Charles John Huffam Dickens (pronounced /ˈtʃɑrlz ˈdɪkɪnz/; 7 February 1812–9 June 1870) was the most popular English novelist of the Victorian era, and one of the most popular of all time, responsible for some of English literature's most iconic characters.
Many of his novels, with their recurrent theme of social reform, first appeared in magazines in serialised form, a popular format at the time. Unlike other authors who completed entire novels before serialisation, Dickens often created the episodes as they were being serialized. The practice lent his stories a particular rhythm, punctuated by cliffhangers to keep the public looking forward to the next instalment. The continuing popularity of his novels and short stories is such that they have never gone out of print.
His work has been praised for its mastery of prose and unique personalities by writers such as George Gissing and G. K. Chesterton, though the same characteristics prompted others, such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf, to criticise him for sentimentality and implausibility.
On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home, after a full day's work on Edwin Drood. The next day, on 9 June, and five years to the day after the Staplehurst crash, he died at Gad's Hill Place never having regained consciousness.
Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," he was laid to rest in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads: "CHARLES DICKENS Born 7 February 1812 Died 9 June 1870."
A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: "To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England's most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world."
Dickens's last words, as reported in his obituary in The Times were alleged to have been:
"Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fullfilled all the rules of art."
On Sunday, 19 June 1870, five days after Dickens's interment in the Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley delivered a memorial elegy, lauding "the genial and loving humorist whom we now mourn," for showing by his own example "that even in dealing with the darkest scenes and the most degraded characters, genius could still be clean, and mirth could be innocent." Pointing to the fresh flowers that adorned the novelist's grave, Stanley assured those present that "the spot would thenceforth be a sacred one with both the New World and the Old, as that of the representative of literature, not of this island only, but of all who speak our English tongue."
Dickens's will stipulated that no memorial be erected to honour him. The only life-size bronze statue of Dickens, cast in 1891 by Francis Edwin Elwell, is located in Clark Park in the Spruce Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States.