Charles Dickens’ first great novel, "Oliver Twist," sparked a debate about poverty in its time – culminating in a change in the law. Even 150 years after his death, the Briton is still read with pleasure and often.
Prince Charles honored him for 200. Charles Dick celebrates his eighth birthday eight years ago as a passionate fighter against social injustice – and a creative genius. Now, the writer known in his native Britain as "the Inimitable" is once again being remembered: Charles Dickens. He died on 8. June 1870, 150 years ago.
Born in 1812, Dickens grew up as the son of a penniless shipyard worker. When he was ten years old, the family settled in the London district of Camden – the later artists’ quarter was then a poor suburb. Because of unpaid promissory bills, his father was sent to debtor’s prison, where his mother and Charles’ seven siblings accompanied him, as was customary at the time. The boy himself worked in a warehouse to ensure the family’s survival.
Journalist and author
The experience of hardship and poverty shaped Dickens – and his writing. Especially in the novel "David Copperfield," one of his most famous works, whole episodes recall the author’s childhood. The main character also starts out sticking labels on bottles, becomes a paralegal, reporter and finally a writer. Dickens’ depiction of childlike feelings as well as childhood experiences are still considered masterful today.
In 1827 he started as a clerk in a lawyer’s office and within two years worked his way up to become a parliamentary rapporteur. From 1832 he worked as a journalist and published his first literary texts – from 1836 the monthly installments of "The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club", which made him famous. Oliver Twist" was also published in 1837, initially as a serialized novel. By the late 1830s, Dickens was a celebrated writer, married and a fixture of London society.
Railroad accident survived
He remained true to his great talent throughout his life. He founded his own magazine and wrote other stories and novels that went down in literary history, including "A Christmas Carol" (1843), "Bleak House" (1852/53) and "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859). Only late, after his separation from his wife in 1858, did he make his first reading tour.
In 1865 the writer survived a serious railroad accident in which ten people lost their lives. Dickens was physically uninjured, but was traumatized by the accident, which some researchers believe contributed to his relatively early death. From then on he tried to avoid train journeys.
Manuscript rescued from the railroad
He describes the accident he experienced together with his lover and her mother in the epilogue to the novel "Our Mutual Friend," which he had been working on during the trip. After helping injured fellow passengers, he climbed into the carriage once more to save the book’s manuscript.
Social criticism plays a role in many of Dickens’ works – not with a sledgehammer, but in poetic language, with memorable characters and stories that develop a real pull.
Last reading tour went through Great Britain
Many observations also seem surprisingly timely. When, for example, Ebenezer Scrooge declares in the "Christmas Carol" that "the treadmill and the poor law" are costly enough, when he repeatedly states that the suffering of others is none of his business and that he wants to have his peace – then some readers may think of today’s social coldness.
In 1869, Dickens embarked on his last reading tour of Britain. The appearances, which had previously taken him as far as the U.S., enjoyed great popularity, but were visibly exhausting for the writer, who was in poor health.
Flowers at the grave in Westminster Abbey
In May 1870, he appeared in public for the last time; a few weeks later, he died of a second stroke. He was buried in Westminster Abbey – both his son and the public demanded this, contrary to his own wishes for a low-key funeral.
The ceremony on 14. The funeral took place in a very intimate circle on June 1, but the grave was not closed until two days later: thousands came to lay flowers at the writer’s grave.