Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England, on February 7, 1812, the son of a clerk in the Naval Pay Office, John Dickens, and his wife, Elizabeth. The family moved around for the first five years of young Charles's life, eventually settling in Chatham, Kent, in southeast England, near the mouth of the River Thames. The five years spent there were the happiest of his childhood. However, after moving the family to London in 1822, and as a result of poor financial decisions, John Dickens was arrested and imprisoned at Marshalsea for debt in 1824. Twelve-year-old Charles was forced to work at Warren's Blacking Factory, while his mother and siblings joined his father in prison. It was a few months before the family's finances were settled and John was released from prison, but the experience profoundly affected Dickens, who never spoke publicly about the ordeal, but poured the memories into some of his most autobiographical works, including David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
He became a reporter at the age of seventeen and at eighteen fell in love with Maria Beadnell, the daughter of a banker. Although he quickly became one of the best parliamentary reporters in London, he was not considered a "good match" for the daughter of a successful businessman, and the affair ended in 1833, the same year he published his first story. More would follow, as he adopted the pseudonym "Boz" and published his first collection of stories, Sketches by Boz, in 1836. Around the same time, he met and married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have ten children.
In 1836 through 1837, Dickens began publishing weekly installments of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (more commonly known as The Pickwick Papers), the stories that launched his career as the most famous and beloved author in Great Britain and the United States. He would go on to write stories and novels—usually first serialized in weekly or monthly periodicals—throughout the rest of his life, many of which became classics that are still widely read, taught, and discussed today, including Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, and Great Expectations.
Dickens began giving public readings of his work in 1853, and in 1856 he purchased and renovated Gad's Hill, a home in Higham, Kent, which he had admired as a youth growing up in the country. Although in poor health in his later years, he continued to drive himself, writing consistently and appearing around London and abroad to read from his work. He died on June 9, 1870, having completed six of the twelve planned installments of his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He is buried in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside the graves of Chaucer, Tennyson, and Kipling, and beneath memorials to Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Austen, and the sisters Brontë.
The Times of London, in advocating for his inclusion at Poets' Corner, wrote in its eulogy of him, "Statesmen, men of science, philanthropists, the acknowledged benefactors of their race, might pass away, and yet not leave the void which will be caused by the death of Charles Dickens."
- The Pickwick Papers (1837)
- Oliver Twist (1839)
- Nicholas Nickleby (1839)
- The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
- Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty (1841)
- Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)
- Dombey and Son (1848)
- David Copperfield (1850)
- Bleak House (1853)
- Hard Times (1854)
- Little Dorrit (1857)
- A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
- Great Expectations (1861)
- Our Mutual Friend (1865)
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished, 1870)
The Christmas Books
- A Christmas Carol (1843)
- The Chimes (1844)
- The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
- The Battle of Life (1846)
- The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1848)