Charles John Huffham Dickens was born in Portsea, on England’s southern coast, on February 7, 1812. The Dickens family moved several times during his youth, and the boy attended several schools, received instruction from his mother, and read voraciously. In 1824 Dickens’s father, John, a middle-class naval pay clerk, was imprisoned for debt. Two weeks before this imprisonment, young Dickens was sent to work in a blacking warehouse pasting labels on bottles of boot polish. He lived alone in rented lodgings while the rest of his family moved into prison with his father, a common practice at that time. His father was released after three months, but Dickens always remembered and hated the degradation of this period of his life.
In 1827 Dickens left school to work as an apprentice at a law firm. Although he disliked the law profession, he studied legal shorthand after work and became a very successful court and parliamentary reporter, eventually working for several newspapers. In 1836 Dickens published his first book, Sketches by Boz, a successful collection of vignettes previously published in a London newspaper. That same year he married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have ten children. Dickens’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers, appeared as a monthly serial from 1836 to 1837. It became an immensely popular best seller, making Dickens extremely famous at age 24.
Before his death in 1870 Dickens published fourteen major novels, several plays, numerous short stories, and many other books and articles. At times he was involved in writing as many as three novels simultaneously. A man of incredible energy and vitality, Dickens also acted, edited several periodicals, and worked with various charitable organizations. He twice toured America, giving readings from his works to packed houses. Dickens’s novels-among them, David Copperfield, Bleak House (1852), Little Dorrit (1857), A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend (1865)-dominated the Victorian literary scene throughout his life, and he was arguably the most popular novelist ever to write in English. He left a final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished when he died of a stroke on June 9, 1870, in Rochester, England.