Donald Geoffrey Charlton was born in 1925. Prior to wartime service with the Royal Navy during which he worked as an interpreter of French and German he read philosophy at St Edmund Hall. Following the war he enrolled at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he took a first-class degree in modern languages in 1948. He was very shortly thereafter appointed to an assistant lectureship at the University College of Hull which he held while working towards his PhD under Professor H. J. Hunt which he completed in 1955. He married and had three children.
Charlton spent the academic year of 1961–1962 at the University of Toronto; upon his return to Britain in 1963 he was appointed chair of French at the newly opening University of Warwick where he served as the chairman of the department for the next twenty-one years. He was a reputedly gifted administrator serving on the National Council for Languages in Further and Higher Education and the committee for the Association of University Professors of French. He gave many public lectures including the 1983 Gifford Lectures at the University of St Andrews. He died 22 December 1995 while on holiday in Tenerife.
His publications include: Positivist Thought in France during the Second Empire (1959); Secular Religions in France 1815–1870 (1963); Companion Guide to French Studies (1972); The French Romantics (1984).