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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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His series of sketches, originally written as captions for artist Robert Seymour’s humorous sports-themed illustrations, took the form of monthly serial installments. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was wildly popular with readers. In fact, Dickens’ sketches were even more popular than the illustrations they were meant to accompany.
Around this time,
Dickens had also become publisher of a magazine called Bentley’s Miscellany. In it he started publishing his first novel, Oliver Twist, which follows the life of an orphan living in the streets. The story was inspired by how Dickens felt as an impoverished child forced to get by on his wits and earn his own keep. Dickens continued showcasing Oliver Twist in the magazines he later edited, including Household Words and All the Year Round, the latter of which he founded. The novel was extremely well received in both England and America. Dedicated readers of Oliver Twist eagerly anticipated the next monthly installment.
Over the next few years, Dickens struggled to match the level of Oliver Twist’s success. From 1838 to 1841, he published The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge.
In 1842, Dickens and his wife, Kate, embarked on a five-month lecture tour of the United States, leaving their 10 children at home with friends. Upon their return, Dickens penned American Notes for General Circulation, a sarcastic travelogue criticizing American culture and materialism.
In 1843, Dickens wrote his novel The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, a story about a man’s struggle to survive on the ruthless American frontier. The book was published the following year.
Over the next couple of years, Dickens published two Christmas stories. One was the classic A Christmas Carol, which features the timeless protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, a curmudgeonly old miser, who, with the help of a ghost, finds the Christmas spirit.
During his first U.S. tour, in 1842, Dickens designated himself as what many have deemed the first modern celebrity. He spoke of his opposition to slavery and expressed his support for additional reform. His lectures, which began in Virginia and ended in Missouri, were so widely attended that ticket scalpers started gathering outside his events. Biographer J.B. Priestly wrote that during the tour, Dickens “had the greatest welcome that probably any visitor to America has ever had.”
“They flock around me as if I were an idol,” bragged Dickens, a known show-off. Although he enjoyed the attention at first, he eventually resented the invasion of privacy. He was also annoyed by what he viewed as Americans’ gregariousness and crude habits, as he later expressed in American Notes.
In light of his criticism of the American people during his first tour, Dickens launched a second U.S. tour, from 1867 to 1868, hoping to set things right with the public.
On his second tour, he made a charismatic speech promising to praise the United States in reprints of American Notes for General Circulation and The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.
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