Charles John Huffam Dickens ( 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870), pen-name “Boz”, was one of the most popular English novelists of the Victorian era, as well as a vigorous social campaigner.
The popularity of Dickens’s novels and short stories has meant that they have never gone out of print. Many of Dickens’s novels first appeared in periodicals and magazines in serialized form—a popular format for fiction at the time—and, unlike many other authors who completed entire novels before serial production commenced, Dickens often composed his works in parts, in the order in which they were meant to appear. Such a practice lent his stories a particular rhythm, punctuated by one minor “cliffhanger” after another, to keep the (original) public looking forward to the next installment.
Charles Dickens was born on 7 February 1812, in Landport, Portsmouth, in Hampshire, the second of eight children to John Dickens (1786–1851), a clerk in the Navy Pay Office at Portsmouth, and his wife, Elizabeth (née Barrow, 1789–1863). When he was five, the family moved to Chatham, Kent. In 1822, when he was ten, the family relocated to 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town, in London.
Ordnance Terrace, Chatham – Dickens’s home from 1817 to 1822
Although his early years seem to have been an idyllic time, he thought himself then as a “very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy”. He spent time outdoors, but also read voraciously, with a particular fondness for the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding. He talked, later in life, of his extremely poignant memories of childhood, and of his continuing photographic memory of the people and events that helped to bring his fiction to life. His family’s early, moderate wealth provided the boy Dickens with some private education at William Giles’ school, in Chatham. This time of prosperity came to an abrupt end, however, when his father, after having spent beyond his means in entertaining, and in retaining his social position, was imprisoned at Marshalsea debtor’s prison. Shortly afterwards, the rest of his family (except for Charles, who boarded nearby), realizing no other option, joined him in residence at Marshalsea.
Just before his father’s arrest, the 12-year-old Dickens had begun working ten-hour days at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, on Hungerford Stairs, near the present Charing Cross railway station. He earned six shillings a week pasting labels on jars of thick shoe polish. This money paid for his lodgings at the house of family friend, Elizabeth Roylance, and helped support his family. Mrs. Roylance, Dickens later wrote, was “a reduced old lady, long known to our family,” and whom he eventually immortalized, “with a few alterations and embellishments,” as “Mrs. Pipchin,” in Dombey & Son. Later, lodgings were found for him in a “back-attic…at the house of an insolvent-court agent, who lived in Lant Street in the borough…[he] was a fat, good-natured, kind old gentleman…lame, [with] a quiet old wife; and he had a very innocent grown-up son, who was lame too”; these three were the inspiration for the Garland family in The Old Curiosity Shop. The mostly unregulated, strenuous—and often cruel—work conditions of the factory employees (especially children), made a deep impression on Dickens. His experiences served to influence later fiction and essays, and were the foundation of his interest in the reform of socioeconomic and labour conditions, the rigors of which he believed were unfairly borne by the poor, in pre-Industrial-Revolution England.
As told to John Forster (from The Life of Charles Dickens):
The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old gray rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label, and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist.
After only a few months in Marshalsea, John Dickens was informed of the death of his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dickens, who had left him, in her will, the sum of £450. On the expectation of this legacy, Dickens petitioned for, and was granted, release from prison. Under the Insolvent Debtors Act, Dickens arranged for payment of his creditors, and he and his family left Marshalsea for the home of Mrs. Roylance.
Although Dickens eventually attended the Wellington House Academy in North London, his mother did not immediately remove him from the boot-blacking factory. Resentment stemming from his situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived became major themes of his works, and it was this unhappy period in his youth to which he alluded in his favourite, and most autobiographical, novel, David Copperfield ,: “I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone, that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to heaven!”
In May 1827, Dickens began work, in the law office of Ellis and Blackmore, as a clerk. It was a junior position, but, as an articled clerk, Dickens would eventually qualify for admission to the Bar, and it was there that he gleaned his detailed knowledge of legal processes of the period. This education informed works such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son, and especially Bleak House—whose vivid portrayal of the endless machinations, lethal manoeuvrings, and strangling bureaucracy of the legal system of mid-19th-century Britain did much to enlighten the general public, and was a vehicle for dissemination of Dickens’s own views regarding, particularly, the injustice of chronic exploitation of the poor forced by circumstances to “go to Law.”
At the age of seventeen, he became a court stenographer and, in 1830, met his first love, Maria Beadnell. It is believed that she was the model for the character Dora in David Copperfield. Maria’s parents disapproved of the courtship and effectively ended the relationship by sending her to school in Paris.
Journalism and early novels
A young Charles Dickens
In 1834, Dickens became a political journalist, reporting on parliamentary debate and travelling across Britain by stagecoach to cover election campaigns for the Morning Chronicle. His journalism, in the form of sketches which appeared in periodicals from 1833, formed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz which were published in 1836 and led to the serialization of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in March 1836. He continued to contribute to and edit journals throughout much of his subsequent literary career. Dickens’s keen perceptiveness, intimate knowledge and understanding of the people, and tale-spinning genius were quickly to gain him world renown and wealth.
On 2 April 1836, he married Catherine Thompson Hogarth (1816 – 1879), the daughter of George Hogarth, editor of the Evening Chronicle. After a brief honeymoon in Chalk, Kent, they set up home in Bloomsbury. They had ten children:
* Charles Culliford Boz Dickens (6 January 1837 – 1896). C. C. B. Dickens, later known as Charles Dickens, Jr, editor for All the Year Round, author of the Dickens’s Dictionary of London (1879).
* Mary Angela Dickens (6 March 1838 – 1896).
* Kate Macready Dickens (29 October 1839 – 1929).
* Walter Landor Dickens (8 February 1841 – 1863). Died in India.
