This Day In History: April 30

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On April 30, 1859, the first chapter of Charles Dickens’ serialized novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is published in Dickens’ circular, All the Year Round. It rolls out over 31 weekly installments, with the last one appearing that November.

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.

The success of Dicken’s first work of fiction, Sketches by Boz, later known as The Pickwick Papers was soon reproduced with Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1839). In 1841, Dickens published two more novels, then spent five months in the United States, where he was welcomed as a literary hero. Dickens never lost momentum as a writer, churning out major novels every year or two, often in serial form. Among his most important works are David Copperfield (1850), Great Expectations (1861), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

Beginning in 1850, he published his own weekly circular of fiction, poetry, and essays called Household Words. He folded the circular in 1859 and launched another, All the Year Round, which included the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities. In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife and began a long association with a young actress. He gave frequent 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.


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