Dickens was born into poverty. His father was imprisoned for debt, and Charles spent time working in a boot-blacking factory in London when he was twelve. Resentment of his situation and the conditions people lived under was a major theme of his works.
Dickens became a journalist, reporting parliamentary debate and travelling Britain by stagecoach to report election campaigns. His journalism informed his first collection of pieces Sketches by Boz. Most of his novels first appeared in serialized form. He made his name with The Pickwick Papers.
Among his best known works are Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and A Christmas Carol. David Copperfield may be his best novel; it is certainly his most autobiographical.
Most of our ideas about the Victorian Era have been influenced by his novels. The effects of poverty, industrialization and social stratification are major themes of his books.
Dickens was fascinated by the theatre as an escape from the world, and theaters and theatrical people appear in Nicholas Nickleby.
Dickens loved to perform readings from his works and travelled widely in Britain and America.
Dickens' writing style is florid and poetic, with a strong comic touch. His satires of British aristocratic snobbery -- he calls one character the "Noble Refrigerator" -- are wickedly funny. Some of his characters are grotesques; he loved the style of 18th century gothic romance though it had already become a bit of joke (see Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey for example).
Like several of his contemporaries, some of his works are marred by vehement Anti-semitism. For example, the character Fagin in Oliver Twist is an egregiously stereotypical Jew, with whole passages describing his hooked nose and greedy eyes.
Much of Dickens's writing seems sentimental today, like the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.
But throughout his works, Dickens retained an empathy for the common man.
Dickens died in 1870, and was buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb reads: "He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world."