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Dickens' first novel, Pickwick Papers, written when he was only 24, was a publishing sensation. Then the serialized parts of The Old Curiosity Shop attracted sales of over 100,000 copies a week. Huge crowds gathered to glimpse him when he toured the USA. When he died there was public mourning, and his admirers felt they had lost a personal friend. Dickens created young characters who led exemplary lives in the face of suffering - Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield. His career serves as a model of the Victorian self-help ideal, which elevated hard work as the way to lift the individual from raw beginnings to graceful sophistication, comfort and enlightenment. But what was Dickens really like? This book imagines his private and public lives in a series of enlightening and engaging conversations - on topics such as the novel, actors, the fair sex, literary inspiration, illustrations, journalism, publishing, copyright, religion, America, social change - and, of course, Christmas.