The first book published by Charles Dickens, Sketches By Boz was popular enough that the publisher commissioned a second series, which appeared in 1837. Dickens was also approached to write the text to accompany a set of illustrations, and that project turned into his first novel.
The essentially comical adventures of Samuel Pickwick and his companions were published in serial format in 1836 and 1837 under the original title, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The installments of the novel were so popular that Dickens was contracted to write another novel, Oliver Twist
Dickens had taken on the job of editing a magazine, Bentley's Miscellany, and in February 1837 installments of Oliver Twist began appearing there.
Dickens Became Extremely Productive in the Late 1830s
In an amazing feat of writing, Dickens, for much of 1837, was actually writing both Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. The monthly installments of each novel were about 7,500 words, and Dickens would spend two weeks every month working on one before switching to the other.
Dickens kept writing novels. Nicholas Nickleby was written in 1839, and The Old Curiosity Shop in 1841. In addition to the novels, Dickens was turning out a steady stream of articles for magazines.
His writing became incredibly popular. He was able to create remarkable characters, and his writing often combined comic touches with tragic elements. His empathy for working people and for those caught in unfortunate circumstances made readers feel a bond with him.
And as his novels appeared in serial form, the reading public was often gripped with anticipation. The popularity of Dickens spread to America, and there were stories told about how Americans would greet British ships at the docks in New York to find out what had happened next in one of Dicken's serialized novels.
Dickens Visited America in 1842
Capitalizing on his international fame, Dickens visited the United States in 1842, when he was 30 years old. The American public was eager to greet him, and he was treated to banquets and celebrations during his travels.
In New England Dickens visited the factories of Lowell, Massachusetts, and in New York City he was taken to the see the Five Points, the notorious and dangerous slum on the Lower East Side. There was talk of him visiting the South, but as he was horrified by the idea of slavery he never went south of Virginia.
Upon returning to England, Dickens wrote an account of his American travels which offended many Americans.
Dickens Wrote More Serious Novels in the 1840s
In 1842 Dickens wrote another novel, Barnaby Rudge. The following year, while writing the novel Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens visited the industrial city of Manchester, England. He addressed a gathering of workers, and later he took a long walk and began to think about writing a Christmas book that would be a protest against the profound economic inequality he saw in Victorian England.
Dickens published A Christmas Carol in December 1843, and it became one of his most enduring works.
Dickens traveled in Europe for a year in the mid-1840s, and returned to England to write more novels:
- 1848 Dombey and Son
- 1850 David Copperfield
- 1853 Bleak House
- 1854 Hard Times
- 1857 Little Dorrit
By the late 1850s, Dickens began to spend more time giving public readings. His income was enormous, but so were expenses, and he often feared he would be plunged back into the sort of poverty he had known as a child.