Charles Dickens's life is a story of rags to riches, complete with bankruptcy, prison, forced child labour, and fame and fortune overshadowed by guilt and secrecy - rather like the plot of one of his novels. Indeed, Dickens drew strongly on his own experiences as the source for much of his fiction. Here the author offers a fresh view of Dickens's remarkable life story. Dickens's novels brim with references: they are located in the places he lived in and visited, peopled with characters he knew, and inspired by the preoccupations that haunted his mind. Ackroyd highlights the reality of Victorian life, warts and all, and the issues that sparked Dickens's fervent calls for social reform; and he also charts the influential landmarks of that era, such as the coming of the railways, the effects upon society of the industrial revolution and the expansion of the British Empire. Dickens was a complex personality. He apparently had everything - fame, success, wealth - but he died harbouring the great sadness he had carried with him all his life, and he was humble enough to forbid a grand funeral. Like many eminent Victorians, he led a double life. Although he insisted that nothing in the newspapers he edited should offend his middle-class readers, he regularly indulged in dubious night-time escapades with fellow-author Wilkie Collins and, for the final 13 years of his life, kept a secret mistress, Ellen Ternan.
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