The Extraordinary Life of Charles Dickens

Chronology of Events

1812 On February 7, Charles Dickens is born at Portsea, the son of Elizabeth and John Dickens, a clerk at the Navy Pay Office.
1824 On February 9, John Dickens's improvidence and bad management of the family's finances results in his being jailed for debt and two days after his 12th birthday Charles is withdrawn from school and goes to work in a blacking warehouse.
1827-30 Charles Dickens learns shorthand and becomes a court reporter.
1829-33 Dickens courts Maria Beadnell, his first love.  Maria's father, a successful banker, breaks up the relationship.
1833-34 Dickens has his first short story "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" published by the "New Monthly Magazine"; he becomes a regular contributor and uses the pseudonym "Boz."
1836 On February 7, Dickens's short stories are collected and published by John Macrone as "Sketches by Boz." 
1836 On March 31, Chapman and Hall begins publishing "Pickwick Papers" in monthly parts.
1836 On April 2, Dickens marries Catherine Hogarth whom he had courted for several years.  Catherine was the daughter of George Hogarth, music and drama critic of the "Morning Chronicle."
1836 In the spring, William Makepeace Thackeray applies as an illustrator of "Pickwick Papers"; he submits sketches which Dickens finds unsuitable.  Dickens selects Hablot K. Browne ("Phiz") as the illustrator of "Pickwick."  Browne goes on to illustrate most of Dickens's major novels.
1836 In June, Dickens publishes a little pamphlet, "Sunday Under Three Heads" using the pseudonym "Timothy Sparks"; this pamphlet is his first effort in the Social Reform Movement.
1836 Dickens meets John Forster, journalist and literary critic, who becomes a lifelong friend.  Forster was Dickens's literary executor following the latter's death in 1870.
1836 Dickens, now famous after the success of "Pickwick", becomes a member of the "Gore House Set" presided over by Lady Blessington and Count D'Orsay.  The Gore House Set presumed to set standards of taste for fashionable society.
1837 On May 7, Mary Hogarth, the younger sister of Catherine, dies suddenly.  Dickens is distraught at her death. 
1838 In June, Dickens is elected a member of the Atheneum, an elite club whose members included leading writers, artists, scholars and statesmen.
1842 On January 4, Dickens leaves for America on his first American tour.  He is feted and gratified by his reception.  However, he is openly critical of some American manners and customs which causes resentment in America.  On his return to England he writes "American Notes" which causes further resentment in America.
1843-44 Dickens terminates his relationship with his publishers, Chapman and Hall, over the repayment of advances supplied by Chapman and Hall because of insufficient profits derived from the sale of "A Christmas Carol."  Bradbury and Evans become Dickens's publishers.
1845 Dickens produces the amateur theatrical "Every Man in his Humour" for the benefit of Leigh Hunt.  In a subsequent performance, Catherine Dickens, who had a minor role, fell through a trap door injuring her ankle.  It became apparent that Catherine's confusion and clumsiness were symptoms of a nervous disorder.
1846 Dickens cooperates with his friend, Baroness Burdett Coutts, in her plan for establishing a Home for Fallen Women.  Dickens helped the Baroness with many of her philanthropic projects.
1851 On May 16, Dickens produces "Not So Bad as We Seem" under the auspices of the Guild of Literature and Art.  Dickens performs in the role of Lord Wilmot.  The performance is attended by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
1853 On December 27, Dickens gives the first of his public readings.  He reads "A Christmas Carol" for the benefit of the Birmingham and Midland Institute.  The reading is attended by two thousand people.
1855 On February 10, Dickens receives a letter from his first love, Maria Beadnell (now Mrs. Henry Winter) requesting a meeting.  Charles has Catherine invite the Winters to dinner.  The dinner is a disaster.  Maria, once gay and flirtatious, is now old, plump and silly.  Dickens breaks off the relationship. 
1857 Dickens produces "The Frozen Deep" with his group of amateur actors and actresses at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester.  For the first time, he engages professional actresses for several of the parts.  These are the Ternans: the mother and two daughters, Maria and Ellen.  Ellen Ternan will become Dickens's  mistress.  Charles is forty-five, and Ellen is eighteen.
1858 On June 12, Dickens separates from Catherine and publishes the "Personal Statement" in "Household Words" in which he states that rumors about his extra-marital relationship are false.
1858 In June, Bradbury and Evans refuses to publish the "Personal Statement" in "Punch."  This angers Dickens, who will return to Chapman and Hall as his principal publishers.
1858 Catherine's sister, Georgina Hogarth sides with Dickens in his quarrel with Catherine.  The family breaks apart.  Georgina, Charles and all of the children except Charles Jr. remain at Tavistock House.  Catherine and Charles Jr. move out.
1858 Dickens and Thackeray are members of the Garrick Club.  On going into the club one day Thackeray remarked that Dickens's separation from Catherine was due to a liason with an actress (Ellen Ternan) rather than with Georgina Hogarth.  Dickens was infuriated and this almost puts an end to the Dickens-Thackeray friendship. 
1858 Edmund Yates, a friend of Dickens and a member of the Garrick Club, is a gossip columnist on the staff of "Town Talk."  He attacks Thackeray in "Town Talk"; Thackeray mistakenly believes that Dickens had a hand in writing the article.  Thackeray demands that Yates apologize or resign from the Club.  Dickens comes to the defense of Yates.  Thackeray prevails, and Yates is black-balled from the Club.  There is an end to the Dickens-Thackeray friendship.
1859 Edmund Yates publishes "Thackeray, Yates and the Garrick Club" in which he reprints all of the correspondence between himself, Thackeray and Dickens relative to the controversy.
1863 In December, Dickens's daughter Kate brings about a reconciliation between her father and Thackeray only a few days before the latter's death on Christmas Eve.
1865 On June 9, the Staplehurst Railway disaster occurs.  Dickens and Ellen Ternan are returning from a holiday in Paris.  On the way to London, their train plunges into a ravine.  Dickens saves Ellen and other passengers, and gives aid to the injured and dying.
1865-66 Despite failing health Dickens embarks on his second tour of America.  He gives public readings which bring in over $200,000.  He dines with the President and is feted everywhere.  While the tour is a triumph, his health is seriously damaged.
1869 Dickens continues his public readings in Great Britain, earning large sums of money but further damaging his health.  He reads "Bill Sike's Murder of Nancy" from "Oliver Twist."  This is his final reading.
1869 On May 12, Dickens executes his will.  He treats Catherine and Ellen Ternan rather poorly.  The principal beneficiaries are Charles Jr. and Georgina Hogarth.
1870 Dickens begins writing "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" which is only one third finished when he dies.
1870 On June 9, Dickens dies.  Georgina Hogarth and Ellen Ternan are at his bedside.
1870 On June 14, Dickens is buried in Westminster Abbey near monuments to Dryden, Shakespeare and Chaucer.

Copyright 2004 Bruce J. Crawford. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/13/05