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Charles Dickens was the well-loved and prolific British author of numerous works that are now considered classics.
Charles Dickens - Full Episode (46:55)
Learn about Charles Dickens' youth and this great novelist of the Victorian Era's family struggles with debt prison.
Novelist Charles Dickens set out on public speaking tours of his most beloved work to both the United States and Great Britain in need of money but cost him his health.
Charles Dickens wrote stories for the masses but few could afford leather bound novels, so people read his serialized writings in monthly segments.
The full biography of Charles Dickens, the most popular novelist of the Victorian Era.
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British novelist Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England. Over the course of his writing career, he wrote the beloved classic novels Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. On June 9, 1870, Dickens died of a stroke in Kent, England, leaving his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.
"The English are, as far as I know, the hardest worked people on whom the sun shines. Be content if in their wretched intervals of leisure they read for amusement and do no worse."
"I write because I can't help it."
"Literature cannot be too faithful to the people, cannot too ardently advocate the cause of their advancement, happiness and prosperity."
"An author feels as if he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him forever."
"Nobody has done more harm in this single generation than everybody can mend in 10 generations."
"If I were soured [on writing], I should still try to sweeten the lives and fancies of others; but I am not—not at all."
"Well, the work is hard, the climate is hard, the life is hard: but so far the gain is enormous."
"Who that has ever reflected on the enormous and vast amount of leave-taking there is in life can ever have doubted the existence of another?"
"I never knew what it was to feel disgust and contempt, till I traveled in America."
"My great ambition is to live in the hearts and homes of home-loving people, and to be connected with the truth of the truthful English life."
Famed British author Charles Dickens was born Charles John Huffam Dickens on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, on the southern coast of England. He was the second of eight children. His father, John Dickens, was a naval clerk who dreamed of striking it rich. Charles Dickens’ mother, Elizabeth Barrow, aspired to be a teacher and school director. Despite his parents’ best efforts, the family remained poor. Nevertheless, they were happy in the early days. In 1816, they moved to Chatham, Kent, where young Charles and his siblings were free to roam the countryside and explore the old castle at Rochester.
In 1822, the Dickens family moved to Camden Town, a poor neighborhood in London. By then the family’s financial situation had grown dire, as John Dickens had a dangerous habit of living beyond the family’s means. Eventually, John was sent to prison for debt in 1824, when Charles was just 12 years old.
Following his father’s imprisonment, Charles Dickens was forced to leave school to work at a boot-blacking factory alongside the River Thames. At the rundown, rodent-ridden factory, Dickens earned six shillings a week labeling pots of “blacking,” a substance used to clean fireplaces. It was the best he could do to help support his family. Looking back on the experience, Dickens saw it as the moment he said goodbye to his youthful innocence, stating that he wondered “how [he] could be so easily cast away at such a young age.” He felt abandoned and betrayed by the adults who were supposed to take care of him. These sentiments would later become a recurring theme in his writing.
Much to his relief, Dickens was permitted to go back to school when his father received a family inheritance and used it to pay off his debts. But when Dickens was 15, his education was pulled out from under him once again. In 1827, he had to drop out of school and work as an office boy to contribute to his family’s income. As it turned out, the job became an early launching point for his writing career.
Within a year of being hired, Dickens began freelance reporting at the law courts of London. Just a few years later, he was reporting for two major London newspapers. In 1833, he began submitting sketches to various magazines and newspapers under the pseudonym “Boz.” In 1836, his clippings were published in his first book, Sketches by Boz. Dickens’ first success caught the eye of Catherine Hogarth, whom he soon married. Catherine would grace Charles with a brood of 10 children before the couple separated in 1858.
In the same year that Sketches by Boz was released, Dickens started publishing The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.
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