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Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol—Charles Dickens made a name for himself with many famous novels, but his life did not begin quite as grand.



  • Dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, England to a middle-class family.

  • His father, John, was a clerk for the Naval Pay Office, a job that forced the family to move constantly.

  • When Dickens was 12 years old, his family moved to London. After relocating, his father was unable to provide for his family, landing all the Dickens family except young Charles in debtor’s prison.

  • He left school to work 10-hour days at a shoe polish factory to earn money to repay his family’s debt. Three months later, the family was released from prison and Dickens returned to school.


  • After a few years, Dickens again left school to work as a clerk in a law office. Unhappy with this work, he instead became a journalist, writing mostly about politics.

  • He also drew humorous sketches for magazines, which were compiled to create his first book, Sketches by Boz.

  • Dickens went on to become the editor of a literary magazine and published many of his novels in monthly installments.

  • He published his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in 1836, and followed that publication with several other novels during this time, including Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop.

  • While writing The Pickwick Papers, Dickens married Catherine Thomson Hogarth.



  • Dickens and Catherine visited the United States in 1842, which inspired Dickens to write American Notes, a travelogue in which he criticized the US for the country’s practice of slavery, widespread violence and frequent spitting, among other things.

  • Upon his return to London, he penned A Christmas Carol, hoping the profits would boost his family’s financial situation. However, after footing the bill for book production himself and keeping the cost of the book low so all could afford it, Dickens made very little money.

  • Yet, he continued to write and give public readings of his work. During this time, Dickens’ family grew as he and Catherine raised 10 children. In 1858, Charles and Catherine divorced, which was unusual for public figures at that time.


  • In the later years of Dickens' life, he produced two of his most famous novels: A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

  • In 1870 as he worked on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, he suffered a stroke and passed away.

  • Charles Dickens was buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. A marker next to his grave reads, “He was a sympathizer to the poor, the suffering and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.”

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