…did that phrase come from? Most definitely not Charles Dickens.
The phrase “What the Dickens”…”Where the Dickens”…”Like the Dickens” is a minced oath first appearing in Shakespeare’s work The Merry Wives of Windsor:
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had of him.
The English had this thing where they wanted to communicate without being explicit. In the midst of their euphemisms lies the category of minced oaths–words or phrases used to avoid swearing while expressing pain, shock, surprise or simply being vulgar.
Blimey. (Blind Me)
Jiminy Cricket. (Jesus Christ)
Sam Hill. (Hell)
And so on.
‘What the Dickens’ is a minced oath for the word devil, thought to be shortened/connected with the off shoot of devil: devilkins.