* Francis Jeffrey Dickens (15 January 1844 – 1886).
* Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson Dickens (28 October 1845 – 1912).
* Sydney Smith Haldimand Dickens (18 April 1847 – 1872).
* (Sir) Henry Fielding Dickens (16 January 1849 – 1933).
* Dora Annie Dickens (16 August 1850 – April 1851).
* Edward Dickens (13 March 1852 – 23 January 1902). Migrated to Australia.
Catherine’s sister Mary entered Dickens’s Doughty Street household to offer support to her newly married sister and brother-in-law. It was not unusual for a woman’s unwed sister to live with and help a newly married couple. Dickens became very attached to Mary, and she died after a brief illness in his arms in 1837. She became a character in many of his books, and her death is fictionalized as the death of Little Nell.
Also in 1836, Dickens accepted the job of editor of Bentley’s Miscellany, a position that he would hold for three years, when he fell out with the owner. At the same time, his success as a novelist continued, producing Oliver Twist (1837-39), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), The Old Curiosity Shop and, finally, Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty as part of the Master Humphrey’s Clock series (1840-41)—all published in monthly instalments before being made into books. Dickens had a pet raven named Grip; it died in 1841 and Dickens had it stuffed (it is now at the Free Library of Philadelphia).
Dickens made two trips to North America. In 1842, he travelled with his wife to the United States and Canada, a journey which was successful in spite of his support for the abolition of slavery. At this time Georgina Hogarth, another sister of Catherine, joined the Dickens household to care for the young family they had left behind. She remained with them as housekeeper, organiser, adviser and friend until her brother-in-law’s death in 1870.
During this visit, Dickens spent time in New York City, where he gave lectures, raised support for copyright laws, and recorded many of his impressions of America. He toured the City for a month, and met such luminaries as Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. On 14 February 1842, a Boz Ball (named after his pseudonym) was held in his honour at the Park Theater, with 3,000 of New York’s elite present. Among the neighbourhoods he visited were Five Points, Wall Street, The Bowery, and the prison known as The Tombs.
The trip is described in the short travelogue American Notes for General Circulation and is also the basis of some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit. Shortly thereafter, he began to show interest in Unitarian Christianity, although he remained an Anglican, at least nominally, for the rest of his life. Dickens’s work continued to be popular, especially A Christmas Carol written in 1843, the first of his Christmas books, which was reputedly a potboiler written in a matter of weeks.
After living briefly abroad in Italy (1844) and Switzerland (1846), Dickens continued his success with Dombey and Son (1848); David Copperfield (1849-50); Bleak House (1852-53); Hard Times (1854); Little Dorrit (1857); A Tale of Two Cities (1859); and Great Expectations (1861). Dickens was also the publisher and editor of, and a major contributor to, the journals Household Words (1850 – 1859) and All the Year Round (1858-1870). A recurring theme in Dickens’s writing, both as reportage for these publications and as an inspiration for his fiction, reflected the public’s interest in Arctic exploration: the heroic friendship between explorers John Franklin and John Richardson gave the idea for A Tale of Two Cities, The Wreck of the Golden Mary and the play The Frozen Deep. After Franklin died in unexplained circumstances on an expedition to find the North West Passage it was natural for Dickens to write a piece in Household Words defending his hero against the discovery in 1854, some four years after the search began, of evidence that Franklin’s men had, in their desperation, resorted to cannibalism. Without adducing any supporting evidence he speculates that, far from resorting to cannibalism amongst themselves, the members of the expedition may have been “set upon and slain by the Esquimaux…We believe every savage to be in his heart covetous, treacherous, and cruel.” Although publishing in a subsequent issue of Household Words a defence of the Esquimaux, from another author who had actually visited the scene of the supposed cannibalism, Dickens refused to alter his view.
In 1856, his popularity had allowed him to buy Gad’s Hill Place. This large house in Higham, Kent, had a particular meaning to Dickens as he had walked past it as a child and had dreamed of living in it. The area was also the scene of some of the events of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part 1 and this literary connection pleased him.
In 1857, in preparation for public performances of The Frozen Deep, a play on which he and his protégé Wilkie Collins had collaborated, Dickens hired professional actresses to play the female parts. With one of these, Ellen Ternan, Dickens formed a bond which was to last the rest of his life. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear, as both Dickens and Ternan burned each other’s letters, but it was clearly central to Dickens’s personal and professional life. On his death, he settled an annuity on her which made her a financially independent woman. Claire Tomalin’s book, The Invisible Woman, set out to prove that Ellen Ternan lived with Dickens secretly for the last 13 years of his life, and was subsequently turned into a play, Little Nell, by Simon Gray.
When Dickens separated from his wife in 1858, divorce was almost unthinkable, particularly for someone as famous as he was, and he financially supported her long afterwards. Although they appeared to be initially happy together, Catherine did not seem to share quite the same boundless energy for life which Dickens had. Nevertheless, her job of looking after their ten children, the pressure of living with a world-famous novelist, and keeping house for him, certainly did not help.
An indication of his marital dissatisfaction may be seen when, in 1855, he went to meet his first love, Maria Beadnell. Maria was by this time married as well, but seemed to have fallen short of Dickens’s romantic memory of her.
Rail accident and last years
Crash scene after the accident
On 9 June 1865, while returning from France with Ternan, Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst rail crash in which the first seven carriages of the train plunged off a cast iron bridge that was being repaired. The only first-class carriage to remain on the track was the one in which Dickens was travelling. Dickens spent some time tending the wounded and the dying before rescuers arrived. Before leaving, he remembered the unfinished manuscript for Our Mutual Friend, and he returned to his carriage to retrieve it. Typically, Dickens later used this experience as material for his short ghost story The Signal-Man in which the central character has a premonition of his own death in a rail crash. He based the story around several previous rail accidents, such as the Clayton Tunnel rail crash of 1861.
