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The Author : CHARLES DICKENS On February 7th 1812, Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth.

His father was chronically unable to live within his means, thereby inflicting a constant sense of insecurity on Dickens and his seven siblings. In 1823, the family moved to London, where a distant relation of Mrs. Dickens obtained work for Charles in a factory, labelling bottles of shoe blacking for six shillings a week. At this time his father was arrested for debt and the family was obliged to move to the Marshalsea Prison, later to feature so prominently in his son's work. Cruelly aware of his untapped abilities and not knowing for how long he would be condemned to soulless labour, these humiliating childhood experiences marked Dickens for life. Finding work in a lawyer's office following his father's release, Dickens taught himself shorthand aged about 16, and quickly established himself as one of London's more reliable freelance reporters of legal and parliamentary proceedings. Soon after turning 21 he began to contribute short, humorous 'sketches' to magazines, and in 1834 joined the staff of the Morning Chronicle. A collection, Sketches by Boz, appeared in early 1836, and as a result the publishing house Chapman and Hall invited him to provide witty prose to accompany a series of jocular sporting illustrations by the popular artist Robert Seymour. These became The Pickwick Papers, his first novel. Days after starting the project he married Catherine Hogarth, who eventually bore him 10 children. In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife and may have started an affair with the actress Ellen Ternan. A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860-1) and Our Mutual Friend (1864-5) completed his life's great work of 14 finished novels. The 1860s were marked by a sharp decline in Dickens' health as he repeatedly undertook lucrative but physically draining reading tours of his works, including a triumphant return to America (1867-8). Increasingly careworn, he died of a stroke at home on June 9th 1870, whilst working on The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He is thought to have accepted a baronetcy from Queen Victoria shortly before his death, but there is no definitive evidence of this. In direct contrast to his wishes and amidst scenes of hysterical public grief, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.