non-payment; CD taken from school, but not before he wins the Latin prize and participates in various theatricals; put to work as a clerk (messenger boy, etc.) at the law office of Ellis & Blackmore. Augustus Dickens b. John Keble, The Christian Year. Beginning of Evening Standard, London newspaper. Constable, The Cornfield, Schubert, Der Winterreise. Wm. Blake d. Beethoven d.


Turks enter Athens, despite plea by Russia, France, and Britain to end war. Treaty of London: Allies determine to force Turkey's cessation of war; Turkish and Egyptian fleets defeated at Battle of Navarino. John Walker invents sulphur friction match.


1828. JD reporter for The Morning Herald.


Bulwer-Lytton, Pelham. Duke of Wellington P.M.; Repeal of Test and Corporation Acts, permitting Nonconformists and Catholics to hold public office; Thos. Arnold, headmaster of Rugby; The Spectator, illus. periodical, and the weekly Athenaeum founded; Schubert d.


Turkey agrees to withdraw from Greece; Russia declares war on Turkey.


1829. D. family moves to Fitzroy Sq., London; Having taught himself shorthand, CD works as a freelance reporter in Doctors' Commons, an ecclesiastical court.


Catholic Emancipation permits Catholics to sit in Parliament and hold virtually any other public office in G.B.; Parliament enacts Robt. Peel's bill to establish a Metropolitan Police Force. Omnibuses introduced in London.


Delacroix, Sardanapalus; Turner, Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus. Rossini, William Tell; Mendelssohn rediscovers Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.


1830. CD admitted as reader, British Museum, on his 18th birthday; falls in love with Maria Beadnell,the beginning of a torturous, one-sided romance.


William IV, third son of George III, crowned; Earl Grey P.M.; Paris Revolution, Charles X abdicates; Louis Philippe crowned;

Wm. Hazlitt d. Tennyson, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. C. Lyell, Principles of Geology (1st vol.). Stendhal, The Red and the Black. Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People. Liverpool-Manchester rr.


1831. CD employed by The Mirror of Parliament, which his uncle John Barrow exhibits.


Reform Bill passes House of Commons, vetoed by House of Lords. Division of Grand Duchy of Luxembourg into Netherlands and Belgium. T.L. Peacock, Crotchet Castle. F. Hegel d. C. Darwin on board H.M.S. Beagle. Cholera spreads from India to Russia, moving toward G.B., popuplation of which is 13.9 million.


1832. CD reporter covering Parliament for the True Sun. Prepares for audition as actor at Covent Garden Theatre, but sickness prevents his making the appointment.


Sir Walter Scott d.; Jeremy Bentham d.; Johann W. von Goethe d. (Faust, Part II, publ.); Bulwer-Lytton, Eugene Aram. Mrs. Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans; Tennyson, “Lady of Shalott”; Washington Irving, The Alhambra; Leigh Hunt, Poetical Works; Berlioz, Symphone Fantastique; Donizetti, L'Elisir d'Amore.

Passage of Reform Bill, subsequently known as “First.” Giuseppe Mazzini founds “Giovine Italia” (Italian Youth), nurturing political agitation for Italian independence.


1833. CD ends his purusit of Maria Beadnell following her rejection; stages private theatricals at parents' home, including his farce O'Tello; publishes anonymously the story “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” (re-titled Mr. Minns and His Cousin”) in The Monthly Magazine. 

Carlyle, Sartor Resartus; Chas. Lamb, Last Essays of Elia; R. Browning, Pauline; Mendelssohn, Italian Symphony.


Factory Act (regulations without sufficient inspection and prosecution); Oxford Movement or Tractarianism begins (- ) with Keble, Pusey, and Newman individually writing Tracts for the Times, which initially attempt to prove that Anglicanism represents the true Church; Slavery abolished throughout Brit. empire; all German states unite in Zollverein or customs union; lst steamship crossing of Atlantic.


