CHARLES DICKENS was born in 1812 near Portsmouth. His father, a government clerk, was imprisoned for debt and Dickens was briefly sent to work in a blacking warehouse at the age of twelve. He subsequently received little formal education but taught himself shorthand and became a reporter of parliamentary debates. He began to publish sketches in various periodicals, which were then re-published as Sketches by Boz.

The Pickwick Papers appeared in 1836-7 and after a slow start, became a publishing phenomenon as the characters became the centre of a popular cult. Part of the success was the method of cheap serial publication he adopted, which became the pattern for all of his future novels. Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop were followed by a triumphant visit to America, which lead to Martin Chuzzlewit. In his later works such as Bleak House and Little Dorrit, Dickensą social criticism became more radical and his comedy more savage. During the 1860s, with public readings, a weekly publication, more novels and a complicated private life, his health began to fail. Dickens was writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood at his home in Gads Hill near Rochester (Cloisterham) when he suffered a stroke and died in 1870. Six of the twelve instalments of the book had been completed.


From Penguin and Wordsworth Classics.