The last entry of the serialized novel Great Expectations is published on this day in 1861. The book had been serialized in Dickens’ literary circular, All the Year Round. The novel tells the story of young Pip, a poor orphan who comes to believe he will inherit a fortune. Dickens had become one of the most popular writers in England nearly three decades earlier with the publication of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers.
The short sketches, which Dickens published under the pseudonym “Boz,” were originally commissioned as captions for humorous drawings. Dickens was born in 1812 and attended school in Portsmouth. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was thrown in debtors’ prison in 1824, and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a factory. The miserable treatment of children and the institution of the debtors’ jail became topics of several of Dickens’ novels.
In his late teens, Dickens became a reporter and started publishing humorous short stories when he was 21. In 1836, a collection of his stories, Sketches by Boz, was published. The same year, he married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have nine children. In 1838, Dickens published Oliver Twist, followed by Nicholas Nickleby (1839). In 1841, Dickens published two more novels, then spent five months in the U.S., where he was hailed as a literary hero. Dickens churned out major novels every year or two, usually serialized in his own circular. Among his most important works are David Copperfield (1850), Great Expectations (1861), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859). In the late 1850s, he began a series of public readings, which became immensely popular. He died in 1870 at the age of 58, with his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, still unfinished.