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Born: Charles John Huffam Dickens
7 February 1812 Landport, Portsmouth, England
Died: 9 June 1870 (aged 58) Gad's Hill Place, Higham, Kent, England
Resting place: Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey
Notable works: Sketches by Boz, The Old Curiosity Shop, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Barnaby Rudge, A Christmas Carol, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Hard Times, Our Mutual Friend, The Pickwick Papers
Charles John Huffam Dickens pen-name ''Boz'', was the most popular English novelist of the Victorian era, and one of the most popular of all time. He created some of literature's most iconic characters, with the theme of social reform running throughout his work. The continuing popularity of his novels and short stories is such that they have never gone out of print.
Much of his work first appeared in periodicals and magazines in serialised form, a popular way of publishing fiction at the time. Other writers would complete entire novels before serial publication commenced, but Dickens often wrote his in parts, in the order they were meant to appear. The practice lent his stories a particular rhythm, punctuated by one ''cliffhanger'' after another, to keep the public eager for the next installment. His work has been praised for its mastery of prose, and for its teeming gallery of unique personalities, by writers such as George Gissing and G. K. Chesterton, though the same characteristics have prompted others, such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf, to criticize him for sentimentality and implausibility.
Dickens is famed for many things, his depiction of the hardships of the working class, his intricate plots, his sense of humour. But he is perhaps most famed for the characters he created. His novels were heralded early in his career for their ability to capture the everyday man on paper and thus create a memorable character to whom readers could relate, and envision as a real person. Beginning with Pickwick Papers in 1836, Dickens wrote numerous novels, each uniquely filled with believable personalities and vivid physical descriptions. Dickens's friend and biographer, John Forster, said that Dickens made ''characters real existences, not by describing them but by letting them describe themselves.''
Dickensian characters, especially their typically whimsical names, are among the most memorable in English literature. The likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, Oliver Twist, The Artful Dodger, Fagin, Bill Sikes, Pip, Miss Havisham, Charles Darnay, David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber, Abel Magwitch, Daniel Quilp, Samuel Pickwick, Wackford Squeers, Uriah Heep and many others are so well known and can be believed to be living a life outside the novels that their stories have been continued by other authors.
The author worked closely with his illustrators supplying them with an overall summary of the work at the outset and thus ensuring that his vision of his characters and settings were exactly how he envisioned them to be. He would brief the illustrator on plans for each month's instalment so that work on the two illustrations could begin before he wrote them. Marcus Stone, illustrator of Our Mutual Friend, recalled that the author was always ''ready to describe down to the minutest details the personal characteristics, and ... life history of the creations of his fancy.'' This close working relationship with his illustrators is important to readers of Dickens today. The illustrations give us a glimpse of the characters as Dickens described them to the illustrator and approved when the drawing was finished. Film makers still use the illustrations as a basis for characterization, costume, and set design in the dramatization of Dickens's works.
Often these characters were based on people that he knew. In a few instances Dickens based the character too closely on the original and got into trouble, as in the case of Harold Skimpole in Bleak House, based on Leigh Hunt, and Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield, based on his wife's dwarf chiropodist. These are not over dramatized caricatures, but believable people we might see walking down the street. Indeed, the acquaintances made when reading a Dickens novel are not easily forgotten. The author, Virginia Woolf, maintained that ''we remodel our psychological geography when we read Dickens'' as he produces ''characters who exist not in detail, not accurately or exactly, but abundantly in a cluster of wild yet extraordinarily revealing remarks''.
On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home, after a full day's work on Edwin Drood. The next day, on 9 June, and five years to the day after the Staplehurst crash, he died at Gad's Hill Place never having regained consciousness. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral ''in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner''. He was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads: ''CHARLES DICKENS Born 7 February 1812 Died 9 June 1870.'' A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: ''To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world''.
On Sunday, 19 June 1870, five days after Dickens's interment in the Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley delivered a memorial elegy, lauding ''the genial and loving humorist whom we now mourn'', for showing by his own example ''that even in dealing with the darkest scenes and the most degraded characters, genius could still be clean, and mirth could be innocent.'' Pointing to the fresh flowers that adorned the novelist's grave, Stanley assured those present that ''the spot would thenceforth be a sacred one with both the New World and the Old, as that of the representative of literature, not of this island only, but of all who speak our English tongue.'' Dickens's will stipulated that no memorial be erected to honour him. The only life size bronze statue of Dickens, cast in 1891 by Francis Edwin Elwell, is located in Clark Park in the Spruce Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States.