Considered to be one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era by many people, Charles John Huffam Dickens, the English writer and social critic, is credited with having penned some of the world’s best-known literary creations. Enjoying unprecedented and lasting popularity both during his lifetime and afterwards, his works are still highly appreciated by critics and scholars who have recognised him as a literary genius.
Although Dickens was born in Portsmouth, he shifted to London at a young age but he had to leave school and start working in a factory because his father was put in a debtor’s prison as he had failed to pay his debts. His literary genius was in his blood as he achieved great success despite not having any formal education. His achievements include editing a weekly journal for 20 years, writing 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lecturing and performing widely, engaging in plenty of letter writing and campaigning for children’s rights, education and for other social reforms.
Dickens faced the trauma of his father’s incarceration at a young age, which left a deep impact on him and also influenced his literary work which mostly dealt with the sad conditions of the city’s poor masses. He had a deep fascination for London even after he became famous as he continued to stay there except when he was on tour. Most of his stories are based on the city as he got immense inspiration by his experiences of walking through the streets and observing its various facets that he would imbibe in his novels and short stories. The influence of the city is evident in many of his literary creations. The term Dickensian was coined to describe something that reminds us of Dickens and his writings, particularly with regard to poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.
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The Pickwick Papers: Dickens achieved his first literary success when the serial publication of his Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (more commonly known as The Pickwick Papers) started in 1836. This publication revolved around the travels around England of a group of men that included their sojourns at a few inns in London such as the George and Vulture on Lombard Street and the Golden Cross at Charing Cross. A prominent place that appears in these publications is St Bartholomew’s Hospital which also features in other works such as Martin Chuzzlewit, Little Dorrit, and Great Expectations.
Oliver Twist: Two years after the Pickwick Papers, one of his most famous works, Oliver Twist appeared on the literary scene. It features visits to Saffron Hill and Jacob’s Island where Dickens was often seen patrolling with the Metropolitan Police. This gave him an opportunity to get familiar with the dismal conditions of crime and poverty that probably prompted the setting for Bill Sikes’ death. Both Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are frequently adapted and present images of early Victorian London.
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A Christmas Carol: This novella was published in 1843 and it achieved instant popularity which is being maintained even till date and is inspiring adaptations in every artistic genre.
A Tale of Two Cities: This novel was published in 1859 and it is one of his best-known works of historical fiction. It was set in London and Paris and it brought his creative genius plenty of laurels from fellow writers such as George Orwell, G. K. Chesterton and Leo Tolstoy, along with criticism from Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Virginia Woolf.
David Copperfield: In this novel you can find many locations of London that Dickens was quite familiar with. Moreover, you can see reflections of the author’s life in the novel at many places and situations such as the Strand where David and his Aunt Betsey stayed for some time, and the Adelphi Theatre where Dickens used to go quite frequently. Fleet Street, where Copperfield is shown to spend time is also the place which Dickens used to frequent as a young reporter. Similarly Prince Henry’s Room on Fleet Street which is near Dickens’ favourite pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, also features in his novel. Camden Town is where the Micawbers of the novel lived as also the Cratchits featured in A Christmas Carol. The Royal Exchange is also featured in the story as being the place where two men endeavour to convince Scrooge to contribute to charity.
Covenant Garden: Dickens’ newspaper All the Year Round was located on the upper floors of 26 Wellington Street, which has now been converted into the Charles Dickens Coffee shop. Just as Dickens once lived in this area, Arthur Clennam also features in Little Dorrit as living there. The prison where Dickens’ father was imprisoned also features in the novel as Amy Dorrit’s father is also sent there.
Walking in the Footsteps of Dickens: Apart from the real-world places that appear in Dickens’ writings, there are many other locations which he himself used to frequent. These include Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The George Inn in Southwark, and Rules Restaurant where Dickens had a table reserved for him that overlooked the factory where he worked when he was young, All these places can be visited to get a feel of Dickens. Another important place that visitors must visit for knowing more of Dickens is the Dickens House Museum where Dickens lived with his family for quite some time. The best way to get an insight into his life and how London influenced his works is to take one of the walking tours that will take you to all places associated with him from Southwark to Camden.