50 Facts About Charles Dickens

1. His first published fiction was A Dinner at Poplar Walk, published in Monthly Magazine. He wrote it aged 21, while working as a reporter at The Morning Chronicle.
2. Dickens was deeply interested in the supernatural, and has even been linked to the famous paranormal investigation group “The Ghost Club” of London.
3. His family was poor, but he was lucky enough to attend school. That is, until his father was jailed for having ‘bad debts’.
4. In 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth. She was the daughter of one of his editors, George Hogarth.
5. After having ten children together, Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth separated in 1858. Dickens then had a relationship with Ellen Ternan, and actress.
6. He named many of his children after his favorite authors. Among his 10 children were Alfred Tennyson Dickens, Henry Fielding Dickens, and Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens. He then gave them all nicknames.
7. At age 15, Dickens was forced to quit school and take a job as a legal clerk in order to support his family.
8. Dickens suffered, at least in childhood, from epilepsy. He described three of his characters as having epileptic seizures, or ‘The Falling Sickness’ : Edward Leeford, Oliver Twist's half-brother; a headmaster in Our Mutual Friend; and Guster, a maid in Bleak House. Modern doctors find Dickens’s descriptions of the disease remarkably accurate for a period when little was known about it.
9. In his home he had a secret room hidden with a door that was built to look like a bookcase.
10. Dickens believed that a human could die from spontaneous human combustion (SHC). In his novel Bleak House, one of his characters, Krook, dies from SHC.
11. He was obsessive compulsive, reportedly re-arranging his hotel furniture and having to sleep with his head pointing north.
12. Dickens is perhaps the only author to have a theme park devoted to his legacy. "Dickens World" in Chatham, England , contains Europe’s longest indoor dark ride, the “Great Expectations” log flume, and the Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge.
13. His youngest son was Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, named after the author who infamously started one of his books, "It was a dark and stormy night." The writer Bulwer Lytton and Dickens were friends.
14. Instead of saying, “What the devil?” as a profanity, people exclaimed, “What the dickens?” The first usage of that word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.
15. Righteous anger stemming from his own 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 favorite, and most autobiographical novel, David Copperfield.
16. Dickens worked at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore, attorneys as a junior clerk from May, 1827 to November, 1828. Then, having learned Gurney's system of shorthand in his spare time, he left to become a freelance reporter.
17. He was drawn to the theater and landed an acting audition at Covent Garden, for which he prepared meticulously but which he missed because of a cold, ending his aspirations for a career on the stage
18. Dickens' philantrophy was well-known. Public readings secured sufficient funds for an endowment to put the Great Ormond Street Hospital on a sound financial footing — one of February 9, 1858 alone raised £3,000.
19. Dickens loved the style of the 18th century picaresque novels which he found in abundance on his father's shelves. According to Ackroyd, other than these, perhaps the most important literary influence on him was derived from the fables of The Arabian Nights.
20. Many of his characters were drawn from real life: Mrs Nickleby was based on his mother, although she didn't recognize herself in the portrait.
21. Most of his major novels were first written in monthly or weekly installments in journals such as Master Humphrey's Clock and Household Words, later reprinted in book form. These installments made the stories cheap, accessible and the series of regular cliff-hangers made each new episode widely anticipated.
22. In 1846 Dickens co-founded Urania Cottage, a home for the redemption of “fallen” women where accepted candidates could learn skills, often domestic, and re-integrate into society.
23. Among fellow writers, Dickens has been both lionized and mocked. Leo Tolstoy, G.K. Chesterton, and George Orwell all praised his realism, comic voice, prose fluency, and genius for satiric caricature, as well as his passionate advocacy on behalf of children and the poor. On the other hand, Oscar Wilde generally disparaged his depiction of character, while admiring his gift for caricature
24. He had a number of different nicknames for himself, including “The Sparkler of Albion”, “Revolver” and “The Inimitable.” He also gave his children nicknames including "Chickenstalker" and "Skittles."
25. Due to his brutal yet accurate portrayal of Yorkshire Schools in Nicholas Nickelby, public outcry over such schools was so great that within a decade they had all been shut down.
26. A copy of the First Edition of A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, is currently priced at $31,634.
