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Great Expectations


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Charles Dickens was born was born in Landport, Portsmouth, on 7th February 1812. He was the second of eight children born to John and Elizabeth Dickens. Financially, the Dickens family were comfortable, and when they moved to Chatham, Kent in 1817 they sent Charles to the fee paying William Giles' school in the area. By the time he was ten, the family had moved again; this time to London following the career of his father, John, who was a clerk in the Naval Pay Office. John got into debt and was eventually sent to Marshalsea Prison in 1824. His wife and most of the children joined him there (a common occurrence in those days); Charles, however, was put to work at Warren's Blacking Factory, where he labelled jars of boot polish. When John's mother died soon after, she left enough money to pay off the debts and reunite the family. Although brief, Charles's time at the factory haunted him for the rest of his life. Charles left school at fifteen and worked as an office boy with a Mr. Molloy of Lincoln's Inn. It was here that Charles made the decision to become a journalist. He studied shorthand at night, and went on to spend two years as a shorthand reporter at the Doctors' Commons Courts. From 1830 to 1836 he wrote for a number of newspapers; he also started to achieve recognition for his own written work. In December 1833 his first published (but unpaid for) story, A Dinner at Poplar Walk, appeared in The Old Monthly magazine. He wrote further stories for The Old Monthly; but when the magazine could not pay for them, Dickens began to write his seriesA" for The Chronicle at the request of the editor, George Hogarth. In 1835, Charles got engaged to George Hogarth's eldest daughter, Catherine. They married on 2nd April 1836 and went on to have ten children (seven boys and three girls). Biographers have long suspected that Charles preferred Catherine's sister, Mary, who lived with the Dickens family and died in his arms in 1837 at the age of seventeen. Dickens had asked to be buried next to her; but when her brother died in 1841, Dickens's placeA" was taken. The first series of Sketches by Boz was published in 1836 ( BozA" was an early pen name used by Dickens). Shortly afterwards, with the success of Pickwick Papers in 1837, Dickens was at last a full-time novelist. He produced works at an incredible rate; and at the start of his writing career, also managed to continue his work as a journalist and editor. He began his next book, Oliver Twist, in 1837 and continued it in monthly parts until April 1839. Dickens visited Canada and the United States in 1842. During that visit he talked on the need for international copyright, because some American publishers were printing his books without his permission and without making any payment; he also talked about the need to end slavery. His visit and his opinions were recorded and published as American Notes in October of that year, causing quite a stir. On 17th December 1843 his much-loved Christmas tale, A Christmas Carol (also available as a Classical Comics graphic novel) was published. It was so popular that it sold five-thousand copies by Christmas Eve - and has never been out of print since. From childhood, Dickens had loved the stage and enjoyed the attention and applause he received. He performed in amateur theatre throughout the 1840s and 50s, and formed his own amateur theatrical company in 1845, which occupied much of his time. Dickens became something of an international celebrity. In 1853 he toured Italy, and on his return to England, he gave the first of many public readings from his own works. At first he did these for charity, but before long he demanded payment. By 1856, Dickens had made enough money to purchase a fine country house: Gads Hill in Kent. Although he had admired this place ever since his arrival to the area as a child, it was not to be a happy family home. A year later, Charles met a young actress called Ellen Lawless Ternan who went on to join his theatre company; and they began a relationship that was to last until his death. Charles separated from his wife Catherine in 1858. The event was talked about in the newspapers, and Dickens publicly denied rumours of an affair. He was morally trapped - he was deeply in love with Ellen, but his writing career was based on promoting family values and being a good person; he felt that if he admitted his relationship with Ellen, it would put an end to his career. Catherine moved to a house in London with their eldest son Charles, and Dickens remained at Gads Hill with the rest of the children and Catherine's sister, Georgina (there were rumours of Charles and Georgina having a relationship, too). The more he tried to hide his personal life, the more it came out in his writing. Great Expectations was written around this time (1860) and includes elements of all the emotions he was experiencing: imprisonment, love that can never be, people living in isolation, and the compulsion to better oneself. He continued to look after Ellen and made regular secret journeys to see her - not easy for the local celebrity that Dickens had become. He went to incredible lengths to keep his secret safe, including renting houses under different names and setting up offices for his business in places that made it easy for him to visit her. In 1865, Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst Rail Crash: an incident which disturbed him greatly. He was travelling with Ellen and her mother, most likely returning from a secret holiday in France. The train left the track, resulting in the deaths of ten people and injuries to forty more. It is reported that Dickens tended to some of the wounded. By 1867 Dickens's health was getting worse. His doctor advised him to rest, but he carried on with his busy schedule, which included a second tour of America. He returned to England and, despite his bad health, continued his work and his public reading appearances. In April 1869, he collapsed during a reading at Preston, and he was again advised to rest. Dickens didn't listen. He continued to give performances in London and he even started work on a new novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This novel was never finished: he suffered a stroke and died suddenly at Gads Hill on 9th June 1870. He had asked to be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private mannerA" but public opinion, led by The Times newspaper, insisted that he should be buried in keeping with his status as a great writer. He was buried at Westminster Abbey on 14th June 1870. His funeral was a private affair, attended by just twelve mourners. After the service, his grave was left open and thousands of people from all walks of life came to pay their respects and throw flowers onto the coffin. Today, a small stone with a simple inscription marks his grave: CHARLES DICKENS BORN 7th FEBRUARY 1812 DIED 9th JUNE 1870"


Their strapline of 'Bringing Classics to Life' pretty much says it all. Classical Comics' editions are the best we've found - not only in terms of the artwork, but also in the authenticity that their books retain. My pupils derived huge benefit from reading their versions; what's more, they thoroughly enjoyed reading them, too. William Purcell, teacher

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