Dickens managed to avoid an appearance at the inquest into the crash, as it would have become known that he was travelling that day with Ellen Ternan and her mother, which could have caused a scandal. Ellen had been Dickens’s companion since the breakdown of his marriage, and, as he had met her in 1857, she was most likely the ultimate reason for that breakdown. She continued to be his companion, and likely mistress, until his death. The dimensions of the affair were unknown until the publication of Dickens and Daughter, a book about Dickens’s relationship with his daughter Kate, in 1939. Kate Dickens worked with author Gladys Storey on the book prior to her death in 1929, and alleged that Dickens and Ternan had a son who died in infancy, though no contemporary evidence exists.
Dickens, though unharmed, never really recovered from the Staplehurst crash, and his normally prolific writing shrank to completing Our Mutual Friend and starting the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood after a long interval. Much of his time was taken up with public readings from his best-loved novels. Dickens was fascinated by the theatre as an escape from the world, and theatres and theatrical people appear in Nicholas Nickleby. The travelling shows were extremely popular. In 1866 a series of public readings were undertaken in England and Scotland. The following year saw Dickens give a series of readings in England and Ireland. Dickens was now really unwell but carried on, compulsively, against his doctor’s advice.
Photograph of Dickens taken by Jeremiah Gurney in New York, 1867 or 1868
Later in the year he embarked on his second American reading tour, which continued into 1868. During this trip, most of which he spent in New York, he gave 22 readings at Steinway Hall between 9 December 1867 and 20 April 1868, and four at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims between 16 January and 21 January 1868. In his travels, he saw a significant change in the people and the circumstances of America. His final appearance was at a banquet at Delmonico’s on 18 April 1868, when he promised to never denounce America again. Dickens boarded his ship to return to Britain on 23 April 1868, barely escaping a Federal Tax Lien against the proceeds of his lecture tour.
Statue of Dickens in Philadelphia
During 1869, his readings continued, in England, Scotland, and Ireland, until at last he collapsed, showing symptoms of mild stroke. Further provincial readings were cancelled, but he began upon The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens’s final public readings took place in London in 1870. He suffered another stroke on 8 June at Gad’s Hill, after a full day’s work on Edwin Drood, and five years to the day after the Staplehurst crash, on 9 June 1870, he died at his home in Gad’s Hill Place. He was mourned by all his readers.
Contrary to his wish to be buried in Rochester Cathedral, he was laid to rest in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads: “He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.” Dickens’s will stipulated that no memorial be erected to honour him. The only life-size bronze statue of Dickens, cast in 1891 by Francis Edwin Elwell, is located in Clark Park in the Spruce Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States.
Dickens’s writing style is florid and poetic, with a strong comic touch. His satires of British aristocratic snobbery—he calls one character the “Noble Refrigerator”—are often popular. Comparing orphans to stocks and shares, people to tug boats, or dinner-party guests to furniture are just some of Dickens’s acclaimed flights of fancy. Many of his character’s names provide the reader with a hint as to the roles played in advancing the storyline, such as Mr. Murdstone in the novel David Copperfield, which is clearly a combination of “murder” and stony coldness. His literary style is also a mixture of fantasy and realism.
Charles Dickens used his rich imagination, sense of humour and detailed memories, particularly of his childhood, to enliven his fiction.
Dickensian characters—especially their typically whimsical names—are among the most memorable in English literature. The likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, Fagin, Mrs Gamp, Charles Darnay, Oliver Twist, Micawber, Abel Magwitch, Samuel Pickwick, Miss Havisham, Wackford Squeers and many others are so well known and can be believed to be living a life outside the novels that their stories have been continued by other authors.
Dickens loved the style of 18th century gothic romance, although it had already become a target for parody. One “character” vividly drawn throughout his novels is London itself. From the coaching inns on the outskirts of the city to the lower reaches of the Thames, all aspects of the capital are described over the course of his body of work.
As noted above, most of Dickens’s major novels were first written in monthly or weekly instalments in journals such as Master Humphrey’s Clock and Household Words, later reprinted in book form. These instalments made the stories cheap, accessible and the series of regular cliff-hangers made each new episode widely anticipated. American fans even waited at the docks in New York, shouting out to the crew of an incoming ship, “Is Little Nell dead?” Part of Dickens’s great talent was to incorporate this episodic writing style but still end up with a coherent novel at the end. The monthly numbers were illustrated by, amongst others, “Phiz” (a pseudonym for Hablot Browne). Among his best-known works are Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, The Pickwick Papers, and A Christmas Carol.
“Charles Dickens as he appears when reading.” Wood engraving from Harper’s Weekly, 7 December 1867
Dickens’s technique of writing in monthly or weekly instalments (depending on the work) can be understood by analysing his relationship with his illustrators. The several artists who filled this role were privy to the contents and intentions of Dickens’s instalments before the general public. Thus, by reading these correspondences between author and illustrator, the intentions behind Dickens’s work can be better understood. What was hidden in his art is made plain in these letters. These also reveal how the interests of the reader and author do not coincide. A great example of that appears in the monthly novel Oliver Twist. At one point in this work, Dickens had Oliver become embroiled in a robbery. That particular monthly instalment concludes with young Oliver being shot. Readers expected that they would be forced to wait only a month to find out the outcome of that gunshot. In fact, Dickens did not reveal what became of young Oliver in the succeeding number. Rather, the reading public was forced to wait two months to discover if the boy lived.
