English novelist Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Hampshire, on February
7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy pay office. In 1814, the
family moved to London, and then to Chatham, Kent. John Dickens was often in
financial difficulties, and in 1824 he was imprisoned for debt. Because of the
family's poverty, the education of the young Dickens was halted for five months
when he was sent to work in a shoe-blacking factory in London.
After this Dickens studied at Wellington House Academy, in London, after which,
in 1827, he became a law office clerk and then a shorthand court reporter. His
literary talent was not long in emerging. His first short story was published in
1833, and in 1836 he published his sketches of London life, Sketches By Boz. In
that year he also became the editor of Bentley's Miscellany, and he married
The first of Dickens's novels was The Pickwick Papers (1836-37), Like most of
his novels, it was published in serial form. After this success, Dickens wrote at a
prodigious rate. Within a few years he produced Oliver Twist (1837-39) Nicholas
Nickleby (1838-39), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41) and Barnaby Rudge
Dickens felt keenly the social injustices of his day and spent much time traveling
and campaigning for social improvement. In 1842, he toured the United States
and Canada and aroused controversy by advocating the abolition of slavery. He
published American Notes in October, 1842.
Dickens best-known works during the 1840s and 1850s include Martin
Chuzzlewit (1843-44), A Christmas Carol (1843), Dombey and Son (1846-48),
David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852-53), Hard Times (1854), Little
Dorrit (1855-57) and A Tale of Two Cities (1859).
During this period Dickens also held a number of editorial positions. In 1850, he
established the weekly magazine, Household Words, which he edited until it
ceased publication in 1859. A new weekly, All the Year Round, was established
under his editorship in 1859.
In the late 1850s, and continuing into the 1860s, Dickens gave public readings
from his works in London and the provinces. These dramatic readings were
extremely popular, both in England and abroad. Dickens gave a reading in Paris
in 1863 and undertook a reading tour of the United States from December, 1867
to April, 1868. The tour began in Boston and continued in other East coast cities,
in spite of the fact that Dickens was in poor health at the time.
During the 1860s, Dickens published Great Expectations (1860-61) and Our
Mutual Friend (1864-65), but continued to damage his health by overwork,
including more strenuous reading tours in England, Scotland and Ireland. The
last of these readings took place in 1870, in London. Dickens's last book, The
Mystery of Edwin Drood, had begun publication but remained unfinished at his
death at Gadshill, near Rochester, Kent, on June 9, 1870, of a stroke.