1834. CD becomes reporter for The Morning Chronicle; meets William Hogarth, ed. of The Evening Chronicle, and begins courtship of his eldest daughter, Catherine; moves out from family home to rooms at Furnivall's Inn; publishes six stories in The Monthly Magazine, five “Street Sketches” in The Morning Chronicle and one story in Bell's Weekly Magazine.

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Balzac, Père Goriot; Frederick Marryat, Peter Simple; Bulwer-Lytton, Last Days of Pompeii; last (begun 1808) of Thos. Moore's Irish Melodies; Berlioz, Harold en Italie symphony, inspired by Byron's Childe Harold; Samuel Taylor Coleridge d.; Chas. Lamb d.; Thos. Robt. Malthus d.

New Poor Law (Poor Law Amendment Act) decrees that no able-bodied person will receive public assistance (outdoor relief from the parish) unless he or she first enters a workhouse; “Tolpuddle Martyrs” transported; fire destroys Houses of Parliament. Melbourne becomes P.M., succeeded shortly by Robt. Peel; South Australia Act initiates colony; Chas. Babbage outlines the theory of the “analytical engine,” which will be realized in the computer.


1835. 2 stories in The Monthly Magazine; 20 “Sketches of London” in The Evening Chronicle; ten “Scenes and Characters” in Bell's Life in London; engaged to Catherine Hogarth.


Wordsworth, Yarrow Revisted, and Other Poems; R. Browning, Paracelsus; Bulwer-Lytton, Rienzi; Wm. Cobbett d.; Felicia Hemans d.; James Hogg d.


Municipal Corporation Act reforms borough govt; Wm. Henry Fox Talbot makes first negative photograph.


1836. CD moves to larger chambers in Furnivall's Inn; marries C. Hogarth, honeymoons at Chalk (“the marsh country”); Mary Hogarth comes to live with the couple; meets John Forster; begins Pickwick Papers and its serialization (20 monthly numbers); resigns from staff of Morning Chronicle; more “Scenes and Characters”; 4 Sketches by Boz, New Series in Morning Chronicle; Sketches by Boz, lst Series published as a book; two plays staged, The Strange Gentleman and The Village Coquettes. Sketches by Boz, Second Series. Beginning of partnership with illustrator Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz” to mirror Boz). Fame.


Frederick Marryat, Mr. Midshipman Easy; Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature.” Wm. Godwin d.

The People's Charter, first national workingman's movement in GB—charter of six points demands among other things universal male suffrage, secret ballot, and pay for MPs.


1837. lst child b., Chas. C. Dickens (“Boz”); Mary Hogarth d.; lst number of Bentley's Miscellany appears, ed. by CD, with his first of “Mudfog Papers”; Oliver Twist begins monthly serialization in Bentley's Miscellany (24 numbers) and for eight mos. writes Pickwick and Twist concurrently; play Is She His Wife produced in London; Pickwick published in 1 vol. First channel crossing, goes to France and Belgium; family stay at Broadstairs on east coast. Move to Doughty St.


Thos. Carlyle, The French Revolution; Balzac, Lost Illusions; N. Hawthorne, Twice-told Tales. J. Constable d.


William IV d.; Victoria Queen. Electric telegraph. Financial panic in U.S.


1838. Sketches of Young Gentlemen; edits Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, the most famous clown of his generation; visits Yorkshire schools with Hablot Browne to gather material for Nicholas Nickleby, which begins publication in 20 monthly numbers; writes farce The Lamplighter, not performed until 1879; birth of second child, Mary.


Coronation of Victoria. Richard Cobden and John Bright begin Anti-Corn Law League in Manchester; 1st British-Aghan War (-42). GB has 90 ships of the line; Russia next with 50.


1839. Moves to 1 Devonshire Terrace, Regent's Park; Third child, Kate, b.; resigns editorship of Bentley's Miscellany; The Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman; Nicholas Nickleby publ. in vols. Conceives and begins his first historical novel, Barnaby Rudge, then abandons it.


Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma; J.M.Turner, The Fighting Téméraire. First Opium War, GB and China.


