Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-70) is one of the most famous authors of fiction in history. After Shakespeare, he and Jane Austen vie for being the best-loved, most translated and admired writer in the English language. His novels have been filmed, staged and set to music countless times with characters beloved by readers worldwide.
In addition to fourteen novels, Dickens was a staggeringly prolific writer and documenter of the society in which he lived, producing essays, travel journals, articles and plays. His books made him an international celebrity, feted and famous in his own time. With his novels published in instalments, crowds would flock to purchase each edition as it was published, most famously when Americans crowded the wharves in New York, awaiting the ship that carried the final chapters of The Old Curiosity Shop and the fate of Little Nell.
Dickens’s own life reads as an enthralling story in its own right, the tale of a gifted lad who suffered and despaired in his childhood to a young man who worked assiduously as a court reporter and journalist before achieving instant success with his first novel The Pickwick Papers. The lines from his fiction echo through the ages– ‘Please Sir, I want some more…’ ’Bah – humbug!’…’ ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’
Personally, he was a man of enormous energy and many friendships, married with ten children yet also deeply conflicted with a controversial private life. Perhaps most importantly, Dickens was a reformer. A critical and acute observer of society, his literature skewered the social inequalities and rife abuses of Victorian society.
Under his gaze, the breathtaking disparity between the classes, the cruelty in educational establishments, the squalid lives of the poor, especially children, the conditions of the workhouses, disease, crime and pollution were exposed not only to a genteel Victorian readership but to his fans on every continent. In all his works, the author turns a compassionate eye on the downtrodden, the neglected and the suffering yet simultaneously, he makes his audience laugh, and laugh often.
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