Literary Writing and the Rest of Life
During his early working years, Dickens had started writing short pieces or "sketches." Some were stories; others, descriptions of places in London, such as Newgate Prison or the shopping districts. One of these, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk," was published in 1833 in the Monthly Magazine. It was an emotional and exciting moment for the young writer even though he received no payment or credit for that first article. The magazine requested more and he started using the pen name, Boz. In 1836, he published a collection of sixty of these pieces in a book called Sketches by Boz. It received critical praise and sales were good. Monthly Magazine then asked Dickens to write a humorous novel that they would publish in twenty installments. Thus, Dickens' novel Pickwick Papers was born.
By the fourth installment of Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens was a dramatic success. People at all levels of society loved him. The acclaim only fueled his intensity. While still working on Pickwick Papers, Dickens started a much darker novel, Oliver Twist. It was a social criticism of the exploitation of orphans both in institutions and on the streets. Not to be slowed, he began Nicholas Nickleby when Oliver Twist was only half-finished. Nickleby combined both the humor of his first novel with the criticism of his second, focusing on the corruption of private boarding schools.
His grief over the death of his sister-in-law, Mary, probably served as the basis for the character, Little Nell, in his next novel, The Old Curiosity Shop. His readers followed the story closely especially when Nell became sick — many, desperately hoping she would not die, begged the publisher to spare her. Barnaby Rudge was Dickens' next novel, a historical novel set in England during the French Revolution.
In 1842, Dickens and his wife traveled through America. He found himself crushed with admirers to the point of feeling oppressed by his fame. In addition, the attitudes and vanity of some of the Americans disturbed him, especially with regard to slavery, and he was frustrated by the lack of copyright protection in the States — many of his works were being published there without any payment to him. When he returned home, Dickens wrote American Notes. While polite, Dickens' feelings about America were nevertheless obvious. American critics were, as you may expect, hostile.
His next works were a series of five Christmas stories, of which "A Christmas Carol" was the most successful. Martin Chuzzlewit, a more direct attack on America and its attitudes, followed. Dickens also spent time creating and editing a newspaper, the Daily News, and acting in a number of amateur theater productions. At this same time, he had a number of flirtations with other women and his marriage was crumbling. Concentration and sleep suffered, so much so that his seventh novel, Dombey and Son, took a great deal of time and struggle to finish. However, the slower pace didn't diminish the quality of Dickens work: Philip Collins called Dombey and Son Dickens' "first mature masterpiece."
This period was marked by a number of painful personal experiences: the death of his older sister, Fanny, in 1848; Catherine's nervous breakdown in 1850 after the birth of their daughter Dora Annie; the 1851 death of Dora; and the death of Dickens' father, John, in 1851. Yet during this period, Dickens achieved a major turning point in his writing: David Copperfield. Lawrence Kappel, a modern reviewer, crystallizes the achievement:
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