|In the words of George Orwell, "the strongest single impression one carries away" from the novels of Charles Dickens is "a hatred of tyranny"--a passion that began in Dickens's own early life. Son of a navy pay clerk, Dickens had an idyllic childhood until he was 12, when his improvident father was imprisoned for debt and young Charles was sent by his parents to work in a London blacking factory to raise money to pay off his father's creditors. He was there only a few months, but the experience left a harsh impression on him: he not only wrote frequently in his novels about oppressed and victimized children, but, after he became famous, was a tireless crusader against child labor and other social evils. In time, the young Dickens did return to school, and in his teens, he acquired a reader's ticket to the British Museum, where he educated himself further, reading Shakespeare and other classics. He became a law clerk and a shorthand reporter, and then began writing for various periodicals, becoming a successful and sought-after journalist. In 1833, he published his first short story, and his first full-length book, THE PICKWICK PAPERS, was published three years later, when he was 24--the same year he was married to Catherine Hogarth. As he and his wife began to produce children--10 in all--Dickens also produced literature, most of which was published serially, including OLIVER TWIST (1837), NICHOLAS NICKELBY (1839), and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1843). He wrote according to a rigorous schedule (daily, between breakfast and luncheon), and from the 1840s on, he traveled widely, giving speeches and readings, and lived in Italy and in Paris briefly in the mid-1840s. His marriage was never a happy one; in 1858, he and his wife separated, and from that period until his death Dickens was romantically involved with the young actress Ellen Ternan. Among Dickens's later works are DAVID COPPERFIELD (1850), HARD TIMES (1854), and LITTLE DORRITT (1857), which drew on his own troubled childhood, as well as A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859) and OUR MUTUAL FRIEND (1865). His last novel, a suspense tale, was THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, left unfinished at his death in June, 1870, from a stroke that may have been brought on by his strenuous schedule of public appearances. Though he lived to be only 58, Dickens's output was prodigious and varied, both wildly comical and deadly serious, and he remains one of the most enduring and beloved writers in the canon of English literature.
|The son of a doctor, William Sydney Porter was a sickly child who was sporadically educated, then sent to a Texas ranch at the age of 20 because of his weak lungs. He worked in Austin as a bookkeeper and draftsman, then as a bank teller. When he was 25, he secretly married a 17-year-old girl he met at choir practice, and had a daughter; his wife, like Porter, was tubercular, and died in 1897. Porter, meanwhile, was indicted for absconding with $1,153.68 from the bank where he worked; he sneaked out of Austin, made it to New Orleans, and sailed for Honduras, traveling throughout South America and Mexico with two fugitive train robbers. He returned to Texas only upon receiving word that his wife was near death. He was finally tried and sentenced to five years in prison. (It isn't clear whether he was actually guilty of embezzlement or merely careless.) In prison he began to write and sell fiction, and was discharged after three years for good behavior. In 1902 he moved to New York; the city's turmoil inspired him to write his best stories, often at the rate of a story a week, under the pseudonym O. Henry. His stories emphasized his romantic view of people's innate goodness and were famous for their surprise endings. Despite his success, Porter was poor all his life, usually drinking his money away or giving it to beggars. He remarried, but his tuberculosis became dramatically worse, and he died at the age of 48.