Friday, June 9, 2017

A Week of Dickens: Resources on His Life, Works, Walks, and London

Charles Dickens was enormously popular around the world during his lifetime, and it’s no surprise that a veritable wealth of information exists on his life and writings.

I’d suggest starting with at least some of his books. Every one of his novels and collections of his articles are still in print, testifying to the man’s enduring literary legacy. I first started reading Dickens in high school for class assignments, and of course we read paperback editions. You can find them at the local bookstore or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Book Depository (which, based in the UK, has free shipping worldwide). If you have an Amazon Kindle, you can buy the entire collection of his works for $1.99, via Doma Publishing House.

I’ve been reading Dickens’s novels using the Oxford Illustrated Dickens edition. It was first published more than 20 years ago, and my copies still look brand new.


Hundreds of biographies of Dickens have been written, beginning shortly after his death/ His friend John Forster, who received a considerable amount of Dickens’s private papers, published one of the first, The Life of Charles Dickens. It’s still available in both print and digital formats. It was this biography that first disclosed that Dickens had worked as a child in a London blacking factory, pasting labels on bottles of shoe publish. Dickens used that experience for David Copperfield, and it was one that he was deeply ashamed of and humiliated by.

One of the best biographers of Dickens was G.K. Chesterton, whose Charles Dickens: The Last of the Great Men was first published in 1903 and reprinted many times. For a publication of Dickens’s works in 1911, Chesterton also wrote the introductions for each of the volumes, and these were later collected and published separately as Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens.

Another notable biography is Dickens (1991) by Peter Ackroyd. It’s mammoth – almost 1,200 pages, including more than 100 pages of notes and index. Ackroyd also wrote Dickens: Public Life and Private Passions (2002). Michael Slater has also written a fine biography, Charles Dickens (2009), in addition to several other books on the author. More recently Claire Tomalin published Charles Dickens: A Life (2011).

Online Resources

The Dickens Fellowship maintains an online site, and it also publishes The Dickensian.

The Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury
If you travel London, you should visit the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. I’ve been three times, and if we return to London, there will be a fourth visit. (See below for a video about the museum). I posted about the museum on this blog in 2013.

The University of Buckingham maintains the Dickens Journals Online project, which includes the various journals Dickens edited and wrote for.

BBC Radio has a relatively short broadcast (about six minutes) on “Charles Dickens: Campaigning Reporter.” And BBC maintains a biographical entry for Dickens, as does Biography.

I’ve reviewed several books here about Dickens and various aspects of his life and writings, including Becoming Dickens by Robert-Douglas-Fairhurst; Charles Dickens by Simon Callow; God and Charles Dickens by Gary Colledge; and reviews of A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth. I also reviewed David Copperfield and Oliver Twist at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Dickens Walks in London

Writers have been writing about Dickens and London for a long time. I have a 1908 edition of Dickens’ London by Francis Miltoun, that provides some idea of what Dickens knew that still existed at the turn of the 20th century. Times (and London) have changed, however.

If you go to London, several books are available that explain how to “walk the London of Charles Dickens.” Two published in 2012 and still in date are Walking Dickens’ London by Lee Jackson and A Guide to Dickens’ London by Daniel Tyler. A collection of Dickens’s own descriptions of walking London at night can be found in Night Walks, published by Penguin.

The City of London and the Charles Dickens Museum have collaborated on a brochure guide entitled “Chickens’ ‘Magic Lantern,’” a walk-it-yourself tour of the key areas in the city associated with Dickens. The brochure is available at the Tourist Information Office on Cannon Street across from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

There are also several guided Dickens walks and tours available:  one with Richard Johnson, author of Walking Dickensian London; Walks of London; and one hosted by the Charles Dickens Museum.

The Charles Dickens Museum in London

Top photograph: a studio portrait of Charles Dickens.

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