English novelist and one of the most popular writers in the history of literature. In his enormous body of works, Dickens combined masterly storytelling, humor, pathos, and irony with sharp social criticism and acute observation of people and places, both real and imagined.
Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth and spent most of his childhood in London and Kent, both of which appear frequently in his novels. He started school at the age of nine, but his education was interrupted when his father, an amiable but careless minor civil servant, was imprisoned for debt in 1824. The boy was then forced to support himself by working in a shoe-polish factory. A resulting sense of humiliation and abandonment haunted him for life, and he later described this experience, only slightly altered, in his novel David Copperfield. From 1824 to 1826, Dickens again attended school. For the most part, however, he was self-educated.
The success of his first novel made Dickens famous. At the same time it influenced the publishing industry in Great Britain, being issued in a rather unusual form, that of inexpensive monthly installments; this method of publication quickly became popular among Dickens's contemporaries.
Dickens subsequently maintained his fame with a constant stream of novels. A man of enormous energy and wide talents, he also engaged in many other activities. In 1843 he published A Christmas Carol, an ever-popular children's story. As Dickens matured artistically, his novels developed from comic tales based on the adventures of a central character, like The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby (1837-1838), to works of great social relevance, psychological insight, and narrative and symbolic complexity. Among his fine works are Bleak House (1852-1853), Little Dorritt (1855-1857), Great Expectations (1860-1861), and Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865). Dickens's major writings include Oliver Twist (1837-1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841), Barnaby Rudge (1841), Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844), Dombey and Son (1846-1848), Hard Times (1854), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished, 1870).