Charles Dickens

Juliet John

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online December 2011 | | DOI:
Charles Dickens

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Charles John Huffam Dickens was, and remains, the most well-known novelist of the 19th century. Born in Portsmouth in 1812 to the naval clerk John Dickens and his wife, Elizabeth Barrow Dickens, his education was interrupted at the age of twelve when his father was jailed for debt and Dickens was sent to work in a blacking factory. Nonetheless, Dickens was working as a journalist by his late teens, and by the age of twenty-four, the phenomenal popular success of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836–1837), had catapulted him to an extraordinary level of fame—which, perhaps even more extraordinarily, grew throughout his prolific career. All Dickens’s major novels were published in serial form. Of the fifteen novels Dickens published during his lifetime, The Pickwick Papers (1837–1838), Oliver Twist (1837–1839), Nicholas Nickleby (1838–1839), Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–1844), Dombey and Son (1846–1848), David Copperfield (1849–1850), Bleak House (1852–1853), Little Dorrit (1855–1857), Our Mutual Friend (1864–1865), and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) were published in monthly installments; The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–1841), Barnaby Rudge (1841), Hard Times (1854), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1860–1861) were published in weekly installments. The fact that Dickens’s novels were all published serially means that his career is inextricably bound up with the world of journalism. Indeed, Dickens himself established and edited two major weekly journals, Household Words (1850–1859) and All the Year Round, which he edited from 1859 until his death, though the journal itself continued until 1893. Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840–1841), a weekly journal designed and run by Dickens, had been a shorter venture, and in 1846 Dickens had taken over the editorship, not entirely successfully, of the newspaper The Daily News. Part of Dickens’s uniqueness as a writer is the extent to which his works and image reached all sections of society—sometimes through the stage and private readings—and the extent to which his popularity has endured. In his lifetime, his impact was shored up not simply by the novels, journalism, and readings but also by his short stories, travel books, public speeches, vocal engagement with contemporary social and political issues, and his attunement to the emerging mass cultural marketplace. By the time of his death in 1870 and his burial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, Dickens’s literary and cultural status was unrivalled by any writer in English except William Shakespeare.

Article.  35283 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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