A date with Charles Dickens

A date with Charles Dickens

■ Feb. 7, 1812: Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England, the oldest son of John and Elizabeth Dickens’ eight children.

■ 1812: Dickens’ father got sent to the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison for three months, during which time Dickens went to work labelling bottles in a blacking warehouse.

■ 1827: Dickens became a solicitor’s clerk.

■ 1832: Dickens learned shorthand and became a parliamentary reporter.

■ 1833: His story “A Dinner at Popular Walk” was printed in “Monthly Magazine.” It was his first published work.

■ 1834: He became a reporter for the Morning Chronicle newspaper.

■ 1836: Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and had his farce “The Strange Gentleman” and his pastoral operetta “The Village Coquettes” performed professionally in London. Also, “The Pickwick Papers,” his first novel, was published serially beginning that year and was published in one volume the following year.

■ 1838: “Oliver Twist,” which had been published serially in “Bentley’s Miscellany” beginning in 1837, was published in three volumes.

■ 1839: “Nicholas Nickleby” was published in one volume.

■ January to June 1842: Dickens’ first visit to North America, a trip he later described in two volumes of “American Notes.”

■ December 1843: “A Christmas Carol” was published.

■ 1847: After living in Italy, Switzerland and France with his family, Dickens returned to London to help Miss Burdett Coutts set up and run a “Home for Homeless Women.”

■ 1850: “David Copperfield” was published in one volume, after being serialized from 1849 to 1850.

■ 1853: “Bleak House” was published in one volume.

■ 1858: Dickens separated from his wife after falling in love the previous year with an actress named Ellen Ternan.

■ 1861: “Great Expectations” was published in three volumes after being serialized weekly in “All the Year Round.”

■ 1867: Though his health was failing, Dickens made a second trip to America, giving readings in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

■ June 9, 1870: Charles Dickens died and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

(Sources: “Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist” by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst; “Dickens: A Life” by Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie; “Charles Dickens: A Life” by Claire Tomalin; Penguin Classics introduction to Dickens’ novels by Philip Horne)

Name that novel

Name the Charles Dickens novel in which the following excerpts appear:

1. “But now he was enveloped in the old calico robes, that had grown yellow in the same service; he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once — a parish child — the orphan of a workhouse — the humble, half-starved drudge — to be cuffed and buffeted through the world, despised by all, and pitied by none.”

2. “I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone.”

3. “Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

4. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

5. “It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but, as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye.”

6. “I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies.”


1. “Oliver Twist”

2. “Great Expectations”

3. “A Christmas Carol”

4. “A Tale of Two Cities”

5. “Hard Times”

6. “Bleak House”


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