5 Things You Might Not Know about Charles Dickens

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. The author of those famous words that begin A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens passed away on June 9, 1870. The writer, social commentator, and public intellectual penned many classic pieces of literature including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield. He is possibly the most famous author of the Victorian era and is well-known for his portraits of the down-and-out in England. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of his death, here are 5 things you might not have known about Mr. Dickens:

1. At first, he wrote under the pseudonym “Boz.” The word “dickens” was a common euphemism for the devil, so he wanted to avoid the obvious negative associations. He eventually started using his given name and re-popularized the expression “what the dickens” for decades to follow.

2. Like Shakespeare, Dickens was an accomplished wordsmith. He coined many expressions still used today, including “butterfingers,” “the creeps,” and “dustbin.”

3. He was a child laborer. Following tragic financial circumstances, Dickens was forced to work in a boot-black factory, pasting the labels on containers of shoe polish at the tender age of 12. This experience shaped his sympathy for the poor and downtrodden, and also served as a direct inspiration for his novel Little Dorrit.

4. He had a heroic streak. Traveling home from France on a train, his and several other train cars got partially derailed from the track. Dickens found the porter and used his keys to get stranded passengers out of their cars. This happened in June of 1865 when he was 53 years old.

5. His burial wishes were not honored. Dickens was buried at Westminster Abbey in the “Poet’s Corner” because Arthur Stanly, the dean of Westminster at the time, wanted to add some notoriety to the cemetery. In his will, Dickens asked to be buried in a common grave in the cemetery at Rochester Cathedral in Kent.

If your high school age kids haven’t read any Charles Dickens, there’s no better time to introduce one of the classics!

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