1840. Sketches of Young Couples; 1st no. of Master Humphrey's Clock (weekly, published by Chapman and Hall, CD editor). Begins publication of The Old Curiosity Shop (40 weekly numbers).


R. Browning, Sordello; E.A. Poe, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque; Fanny Burney d.


Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert. Afghan surrender. End of transportation of felons to New South Wales; Penny Post; Botanical Gardens at Kew open. Sir Chas. Barry begins reconstruction of Houses of Parliament.


1841. 4th child, Walter, b.; CD refuses invitation to run for MP for Reading. Visits Scotland and fêted by luminaries of Edinburgh at large dinner, the Freedom of the City bestowed upon him. Publication of Barnaby Rudge in weekly numbers in Master Humphrey's Clock. The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge complete weekly publication and are issued as single volumes.


Carlyle, On Heroes, Heroe-Worship, and the Heroic in Histoy; Marryat, Masterman Ready; Poe, “Murders in the Rue Morgue”; Cooper, The Deerslayer. Punch begins publ. Ludwig Feurbach, The Essence of Christianity.


Edward, first son of Victoria and Albert, b. Whig Lord Melboure resigns as PM, succeeded by Tory Sir Robt. Peel. Pop. of GB, 18.5 mill.


1842. With Catherine, lst trip to America (some 6 mos., including visits to prisons), Boston, NYC, and Midwest; meets Pres. Tyler, Washington Irving, Longfellow, Emerson, and Wm. Cullen Bryant; lionized and then criticized for his passionate stance on copyright. American Notes published (2 vols.; a sometimes bilious attack on the US). Martin Chuzzlewit begins monthly serialization, 20 numbers, with a digression to America to spur flagging sales. Visits Cornwall with Forster and friends. Kate b. Georgina Hogarth, 16, joins the household, a position of growing trust and friendship she will hold until Dickens's death. CD begins philanthropic endeavor with England's wealthiest woman, the unmarried Angela Burdett-Coutts, the heiress to a banking fortune.


Tennyson, Poems; Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome; Gogol, Dead Souls. Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death,” Stendhal d.


Treaty of Nanking ends lst Opium War, and China surrenders Hong Kong to GB; treaty to determine border betw. Canada and US.


1843. A Christmas Carol, the first of five short, popular novels (“Christmas books”) published to celebrate the season, though Dickens will write alone or with Wilkie Collins several more shorter Christmas numbers.


T. Carlyle, Past and Present; John Ruskin, Modern Painters, I (of 5, through 1850); Tennyson, “Morte d'Arthur,” “Locksley Hall”;. R. Browning, “A Blot in the Scutcheon”; CD's friend and popular novelist publ. Windsor Castle. Mendelssohn, incidental music A Midsummer Night's Dream; R. Wagner, The Flying Dutchman. Thames tunner bet. Rotherhithe and Wapping; Great Britain, first propeller-driven ship, makes trans-Atlantic crossing.

1844. Francis b., 5th child and 3rd son. Family travels to Italy and resides in Genoa beginning in July and not returning until June, 1845. Returns to London via Paris for a few days in early Dec. to read The Chimes to friends. Following a dispute with Chapman and Hall re. the profits from A Christmas Carol, CD leaves the firm for Bradbury and Evans.


Martin Chuzzlewit publ. as a book. Edits John Overs' Evenings of a Working Man.


W. M. Thackeray, Barry Lyndon; Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Poems; B. Disraeli, Coningsby; Emerson, Essays, II; J. M. Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed; Mendelssohn, violin conc.


Geo. Williams founds YMCA in England. First public baths in England, Liverpool.


1845. From Genoa visits Rome and Naples. Alfred b.; upon return to London in June, arranges for the production under his direction of B. Jonson's Every Man in His Humour, in which he also acts. This is the first of many public performances, often for a philanthropic cause, by Dickens and his friends, here known as The Amateur Players.


The Cricket on the Hearth.


Disraeli, Sybil, or The Two Nations; F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844; Poe, The Raven and Other Poems; Wagner, Tannhauser. John Henry Newman converts from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.


