Monday, February 07, 2011 at 7:00 AM
More than a century after his death in 1870, Victorian novelist Charles John Huffam Dickens, author of The Old Curiosity Shop, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, is one of the mostly avidly read authors today. Here's wishing a "Happy Birthday" to a literary stalwart who has captivated us with marvelously crafted stories and their intricately fascinating characters like Little Nell and Pip.
Aside from his work, however, there was much to the man himself. From being an fervent supporter for the abolition of slavery in America, to being a philanthropist and setting up Urania Cottage—a home for destitute women in England—Charles Dickens did it all.
Dickens's first story was "A Dinner at Poplar Walk," published in the London periodical Monthly Magazine in 1833. He was only 21.
Prior to becoming a famous novelist, Dickens was a political journalist for The Morning Chronicle in Britain, where he published a collection of his work in Sketches by Boz. He later moved on to become the editor of Bentley's Miscellany at the age of 24.
Dickens had a pet raven named Grip, whom he loved so dearly that when it died, he had the bird stuffed and mounted in his study. It is also said that the bird not only inspired Dickens's talking raven in Barnaby Rudge, but also Edgar Alan Poe's memorable poem "The Raven."
While renting hotel suites during his travels to the U.S. and other places, Dickens almost always rearranged all the furniture in the room until he was completely satisfied with the decor. He also insisted on his children keeping their nurseries extremely organized and rebuked them rather severely for untidiness. Literary and psychological experts have often conjectured that this behavior resulted from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Dickens's ten-year friendship with the fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen abruptly ended when he stuck a note in his guest bedroom, only days after the author of "The Ugly Duckling" had departed, that read: "Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seemed to the family ages!"
Dickens published Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby in periodical installments, often sensationalizing and altering the plot after taking into account the public reception for each of the published episodes.
At his country home in Gad's Hill Place, Dickens had a faux bookcase in his study that concealed a secret door and was filled with bogus yet amusing titles like Hansard's Guide to Refreshing Sleep, Was Shakespeare's Mother Fat? and The Quarrelly Review.