Another important impact of Dickens’s episodic writing style resulted from his exposure to the opinions of his readers. Since Dickens did not write the chapters very far ahead of their publication, he was allowed to witness the public reaction and alter the story depending on those public reactions. A fine example of this process can be seen in his weekly serial The Old Curiosity Shop, which is a chase story. In this novel, Little Nell and her Grandfather are fleeing the villain Quilp. The progress of the novel follows the gradual success of that pursuit. As Dickens wrote and published the weekly instalments, his friend John Forster pointed out: “You know you’re going to have to kill her, don’t you.” Why this end was necessary can be explained by a brief analysis of the difference between the structure of a comedy versus a tragedy. In a comedy, the action covers a sequence “You think they’re going to lose, you think they’re going to lose, they win”. In tragedy, it is: “You think they’re going to win, you think they’re going to win, they lose”. The dramatic conclusion of the story is implicit throughout the novel. So, as Dickens wrote the novel in the form of a tragedy, the sad outcome of the novel was a foregone conclusion. If he had not caused his heroine to lose, he would not have completed his dramatic structure. Dickens admitted that his friend Forster was right and, in the end, Little Nell died. 
Dickens’s novels were, among other things, works of social commentary. He was a fierce critic of the poverty and social stratification of Victorian society. Dickens’s second novel, Oliver Twist (1839), shocked readers with its images of poverty and crime and was responsible for the clearing of the actual London slum that was the basis of the story’s Jacob’s Island. In addition, with the character of the tragic prostitute, Nancy, Dickens “humanised” such women for the reading public; women who were regarded as “unfortunates,” inherently immoral casualties of the Victorian class/economic system. Bleak House and Little Dorrit elaborated expansive critiques of the Victorian institutional apparatus: the interminable lawsuits of the Court of Chancery that destroyed people’s lives in Bleak House and a dual attack in Little Dorrit on inefficient, corrupt patent offices and unregulated market speculation.
Dickens is often described as using ‘idealised’ characters and highly sentimental scenes to contrast with his caricatures and the ugly social truths he reveals. The story of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) was received as incredibly moving by contemporary readers but viewed as ludicrously sentimental by Oscar Wilde:”You would need to have a heart of stone,” he declared in one of his famous witticisms, “not to laugh at the death of Little Nell.” (although her death actually takes place off-stage). In 1903 G. K. Chesterton said, “It is not the death of Little Nell, but the life of Little Nell, that I object to.” 
In Oliver Twist Dickens provides readers with an idealised portrait of a young boy so inherently and unrealistically ‘good’ that his values are never subverted by either brutal orphanages or coerced involvement in a gang of young pickpockets (similar to Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol). While later novels also centre on idealised characters (Esther Summerson in Bleak House and Amy Dorrit in Little Dorrit), this idealism serves only to highlight Dickens’s goal of poignant social commentary. Many of his novels are concerned with social realism, focusing on mechanisms of social control that direct people’s lives (for instance, factory networks in Hard Times and hypocritical exclusionary class codes in Our Mutual Friend).
Dickens also employs incredible coincidences (e.g., Oliver Twist turns out to be the lost nephew of the upper class family that randomly rescues him from the dangers of the pickpocket group). Such coincidences are a staple of eighteenth century picaresque novels such as Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones that Dickens enjoyed so much. But, to Dickens, these were not just plot devices but an index of the humanism that led him to believe that good wins out in the end and often in unexpected ways.
All authors might be said to incorporate autobiographical elements in their fiction, but with Dickens this is very noticeable, even though he took pains to mask what he considered his shameful, lowly past. David Copperfield is one of the most clearly autobiographical but the scenes from Bleak House of interminable court cases and legal arguments are drawn from the author’s brief career as a court reporter. Dickens’s own family was sent to prison for poverty, a common theme in many of his books, and the detailed depiction of life in the Marshalsea prison in Little Dorrit resulted from Dickens’s own experiences of the institution. Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop is thought to represent Dickens’s sister-in-law, Nicholas Nickleby’s father and Wilkins Micawber are certainly Dickens’s own father, just as Mrs. Nickleby and Mrs. Micawber are similar to his mother. The snobbish nature of Pip from Great Expectations also has some affinity to the author himself. The character of Fagin is believed to be based upon Ikey Solomon, a 19th century Jewish criminal of London and later Australia. It is reported that Dickens, during his time as a journalist, interviewed Solomon after a court appearance and that he was the inspiration for the gang leader in Oliver Twist. When the work was published in 1838 the unpleasant, to modern eyes, stereotype of the Jewish character “Fagin” as fence and corrupter of children reflected only the endemic view of the time. The characterisation aroused no indignation, or even comment, and it seems to have been written without conscious anti-semitic intent. By 1854, however, Dickens was moved to defend himself against mild reproof in The Jewish Chronicle by reference to his “strong abhorrence of…persecution [of Jews] in old time” expressed in his book A Child’s History of England. His sensitivity on the subject increased: in 1863 he was explaining that the character Fagin was “called a ‘Jew’, not because of his religion, but because of his race.” He took pains to include in Our Mutual Friend of 1864 the sympathetic Jewish character “Riah”.
Dickens may have drawn on his childhood experiences, but he was also ashamed of them and would not reveal that this was where he gathered his realistic accounts of squalor. Very few knew the details of his early life until six years after his death when John Forster published a biography on which Dickens had collaborated. A shameful past in Victorian times could taint reputations, just as it did for some of his characters, and this may have been Dickens’s own fear.
Stamp in “The Centenary Edition of The Works of Charles Dickens in 36 Volumes.”