Beginning of Irish Famine (-50).



1846. Resigns after three weeks as the first editor of the The Daily News though continues to write journalism for it. From June to Nov. with family in Lausanne and Geneva, and then in Paris (Nov.-Feb., 1847).


Picutres from Italy, a record of his travels. The monthly serialization, 20 numbers, of Dombey and Son begins. Christmas book The Battle of Life.


H. Melville, Typee; Balzac, La Cousine Bette; F. Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk. H. Berlioz, The Damnation of Faust.



1847. Sydney b. (no. 7). With Angela Burdett-Coutts providing financial backing, she and CD lease a London house as a “Home for Homeless Women,” to be known as Urania Cottage, the women being prostitutes. With the Amateur Players mounts another production of Every Man in His Humour, this staged in Liverpool and Manchester to assist the impoverished writers Leigh Hunt, an editor, poet, and formerly a friend of Shelley and Byron, and John Poole, a dramatist forced into ill-paying hack work.


An Appeal to Fallen Women, part of the Urania Cottage endeavor.


C. Brontë, Jane Eyre; E. Brontë, Wuthering Heights; A. Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; W. M. Thackeray, Vanity Fair. Verdi, Macbeth.


Factory Act ordains a max. 10-hr. work day for women and for children between 13 and 18 but little provision for inspection leaves Act toothless.

1848. Death from TB of CD's talented and much cherished sister Fanny. London performances of Every Man in His Humour, Dickens's and the play's success attracting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to a performance.


Dombey and Son issued as a book; The Haunted Man.


Eliz. Gaskell, Mary Barton; Thackeray, Pendennis. Thos. B. Macaulay, History of England (-'61); J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy. John Everett Millais, D.G. Rossetti, and Holman Hunt found the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. E. Brontë d.


Corn Law Repeal. Cholera, London. Public Health Act. Second Sikh War. Revolts in Paris, Vienna (3 over the year), Venice, Berlin, Milan, Rome. Sardinia revolts against Austria, as do Czechs, both defeated. End of U.S.-Mexico war. Gold rush in CA. Emperor Ferdinand I abdicates, nephew becomes Emperor Franz Joseph I. Serfdom abolished in Austria.



1849. Henry b. (no. 8).


CD gives John Forster the “Autobiographical Fragment,” an account, probably written earlier, of his early years, dwelling especially on his experience in the blacking factory. Serialization of David Copperfield in 20 monthly numbers. Letters to The Times opposing public executions.


C. Brontë, Shirley; Chas. Kingsley, Alton Locke; J. Ruskin, Seven Lamps of Architecture; Matthew Arnold, The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems; A. Brontë d.


Brit. defeat Sikhs and annezes Punjab; B. Disraeil, leader of Tory (Conservative) Party; Bedford College for Women, London, founded. Venice surrenders to Austria; French enter Rome, restoring Pius IX.


1850. Dora b. (d. April, 1851; name identical with David's wife, Dora Spenlow, in David Copperfield. Following the success of The Amateur Players in raising funds for the indigent, CD and Bulwer-Lytton found the Guild of Literature and Art, devoted to helping impoverished artists and writers through charitable activities.


Household Words begins, a weekly periodical with CD as part-owner, editor, and contributor of fiction and journalism. David Copperfield appears as book.


Eliz. Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese; Tennyson, In Memoriam; Tennyson Poet Laureate upon death of W. Wordsworth; Wordsworth, The Prelude; N. Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter. J. E. Millais, Christ in the House of His Parents; Jos. Paxton, Crystal Palace; Courbet, The Stone Breakers; Millet, The Sower.


Public Libraries Act. Pope restores Catholic hierarchy in England.

1851. Catherine Dickens suffers what appears to be a severe depression. CD's father, John D., d. following bladder surgery; Amateur theatricals, one, Bulwer's play Not So Bad as We Seem, directed and acted in by CD to endow the Guild of Lit. and Art. Victoria and Albert attend. Catherine D. publishes What Shall We Have for Dinner, a cookbook, under pseudonym. CD buys Tavistock House, Bloomsbury, a fashionable house in a fine neighborhood.


