Charles Dickens was a brilliant and prolific writer, probably the most famous nineteenth-century English novelist. He was very successful during his lifetime and his books have never been out of print. The exciting plots and fantastic characters in his books have meant they have all been adapted (in some cases, many times over) for television or the big screen.
Charles Dickens was born on 7 February 1812 in Portsmouth. He was one of eight children, and at first his family enjoyed a happy life in the countryside of Kent. But Dickens’ father was not very good at managing his money, and when the family fell into financial difficulties they had to move to London. In Dickens’ time people who could not pay their debts were sent to a kind of prison, and Dickens’ father eventually ended up in one of these debtor’s prisons, called the Marshalsea. Charles was forced to leave school and go to work in a ‘blacking factory’ where he pasted labels on to pots for many hours a day. Even though Charles was only twelve at this time, he understood that without education he would never escape the poverty that had so entrapped his family. Charles often used his childhood experiences in his books. For instance, in David Copperfield, the hero Davy is taken out of school by his cruel stepfather and sent to work in a similar factory. Another novel, Little Dorrit, is set in and around the Marshalsea prison.
Fortunately Charles was eventually sent back to school. He went to work as a lawyer’s clerk, and then as a political reporter. In 1833 he began to publish short stories and essays in newspapers and magazines. His first book, The Pickwick Papers, was published in instalments in a monthly magazine, and was a roaring success. Even before this book was finished, Charles began writing another novel, Oliver Twist. This is one of his most famous books – perhaps you’ve read it, or seen the musical or one of the film adaptations? Many other novels followed and Dickens became a celebrity in America as well as Britain. He also set up and edited the journals Household Words (1850-9) and All the Year Round (1859-70). Dickens used his books to highlight the suffering of the poor, the inadequate support provided to them, and the massive inequalities between the different ranks of society. This social and political commentary was very influential and it is believed Dickens’ work did a great deal to reform workhouses, prisons, and most particularly public opinion of the working classes. Charles travelled all over Britain and America giving public readings from his books. He was a wonderful performer(at one point he had wanted to be an actor) and his readings were said to be electrifying – women in the audience would scream and faint when he read about the murder of Nancy from Oliver Twist. His readings were therefore extremely popular, and on some occasions Dickens only charged a penny for tickets so that poorer people could also attend. In later years, these energetic readings took a terrible toll on his failing health. Dickens died after stroke on 9 June 1870, leaving his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
‘Look here! Here’s a jolly life! What’s the odds where it comes from?’
Meet the Artful Dodger, as roistering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four foot six. With him, you’ll run down the dirty backstreets of London to be entertained by the Respectable Old Gentleman and his brood of thieves and pickpockets. Fagin will bring you to ‘the trade’, and make something of you, something profitable.But there’s something about the young orphan Oliver that’s too good for this dark and dangerous world – can he ever escape its clutches?
Includes exclusive material: In ‘The Backstory’ you can learn more about Oliver Twist’s London!
Vintage Children’s Classics is a twenty-first century classics list aimed at 8-12 year olds and the adults in their lives. Discover timeless favourites from The Jungle Book and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to modern classics such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.