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Writing Made Them Rich #2: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in Portsea, England, in1812. His father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office,stationed at Portsmouth. Although his job was wellpaid, his father had a weakness for spending money andspent much of his life in chronic bankruptcy.

In 1824, when Charles was just 12 years old, hisfather was sent to debtor's jail. Charles Dickens wassent to a boarding house and given a 12 hour-a-day jobpreparing bottles of shoe polish in a blackingfactory.

But Dickens' fortunes improved: a sudden inheritanceallowed his father to pay off his debts and he sentCharles to school.

At age fifteen Charles was placed as a clerk in theoffice of an attorney, a friend of his father's. In hisspare time he studied hard to become a Parliamentaryreporter.

At age nineteen he entered the parliamentary gallery asa reporter for The Mirror. It was a well paid job and hesoon became known as one of the best shorthandreporters in London.

Dickens began writing fiction at age 21, under the nomde plume of 'Boz'. In 1836, when Dickens was 23, hebegan writing a series of short stories (ThePosthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club) which appearedin cheap monthly installments. By the age of 24 he hadbecome internationally famous.

Charles Dickens burst onto the literary scene at aunique moment in English history

Until the end of the 18th century, England had been amainly rural society. But from the late 1700's onwards,land holders started forcing people off their land tomake way for sheep farming.

At the same time the Industrial Revolution wascreating new towns and cities with belching smokestacks and factories that needed workers - the Englishcountryside was emptying and a new urban working classwas emerging.

The concentration of people in towns and citiescreated something that had never existed before - amass audience. Newspapers, Magazines and Newsletterssprang up to cater for this new and growing demand.

Books were being serialized in Newspapers andMagazines - those who couldn't afford to buy a bookcould read it in weekly installments. Dickens wrote andpublished most of his novels in this fashion - a chapterat a time.

Between 1837 and 1839, Dickens wrote three of his mostfamous novels Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, andNicholas Nickleby.

In the first ten years of his writing career, themanic part of Dickens' manic depression had given himan endless source of energy and inspiration, but nowhe began to succumb to depression.

In the 1840's he started to experience writer's block.He would spend days locked up in a room, unable to putwords on paper. He wrote: "Men have been chained tohideous walls and other strange anchors but few haveknown such suffering and those whohave been bound to Pens."

Dickens was an extremely energetic man and a compulsivetraveler. He traveled the length and breadth of England,Scotland and Wales and also made frequent trips toFrance and Italy. In 1842 he spent six months in America,where he was given the kind of reception reserved formodern day rock stars.

In 1856 Dickens purchased a large residence in Kent,the kind of house he had always dreamed of owning.

Although Dickens became wealthy, he never forgothis origins. Throughout his life he visited thefactories, the slums, the jails and the poor houses.Indeed, his novels were a social commentary on theappalling conditions of 19th century England. He waswell known for his generosity and received requestsfor money wherever he went.

He is considered by many to have been a genius andthe greatest English writer of the 19th century.

When Dickens died in June 1870, he left an estatevalued at over $US6.5 million (2001 value).

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