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Timeline

Feb 7, 1812

Charles Dickens Born

Charles John Huffam Dickens is born in Portsmouth, England, the second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens.

Sep 1814

Loses Brother; Moves to London

The Dickens family's youngest child, a six-month-old boy named Alfred, dies of a brain inflammation. John Dickens is transferred to London, and the family moves there.

1821

Starts School

Dickens enrolls in classes at a school next door to his family's home.

1823

Hard Times

Owing to John Dickens's numerous debts, he is unable to afford to send his son Charles back to school. His mother opens her own girls' school in an effort to earn more money for the family, but is unable to attract even a single student.

Feb 9, 1824

Starts Work

Two days after his twelfth birthday, Charles Dickens starts a job labeling jars of shoe polish in a factory.

Feb 23, 1824

Father Imprisoned

Despite a desperate attempt on behalf of his family to raise the money to keep him out of jail, John Dickens is committed to a debtor's prison for his failure to repay a debt of 40 pounds. The Dickens family pawns everything they own, Elizabeth Dickens and the four youngest children move in to John's prison cell. Charles takes a room at a boarding house, using his income from the boot-black factory to pay his room and board.

May 28, 1824

Father Released from Prison

After earning a small inheritance, John Dickens is able to negotiate with his creditors and secure his release from jail. The family moves into the boarding house where Charles had been living.

Jun 1824

Back to School

Charles enrolls at Wellington House Academy.

1826

Financial Problems

Another round of financial troubles forces Charles and his elder sister Fanny to withdraw from school. Soon after, the Dickens family is evicted from their London home.

May 1827

Law Work

Charles takes a job as a law clerk to bolster the family's income. He also starts spending time around London's theater – excuse us, theatre – district.

Nov 1828

Launches Journalism Career

Dickens leaves his job at a law office to work as a freelance reporter. Over the next few years, he writes for several London newspapers.

1830

Falls in Love

Dickens falls in love with a young woman named Maria Beadnell. Her well-to-do parents disapprove of the relationship and send her to school in Paris to keep her away from Dickens.

Apr 28, 1833

Stage Performances

Dickens, by now a major theater buff, stars in and also stage-manages three amateur plays. His three-year romance with Maria Beadnell ends a month later.

Dec 1833

Published

Dickens' first piece of writing, the short story "A Dinner at Poplar Walk," appears anonymously in Old Monthly Magazine. He publishes several more stories in the magazine over the next several months.

Sep 26, 1834

Street Sketches

Noticing his talent for writing, Dickens's editor at the Morning Chronicle newspaper encourages him to write more observational pieces. He publishes the first of his "Street Sketches," vignettes of life in London.

Feb 1836

Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers

Dickens begins publishing his Sketches by Boz, a collection of written pieces. The following month, he publishes the first installment of the serial novel The Pickwick Papers, which runs until November 1937.

Apr 2, 1836

Marriage

Dickens marries Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of a colleague at the Morning Chronicle.

1837

First Child Born

The couple's first child, a son named Charles but called "Charley," is born.

Feb 1837

Oliver Twist

The first installment of Dickens's serial novel Oliver Twist is published in Bentley's Miscellany, which Dickens now edits. It runs in 24 installments over two years.

1838

Second Child Born

The couple's daughter, Mamie Dickens, is born.

1839

Daughter Born

The couple's third child, Kate, is born.

Mar 1839

Nicholas Nickleby

Dickens's serial novel highlighting the miserable conditions in schools for poor children begins publication.

1840

The Old Curiosity Shop

Dickens begins another serial novel in the magazine Master Humphrey's Clock, which he edits.

1841

Son Born

The fourth Dickens child, a son named Walter, is born. Dickens leaves the editor position at Master Humphrey's Clock.

1843

Two Famous Novels

Dickens publishes two novels this year: The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit and A Christmas Carol. The latter is the well-known Christmas tale that turns out to be one of his most beloved stories.

1844

Fifth Child Born

The couple's son, Francis, is born while the Dickens family is living abroad in Genoa, Italy.

1845

Sixth Child Born

Catherine Dickens gives birth to the couple's sixth child, a son named Alfred Tennyson Dickens. The poet Lord Alfred Tennyson is the baby's namesake and godfather. Dickens also begins performing this year with his own theater company.

Oct 1846

Dombey and Son

Dickens begins serializing the novel Dombey and Son.

1847

Seventh Child Born

The Dickens have their seventh child, son Sydney.

1849

Eighth Child Born

Son Henry Fielding Dickens is born.

May 1849

David Copperfield

Dickens begins serializing David Copperfield, the most autobiographical of his novels.

1850

Ninth Child Born

Catherine Dickens gives birth to a daughter, Dora.

1851

A Tragic Year

The Dickens family suffers numerous hardships this year. Catherine endures a nervous breakdown. Charles's father, John, dies. Sadly, the couple's nine-month-old daughter, Dora, dies as well.

1852

Tenth Child Born

The couple has their tenth (and final) child: a son named Edward. Dickens also begins writing the novel Bleak House.

1854

Hard Times

Dickens' novel about the dark side of the Industrial Revolution is serialized in Household Words magazine.

1857

Meets Nelly Ternan

Dickens meets the actress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan, who is working on a production of one of his plays. They begin a romantic relationship that lasts for the rest of Dickens's life. Dickens and his wife Catherine agree to separate the following year.

Dec 1857

Little Dorrit

Serialization begins of Little Dorrit, a novel about the consequences of debt.

Apr 1859

A Tale of Two Cities

The first installment of Dickens's novel set amid the French Revolution appears in the magazine All the Year Round. (Spoiler alert! The two cities are London and Paris.) Dickens takes over editorship of All the Year Round, a position he holds for the rest of his life.

Dec 1860

Great Expectations

The first installment of Dickens's classic novel is published.

1863

Two Losses

In the same year, Dickens loses his mother, Elizabeth, as well as his fourth child, Walter, who is a soldier in Calcutta.

Nov 1865

Our Mutual Friend

Dickens completes work on Our Mutual Friend, the last novel he finishes before his death. He begins work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a mystery novel planned in twelve installments. He is only able to complete six installments.

Jun 9, 1870

Charles Dickens Dies

Charles Dickens dies at the age of 58 after spending the day working on his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He is buried in Poet's Corner at London's Westminster Abbey.

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