"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. "

Charles John Huffham Dickens was born in 1812 in Landport, Hampshire, his father was a clerk in the Naval Pay Office. In 1814 the family moved to London and then to Chatham. In 1824 his father John was sent to Marshalsea debtors prison. During this period Dickens was forced to work in a blacking factory, an intensely unhappy time, which was reflected in some of his early works. He worked as an office boy, and as a shorthand reporter in the House of Commons. Between 1828 and 1836 he acquired a solid reputation for his journalistic prowess, contributing to a wide variety of periodicals. His career as a writer of fiction began in 1833 when some short stories and essays appeared in print.

He married Catherine Hogarth in 1836 and fathered ten children. They separated in 1858. It is widely believed that Dickens preferred Catherine's sister, Mary, who lived with them and died tragically at the age of seventeen in 1837. Another of Catherine's sisters, Georgina, moved into the family home and he fell in love with her. He also had a long relationship with an actress Ellen Ternan, whom he met in the late 1850s.

Most of his early novels were published in monthly instalments, including, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop,  and Barnaby Rudge. From 1844-5 he lived in Italy, Switzerland and France, in 1860 he was living in Rochester, Kent but owned other properties in Gad's Hill and Peckham. He had earlier gained immense popularity in America, which he and his wife visited in 1842, though disillusionment followed when he caused offence with his portrayal of Americans in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit, and the publication of American Notes.

His enduring association with Christmas began with A Christmas Carol in 1843, followed by a number of other stories with a Christmas theme, which have been collected together as Christmas Books. The flow of successful titles continued with Dombey and Son, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit.

After the scandal of separation from Catherine and the rumours of his association with Georgina and Ellen Ternan, Dickens threw himself into an intense period of activity, writing prolifically and giving public readings of his work. During this period he completed A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend. He revisited America in 1867-8 and continued to tour on his return to England. Many believe that it was this heavy workload that led to his sudden death from a stroke on June 8th, 1870. At the time of his death, only six of the twelve instalments of his final work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood had been completed. In addition to his novels, some of his shorter works have been published in The Complete Ghost Stories and Other Tales.

He is often considered the most popular English novelist and in his day had many contemporary admirers, including Queen Victoria and Dostoevsky, though it was not until the twentieth century that he received due critical acclaim.


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