Charles Dickens at 200

Charles Dickens, born in February 1812, is a writer who presumably needs no introduction. Many of his characters and stories are part of the cherished fabric of readers of English literature—Oliver Twist & Fagin, Pip & Miss Havisham, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Ebenezer Scrooge, and all the rest. After a difficult childhood, Dickens started his writing career as a journalist and editor of several popular magazines. His first collection of essays and stories, Sketches by Boz (an early pseudonym derived from a family nickname) was published in 1836. Dickens was only twenty-four years old and not well known as a writer. His illustrator, George Cruikshank, was twenty years older and already an established graphic artist. The second series of Dickens’ sketches, generally known as The Pickwick Papers, is the work that made Dickens famous, almost overnight. Dickens was a prolific writer, and his popularity flourished during his lifetime and well beyond his death in 1870. His many works were illustrated by a number of the Victorian era’s most notable graphic artists.

Many of Dickens’ novels, as well as others of the time, were published as serials, in weekly or monthly parts, stitched into printed paper wrappers. This meant that the novels didn’t have to be, or seldom were, complete when publication began, resulting in the use of the “cliffhanger,” a suspenseful end to each section of the novel, intended to guarantee the reader’s interest and eagerness to purchase the next installments of the story. The Mortimer Rare Book Room has a notable Charles Dickens collection, including a number of his novels in “original parts.” The bulk of the Dickens material was a gift to the library in January 1965 (and exhibited here in February of that year) by Helen Dunbar Holmes, class of 1909. The exhibition was on view in Neilson Library through April, 2012.

Charles Dickens at 200 poster

[Click poster to enlarge image]

Online Exhibition

Start here to view the the exhibition in order using the "next image" link at the bottom of each page, or use the "return home" links to return to this page and select an image you would like to view individually.

Portrait of Charles Dickens
Portrait of the young
Charles Dickens
first edition of Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens
Dickens' first
published book
Dickens' handwriting
Dickens' handwriting

Pickwick Papers cover
Dickens' first novel,
The Pickwick Club
First American edition Pickwick Papers
First American edition of Pickwick Papers
illustration from Oliver Twist
Charles Dickens and
Bentley's Miscellany
Oliver Twist as a three-decker
Oliver Twist as
a three-decker
Household Words
Dickens' first magazine: Household Words
Hard Times
Hard Times
in book form
All the Year Round
Dickens' 2nd magazine:
All the Year Round
A Tale of Two Cities
First appearance of
A Tale of Two Cities
Great Expectations
"So, I called myself Pip"
Great Expectations
catalogue page from Great Expectations
Great Expectations
in book form
illustration from Great Expectations
An illustrated
Great Expectations
Woman in White
The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins
Paul Clifford title page
By the author of "It was a
dark and stormy night"
illustration from American Scenery
Charles Dickens in
illustration from American Notes
Dickens' American
illustration from Martin Chuzzlewit
American scenes in
Martin Chuzzlewit
illustration from Omnibus
Dickens' first illustrator: George Cruikshank
Cruikshank wood block
Cruikshank writes to his engraver
Fairy Library cover
A rift between Dickens
and Cruikshank
Bleak House cover
Dicken's principal illustrator: H.K. Browne
David Copperfield in parts
David Copperfield in
original parts
David Copperfield title page
Charles Dickens reflects on David Copperfield
  advertisement in David Copperfield
Letts, Son & Sterr advertisement
  Helen Dunbar Holmes Class of 1909
Helen Dunbar Holmes,
class of 1909


Exhibition written by Barbara Blumenthal. Online exhibition created by Elizabeth Sheirer.

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