Charles Dickens' father John Dickens was imprisoned for debt in Southwark in 1824. Before this time he had worked as a clerk for the navy, first in the Pay Office in Portsmouth, then from 1814 in Somerset House in London, from 1817 in the naval dockyard in Chatham, and from 1822 back in London, where he lived in Camden Town. Due to his father's imprisonment Dickens was taken from school and sent to work at a boot-blacking factory, aged only twelve.
The poverty and hardship he experienced during childhood was to greatly Dickens' views on the the Industrial Revolution, the class system and child labour, themes which he explored in his writings. In his lifetime Dickens wrote fifteen major novels and numerous short stories and articles. He was friends with a number of artists and made frequent comment on contemporary and old master art. He is particularly well known for the scathing comments he made on John Everett Millais' Christ in the House of his Parents in 1850.
From 1849 to 1854 Whistler designed a number of works inspired by the novels of Dickens. He drew Sir John Chester (M.56) illustrating a scene from Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty which had been published in book form in 1841 with illustrations by George Cattermole and Hablot K. Browne. Whistler followed Brown's depiction of the scene quite closely in terms of costume and expression. He also drew Captain Cuttle (M.147) from Dealings with the Firm of Dombeyand Son (1847-48); Mr Pecksniff, blown out (Pelouze's Album, p. 62) (M.88), Head of a man in a cloak (Pelouze's Album, p. 79) (M.89), Two heads (Pelouze's Album, p. 85) (M.90) and A woman playing cards (Pelouze's Album, p. 103) (M.91) from The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44), which Whistler had borrowed from the West Point library in 1852; and Sam Weller and Mary fold a carpet (M.135), Valentine (M.136), Mrs Tupman and the fat boy (M.144) and Sam Weller's Landlord in the Fleet (M.145) from The Pickwick Papers (1836-37).
Chesterton, G. K., Charles Dickens, London, 1906; Forster, John, The Life of Charles Dickens, London, 1872-74; Hardwick, Michael, The Charles Dickens Encyclopedia, Reading, 1973; Hatton, Thomas, A Bibliography of the Periodical Works of Charles Dickens, London, 1933; Kaplan, Fred Dickens: A Biography , London, 1988; Langton, Robert, The Childhood and Youth of Charles Dickens, London, 1912; Schlicke, Paul (ed.), Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens, Oxford, 1999.