Charles Dickens Timeline
How It All Went Down
Charles Dickens Born
Charles John Huffam Dickens is born in Portsmouth, England, the second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens.
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.
Dickens enrolls in classes at a school next door to his family's home.
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.
Two days after his twelfth birthday, Charles Dickens starts a job labeling jars of shoe polish in a factory.
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.
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.
Back to School
Charles enrolls at Wellington House Academy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dickens marries Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of a colleague at the Morning Chronicle.
First Child Born
The couple's first child, a son named Charles but called "Charley," is born.
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.
Second Child Born
The couple's daughter, Mamie Dickens, is born.
The couple's third child, Kate, is born.
Dickens's serial novel highlighting the miserable conditions in schools for poor children begins publication.
The Old Curiosity Shop
Dickens begins another serial novel in the magazine Master Humphrey's Clock, which he edits.
The fourth Dickens child, a son named Walter, is born. Dickens leaves the editor position at Master Humphrey's Clock.
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.
Fifth Child Born
The couple's son, Francis, is born while the Dickens family is living abroad in Genoa, Italy.
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.
Dombey and Son
Dickens begins serializing the novel Dombey and Son.
Seventh Child Born
The Dickens have their seventh child, son Sydney.
Eighth Child Born
Son Henry Fielding Dickens is born.
Dickens begins serializing David Copperfield, the most autobiographical of his novels.
Ninth Child Born
Catherine Dickens gives birth to a daughter, Dora.
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.
Tenth Child Born
The couple has their tenth (and final) child: a son named Edward. Dickens also begins writing the novel Bleak House.
Dickens' novel about the dark side of the Industrial Revolution is serialized in Household Words magazine.
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.
Serialization begins of Little Dorrit, a novel about the consequences of debt.
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.
The first installment of Dickens's classic novel is published.
In the same year, Dickens loses his mother, Elizabeth, as well as his fourth child, Walter, who is a soldier in Calcutta.
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.
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.