1812 – Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire on February 7, 1812.
1824 – His family was moderately well-off, and he received some education at a private school but all that changed when his father, after spending too much money entertaining and retaining his social position, was imprisoned for debt. At the age of twelve, Dickens was deemed old enough to work and began working for ten hours a day in Warren’s boot-blacking factory, located near the present Charing Cross railway station. He spent his time pasting labels on the jars of thick polish and earned six shillings a week. With this money, he had to pay for his lodging and help to support his family, most of whom were living with his father, who was incarcerated in the nearby Marshalsea debtors prison.
1827 – In May 1827, Dickens began work as a law clerk, a junior office position with potential to become a lawyer. He did not like the law as a profession and after a short time as a court stenographer he became a journalist, reporting parliamentary debate and travelling Britain by stagecoach to cover election campaigns. His journalism formed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz and he continued to contribute to and edit journals for much of his life. In his early twenties he made a name for himself with his first novel, The Pickwick Papers.
1836-1839 – On April 2, 1836, he married Catherine Thompson Hogarth, with whom he was to have ten children, and set up home in Bloomsbury. In the same year, he accepted the job of editor of Bentley’s Miscellany, a position he would hold until 1839 when he fell out with the owner. Two other journals in which Dickens would be a major contributor were Household Words and All the Year Round.
1842 – Dickens travelled together with his wife to the United States; the trip is described in the short travelogue American Notes and is also the basis of some of the episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit. Shortly thereafter, he began to show interest in Unitarian Christianity, although he remained an Anglican, at least nominally, for the rest of his life. Dickens’s writings were extremely popular in their day and were read extensively.
1856 – Dickens’s popularity allowed him to buy Gad’s Hill Place. This large house in Higham, Kent, was very special to the author as he had walked past it as a child and had dreamed of living in it. The area was also the scene of some of the events of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part 1 and this literary connection pleased Dickens.
1858 – Dickens separated from his wife. In Victorian times, divorce was almost unthinkable, particularly for someone as famous as he was. He continued to maintain her in a house for the next twenty years until she died. Although they were initially happy together, Catherine did not seem to share quite the same boundless energy for life which Dickens had. Her job of looking after their ten children and the pressure of living with and keeping house for a world-famous novelist certainly did not help. Catherine’s sister Georgina moved in to help her, but there were rumours that Charles was romantically linked to his sister-in-law. An indication of his marital dissatisfaction was when, in 1855, he went to meet his first love, Maria Beadnell. Maria was by this time married as well, but she seemed to have fallen short of Dickens’s romantic memory of her.
1865 – On June 9, 1865, while returning from France to see Ellen Ternan, Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst rail crash in which the first seven carriages of the train plunged off of a bridge that was being repaired. The only first-class carriage to remain on the track was the one in which Dickens was berthed. Dickens spent some time tending the wounded and the dying before rescuers arrived. Before finally leaving, he remembered the unfinished manuscript for Our Mutual Friend, and he returned to his carriage to retrieve it. Typical of Dickens, he later used the terrible experience to write his short ghost story The Signal-Man in which the protagonist has a premonition of a rail crash.
1869 – Dickens accepted the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and became its 16th President.
1870 – On 9 June 1870, he died after suffering a stroke. Contrary to his wish to be buried in Rochester Cathedral, he was buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads: "He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world." Dickens’s will stipulated that no memorial be erected to honour him. The only life-size bronze statue of Dickens, cast in 1891 by Francis Edwin Elwell, is located in Clark Park, Philadelphia, in the United States. Dickens’s writing style is florid and poetic, with a strong comic touch. His satires of British aristocratic snobbery – he calls one character the "Noble Refrigerator" – are often popular. Comparing orphans to stocks and shares, people to tug boats, or dinner-party guests to furniture are just some of Dickens’s acclaimed flights of fancy.