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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Charles Dickens, the second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens, was born on February 7th, 1812 at Portsea. When he was twelve, his family fortunes were on the decline owing to his father's incapacity to manage his financial affairs. When his father was arrested and sent to the debtor's prison at Marshalsea, Charles was sent to work in a boot-bleaching factory and to board with other unwanted children in Mrs. Roylance's house. Young Charles found life miserable as he walked daily from the factory to the boarding house. A timely inheritance of money relieved his suffering. After studying for a few years at Wellington House, he entered a Solicitor's Office as a freelance reporter at the office of the Doctor's Common, the Parliament and the Morning Chronicle.
His literary career started in 1836 with the publication of "Sketches by Boz." Around the same time, he got married to Catherine Hogarth. In 1837, "Pickwick Papers" was published. Soon his other novels were in print. With "David Copperfield" he reached the zenith of his literary career.
Dickens traveled a good deal around the world. In 1838, he instituted public reading of his own books on a professional basis and this venture proved to be an outstanding success. With the pressure of work and mounting activities, his health began to suffer. In 1870, when he died from a cerebral stroke, he was remembered as the most popular novelist his country had never known.
LITERARY/ HISTORICAL INFORMATION
"Oliver Twist," the saga of a boy who passes through the trials and tribulations of life to emerge stronger from it, first appeared as a monthly serial in "Bentley's Miscellany" in 1837 and later was published as a book. The novel fictionalizes the experiences of the writer and reflects the social evils prevailing at that time.
As a boy Dickens suffered economic insecurity and humiliation. At the tender age of twelve, he was sent work at a blacking factory to earn six shillings a week. He was also sent to board with other unwanted children to Mrs. Roylance's house. In the words of Kenneth Hayens, "Those few months were for Dickens a time of utter misery, humiliation, and despair, the memory of which, as he later confessed, he could never quite shake off." These childhood experiences of Dickens have been transferred into the early pages of the novel and Oliver portrays the feeling of despair that the author had experienced as a child.
In nineteenth-century England, there was a great shift in movement from the villages to cities because of rapid industrialization. The migrants, who were unemployed and lived in dirty streets, often took to crime. Dickens had come across such people living in the streets of London as he was familiar with every section of the city. He was also aware of the conditions of the paupers living in workhouses managed by the parish. He thus comes down heavily on pompous bureaucratic boards and corrupt parochial organizations of his times by attacking the Poor Laws in "Oliver Twist."