27. He gave hundreds of paid readings to audiences which meant he could indulge his love of the stage and performing.
28. During his visit, he spent a month in New York City, giving lectures and raising the question of international copyright laws and the pirating of his work in America, he persuaded twenty five writers, headed by Washington Irving to sign a petition for him to take to Congress, but the press were generally hostile to this saying that he should be grateful for his popularity and that it was mercenary to complain about his work being pirated.
29. His wife`s 17 year old sister, Mary who lived with them, died in Dickens`s arms after a short illness. She would later be immortalized as Little Nell.
30. His first serial, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (aka Pickwick Papers), was so popular during its release that unofficial commercial spinoffs soon proliferated, including Pickwick pastries and Fat Boy sweets.
31. On the 9th June 1865 he narrowly escaped death when the train he was traveling in with Ellen and her mother crashed in Staplehurst. He spent time after the crash helping tend to the dying and injured and although physically unharmed he mentally never recovered.
32. Between 1837 and 1839, he lived next to the Foundling Hospital estate, on 48 Doughty Street, now the 'Charles Dickens Museum'. Dickens supported the Hospital both financially and through his writing. He rented a pew in its Chapel and referred to the Hospital in his stories, novels and plays.
33. Hans Christian Andersen became a good friend of Dickens and in 1857 visited his family, for five weeks. However, he overstayed his welcome and when the visit ended, Dickens wrote on the guest room mirror “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks which seemed to the family AGES!”
34. The publishing of A Christmas Carol (1843) came around the same time as the widespread use of Christmas trees (1841) and the first Christmas card (1843).
35. While best known for A Christmas Carol, Dickens actually wrote five books about Christmas: The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain, as well as A Christmas Carol. They were all published between 1843-1848.
36. An old toothpick Dickens once cleaned his teeth with fetched over £5,500 at auction in 2009.
37. Dickens’ story The Signal Man is partly derived from personal experience. In 1865, Dickens was involved in the famed Staplehurst rail crash in which seven train carriages toppled off a bridge that was under repair. Dickens narrowly avoided catastrophe as his own car was the first to be spared once the train finally stopped, however the incident scarred him mentally.
38. About a hundred films based on the works of Dickens were produced in the silent era alone in Britain, US and Europe.
39. Dickens had a near-photographic memory of people and events in his childhood, which he used in his writing.
40. He once performed a conjuring show on the Isle of Wight for friends, with the stage name "The Unparalleled Necromancer Rhia Rhama Rhoos, educated cabalistically in the Orange Groves of Salamanca and the Ocean Caves of Alum Bay."
41. A team of British researchers (who apparently had some time on their hands) examined Dickens's description of the gruel served in Oliver Twist's workhouse and found that the meals provided only 400 calories a day – enough to cause severe malnutrition and stunting of growth in a nine-year-old boy. Fortunately, the real-life workhouse residents upon whom Dickens based the story of Oliver Twist lived better than their fictional counterparts. The same British team looked at historical records from the mid-nineteenth century and determined that most workhouse residents received a diet of gruel that, while not particularly tasty, contained a nutritious balance of carbohydrates and proteins and weighed in at an adequate 1,600 to 1,700 calories.
42. He was a huge advocate for hypnotism and attempted to use it to cure his wife and children of their ailments.
43. Even as an adult, Dickens broke down in tears every time he passed the former site of the boot blacking factory where he was forced to work as a child.
44. His bestselling book was A Tale of Two Cities.
45. Charles Dickens was highly upset by and opinionated about the practice of chewing and spitting tobacco, which he believed to be a largely American practice. He likewise vocally disapproved of the Americans’ practice of slavery.
46. In Boston, thousands of people gathered at the dock to await the ship that carried chapter 71 of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. When the ship arrived, they asked the captain about a beloved character from the novel: “Is Nell dead?” When the affirmative response came back, a collective groan rose up from the massive crowd.
47. On June 8, 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day's work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day, on 9 June, five years to the day after the Staplehurst rail crash, he died at Gad's Hill Place.
48. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," he was laid to rest in the Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world."
49. His last words were: "On the ground", in response to his sister-in-law Georgina's request that he lie down.
50. He owned a pet raven who he called "Grip". After it died, he had it stuffed and it is now on display in Philadelphia.