A towering figure in the development of the novel, Charles Dickens was a British writer responsible for some of the best-loved works in the English language, including Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations.
Charles Dickens in Penguin Black Classics
Charles Dickens in Penguin English Library
Charles Dickens in Penguin Clothbound Classics
Charles Dickens in Vintage Classics
Charles Dickens in Vintage Classic Dickens Series
Charles Dickens in Everyman Classics
A Christmas Carol
From Portsmouth to Pickwick
Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812, the second of eight children, but the family moved to London two years later. When Charles was twelve his father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison, a momentous event in the young Dickens’ life which forced him out of school and into a ‘blacking’ factory to help support his impecunious family. Although this state-of-affairs lasted only a few months, the first-hand experience of poverty shaped much of Dickens’ literary output and contributed to him becoming one of the fiercest critics of social deprivation of the Victorian age. Upon leaving school at fifteen, Dickens found work as a court reporter and began to contribute short stories and essays to periodicals. Assuming the pseudonym of Boz, he published his first collection, Sketches by Boz, in 1836. The following year saw the appearance of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in monthly instalments. The comic picaresque proved hugely popular and was quickly collected together in book form.
Oliver Twist to David Copperfield
Dickens built swiftly on the success of The Pickwick Papers with a grittier tale of destitution and organised crime in the capital, called Oliver Twist. There followed the rumbustious comedy of Nicholas Nickleby, the moving drama of The Old Curiosity Shop, and the first of Dickens’ two historical novels, Barnaby Rudge. With each publication Dickens was developing as an author at a tremendous rate and, in 1843, he invented the notion of the traditional British Christmas with the enormously influential festive novella A Christmas Carol. A trip to the United States in 1842 resulted in the transatlantic saga Martin Chuzzlewit the following year. The first signs of a change of pace and deepening maturity came with his next novel, Dombey and Son, in 1846. Although it retained comic elements, the narrative was more psychologically acute and focused than Dickens’ earlier work. This emphasis on rounded characterisation and complex structure would bear fruit in his most autobiographical work, David Copperfield.
Mature Period and Final Years
With David Copperfield, Dickens created a seminal bildungsroman populated by some of his most memorable characters and drawing heavily on his own childhood experiences. Dickens’ greatest works followed, from the panoramic and savage legal satire Bleak House to the mercurial, gothic Our Mutual Friend, by way of the stunning coming-of-age tale Great Expectations. These novels, rich in metaphor, character and uniquely ‘Dickensian’ atmosphere are amongst the finest books in the English language. Dickens died in 1870, midway through writing his fifteenth novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, having left an incomparable legacy to the development of literature.
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