A scene from Oliver Twist, from an early 20th-century edition
‘Dicken’s Dream’ by R.W. Buss
A well-known personality, his novels proved immensely popular during his lifetime. His first full novel, The Pickwick Papers (1837), brought him immediate fame, and this success continued throughout his career. Although rarely departing greatly from his typical “Dickensian” method of always attempting to write a great “story” in a somewhat conventional manner (the dual narrators of Bleak House constitute a notable exception), he experimented with varied themes, characterisations, and genres. Some of these experiments achieved more popularity than others, and the public’s taste and appreciation of his many works have varied over time. Usually keen to give his readers what they wanted, the monthly or weekly publication of his works in episodes meant that the books could change as the story proceeded at the whim of the public. Good examples of this are the American episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit which Dickens included in response to lower-than-normal sales of the earlier chapters. In Our Mutual Friend, the inclusion of the character of Riah was a positive portrayal of a Jewish character after he was criticised for the depiction of Fagin in Oliver Twist.
Although his popularity has waned a little since his death, he continues to be one of the best known and most read of English authors. At least 180 motion pictures and TV adaptations based on Dickens’s works help confirm his success. Many of his works were adapted for the stage during his own lifetime and as early as 1913 a silent film of The Pickwick Papers was made. His characters were often so memorable that they took on a life of their own outside his books. Gamp became a slang expression for an umbrella from the character Mrs Gamp and Pickwickian, Pecksniffian, and Gradgrind all entered dictionaries due to Dickens’s original portraits of such characters who were quixotic, hypocritical, or emotionlessly logical. Sam Weller, the carefree and irreverent valet of The Pickwick Papers, was an early superstar, perhaps better known than his author at first. It is likely that A Christmas Carol stands as his best-known story, with new adaptations almost every year. It is also the most-filmed of Dickens’s stories, with many versions dating from the early years of cinema. This simple morality tale with both pathos and its theme of redemption, sums up (for many) the true meaning of Christmas. Indeed, it eclipses all other Yuletide stories in not only popularity, but in adding archetypal figures (Scrooge, Tiny Tim, the Christmas ghosts) to the Western cultural consciousness. A Christmas Carol was written by Dickens in an attempt to forestall financial disaster as a result of flagging sales of his novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Years later, Dickens shared that he was “deeply affected” in writing A Christmas Carol and the novel rejuvenated his career as a renowned author.
At a time when Britain was the major economic and political power of the world, Dickens highlighted the life of the forgotten poor and disadvantaged at the heart of empire. Through his journalism he campaigned on specific issues—such as sanitation and the workhouse—but his fiction probably demonstrated its greatest prowess in changing public opinion in regard to class inequalities. He often depicted the exploitation and repression of the poor and condemned the public officials and institutions that not only allowed such abuses to exist, but flourished as a result. His most strident indictment of this condition is in Hard Times (1854), Dickens’s only novel-length treatment of the industrial working class. In this work, he uses both vitriol and satire to illustrate how this marginalised social stratum was termed “Hands” by the factory owners; that is, not really “people” but rather only appendages of the machines that they operated. His writings inspired others, in particular journalists and political figures, to address such problems of class oppression. For example, the prison scenes in Little Dorrit and The Pickwick Papers were prime movers in having the Marshalsea and Fleet Prisons shut down. As Karl Marx said, Dickens, and the other novelists of Victorian England, “…issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together…”. The exceptional popularity of his novels, even those with socially oppositional themes (Bleak House, 1853; Little Dorrit, 1857; Our Mutual Friend, 1865) underscored not only his almost preternatural ability to create compelling storylines and unforgettable characters, but also ensured that the Victorian public confronted issues of social justice that had commonly been ignored.
His fiction, with often vivid descriptions of life in nineteenth century England, has inaccurately and anachronistically come to symbolise on a global level Victorian society (1837 – 1901) as uniformly “Dickensian,” when in fact, his novels’ time span spanned from the 1770s to the 1860s. In the decade following his death in 1870, a more intense degree of socially and philosophically pessimistic perspectives invested British fiction; such themes stood in marked contrast to the religious faith that ultimately held together even the bleakest of Dickens’s novels. Dickens clearly influenced later Victorian novelists such as Thomas Hardy and George Gissing, however their works display a greater willingness to confront and challenge the Victorian institution of religion. They also portray characters caught up by social forces (primarily via lower-class conditions), but they usually steered them to tragic ends beyond their control.
History of the group
- See also: Plymouth Colony
The core of the group that would come to be known as the Pilgrims (known as the Pilgrim Fathers in the United Kingdom) were brought together by a common belief in the ideas promoted by Richard Clyfton, parson at All Saints’ Parish Church in Babworth, East Retford, Nottinghamshire, between 1586 and 1605. This congregation held Separatist beliefs comparable to nonconforming movements (i.e., groups not in communion with the Church of England) led by Henry Barrowe, John Greenwood and Robert Browne. Unlike conforming Puritan groups who maintained their membership in and allegiance to the Church of England, Separatists held that their differences with the Church of England were irreconcilable and that their worship should be organized independently of the trappings, traditions and organization of a central state church. William Brewster, a former diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands, was living in the Scrooby manor house, serving as postmaster for the village and bailiff to the Archbishop of York. Having been favorably impressed by Clyfton’s services, he had begun participating in Separatist services led by John Smyth in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. The Separatists had long been controversial. Under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, it was illegal not to attend official Church of England services, with a fine of 12d (£0.05; 2005 equivalent: about £5) for each missed Sunday and holy day. The penalties for conducting unofficial services included imprisonment and larger fines. Under the policy of this time, Barrowe and Greenwood were executed for sedition in 1593.