CD dictates to Georgina Hogarth A Child's History of England, serialized in Household Words.


J Ruskin, Stones of Venice (-'53). J.M. Turner d. Verdi, Rigoletto. GB pop. 20.8 million.

Melville, Moby Dick.


Great Exhibition, London.



1852. Edward (“Plorn”) b., 10th and last child. Not So Bad as We Seem on tour in provinces.


Bleak House begins serial publication in 20 monthly numbers.


Thackeray, Henry Esmond; M. Arnold, Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Holman Hunt, The Light of the World (hugely popular); Ford Madox Brown, Christ Washing Peter's Feet; J.E. Millais, Ophelia.


First Congress of Cooperative Societies meets in London. Duke of Wellington d. Louis Napoleon becomes Emperor Napoleon III.


1853. First public reading, A Christmas Carol, Birmingham, the proceeds to support the founding of an Industrial and Literary Institute, which would be for the education of workingmen.


Publication of Bleak House as book.


Charlotte Brontë, Villette; Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth and Cranford; Thackeray, The Newcomes; Charlotte Yonge, The Heir of Redclyffe; Matthew Arnold, The Scholar-Gypsy and Other Poems. Verdi, Il Trovatore and La Traviata.


Turkey declares war on Russia—beginning of Crimean War (-'56). Russia destroys Turkish fleet at Sinope. Q. Victoria uses chloroform for birth of 7th child, thereby condoning its application. Henry Steinway and sons found piano manufactory, NYC.


1854. Visits Preston, Lancashire, to observe an industrial strike of millworkers and to scout the area for material for Hard Times. With family for summer in Boulogne.


Hard Times, 20 weekly installments in Household Words.


Coventry Patmore, The Angel in the House. Henry D. Thoreau, Walden. Wm. Frith, Ramsgate Sands.


GB and France ally themselves with Turkey against Russia; Allies victorious at Balaklava and Inkerman, though with enormous loss of British life owing to insufficient food, water, dysentery, and unsanitary conditions. Florence Nightingale in Crimea with corps of nurses who treat the wounded and impose sanitary standards. London cholera epidemic, spreading through the slums. F. D. Maurice founds Working Men's College, London. Founding of University College, Dublin.


1855. Maria Beadnell, now Mrs. Winter, writes him; they correspond and meet. Produces, directs, and acts in W. Collins' The Lighthouse at Tavistock House. In Boulogne for summer, and then with family in Paris, returning to England, Mar. 1856.


Little Dorrit, serialization in 20 monthly numbers.


R. Browning, Men and Women; Tennyson, Maud; Anthony Trollope, The Warden; Chas. Kingsley, Westward Ho! Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass. C. Brontë d.


Palmerston succeeds Aberdeen, PM; Czar Nicholas I d.; Alexander I succeeds. Russians surrender Sebastopol following long siege. Electric telegraph links London and Balaclava. The Daily Telegraph begins publ. Paris World's Fair.


1856. CD buys Gad's Hill. Rehearses Collins' play, with some CD revision, The Frozen Deep.


Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary. J. A. D. Ingres, La Source.


Bessemer develops converter for manufacture of steel; development of aniline dye.


End of Crimean War. British fleet attacks Canton, beginning (another) war with China.


1857. The Frozen Deep performed in London. Hans Christian Andersen visits Gad's Hill and overstays his welcome by three weeks. With decision to perform the play in Manchester in a large space, CD hires professional actresses to replace his daughters: Mrs. Ternan, Ellen, and an older sister join the production. CD and Wilkie Collins holiday in Cumberland seeking material for The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices; CD sees the Ternans in performance and visits with them.


The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices appears in Household Words.

W.M. Thackeray, The Virginians; A. Trollope, Barchester Towers; E. B. Browning, Aurora Leigh; George Eliot, Scenes from Clerical Life; Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's Schooldays; George Borrow, Romany Rye; Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal. Millet, The Gleaners.


