Charles Dickens was born on February 7th, 1812, and went on to become one of the greatest writers of the Victorian era, and indeed one of the best writers of all time.
Dickens was, of course, a novelist – but he was also much more. He wrote hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles. For many years he was editor of the weekly journals Household Words and All the Year Round (in which some of his novels were serialised). He was similarly famous for his public lectures and performances, and also campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable people in British society. Dickens’ energy and commitment to every aspect of his work were astounding.
Nevertheless, Charles Dickens remains best-known for his fifteen novels, from the hugely popular comedic romp The Pickwick Papers (1836) to The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), a much darker tale which was left unfinished at Dickens’ death. Dickens’ novels are peopled by a plethora of vividly-drawn, bizarrely-named characters who are amongst the most memorable in English literature. Here are five of his best-known creations:
Oliver Twist is the protagonist of the novel of the same name (1838), and in fact the first child protagonist of an English novel. Oliver embarks on a remarkable journey from workhouse poverty to a fairytale-like ending, via a series of unexpected pitfalls and serendipities – and entanglement with a den of thieves.
Ebenezer Scrooge’s tale is told in A Christmas Carol (1843). A cold-hearted and miserly man who detests the season of goodwill, Scrooge unexpectedly receives a series of extraordinary visits from three Christmas Ghosts.
Sairey Gamp is a rascally comedic character in Martin Chuzzlewit (1844). Mrs Gamp is a nurse, poorly trained, slovenly, and often intoxicated, yet irrepressible. She makes constant references to her imaginary friend Mrs Harris, and she is never without her umbrella.
Wilkins Micawber, who features in David Copperfield (1850), is based on Dickens’ father. Despite being continually in debt, even spending time in debtors’ prison, Mr Micawber remains an eternal optimist, always convinced that “something will turn up.”
Miss Havisham is a tragically Gothic figure in Great Expectations (1861). Once a bride abandoned on her wedding day, the ageing Miss Havisham still wears her wedding dress. She has become a recluse in a decaying mansion where all the clocks were stopped at the time of her betrayal, and where she weaves schemes for her adopted daughter, Estella.
To find out more about these characters, and many others, take a look at this list here: Notable Characters in the Works of Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens was a literary celebrity in his lifetime, and his works are still immensely popular today. His literary genius, wisdom, and compassion made him a truly remarkable individual. What better way to mark Dickens’ birthday than by reading – or re-reading – one of his extraordinary novels? And by clicking on the link here, you can also read about the Charles Dickens Museum, based at Dickens’ London home: it’s well worth a visit!