During much of Brewster’s tenure (1595-1606), the Archbishop was Matthew Hutton. He displayed some sympathy to the Puritan (but not to the Separatist) cause, writing to Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to James I in 1604:
The Puritans (whose phantasticall zeale I mislike) though they differ in Ceremonies & accidentes, yet they agree with us in substance of religion, & I thinke all or the moste p[ar]te of them love his Ma[jes]tie, & the p[re]sente state, & I hope will yield to conformitie. But the Papistes are opposite & contrarie in very many substantiall pointes of religion, & cannot but wishe the Popes authoritie & popish religion to be established.
It had been hoped that when James came to power, a reconciliation allowing independence would be possible, but the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 denied substantially all the concessions requested by Puritans, save for an English translation of the Bible. Following the Conference, in 1605, Clyfton was declared a nonconformist and stripped of his position at Babworth. Brewster invited Clyfton to live at his home.
Upon Hutton’s 1606 death, Tobias Matthew was elected as his replacement. Matthew, one of James’ chief supporters at the 1604 conference, promptly began a campaign to purge the archdiocese of nonconforming influences, both separatists and papists. Disobedient clergy were replaced, and prominent Separatists were confronted, fined, and imprisoned. He is credited with driving recusants out of the country.
At about the same time, Brewster arranged for a congregation to meet privately at the Scrooby manor house. Beginning in 1606, services were held with Clyfton as pastor, John Robinson as teacher and Brewster as the presiding elder. Shortly thereafter, Smyth and members of the Gainsborough group moved on to Amsterdam. Brewster is known to have been fined £20 (2005 equivalent: about £2000) in absentia for his non-compliance with the church.This followed his September 1607 resignation from the postmaster position, about the time that the congregation had decided to follow the Smyth party to Amsterdam.
But after these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood.
In the Columbia Encyclopedia, it is stated that “Although not actively persecuted, the group was subjected to ecclesiastical investigation and to the mockery, criticism, and disfavor of their neighbors.”.
Migration to Amsterdam
Unable to obtain the papers necessary to leave England, members of the congregation agreed to leave surreptitiously, resorting to bribery to obtain passage. One documented attempt was in 1607, following Brewster’s resignation, when members of the congregation chartered a boat in Boston, Lincolnshire. This turned out to be a sting operation, with all arrested upon boarding. The entire party was jailed for one month awaiting arraignment, at which time all but seven were released. Missing from the record is for how long the remainder were held, but it is known that the leaders made it to Amsterdam about a year later.
In a second departure attempt in the spring of 1608, arrangements were made with a Dutch merchant to pick up church members along the Humber estuary at Immingham near Grimsby, Lincolnshire. The men had boarded the ship, at which time the sailors spotted an armed contingent approaching. The ship quickly departed before the women and children could board; the stranded members were rounded up but then released without charges.
Ultimately, at least 150 of the congregation did make their way to Amsterdam, meeting up with the Smyth party, who had joined with the Exiled English Church led by Francis Johnson (1562-1617), Barrowe’s successor. The Scrooby party remained there for about one year, citing growing tensions between Smyth and Johnson.Smyth had embraced the idea of believer’s baptism, which Clyfton and Johnson opposed.
Robinson decided that it would be best to remove his congregation from the fray, and permission to settle in Leiden was secured in 1609. With the congregation reconstituted as the English Exiled Church in Leyden, Robinson now became pastor; Clyfton, advanced in age, chose to stay behind in Amsterdam.
The success of the congregation in Leiden was mixed. Leiden was a thriving industrial center, and many members were well able to support themselves working at Leiden University or in the textile, printing and brewing trades. Others were less able to bring in sufficient income, hampered by their rural backgrounds and the language barrier; for those, accommodations were made on an estate bought by Robinson and three partners.
Of their years in Leiden, Bradford wrote:
“For these & other other reasons they removed to Leyden, a fair & bewtifull citie, and of a sweete situation, but made more famous by ye universitie wherwith it is adorned, in which of late had been so many learned man. But wanting that traffike by sea which Amerstdam injoyes, it was not so beneficiall for their outward means of living & estats. But being now hear pitchet they fell to such trads & imployments as they best could; valewing peace & their spirituall comforte above any other riches whatsoever. And at length they came to raise a competente & comforteable living, but with hard and continuall labor.
Brewster had been teaching English at the university, and in 1615, Robinson enrolled to pursue his doctorate. There, he participated in a series of debates, particularly regarding the contentious issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism (siding with the Calvinists against the Remonstrants). See the Synod of Dort. Brewster, in a venture financed by Thomas Brewer, acquired typesetting equipment about 1616 and began publishing the debates through a local press.
The Netherlands was, however, a land whose culture and language were strange and difficult for the English congregation to understand or learn. Their children were becoming more and more Dutch as the years passed by. The congregation came to believe that they faced eventual extinction if they remained there.
 Decision to leave
By 1617, although the congregation was stable and relatively secure, there were ongoing issues that needed to be resolved.
Bradford noted that the congregation was aging, compounding the difficulties some had in supporting themselves. Some, having spent through their savings, gave up and returned to England. It was feared that more would follow and that the congregation would become unsustainable. The employment issues made it unattractive for others to come to Leiden, and younger members had begun leaving to find employment and adventure elsewhere. Also compelling was the possibility of missionary work, an opportunity that rarely arose in a Protestant stronghold.
Reasons for departure are suggested by Bradford, when he notes the “discouragements” of the hard life they had in the Netherlands, and the hope of attracting others by finding “a better, and easier place of living”; the “children” of the group being “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses”; the “great hope, for the propagating and advancing the gospell of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.”
Edward Winslow‘s list was similar. In addition to the economic worries and missionary possibilities, he stressed that it was important for the people to retain their English identity, culture and language. They also believed that the English Church in Leiden could do little to benefit the larger community there.