Indian Mutiny. Matrimonial Causes Act. Royal Navy defeats Chinese navy; Britain and France take Canton; Garibaldi founds Italian Natl. Assoc. as step toward unification of Italy.



1858. CD's lst public readings for which he, himself, realizes the income from the ticket sales; lst reading tour of the provinces as well as Ireland and Scotland. Separation from Catherine D. Break with publishers Bradbury and Evans, with friend and ed. of Punch, Mark Lemon; with “Phiz,” Hablot Knight Browne.


Letter in The Times and in Household Words re. his separation and rumors having to do with his liason with Ellen Ternan and, allegedly circulated by Mrs. Hogarth, of a relationship with her daughter Georgina.


Reprinted Pieces, vol. 8 of the Library Edition.


Thos. Carlyle, Frederick the Great (-'65); William Morris, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems; Wm. Frith, Derby Day.


Defeat of Indian Mutiny. East India Company's rule transferred to the Crown; Suez Canal Company forms. End of Anglo-Chinese war.


1859. Following legal wrangling with Bradbury & Evans, the termination of Household Words. The inception of All the Year Round in April, owned principally by CD. Second Reading Tour. By late May the new periodical's circulation has trebled that of Household Words and will reach 300,000 in the next ten yrs.


The initial number of All the Year Round features the first installment of A Tale of Two Cities.


George Eliot, Adam Bede; Tennyson, Idylls of the King; Edw. Fitzgerald, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám; Geo. Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel; George Sand, Elle et Lui; Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov; Charles Darwin, On the Origin of the Species by Natural Selection; J.S. Mill, Essay on Liberty; Karl Marx, Critique of Political Economy, Samuel Smiles, Self-Help. Leigh Hunt d.; Thos. B. Macaulay d.


German Natl. Assoc. to unite Germany under Prussia.


1860. Daughter Kate marries Wilkie Collins' brother, Chas. Allston Collins, a secondary luminary in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, with CD's reservations about the match and his insistence that Catherine D. not be invited. CD sells Tavistock House to J.B. Davies and wife, whom CD likes and who reproaches him for his depiction of Jews. Moves to Gad's Hill, though keeps rooms at the offices of All the Year Round. Burns all personal correspondence to him.


Begins sketches that make up The Uncommercial Traveller, First Series. Great Expectations begins publication (Dec.) in All the Year Round in weekly installments.


Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White; George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss; The Cornhill Magazine begins publ., Thackeray ed.


Victor Emanuel II defeats Papal States force.


1861. London readings. Third Reading Tour. CD, Jr., m. CD's former publisher's daughter, Bessie Evans. CD does not attend wedding.


George Eliot, Silas Marner; Chas. Reade, The Cloister and the Hearth; Mrs. Henry Wood, East Lynne; Mrs. Beeton, Book of Household Management; F. Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead; Eliz. Barrett Browning d.


Prince Albert d. Victor Emanuel made king of Italy; emancipation of Russian serfs; American Civil War.


1862. Readings in London. Life below the public radar as CD spends time with Ellen Ternan.


Christmas story, Somebody's Luggage.


George Eliot, Romola; Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market; Ruskin, Unto This Last; Flaubert, Salammbó; V. Hugo, Les Misérables; Turgenev, Fathers and Sons. Ingres, Bain Turque; Verdi, La Forza del Destino.


Crystal Palace/Great Exhibition, London. Bismarck, PM of Prussia.


1863, More readings in London. CD's mother, Elizabeth d. CD's son Walter d. in India.


Christmas story, Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings.


J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism; T. H. Huxley, Man's Place in Nature; D. G. Rossetti, Beata Beatrix; J.M. Whistler, Little White Girl; E. Manet, Dejeuner sur l'herbe, Olympia. Salon des Refusés, Paris. A. Nadar's photographs of Paris from balloon. W.M. Thackeray d.


Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation. London Underground construction begins.

1864. CD's son Frank embarks for India.


Serialization of Our Mutual Friend, 20 monthly installments. Christmas story, Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy.


Cardinal Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua; Tennyson, Enoch Arden; L. Tolstoy, War and Peace (-'69).


K. Marx, First Internatl. Workingmen's Assoc.


1865. CD's son Alfred departs for Australia. CD, Ellen Ternan, and Mrs. Ternan are in terrible r.r. accident (Staplehurst, Kent), Ellen suffering some injuries. Demonstrating heroism and presence of mind, CD administers aid to the injured and dying; at last moment retrieves MS. Of Our Mutual Friend from his r.r. car, which was off the rails and pitched precariously over the bridge crossing the riverbed (the other 7 first-class carriages plummeted).


Our Mutual Friend published in book form; The Uncommercial Traveller, II. Christmas story, Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions.


M. Arnold, Essays in Criticism; Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon; Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. R. Wagner, Tristan und Isolde.


Wm. Booth founds Salvation Army in London. London Metropolitan Fire Service; Mrs. Gaskell d. Lincoln assassinated. Trans-Atlantic cable; Jos. Lister, antiseptic surgery.


1866. CD's youngest brother, Augustus, dies indigent in Chicago. Reading Tour, beginning in London and extending to provinces.


Christmas story, Mugby Junction.


George Eliot, Felix Holt; Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment; Verlaine, Poèmes saturniens.

Offenbach, La Vie Parisienne; Smetana, The Bartered Bride.


Black Friday,” London stock exchange. A. Nobel makes dynamite. War between Prussia and Austria; Italy declares war on Austria. Peace of Prague (Prussia gets Hanover, Hesse, Frankfurt, and Nassau) and Treaty of Vienna. Venice united with Italy.

1867. Reading Tour in England and then in Ireland; in Nov. travels to Boston to begin Amer. Reading Tour, which covers the Eastern seaboard from New England to Baltimore.


Trollope, Last Chronicle of Barset; Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution; K. Marx, Das Kapital, vol 1; E. Zola, Thérèse Raquin. Ibsen, Peer Gynt; Turgenev, Smoke.


Second Reform Bill. Fenian attacks in Ireland and Manchester. P. Michaux manufactures bicycles.


1868. Returns to England (April). CD's youngest son, Edward (“Plorn”) sails for Australia, a parting both knew was final; 3 weeks later CD's younger and last surviving brother Frederick d. Son Henry wins scholarship to Trinity C., Cambridge. Chauncy Hare Townsend d., the friend to whom CD dedicates Great Expectations.


George Silverman's Explanation” and “A Holiday Romance.” Last Christmas story, written with Wilkie Collins, No Thoroughfare.


W. Collins, The Moonstone; R. Browning, The Ring and the Book. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot.

Brahms, German Requiem; Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 1.

B. Disraeli PM; W. E. Gladstone succeeds as PM (-74); Trades Union Congress, Manchester.


1869. First public reading of Sikes's murder of Nancy from Oliver Twist, highly dramatic and terrifying, resulting in many women fainting and CD himself dangerously ill, collapsing at Preston in April.


Edits and publishes Townsend's Religious Opinions.


M. Arnold, Culture and Anarchy; J.S. Mill, On the Subjection of Women; R. D. Blackmore, Lorna Doone; Flaubert, A Sentimental Education.


Girton College for Women, Cambridge U.; opening of Suez Canal.


1870. A dozen Farewell Readings in London. Received by Q. Victoria at Buckingham Palace, May 9. June 8 suffers a stroke and rendered unconscious; dies June 9 at Gad's Hill of cerebral hemorrhage. Buried in Westminster Abbey on June 14.


First of projected 12 numbers of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Up to his death Dickens had completed six.


Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.


Educ. Act of 1850, England and Wales. Franco-Prussian War; Paris Commune, end of Second Empire, beginning of Third Republic; doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Pop. of GB, 26 million, Germany 41, France, 36, U.S. 39.



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