Gerry Moran: Things to know about Charles Dickens

Things to know about Charles Dickens

Things to know about Charles Dickens

Seeing as how 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, the first literary superstar, seeing as how he died in the month of June and seeing as how his great, great granddaughter lives in Kilkenny I thought I’d share some interesting facts with you about the great writer.

Charles Dickens was born on 7th February 1812 in Portsmouth, to John and Elizabeth Dickens; he was the second eldest of a family of eight children

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In 1822 the family moved to London where John worked as a clerk in the navy pay office. In 1824 John Dickens was imprisoned for debt. Charles, aged 12, was sent to work in Warrens blacking factory where he dyed shoes. Because Charles was the oldest male child he was not allowed move into the debtor’s prison with the family but lived alone in lodgings in London.

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Dickens spent a little over a year in the blacking factory and the episode had a searing affect on his character. When John Dickens was released from prison, Charles returned to school but against his mother’s wishes. Dickens never forgave her.

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Charles Dickens left school at sixteen and became a lawyer’s clerk and later a political reporter where he honed his writing skills and learned about social conditions.

Dickens’s first publishing success was with Sketches by Boz, a collection of articles about London life; his next big success was The Pickwick Papers, a novel that catapulted him to fame. Dickens’s success could be attributed to the serialised format of his works which were affordable to a wide audience.

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In 1836 Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and they had ten children. Mrs. Dickens was an excellent cook and published a book called: What Shall We Have for Dinner? using the pseudonym Maria Clutterbuck. One of Dickens’s favourite dishes was leg of mutton stuffed with herbs and oysters; he was also fond of raspberries, dates, fine wines and cigars.

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By 1837, Charles Dickens was famous. He and Catherine and Catherine’s sister, Mary moved into 48 Doughty Street in London where they lived from 1837 to 1839. It was here that his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth died tragically at the age of seventeen – an event that haunted Dickens all his life and which is echoed in the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop

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In 1842 Dickens made his first visit to America (which he found ‘crass and disappointing’) and also toured Britain and Ireland with his sell-out, one-man shows.

Dickens, now the foremost celebrity of the 19th Century, described how his home had become ‘a receiving house’ for begging letters. Even letters declining assistance had value as Dickens’s signature could fetch a shilling.

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In 1858 after 22 years of marriage and having borne him ten children, Dickens legally separated from Catherine. By this time Dickens had fallen in love with Ellen Ternan, a 19 year old actress who became the great love of his twelve remaining years.

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Nicky Flynn, the proprietor of Kytelers Inn in Kilkenny is a great, great granddaughter of Charles Dickens. She is descended from Henry Fielding-Dickens, the eight child of Charles and Catherine; Henry was a top lawyer in London and was knighted in 1922.

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In 1867 Dickens toured America again where his powerful readings left audiences ‘shrieking, weeping and fainting’. The readings also left Dickens exhausted and ill.

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In March 1870 he gave his last readings in London; unable to keep food down he’d swallow a raw egg whipped up in sherry before going on stage and always kept a physician in attendance.

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In June 1870, Charles Dickens died suddenly at his home while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He was 58 years of age and Ellen Ternan was by his side. Catherine Dickens died in 1879. Charles had burned all her letters to him but on her death-bed she left the British Museum his letters to her, “That the world may know”, she said, “he once loved me”.