There is something about Charles Dickens' imaginative power that defies
explanation in purely biographical terms. Nevertheless, his biography shows the
source of that power and is the best place to begin to define it.
The second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens, Charles was born on
February 7, 1812, near Portsmouth on England's south coast. At that time John
Dickens was stationed in Portsmouth as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. The
family was of lower-middle-class origins, John having come from servants and
Elizabeth from minor bureaucrats. Dickens' father was vivacious and generous but
had an unfortunate tendency to live beyond his means. his mother was
affectionate and rather inept in practical matters. Dickens later used his
father as the basis for Mr. Micawber and portrayed is mother as Mrs. Nickleby in
A Tale of Two Cities.
After a transfer to London in 1814, the family moved to Chatham, near
Rochester, three years later. Dickens was about five at the time, and for the
next five years his life was pleasant. Taught to read by his mother, he devoured
his fathers' small collection of classics, which included Shakespeare, Cervantes,
Defoe, Smollet, Fielding, and Goldsmith. These left a permanent mark on his
imagination; their effect on his art was quite important. dickens also went to
some performances of Shakespeare and formed a lifelong attachment to the theater.
He attended school during this period and showed himself to be a rather solitary,
observant, good-natured child with some talent for comic routines, which his
father encouraged. In retrospect Dickens looked upon these years as a kind of
golden age. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, is in part an attempt to
recreate their idyllic nature: it rejoices in innocence and the youthful spirit,
and its happiest scenes take place in that precise geographical area.
In the light of the family's move back to London, where financial
difficulties overtook the... [continues]
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