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Biography of Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens: The Beginning of His Career
Charles Dickens as a young man

Depiction of Charles Dickens submitting one of his early sketches of London life.

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The British author Charles Dickens was the most popular Victorian novelist, and to this day he remains a giant in British literature. He wrote books now considered classics, including David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations.

Dickens first gained fame for creating comic characters, such as in his first novel, The Pickwick Papers. But later in his career he tackled serious subjects, which were inspired by severe difficulties he faced in childhood as well as his involvement in various social causes related to economic problems in Victorian Britain.

Early Life of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812 in Portsea (now part of Portsmouth), England. His father had a job working as a pay clerk for the British Navy, and the Dickens family, by the standards of the day, should have enjoyed a comfortable life. But his father's spending habits got them into constant financial difficulties.

The Dickens family moved to London, and when Charles was 12 his father's debts got out of control. When his father was sent to Marshalsea debtors' prison, Charles was forced to take a job in a factory that made shoe polish, known as blacking.

Life in the blacking factory for the bright 12-year-old was an ordeal. He felt humiliated and ashamed, and the year or so he spent sticking labels on jars of blacking would be a profound influence on his life.

Children who are put into horrible circumstances would often turn up in his writings. Dickens was obviously scarred by the experience of dismal work at such a young age, though he apparently only ever told his wife and one close friend about the experience. His countless fans had no idea that some of the misery portrayed in his writing was rooted in his own childhood.

When his father managed to get out of debtors' prison, Charles Dickens was able to resume his sporadic schooling. But he was forced to take a job as an office boy at the age of 15.

By his late teens he had learned stenography and landed a job as a reporter in the London courts. And by the early 1830s he began reporting for two London newspapers.

Early Career of Charles Dickens

Dickens aspired to break away from newspapers and become an independent writer, and he began writing sketches of life in London. In 1833 he began submitting them to a magazine, The Monthly.

He would later recall how he submitted his first manuscript, which he said was "dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet Street."

When the sketch he'd written, titled "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" appeared in print, Dickens was overjoyed. The sketch appeared with no byline, but soon he began publishing items with the pen name "Boz."

The witty and insightful articles Dickens wrote became popular, and he was given the chance to collect them in a book. Sketches By Boz first appeared in early 1836, when Dickens had just turned 24. Buoyed by the success of his first book, he married Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of a newspaper editor. And he settled into a new life as a family man and an author.

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