Dickens is perhaps second only to William Shakespeare as the most famous writer in the English language. As Shakespeare was a playwright, Dickens may be the most popular novelist of all time. His books have been the basis for many stage and film adaptations. The most outstanding feature of his work is probably the very memorable, and often wildly eccentric, characters he created for his novels: “The Pickwick Papers”, “The Old Curiosity Shop”, “Martin Chuzzlewit”, “A Christmas Carol”, “Dombey and Son”, “David Copperfield” – his most autobiographical novel, “Oliver Twist” – perhaps his most famous novel, “Bleak House”, “Hard Times”, “Little Dorrit”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Great Expectations”, “Our Mutual Friend”, among others. Many of these books first appeared in magazines in serial form.
His novels are both satirical and positive, filled with hope, humor, irony, sympathy, and social commentary. A social reformer, he was especially critical of the legal system and government bureaucracy, although his targets were wide ranging and included vain aristocrats, obsequious clerks, posturing politicians, embezzling financiers, gold-digging women, and more. His heroes and heroines exemplified traditional values, especially hard work, simplicity, sincerity, and generosity. He was especially adept at creating young heroines, such as Little Dorrit, who modestly and tirelessly always do the right thing. Dickens’ father was a naval pay clerk who was imprisoned for debt. At age 12 Dickens was sent to work in a warehouse for shoe shine materials. He returned to school, but left at 15 to become a reporter in the law courts and the House of Commons, experiences that would shape his cynical view of politics and the legal system. His marriage in 1836 produced 10 children, but ended in separation in 1858. Along with his novel writing, Dickens also founded and edited magazines and newspapers, gave public readings of his work, and did some acting. His novels enjoyed commercial success from the beginning of his career; as a famous novelist, in an age in which novels were the most popular form of mass entertainment, he had the type of celebrity enjoyed today by movie stars.