Charles Kingsley: Biography, Books & Poems

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Charles Kingsley was a clergy by vocation, but his writing allowed him to share his thoughts, philosophies, and fictional world with readers. We will see his strength of character as he shares his point of view.

Charles Kingsley
Charles Kingsley

A Man of Action

A man ahead of his time, Charles Kingsley shared his progressive beliefs in his writing. In writing and deeds, he pushed for improvements to sanitation systems, education for adults, and longed to see a change in the political system. He was a rebel as a young man, a trait which also carried over into his adult life.

A Wild Child Gets His Start

Charles Kingsley was born the son of an Anglican minister in 1819. As a child Charles did little to impress the education system with his talents, but was very interested in art, nature and poetry. With his fathers was appointment to St. Luke's in Chelsea, Kingsley began attending King's College in London, England. He lasted for two years at King's College before he made the move to Magdalene College in Cambridge. It was there that he fell in love with Fanny Grenfell. Fanny's parents were not impressed with young Charles. It seems his reputation for wild and radical behavior had preceded him, and as a result they did not support the idea of the marriage. Charles was a forward-thinking young man who held similar beliefs to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the leader of the Romantic Movement. He was also a supporter of the social commentator, Thomas Carlyle. These ideas were not supported by the mainstream, but then, Charles had never been a part of that group.

He Makes His Mark

After graduation, he was ordained as a clergyman. The Anglican church sent him to the parish in Eversley, Hampshire, and in 1844 he finally married Fanny Grenfell. Shortly after he was married, he found his writer's voice, and in 1848 his first book, Yeast was published. It was around this time that Kingsley began write about Christian socialism. Kingsley believed that it was possible to correct the problems of the industrialization by applying Christian ethics. Yeast and his second novel Alton Locke are largely about the Christian Socialist movement. It was Kingsley's hope that the upper class would come to understand the needs of the lower class and their responsibilities to them, but in some of his work there was a belief that he was pushing people to revolt. The next few years were difficult. He had accepted a teaching appointment at Queens College, but poor health forced him to resign.

It took a few years before misconceptions about his ideas were behind him, and in 1851 his next book, Hypatia was published. This story took place in Alexandria, Egypt in the 4th century, and focused on his ideas about the relationship and conflict between Christianity and Neo Platonism.

Kingsley's wife became ill in 1853 and he left Eversely to take care of her. While he was away from his job, he wrote Westward Ho! a adventure story with a touch of romance. He also wrote The Water-Babies to provide entertainment to his younger children, and before long it was a highly successful and popular book. Water-Babies also highlights Kingsley's concern for social reform, and in 1963 this popular book won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

More than a Novelist

Charles Kingsley was a prolific poet, writing eighty-six poems during his lifetime. They are lyrical, with a rhyme scheme that pulls the reader into the piece. In the poem 'My Little Doll,' taken from Water-Babies, the narrator laments the loss of a doll.

I once had a sweet little doll, dears,

The prettiest doll in the world;

We can see the affection for the doll in the word choice. In the next lines of the poem, we learn its fate:

But I lost my poor little doll, dears,

As I played in the heath one day;

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