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Charles John Huffam Dickens (/ˈtʃɑrlz ˈdɪkɪnz/; 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's most memorable fictional characters and is generally regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period. During his life, his works enjoyed unprecedented fame, and by the twentieth century his literary genius was broadly acknowledged by critics and scholars. His novels and short stories continue to be widely popular.Born in Portsmouth, England, Dickens was forced to leave school to work in a factory when his father was thrown into debtors' prison. Although he had little formal education, his early impoverishment drove him to succeed. Over his career he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and other social reforms.Dickens sprang to fame with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers. Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire, and keen observation of character and society. His novels, most published in monthly or weekly instalments, pioneered the serial publication of narrative fiction, which became the dominant Victorian mode for novel publication. The instalment format allowed Dickens to evaluate his audience's reaction, and he often modified his plot and character development based on such feedback. For example, when his wife's chiropodist expressed distress at the way Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield seemed to reflect her disabilities, Dickens went on to improve the character with positive features. His plots were carefully constructed, and Dickens often wove in elements from topical events into his narratives. Masses of the illiterate poor chipped in ha'pennies to have each new monthly episode read to them, opening up and inspiring a new class of readers.Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, is one of the most influential works ever written, and it remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Set in London and Paris, his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is the best selling novel of all time. His creative genius has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton—for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism. On the other hand Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Virginia Woolf complained of a lack of psychological depth, loose writing, and a vein of saccharine sentimentalism. The term Dickensian is used to describe something that is reminiscent of Dickens and his writings, such as poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters.
The Marshalsea was an infamous prison in England, located on the south bank of the River Thames in Southwark, now part of London. From at least the 14th century until it closed in 1842, it housed a wide variety of prisoners, including men under court martial for crimes at sea and "unnatural crimes," and well-known intellectuals and political figures accused of sedition. It became most closely associated with imprisoning London's debtors, the length of their stay determined largely by the whim of their creditors.Run privately for profit, as were all prisons in England until the 19th century, the Marshalsea looked like an Oxbridge college and functioned as an extortion racket. For prisoners who could pay, it came with access to a bar, shop and restaurant, as well as the crucial privilege of being allowed out during the day, which meant debtors could earn money to satisfy their creditors. Everyone else was crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others, possibly for decades for the most modest of debts, which increased as unpaid prison fees accumulated. A parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within a three-month period, and that eight to ten prisoners were dying every 24 hours in the warmer weather.The prison became known around the world in the 19th century through the writing of the English novelist Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824 for a debt to a baker. Forced because of that to leave school at the age of 12 for a job in a factory, Dickens based several of his characters on his experiences, most notably Amy Dorrit, whose father was also a Marshalsea debtor.Much of the prison was demolished in the 1870s, though some of the buildings were used into the 20th century, housing an ironmonger's, a butter shop and a printing house for the Marshalsea Press. All that is left of it now is the long brick wall that marked the southern boundary of the prison, the existence of what Dickens called "the crowding ghosts of many miserable years" marked only by a plaque from the local council. "[I]t is gone now," he wrote, "and the world is none the worse without it."
John Dickens (21 August 1785 – 31 March 1851) was the father of English novelist Charles Dickens and was the model for Mr Micawber in his son's semi-autobiographical novel David Copperfield.