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English / Reading / Literature / Charles Dickens
An introduction to Charles Dickens and his works
  Further information


Charles Dickens is, after William Shakespeare, perhaps the best-known English writer. He is one of the greatest storytellers of English literature. His many tales, including A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, continue to be used again and again in films and TV productions.

Dickens had, in his early life, like many of the characters in his novels, plenty of difficulty. He was born in 1812 and at five moved to Chatham in Kent. When he was 12 he went to work in a factory in London putting labels on shoe polish tins. The Dickens’ family, except for Charles, were put in prison because the father could not pay his debts.

Things improved for the family when his father inherited some money. Charles was able to continue his studies and went on to become a newspaper reporter. He started to write stories for magazines and, in 1836, his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, began in a magazine called Bentley’s Miscellany. Serialisation - telling a story in parts –was a popular form for publishing novels at this time.

The huge success of Dickens’ work made him both rich and influential. His stories, though, continued to show the difficulties of life for poor people of that time. The stories no doubt helped inform public opinion in bringing about social change in Victorian Britain.

In 1836 Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and they went on to have 10 children. Charles died in 1870. In his lifetime he made three trips to the USA where he also enjoyed immense popularity. Dickens was known not only for his writing but for his lively and dramatic public readings of the stories.

If you would like to find out more about Dickens there are many possibilities. There are museums in both London and Portsmouth; there are guided walks, many films and DVDs, books about him and websites, too, and, of course, the novels themselves. Some suggestions are shownm below.

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To read the books as Dickens wrote them needs a very high level of English. He is very ‘wordy’, meaning he uses lots of different words, some of them quite difficult. You can find, though, lots of his stories as ‘readers’, meaning short versions using simple language.

Some of the best known of Dickens’ novels are listed in the table below. You can use the links to buy the books online.

Book title
Wordsworth Classics
Penguin Readers
Macmillan Readers
The Old Curiosity Shop
click here
Oliver Twist
click here
advanced (level 6)
Nicholas Nickleby
click here
A Christmas Carol
click here
elementary (level 2)
A Tale of Two Cities
click here
upper intermediate (level 5)
David Copperfield
click here
pre-intermediate (level 3)
Great Expectations
click here
advanced (level 6)
Bleak House
click here
The Pickwick Papers
click here

You can also find all Dickens’ novels online – in the original version - where you can read or download them for free. For example, you can find them at or"Charles+Dickens"

The books are also available in local or college libraries in the UK.

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More than 50 films based on the work of Dickens have been made since 1913. The most recent was Disney’s A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey, which opened in the UK in December 2009. Many of these films are available on DVD.
Therse include animated versions, the musical ‘Oliver’ and the old black and white classics of English director David Lean.

BBC television has made a speciality of dramatising Dickens’ stories. These are shown in serial form over several weeks and are, of course, much longer than a film. If you would prefer the stories more as Dickens wrote them, these are well worth looking at.

A Christmas Carol [2009] (DVD)
Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Date: November 2010
Nicholas Nickleby [2003] (DVD)
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Date: November 2003
The Charles Dickens BBC Collection (12 DVDs)
Studio: 2 Entertain Video
Date: October 2005
Oliver! [1968] (DVD)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Date: February 2006
Classic Charles Dickens Films - Great Expectations / A Tale Of Two Cities / Oliver Twist (3 DVDs)
Studio: ITV Studios Home Entertainment
Date: October 2003

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Lionel Bart created a musical Oliver! based on the story Oliver Twist. This is currently being performed in London's West End at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

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In London the Charles Dickens Museum is in a house where he lived from 1837-39 and includes many items connected with his work and times. See:

In Portsmouth (Hampshire) the house where Dickens was born is also preserved as a museum. It is furnished in early 19th century style. See:

In Chatham (Kent) there is an indoor attraction called Dickens World, built around the theme of some of his novels. See:

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If you are in London as part of a larger group there are several guides who offer walking tours around Dickens’ London, for example:

If you wish to explore by yourself, you can buy these books to guide you:

A Walk around Charles Dickens' London
Author: Paul Kenneth Garner
Publisher: Louis London Walks
Date: June 2001
Walking Dickensian London
Author: Richard Jones
Publisher: New Holland Publishers Ltd
Date: April 2004

There are also details of places you can visit in London on this website:

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There are several Charles Dickens’ websites. Two which have lots of information are:
Charles Dickens Page:
The Extraordinary Life of Charles Dickens:

After his death a biography of Dickens appeared. Called "The Life of Charles Dickens", it was written by John Forster but with help from Dickens.
Over the years many biographies about him have been written, as well as studies of his life and times, and of his writing.

Dickens [Abridged]
Author: Peter Ackroyd
Publisher: Vintage
Date: March 2002
Dickens on Screen
Editor: John Glavin
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Date: November 2003
Charles Dickens
Author: Michael Slater
Publisher: Yale University Press
Date: August 2009
The Life of Charles Dickens
Author: John Forster
Publisher: Forgotten Books
Date: June 2009

The Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, is a worldwide association of people who share an interest in the life and works of Charles Dickens:

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Reading English: English/Reading

Rochester: Travel/Tours/England/Rochester
Portsmouth: Travel/Tours/England/Portsmouth

Oliver! the musical: Life/Entertainment/Theatre

Home page: Home

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