At the same time, there were many uncertainties about moving to such a place as America. Stories had come back from there about failed colonies. There were fears that the native people would be violent, that there would be no source of food or water, that exposure to unknown diseases was possible, and that travel by sea was always hazardous. Balancing all this was a local political situation that was in danger of becoming unstable: the truce in what would be known as the Eighty Years’ War was faltering, and there was fear over what the attitudes of Spain toward them might be.
Candidate destinations included Guiana, where the Dutch had already established Essequibo, or somewhere near the existing Virginia settlements. Virginia was an attractive destination because the presence of the older colony might offer better security. It was thought, however, that they should not settle too near since that might too closely duplicate the political environment back in England. The London Company that administered Virginia covered a large area, so some distance would be possible.
Robert Cushman and John Carver were sent to England to solicit a land patent. Their negotiations were delayed because of conflicts internal to the London Company, but ultimately a patent was secured in the name of John Wincob on June 9 (Old Style)/June 19 (New Style), 1619. The charter was granted with the king’s condition that the Leiden group’s religion would not receive official recognition.
Because of the continued problems within the London Company, preparations stalled. The congregation was approached by competing Dutch companies, and the possibility of settling in the Hudson River area was discussed with them.These negotiations were broken off at the encouragement of another English merchant, Thomas Weston, who assured them that he could resolve the London Company delays.
Weston did come back with a substantial change, telling the Leiden group that parties in England had obtained a land grant north of the existing Virginia territory, to be called New England. This was only partially true; the new grant would come to pass, but not until late in 1620 when the Plymouth Council for New England received its charter. It was expected that this area could be fished profitably, and it was not under the control of the existing Virginia government.
A second change was known only to parties in England who chose not to inform the larger group. New investors who had been brought into the venture wanted the terms altered so that at the end of the seven year contract, half of the settled land and property would revert to them; and that the provision for each settler to have two days per week to work on personal business was dropped.
Amid these negotiations, William Brewster found himself involved with religious unrest emerging in Scotland. In 1618, James had promulgated the Five Articles of Perth, which were seen in Scotland as an attempt to encroach on their Presbyterian tradition. Pamphlets critical of this law were published by Brewster and smuggled into Scotland by April 1619. These pamphlets were traced back to Leiden, and a failed attempt to apprehend Brewster was made in July when his presence in England became known.
Also in July in Leiden, English ambassador Dudley Carleton became aware of the situation and began leaning on the Dutch government to extradite Brewster. An arrest was made in September, but only Thomas Brewer, the financier, was in custody. Brewster’s whereabouts between then and the colonists’ departure remain unknown. Brewster’s type was seized. After several months of delay, Brewer was sent to England for questioning, where he stonewalled government officials until well into 1620. One resulting concession that England did obtain from the Netherlands was a restriction on the press that would make such publications illegal to produce.
Not all of the congregation would be able to depart on the first trip. Many members would not be able to settle their affairs within the time constraints, and the budget for travel and supplies was limited. It was decided that the initial settlement should be undertaken primarily by younger and stronger members. The remainder agreed to follow if and when they could.
Robinson would remain in Leiden with the larger portion of the congregation, and Brewster was to lead the American congregation. While the church in America would be run independently, it was agreed that membership would automatically be granted in either congregation to members who moved between the continents.
With personal and business matters agreed upon, supplies and a small ship were procured. Speedwell was to bring some passengers from the Netherlands to England, then on to America where it would be kept for the fishing business, with a crew hired for support services during the first year. A second, larger, ship, Mayflower, was leased for transport and exploration services.
In July 1620, Speedwell departed Delfshaven with the Leiden colonists. Reaching Southampton, Hampshire, they met with Mayflower and the additional colonists hired by the investors. With final arrangements made, the two vessels set out on August 5 (Old Style)/August 15 (New Style).
Soon thereafter, the Speedwell crew reported that their ship was taking in water, so both were diverted to Dartmouth, Devon. There it was inspected for leaks and sealed, but a second attempt to depart also failed, bringing them only so far as Plymouth, Devon. It was decided that Speedwell was untrustworthy, and it was sold. It would later be learned that crew members had deliberately caused the ship to leak, allowing them to abandon their year-long commitments. The ship’s master and some of the crew transferred to Mayflower for the trip.
Of the 121 combined passengers, 102 were chosen to travel on Mayflower with the supplies consolidated. Of these, about half had come by way of Leiden, and about 28 of the adults were members of the congregation. The reduced party finally sailed successfully on September 6/September 16, 1620.
Initially the trip went smoothly, but under way they were met with strong winds and storms. One of these caused a main beam to crack, and although they were more than half the way to their destination, the possibility of turning back was considered. Using a “great iron screw” (probably a piece of house construction equipment brought along by the colonists, they repaired the ship sufficiently to continue. One passenger, John Howland, was washed overboard in the storm but caught a rope and was rescued.
One crew member and one passenger died before they reached land. A child was born at sea and named “Oceanus”.
 Arrival in America
Land was sighted on November 10/November 20, 1620. It was confirmed that the area was Cape Cod, within the New England territory recommended by Weston. An attempt was made to sail the ship around the cape towards the Hudson River, also within the New England grant area, but they encountered shoals and difficult currents around Malabar (a land mass that formerly existed in the vicinity of present-day Monomoy). It was decided to turn around, and by November 11/November 21 the ship was anchored in what is today known as Provincetown Harbor.
With the charter for the Plymouth Council for New England incomplete by the time the colonists departed England (it would be granted while they were in transit, on November 3/November 13,) they arrived without a patent; the older Wincob patent was from their abandoned dealings with the London Company. Some of the passengers, aware of the situation, suggested that without a patent in place, they were free to do as they chose upon landing and ignore the contract with the investors.
