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Charles Dickens | Biography


Birth and Childhood

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, on February 7, 1812, to John and Elizabeth Barrow Dickens. He grew up poor but happy, passing adventurous years exploring the English countryside with his seven siblings.

However, when Dickens was 12, his father, who struggled constantly to make ends meet, was sent to debtors' prison because he was unable to pay a bakery bill he had run up. His mother, too poor to maintain a home on her own, had no choice but to move herself and the younger children into the prison with their father. Young Dickens, old enough to work, was sent to make a living in a boot-blacking factory. So instead of studying or playing with friends, he spent 10 hours a day pasting labels onto jars in a filthy, rodent-infested factory. He made a trifling amount each week, which was used to help pay off his father's debt.

Early Careers

When he turned 15, Dickens pursued work as a clerk in a legal office. Soon after, he became a newspaper reporter who covered legislative actions and debates in Parliament. This experience sharpened Dickens's skill as a writer, especially in regard to writing believable dialogue. Dickens also acquired a dislike for the law and the government.

Writing Success

His experiences in debtors' prison, in a legal office, and covering politics gave him strong opinions, particularly about the treatment of the lower classes. He began to write short stories while also working as a court reporter. He was offered the job of writing short captions to accompany the sporting works of a popular illustrator, but the illustrator committed suicide after the first three installments. Dickens then filled the space with a serial, written in 20 parts, under the title The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Dickens not only described the entertaining experiences of Samuel Pickwick and his friends, but he offered a startling view of life in debtors' prison. The serial was a tremendous success, and Dickens's career as a writer was launched.

Dickens continued writing and publishing literary classics, most in serial form, such as Oliver Twist (1837–39), A Christmas Carol (1843), Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–44), Great Expectations (1860–61), David Copperfield (1849–50), and Little Dorrit (1855–57) until his death on June 9, 1870. His characters remain some of the most memorable in all of English literature.

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