Charles Dickens: Stories, Biography, & Things You Didn't Know About The Literary Titan

By Karen Harris
British novelist Charles Dickens (1812–1870) seated in his study in Gads Hill near Rochester, Kent circa 1860. (Epics/Getty Images)

Today, Charles Dickens is most remembered for his holiday classics and orphan rhapsodies, but there was more to the master of Victorian fiction than literature. He rescued passengers from a train wreck, busted ghosts, aided the search for a lost Arctic explorer, and rivaled the great William Shakespeare in coining new words.

Dickens's Early Years

Dickens was born in southern England on February 7, 1812 as the second of eight children. He later recalled an idyllic childhood of roaming the English countryside and exploring abandoned castles with his siblings, but the family was often financially unstable. In 1822, they moved to one of London's poorest neighborhoods, and two years later, Mr. Dickens went to debtor's prison, forcing the 12-year-old Charles to drop out of school and take a factory job to keep the family afloat. The experience at the dilapidated, rat-infested factory was eye-opening for the young Dickens, but fortunately, his father received an inheritance that paid off his debts and Charles was allowed to return to school.

Dickens always had a knack for storytelling, but his father hoped he would become a lawyer, so he spent a year as a junior clerk in a London law office as a teenager but mostly used his time there to learn shorthand. Once he mastered it, he left the law office and began reporting on the happenings in Parliament for the Morning Chronicle while publishing his first short stories on the side under the pseudonym "Boz," a character in the 1766 novel The Vicar Of Wakefield. (Dickens must have really admired this Oliver Goldsmith novel, because he mentioned it in A Tale of Two Cities, too). Readers enjoyed Boz's stories so much that in 1839, Dickens published a collection of his writings in a book called Sketches By Boz