Charles Dickens, perhaps the best British novelist of the Victorian era, was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England on February 7, 1812. His happy early childhood was interrupted when his father was sent to debtors' prison, and young Dickens had to go to work in a factory at age twelve. Later, he took jobs as an office boy and journalist before publishing essays and stories in the 1830s. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, made him a famous and popular author at the age of twenty-five. Subsequent works were published serially in periodicals and cemented his reputation as a master of colorful characterization, and as a harsh critic of social evils and corrupt institutions. His many books include Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens married Catherine Hogarth in 1836, and the couple had nine children before separating in 1858 when he began a long affair with Ellen Ternan, a young actress. Despite the scandal, Dickens remained a public figure, appearing often to read his fiction. He died in 1870, leaving his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.
Gish Jen is a writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of four novels, including Typical American and Mona in the Promised Land. Her most recent novel is World and Town.
Johnson is one of the preeminent biographers of the twentieth century; his industriousness and thoroughness place him in the tradition of the multivolume writers of the nineteenth century who were his subjects. He began research for a biography on Sir Walter Scott in 1956, started writing in 1961, and ended up at the end of the decade with a manuscript of 500,000 words in 78 chapters. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown (1970) was awarded the American Heritage biography prize in 1969, at $20,000 considered the largest award in the U.S. for a literary work. Some critics preferred Johnson's biography to Scott's works; all agreed that it was a definitive account of a major author. Johnson is notable, also, as the biographer of Charles Dickens.