Charles Dickens (1812–1870) is beyond doubt the central figure in the history of English fiction. He was born in Portsmouth, where his father worked as a clerk in the navy pay office. The family settled in London when he was10, and his father was arrested and imprisoned for debt about two years later. During this period, the young Dickens worked in a factory, pasting labels on bottles of boot blacking—an experience that left him feeling “utterly neglected and hopeless.” In his late teens and early 20s, Dickens worked as a law clerk and a parliamentary reporter, eventually trying his hand at other sorts of journalism. His first major work of fiction, The Pickwick Papers (1836– 1837), would transform him into the most popular and successful writer of his age. He would spend the rest of his life as a kind of public icon, making two trips to America and touring, performing public readings from his own works. His experience of celebrity was not always happy, and in 1858, as he separated from his wife and deepened his relationship with a young actress, his behavior became the subject of gossip and scandal.
Dickens’s literary career fell into two major phases. In the first half, which took him from 1835 to about 1846, he produced such works as Pickwick, Oliver Twist (1837–1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1838–1839), and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–1841). These works, though brilliant in their own ways, are not best described as novels. In the second half of his career, from 1846 to 1870, Dickens mastered the novel form. Among the works he created in this period are Dombey and Son (1847–1848), Bleak House (1852–1853), Little Dorrit (1857-1857), Great Expectations (1860–1861), and Our Mutual Friend (1864–1865).
[Courtesy: Professor Timothy Spurgin]