Novelist Charles Dickens14 February 2020
He was a novelist, journalist, editor, illustrator and social commentator who wrote such beloved classic novels as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.
Dickens is remembered as one of the most important and influential writers of the 19th century. Among his accomplishments, he has been lauded for providing a stark portrait of the Victorian-era underclass, helping to bring about social change.
Journalist, Editor and Illustrator
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.
In the same year, Dickens started publishing The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. His series, 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' captions were even more popular than the illustrations they were meant to accompany.
He later edited magazines including Household Words and All the Year Round, the latter of which he founded.
Charles Dickens’ Books
Throughout his career, Dickens published a total of 15 novels. His most well-known works include:
Oliver Twist (1837-1838): Oliver Twist, Dickens first novel, follows the life of an orphan living in the streets. The book was inspired by how Dickens felt as an impoverished child forced to get by on his wits and earn his own keep.
As publisher of a magazine called Bentley's Miscellany, Dickens began publishing Oliver Twist in installments between February 1837 and April 1838, with the full book edition published in November 1838.
Dickens continued showcasing Oliver Twist in the magazines he later edited, including Household Words and All the Year Round. The novel was extremely well-received in both England and America. Dedicated readers of Oliver Twist eagerly anticipated the next
A Christmas Carol (1843): On December 19, 1843, Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The book features the timeless protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, a curmudgeonly old miser, who, with the help
of ghosts, finds the Christmas spirit.
Dickens penned the book in just six weeks, beginning in October and finishing just in time for the holiday celebrations. The novel was intended as a social criticism, to bring attention to the hardships faced by England’s poorer classes.
The book was a roaring success, selling more than 6,000 copies upon publication. Readers in England and America were touched by the book’s empathetic emotional depth; one American entrepreneur reportedly gave his employees an extra day's holiday after reading it.
Despite literary criticism, the book remains one of Dickens’ most well-known and beloved works.
Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son (1846 to 1848) : From October 1846 to April 1848, Dickens published, in monthly installments, Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son. The novel, which was published in book form in 1848, centers on the theme of how business tactics affect a family’s personal finances.
Taking a dark view of England, it is considered pivotal to Dickens’ body of work in that it set the tone for his other novels.
David Copperfield (1849 to 1850) : David Copperfield was the first work of its kind: No one had ever written a novel that simply followed a character through his everyday life. From May 1849 to November 1850, Dickens published the book in monthly installations, with the full novel form published in November 1850.
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.
Bleak House (1852 to 1853): Following the death of his father and daughter and separation from his wife, Dickens’ novels began to express a 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 (1854): Hard Times takes place in an industrial town at the peak of economic expansion. Published in 1854, the book focuses on the shortcomings of employers as well as those who seek change.
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) : 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 in Paris and London.
He published it in a periodical he founded, All the Year Round.
The story focuses on themes of the need for sacrifice, the struggle between the evils inherent in oppression and revolution, and the possibility of resurrection and rebirth.
Great Expectations (1861): Great Expectations, published in serial form between December 1860 to August 1861 and in novel form in October 1861, is widely considered Dickens’ greatest literary accomplishment.
The story, Dickens’ second to be narrated in the first person, focuses on the lifelong journey of moral development for the novel’s protagonist, an orphan named Pip. With extreme imagery and colorful characters, the well-received novel's themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and good versus evil.
After the publication of Oliver Twist, Dickens struggled to match the level of its success. From 1838 to 1841, he published The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge.
Another novel from Dickens’ darker period is Little Dorrit (1857), a fictional study of how human values come in conflict with the world’s brutality.
Dickens’ novel Our Mutual Friend, published in serial form between 1864 to 1865 before being published as a book in 1865, analyses the psychological impact of wealth on London society.
After suffering a stroke, Dickens died at age 58 on June 9, 1870, at Gad's Hill Place, his country home in Kent, England.
Five years earlier, Dickens had been in a train accident and never fully recovered. Despite his fragile condition, he continued to tour until shortly before his death.
Dickens 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 his death, his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was unfinished.
Many of Dickens’ major works have been adapted for movies and stage plays, with some, like A Christmas Carol, repackaged in various forms over the years.
Hollywood introduced another twist to the author's celebrated holiday work with the November 2017 release of The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as his famed fictional character of Ebenezer Scrooge.
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