Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

The Oliver Twist author was the most popular English writer of his time


Artwork by Stephen Case


Quick Facts

Nickname: Boz

Profession: Novelist

Famous for: being the most famous novelist of Victorian times; his books are still in print today

Born: 7 February 1812, in Landport, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England

Died: 9 June 1870, Gad's Hill Place, Higham, Kent, England

Married: Catherine Thomson Hogarth


The life of an author

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Charles Dickens grew up in the countryside around London. He described his early years as idyllic. He spent a lot of time outdoors and reading books, and went to a private school.

Everything changed when he turned 12. His father spent too much money and ended up in prison for his debts. The young Dickens had to work in a shoe polish factory. He worked 10 hours a day putting labels on jars of polish.

When he was 15, Dickens got a job in a law office. He taught himself shorthand - a way of writing notes very quickly. He decided to become a journalist.

The young Dickens reported court cases and then politics. His first published book was from his political reporting. It was called Sketches by Boz. This led to his first well known book, The Pickwick Papers.

He was 24 when he became editor of a monthly magazine. He used to serialise some of the novels that would make him famous. At 25, he published Oliver Twist.

It became one of the most famous novels of all time. When he was 44, Dickens had earned enough money to buy a mansion called Gad's Hill Place. He used to walk past it as a boy.

Dickens seemed to have boundless energy. He had 10 children with his wife. He travelled, gave readings, wrote famous books, and gave money to the poor and to hospitals.

On June 8, 1870, Dickens had a stroke. He died the next day. He was buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey in London, amongst many of England's most famous poets and writers.

A London of suffering

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A lot of Dickens' fiction is about the hardships of ordinary people in Victorian London. During Dickens' time, London was a grand city. But it was also very dirty and many people were very poor. They drank water from the Thames - but rubbish was thrown into the river, too.

The street lights were dim and powered with gas. There were beggars everywhere. People had to work very long hours to make enough money to live. Dickens was the first novelist to describe the terrible conditions they lived in. Today if we want to describe conditions like this, we call them Dickensian.

Dickens' America

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Dickens went to America for the first time just before he turned 30. In those days, you had travel by boat. It took nearly three weeks to reach Boston from Liverpool.

He was a young writer, but he was already very popular. Oliver Twist, the first novel to ever feature a child as the main , had been a huge hit in America.

For Dickens, the opportunity to visit America was very exciting. He had grown up in hard conditions in England, and America claimed to be a place where all men were equal.

But Dickens also had another in America. He wanted to push America to respect international copyright. This is what the United States does to China now. But at that time, America had a lot of . Dickens was losing a lot of money.

Nobody listened to him, not even the president, whom Dickens met on his trip. The United States did not start to follow international law for another 50 years.

"A boy's story is the best that I ever told"

True or false?

To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1 Charles Dickens was born in London.
2 When he was young, Dickens studied literature.
3 In its time, Oliver Twist was the most popular of many books about children.
4 Dickens died in America.



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