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Charles Dickens was a 19th-century author most noted for novels depicting the hardships of the working class in Victorian London. His most famous works include A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities. Most of his novels were originally published as serialized cliffhangers in monthly publications, which was common practice at the time.
Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, on February 7, 1812. His given name was Charles John Huffam Dickens, although some sources indicate that his third name was actually Huffman. Charles was the second of eight children born to John and Elizabeth Dickens. His early life was happily spent reading voraciously and playing outdoors. Being from a fairly wealthy family, he attended William Giles's School, a private institution in Chatham. Unfortunately, that ended when he was 12 years old and his father's extravagant spending habits left them no money for school. John Dickens went into debt and was remanded to debtor's prison; Elizabeth and most of the children joined him in his cell.
Instead of moving into his father's cell, young Charles Dickens stayed at the home of a family friend, where he paid for his room and board by working 10-hour days pasting labels on jars of shoe polish. Eventually, John Dickens learned of an imminent inheritance and used that knowledge to make arrangements with his creditors and get out of prison. At his mother's insistence, Charles continued to work, but his father eventually allowed him to quit his job and attend the Wellington House Academy.
Money troubles again forced Charles to leave school and seek work in 1827. He began working as a junior clerk in a law office, where he learned shorthand and eventually left to become a freelance court reporter.
In addition to writing articles about local trials, Charles Dickens began to work on fiction. In 1833, his short story "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" was published in London's Monthly Magazine. The following year, Dickens began writing under the name "Boz," publishing stories depicting contemporary life in the Morning Chronicle. These stories were known as sketches and were eventually published together in book form.
For Dickens, 1836 was a very busy year. He married Catherine Thomson Hogarth, the daughter of the Evening Chronicle editor, with whom he eventually had ten children. That same year, Sketches by Boz was published, and Dickens began work on The Pickwick Papers. He also became an editor for Bentley's Miscellany, in which The Pickwick Papers was first serialized.
Dickens and his wife traveled a great deal over the years. He was constantly writing, and his work continued to be serialized. In 1851, Dickens became involved with amateur theater, taking on the roles of writer, actor, and director. In 1857, he met actress Ellen Ternan and fell in love with her, leaving Catherine a year later. He and Ellen were involved in the Staplehurst train crash of 1865, in which seven train cars went over a bridge that was under repair. They were in the only first-class car that did not go over, and the accident is said to have made a profound impression on Dickens.
In 1869, Dickens collapsed, possibly having suffered a mild stroke. That same year, he began to work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood. On June 9, 1870, Dickens died of a stroke after spending the day working on Drood. This was five years to the day after the Staplehurst crash. Due to his death, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was never finished. The last installment was published posthumously.