Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812-1870), 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 (1849-1850). From 1824 to 1826, Dickens again attended school.
For the most part, however, he was self-educated. Among his favorite books were those by such great 18th-century novelists as Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett, and their influence can be discerned in Dickens's own novels. In 1827 Dickens took a job as a legal clerk. After learning shorthand, he began working as a reporter in the courts and Parliament, perhaps developing the power of precise description that was to make his creative writing so remarkable.
In December 1833 Dickens published the first of a series of original descriptive sketches of daily life in London, using the pseudonym Boz. A London publisher commissioned a volume of similar sketches to accompany illustrations by the celebrated artist George Cruikshank. The success of this work, Sketches by Boz (1836), permitted Dickens to marry Catherine Hogarth in 1836 and led to the proposal of a similar publishing venture in collaboration with the popular artist...