Charles Dickens was born on 7 February 1812, the second of eight children of a clerk in the navy pay office. His education, until he was twelve, was scant: he read his father's modest collection of novels, was taken to the theatre by his aunt's stepson, was taught for a time by a Baptist minister, and helped in the family home. When his improvident father was imprisoned in the Marshalsea for debt, where his wife and younger children followed him, Dickens obtained a job in the office of a blacking warehouse at 6s a week Somewhat better times came in 1824 when Dickens's father inherited a small legacy and Dickens was sent to private schools, first to Wellington House Academy and then to a school run by a Mr.Dawson.
From 1827 Dickens worked as a clerk in lawyers' offices. He continued his education by reading at the British Museum and he also taught himself a form of shorthand. He then worked as a court reporter and subsequently as a parliamentary reporter and in 1835 obtained a position as a reporter with the Morning Chronicle. Meanwhile Dickens had begun writing for monthly magazines and a collection of his work, Sketches by Boz, was published in book form in 1836. At much the same time he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of a fellow journalist on the Morning Chronicle. Dickens's work was increasingly in demand and the publishers, Chapman and Hall, approached him with a view to bringing out a fictional work in monthly parts. Thus the Pickwick Papers came into being. The first issue, in April 1836, was an edition of 400 copies. By the fifteenth issue 40,000 copies were needed. Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby followed swiftly. By 1839 Dickens was able to afford a handsome house near Regent's Park, London.
Dickens' s life now extended beyond writing to travel, the exercise of philanthropy, and taking part in dramatic productions. He went to America in 1842, Italy in 1844 and Switzerland in 1845. Always keen to portray the kind-hearted in his books, Dickens was interested personally in ragged schools, the care of disadvantaged women, and the General Theatrical fund, which assisted actors who had fallen on hard times.
In 1849 Dickens started his own journal, Household Words, much of which he wrote himself. Some of his novels first appeared in episodic forn in this. In 1856 Dickens fulfilled a childhood dream by buying Gadshill Place. He and his wife (who had borne him ten children) separated, however, two years later.
Dickens developed a new and very lucrative source of income in 1858 when he began to give public readings of his work. So popular were these that in his American tour of 1867-8 he was able to earn £20,000. The massive demands on his time and energies were, finally, to exhaust him and he died on 9 June 1870 at Gadshill Place.
Dickens is among the most popular of all English novelists. He wrote thirteen major novels, a number of which have been made into films or television productions. Many people who have never read a single one of his works still know the names of such characters as Oliver Twist or Ebenezer Scrooge (the latter from A Christmas Carol). His books are packed with larger-than-life figures, often treated with satire or comic exaggeration. He was a master of plot and of rich and highly imagistic description. But he could evoke pathos, he could also be excessively sentimental. He used his work to campaign against many of the ills that he perceived in Victorian England - the harshness of the poor law, the cumbersome nature of legal processes, industrial pollution, slum dwellings, bad private schools and the narrow curriculum and unimaginative teaching methods of others, the vast gap between the privileged and the poor, and much more. Although Dickens was capable of making evil seem fascinating, the virtues of honesty, kindness and simple human decency shine in all his work.