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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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Back at home, Dickens had become so famous that people recognized him all over London as he strolled around the city collecting the observations that would serve as inspiration for his future work.
In 1845, after Dickens had toured the United States once, he spent a year in Italy writing Pictures from Italy. Over the next two years he published, in installments, his first major novel, Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son. The novel’s main theme is how business tactics affect a family’s personal finances. It takes a dark view of England and was pivotal to Dickens’ body of work in that it set the tone for his other novels.
From 1849 to 1850, Dickens worked on David Copperfield, the first work of its kind; no one had ever written a novel that simply followed a character through his everyday life. In writing it, Dickens tapped into his own personal experiences, from his difficult childhood to his work as a journalist. Although David Copperfield is not considered Dickens’ best work, it was his personal favorite. It also helped define the public’s expectations of a Dickensian novel.
During the 1850s, Dickens suffered two devastating losses: the deaths of his daughter and father. He also separated from his wife during that decade. Consequently, his novels began to express his darkened worldview. In Bleak House, published in installments from 1852 to 1853, he deals with the hypocrisy of British society. It was considered his most complex novel to date. Hard Times (published in 1854) takes place in an industrial town at the peak of economic expansion. In it, Dickens focuses on the shortcomings of employers as well as those who seek change. Also among Dickens’ darker novels is Little Dorrit, a fictional study of how human values come in conflict with the world’s brutality.
Coming out of his “dark novel” period, in 1859 Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel that takes place during the French Revolution. He published it in a periodical he founded, All the Year Round. His next novel, Great Expectations (1860-1861), focuses on the protagonist’s lifelong journey of moral development. It is widely considered his greatest literary accomplishment. A few years later, Dickens produced Our Mutual Friend, a novel that analyzes the psychological impact of wealth on London society.
In 1865, Dickens was in a train accident and never fully recovered. Despite his fragile condition, he continued to tour until 1870. On June 9, 1870, Dickens had a stroke and, at age 58, died at Gad’s Hill Place, his country home in Kent, England. He was buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, with thousands of mourners gathering at the beloved author’s gravesite. Scottish satirical writer Thomas Carlyle described Dickens’ passing as “an event worldwide, a unique of talents suddenly extinct.” At the time of Dickens’ death, his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was left unfinished.
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