5 Famous Works from the 1840s and '50s

A Christmas Carol: In 1843, at the age of 31, Dickens published his immortal holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, after working on the text for just two months. The story was met with instant success with the general public and remains popular to this day, having never been out of print and having been adapted to film, opera and more.

David Copperfield: At the close of the 1840s, Dickens began serialization of his novel David Copperfield, said to be his most autobiographical work.

Bleak House: Arguably considered one of his finest creations, Bleak House contains one of the most complex and engaging array of characters and subplots in all of Dickens' works.

A Tale of Two Cities: This was Dickens' second historical novel, and in it, he experimented with developing the characters through the action of the plot, rather than through dialogue as he had done in the past. Read more about A Tale of Two Cities, an Oprah's Book Club selection for 2010.

Great Expectations: This novel, the story of the orphaned Pip, has been adapted for the stage and screen more than 250 times. Read more about Great Expectations, an Oprah's Book Club selection for 2010.

Persistent Popularity

Dickens' popularity led to more than 472 reading events in the last 12 years of his life—and sometimes thousands had to be turned away. In the fall of 1867, he visited the United States for close to six months, giving readings and visiting with the likes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and even President Andrew Johnson. In the years before his death, Dickens also wrote Our Mutual Friend (1864–5), which many consider his best comedy, as well as his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was never completed.

When he died, the writer Anthony Trollope, one of the most successful English novelists of the Victorian era, claimed Dickens' novels had an enormous impact on society "from the highest to the lowest, among all classes that read." His popularity was such that, at the time of his death, critic Janice Carlisle estimated that his magazine All the Year Round was "selling 300,000 copies a week and reaching, by one estimate, half the population of London."

Dickens' Dying Wish

Dickens died at his home, Gad's Hill Place, near Rochester in Kent, on June 9, 1870, leaving behind his 10 children and a wealthy estate of 93,000 pounds.

Dickens specified in his will "that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works." His simple tomb marker can be found in the Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey. Each year on the anniversary of his birth, a wreath is laid on his grave.

Penguin Books and Penguin Classics wish to thank and credit the following writers and books for information used in creating this Reading Group Guide:

Janice Carlisle (editor), Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism, New York, Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996

Edmond Jabes, The Book of Questions (Volume 1), Middletown, CT., Wesleyan University Press, 1976

Fred Kaplan, Dickens: A Biography, New York, William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1988

Norman Page, A Dickens Chronology, Boston, MA., G.K. Hall & Co., 1988


Next Story