The Tragic Deaths Of Charles Dickens' Siblings

Charles Dickens is one of the most influential and well-known authors of the past few centuries, so much so that his work helped the cultural revival of Christmas. His works "A Christmas Carol," "Oliver Twist," and "A Tale of Two Cities" have been reproduced and parodied countless times to the point where even if you've never read a page of his novels, you're familiar with the stories.

Yet most might not be familiar with the tragedies in his life, particularly concerning the fate of his siblings. Child mortality rates were much higher in the 19th century, particularly for the impoverished and debt-ridden, and Dickens' father was certainly the latter. As a boy, Dickens would spend 10 hours a day in a factory alongside his sister Fanny for meager pay, just to help out his family when the debtors came calling and his father was in debtor's prison (via Forbes). Fanny was the only one of Charles' seven siblings that was older than the famous author, yet Dickens would outlive nearly every one as they met their fate in differing, yet often tragic, circumstances.

Two of his siblings died in childhood

By the time Charles Dickens was working long days in the factory at the age of 12, he had already lost two siblings (via Charles Dickens Page). When he was 2, his brother Alfred Allen Dickens was born, yet did not survive his first year, perishing after just six months on Earth. Years later, his little sister Harriet Dickens died. Little is known about her, including the time and cause of her death, but it's said that she lived past infancy and had already developed a relationship with Charles before her death, possibly from smallpox, according to author Keith Hooper's book "Charles Dickens: Faith, Angels and the Poor." 

Older sister Fanny died of consumption at the age of just 38, leaving behind a crippled son who was the inspiration for the character Tiny Tim. Fanny was very close to Dickens during their childhoods, having worked in the factory together. 

More tragic was the life of his younger brother Fred, who took after their father in terms of money management. Living off of his famous brother's name, Fred spent time between local taverns and debtor's prisons, before dying at the age of 48. Dickens' two youngest brothers, Alfred and Augustus, died before their 40th birthdays, leaving behind wives — two in Augustus' case — that Dickens supported financially. He also supported Letitia Mary, the only sibling to outlive the famous author. While his name and work have stood the test of time, the novelist's life was one filled with tragedy as he struggled to support his family's bad habits and untimely demises.