Literary Birthday: Charles Dickens

As an ambitious young man with the kind of lower-class background that limited prospects in 19th century England, Charles Dickens (born today in 1812) was not sure what he wanted to or could become. After stints as a law clerk and comic, he landed on writing.

His first piece, a fairly low-key comedic sketch titled “A Dinner at Poplar Walk,” was published in Monthly Magazine in 1833, but under the name “Boz.” One of his favorite characters in Oliver Goldsmith’s novel Vicar of Wakefield was named Moses, which was what Dickens had nicknamed his younger brother. That later became “Boses,” and then “Boz.” Dickens was never paid for his debut, having to buy a copy of the magazine in order to see his pseudonym in print. More pieces followed in the same vein. Three years later, the first collected volume of Sketches by Boz appeared. A preface to a later edition showed a self-conscious Dickens noting “their often being extremely crude and ill-considered, and bearing obvious marks of haste and inexperience.”

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