A Timeline of Charles Dickens' Life

Map out the important dates of Charles Dickens’ life, including the publication of A Christmas Carol

A Timeline of Charles Dickens' Life

Written by Peter Bowen

Born in 1812, Charles Dickens lived for 58 years, creating some of the great masterpieces of English literature, including his 1843 A Christmas Carol (whose creation is dramatized in The Man Who Invented Christmas). We map out his amazing life in this special timeline.

Early Life

February 7, 1812: Charles Dickens is born to John and Elizabeth Dickens.

1824: John Dickens arrested for his debts and sent to Marshalsea prison. A 12-year-old Charles Dickens is forced to work at Warren’s Blacking Factory pasting labels on shoe polish containers to provide for the family.

1833: Dickens publishes his first story, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk,” in The Monthly Magazine.

1836: Dickens begins monthly installments of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers. The novel becomes a publishing phenomenon, going from selling 500 copies of the first installment to over 40,000 of the last one in 1847.

1837: Dickens’ first child, Charles Culliford Boz Dickens, is born—the first of his 10 children. He begins publishing monthly installments of Oliver Twist. The book, beloved by factory workers and Queen Victoria unlike, make Dickens one of the most popular writers of his times.

1840: Dickens begins publishing installments of The Old Curiosity Shop, which quickly becomes the bestselling novel of its time with over 100,000 readers per issue.

1841: Dickens publishes Barnaby Rudge, which, while still popular, marks a notable decline in readership, dropping to about 30,000 by its last installments.

1842: Dickens travels to America with his wife on a reading tour. His latest novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, sees disappointing sales numbers.

A Christmas Carol

Oct 5, 1843: During a evening walk after a fundraiser for the Manchester Athenaeum, Dickens begins to hatch the idea for a new novel, one that will touch on the ill effects of industrialization and the fate of children in such a world.

October to December 1843: Dickens works furiously on A Christmas Carol. He tells a friend that he composes much of it walking “the black streets of London… many a night when all the sober folks had gone to bed.”

November 1843: He hires John Leech to create the illustrations for his book and works with him to realize his vision of the story.

December 17, 1843: The final book has gone to the printer. Two days later, Dickens has 6,000 copies ready for bookstores.

December 19, 1843: In his review of A Christmas Carol, Charles Mackay relishes the book’s sense of joy, writing, “If such spirits could be multiplied, as the copies of this little book we doubt not will be…what a happy Christmas indeed should we yet have this 1843!”

December 24, 1843: The first printing of 6,000 volumes sells out.

January 3, 1844: The book goes into a second and third printing.

Jan 24, 1844: The New York publishers Harper and Brothers have the first authorized US edition of A Christmas Carol in stores – many unauthorized versions follow.

February 5, 1844: An authorized stage production of A Christmas Carol opens. Within weeks there are seven more unauthorized plays based on the novel in theaters throughout London.

1854: Dickens begins giving a series of very popular public readings of A Christmas Carol.

Later Life

1849: Dickens publishes David Copperfield.

1851: John Dickens, Charles Dickens’ father, dies.

1852: Dickens’ publishes Bleak House.

1859: Dickens publishes A Tale of Two Cities.

1861: Dickens publishes Great Expectations.

1870: Dickens began publishing his last (and unfinished) novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

June 9, 1870: Charles Dickens dies from a stroke.

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