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Charles John Huffam Dickens FRSA (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870), pen-name "Boz", was the foremost English novelist of the Victorian era, as well as a vigorous social campaigner. Considered one of the English language's greatest writers, he was acclaimed for his rich storytelling and memorable characters, and achieved massive worldwide popularity in his lifetime.
Later critics, beginning with George Gissing and G. K. Chesterton, championed his mastery of prose, his endless invention of memorable characters and his powerful social sensibilities. Yet he has also received criticism from writers such as George Henry Lewes, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf, who list sentimentality, implausible occurrence and grotesque characters as faults in his oeuvre.
The popularity of Dickens' novels and short stories has meant that none have ever gone out of print. Dickens wrote serialised novels, which was the usual format for fiction at the time, and each new part of his stories would be eagerly anticipated by the reading public.
Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsmouth, Hampshire, the second of eight children to John Dickens (1786–1851), a clerk in the Navy Pay Office at Portsmouth, and his wife Elizabeth Dickens (née Barrow, 1789–1863) on February 7, 1812. When he was five, the family moved to Chatham, Kent. When he was ten, the family relocated to 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town in London.
Although his early years seem to have been an idyllic time, he thought himself then as a "very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy". He spent his time outdoors, reading voraciously with a particular fondness for the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding. He talked later in life of his extremely poignant memories of childhood and his continuing photographic memory of people and events that helped bring his fiction to life. His family was moderately wealthy, and he received some education at the private William Giles' school in Chatham. However, this time of prosperity came to an abrupt end when his father, after spending too much money entertaining and retaining his social position, was imprisoned at Marshalsea debtors' prison.
A 12-year-old Dickens began working 10 hour days in a Warren's boot-blacking factory, located near the present Charing Cross railway station. He earned six shillings a week pasting labels on the jars of thick polish. This money paid for his lodging in Camden Town and helped support his family.
After a few months his family was able to leave Marshalsea but their financial situation did not improve until later, partly due to money inherited from his father's family. His mother did not immediately remove Charles from the boot-blacking factory, which was owned by a relation of hers. Dickens never forgave his mother for this, and resentment of his situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived became major themes of his works. As Dickens wrote in David Copperfield, judged to be his most clearly autobiographical novel, "I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone, that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to heaven!" Eventually he attended the Wellington House Academy in North London.
In May 1827, Dickens began work in the office of Ellis and Blackmore as a law clerk, a junior office position with potential to become a lawyer, a profession for which he later showed his dislike in his many literary works. He later became a court stenographer at the age of 17. In 1830, Dickens met his first love, Maria Beadnell, who has been said to be the model for Dora in David Copperfield. Her parents disapproved of their courtship and they effectively ended the relationship when they sent her to school in Paris.
Notable works by Charles Dickens
Main article: Bibliography of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens published over a dozen major novels, a large number of short stories (including a number of Christmas-themed stories), a handful of plays, and several nonfiction books. Dickens' novels were initially serialized in weekly and monthly magazines, then reprinted in standard book formats.
The Pickwick Papers (Monthly serial, April 1836 to November 1837)
The Adventures of Oliver Twist (Monthly serial in Bentley's Miscellany, February 1837 to April 1839)
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Monthly serial, April 1838 to October 1839)
The Old Curiosity Shop (Weekly serial in Master Humphrey's Clock, April 25, 1840, to February 6, 1841)
Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty (Weekly serial in Master Humphrey's Clock, February 13, 184l, to November 27, 1841)
The Christmas books:
A Christmas Carol (1843)
The Chimes (1844)
The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
The Battle of Life (1846)
The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1848)
The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (Monthly serial, January 1843 to July 1844)
Dombey and Son (Monthly serial, October 1846 to April 1848)
David Copperfield (Monthly serial, May 1849 to November 1850)