To address this issue, a brief contract, later to be known as the Mayflower Compact, was drafted promising cooperation among the settlers “for the general good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” It was ratified by majority rule, with 41 adult male passengers signing. At this time, John Carver was chosen as the colony’s first governor.
[ First landings
Thorough exploration of the area was delayed for over two weeks because the shallop or pinnace (a smaller sailing vessel) they brought had been partially dismantled to fit aboard the Mayflower and was further damaged in transit. Small parties, however, waded to the beach to fetch firewood and attend to long-deferred personal hygiene.
While awaiting the shallop, exploratory parties led by Myles Standish—a Manx soldier the colonists had met while in Leiden—and Christopher Jones were undertaken. They encountered several old buildings, both European-built and Native-built, and a few recently cultivated fields.
An artificial mound was found near the dunes, which they partially uncovered and found to be a Native grave. Further along, a similar mound, more recently made, was found, and as the colonists feared they might otherwise starve, they ventured to remove some of the provisions which had been placed in the grave. Baskets of maize were found inside, some of which the colonists took and placed into an iron kettle they also found nearby, while they reburied the rest, intending to use the borrowed corn as seed for planting.
William Bradford later recorded in his book, “Of Plymouth Plantation“, that after the shallop had been repaired,
“They also found two of the Indian’s houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, – as about six months afterwards they did.
“And it is to be noted as a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved; for they had none, nor any likelihood of getting any, till too late for the planting season.”
By December, most of the passengers and crew had become ill, coughing violently. Many were also suffering from the effects of scurvy. There had already been ice and snowfall, hampering exploration efforts. During the first winter, 47% of them died.
Explorations resumed on December 6/December 16. The shallop party—seven colonists from Leiden, three from London, and seven crew—headed south along the cape and chose to land at the area inhabited by the Nauset people (roughly, present-day Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Harwich and Orleans), where they saw some native people on the shore, who ran when the colonists approached. Inland they found more mounds; one containing acorns, which they exhumed and left; and more graves, which they decided not to dig.
Remaining ashore overnight, they heard cries near the encampment. The following morning, they were met by native people who proceeded to shoot at them with arrows. The colonists retrieved their firearms and shot back, then chased the native people into the woods but did not find them. There was no more contact with native people for several months.
The local people were already familiar with the English, who had intermittently visited the area for fishing and trade before Mayflower arrived. In the Cape Cod area, relations were poor following a visit several years earlier by Thomas Hunt. Hunt kidnapped twenty people from Patuxet (the place that would become New Plymouth) and another seven from Nausett, and he attempted to sell them as slaves in Europe. One of the Patuxet abductees was Squanto, who would become an ally of the Plymouth colony. The Pokanoket, who also lived nearby, had developed a particular dislike for the English after one group came in, captured numerous people, and shot them aboard their ship. There had by this time already been reciprocal killings at Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.
Continuing westward, the shallop’s mast and rudder were broken by storms, and their sail was lost. Rowing for safety, they encountered the harbor formed by the current Duxbury and Plymouth barrier beaches and stumbled on land in the darkness. They remained at this spot—Clark’s Island—for two days to recuperate and repair equipment.
Resuming exploration on Monday, December 11/December 21, the party crossed over to the mainland and surveyed the area that ultimately became the settlement. The anniversary of this survey is observed in Massachusetts as Forefathers’ Day and is traditionally associated with the Plymouth Rock landing legend. This land was especially suited to winter building because the land had already been cleared, and the tall hills provided a good defensive position.
The cleared village, known as Patuxet to the Wampanoag people, was abandoned about three years earlier following a plague that killed all of its residents. Because the disease involved hemorrhaging] the “Indian fever” is assumed to have been fulminating smallpox introduced by European traders. The outbreak had been severe enough that the colonists discovered unburied skeletons in abandoned dwellings.[ With the local population in such a weakened state, the colonists faced no resistance to settling there.
The exploratory party returned to Mayflower, which was then brought to the harbor on December 16/December 26. Only nearby sites were evaluated, with a hill in Plymouth (so named on earlier charts) chosen on December 19/December 29.
Construction commenced immediately, with the first common house nearly completed by January 9/January 19. At this point, single men were ordered to join with families. Each extended family was assigned a plot and built its own dwelling. Supplies were brought ashore, and the settlement was mostly complete by early February.
Between the landing and March, only 47 colonists had survived the diseases they contracted on the ship. During the worst of the sickness, only six or seven of the group were able and willing to feed and care for the rest. In this time, half the Mayflower crew also died.
William Bradford became governor in 1621 upon the death of John Carver, served for eleven consecutive years, and was elected to various other terms until his death in 1657. The patent of Plymouth Colony was surrendered by Bradford to the freemen in 1640, minus a small reserve of three tracts of land. On March 22, 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony signed a peace treaty with Massasoit of the Wampanoags.
History of the name Pilgrims
In Bradford’s history
The first use of the word pilgrims for the Mayflower passengers appeared in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. As he finished recounting his group’s July 1620 departure from Leiden, Bradford used the imagery of Hebrews 11:13–16, about Old Testament “strangers and pilgrims” who had opportunity to return to their old country but instead longed for a better, heavenly country. Bradford wrote:
So they lefte [that] goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.
In retellings of Bradford’s history
For over a century and a half after Bradford wrote this passage, there is no record of Pilgrims being used to describe Plymouth’s founders, except when quoting Bradford. When the Mayflower’s story was retold by historians Nathaniel Morton (in 1669) and Cotton Mather (in 1702), both paraphrased Bradford’s passage, and used Bradford’s word pilgrims. At Plymouth’s Forefathers’ Day observance in 1793, Rev. Chandler Robbins recited this passage from Bradford.