"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..." wrote Charles Dickens, whose life was a rich mixture of all of the above. Here are the 8 odd facts about the novelist:
WHAT THE DICKENS?
Charles Dickens was the first literary superstar - his popular works reached a wider audience than any writer before him. With classics like Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield, Dickens dominated the literary life of 19th-century England and the United States. But like many remarkable people, Dickens was a complex, multi-layered individual, full of peculiar quirks and odd habits.
• OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE. Dickens was preoccupied with looking in the mirror and combing his hair - he did it hundreds of times a day. He rearranged furniture in his home - if it wasn't in the exact "correct" position, he couldn't concentrate. Obsessed with magnetic fields, Dickens made sure that every bed he slept in was aligned north-south. He had to touch certain objects three times for luck. He was obsessed with the need for tidiness, often cleaning other homes as well as his own.
• NICKNAME-IAC. Just as some of his most endearing characters had odd nicknames (like Pip in Great Expectations), Dickens gave every one of his ten children nicknames like "Skittles" and "Plorn."
• EPILEPTIC. Dickens suffered from epilepsy and made some of his characters - like Oliver Twist's brother - epileptics. Modern doctors are amazed at the medical accuracy of his descriptions of this malady.
• PRACTICAL JOKER. Dicken's study had a secret door designed to look like a bookcase. The shelves were full of fake books with witty titles, such as Noah's Arkitecture and a nine-volume set titled Cat's Lives. One of his favorites was a multi-volume series called The Wisdom of Our Ancestors, dealing with subjects like ignorance, superstition, disease, and instruments of torture, and a companion book titled The Virtues of Our Ancestors, which was so narrow that the title had to be printed vertically.
• EGOMANIAC. Dickens often referred to himself as "the Sparkler of Albion," favorably comparing himself to Shakespeare's nickname, "the Bard of Avon." (Albion is an archaic name for England.)
• FAIR-WEATHER FRIEND. Hans Christian Andersen was Dicken's close friend and mutual influence. Andersen even dedicated his book Poet's Day Dream to Dickens in 1853. But this didn't stop Dickens from letting Andersen know when he'd overstayed his welcome at Dickens's home. He printed a sign and left it on Andersen's mirror in the guest room. It read: "Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks, which seemed to the family like AGES."
• MESMERIST. Dickens was a devotee of mesmerism, a system of healing through hypnotism. He practiced it on his hypochondriac wife and his children, and claimed to have healed several friends and associates.
• CLIFF-HANGER. When The Old Curiosity Shop was published in serial form in 1841, readers all over Britain and the United States followed the progress of the heroine, Little Nell, with the same fervor that audiences today follow Harry Potter. When the ship carrying the last installment approached the dock in New York, 6,000 impatient fans onshore called out to the sailors, "Does Little Nell die?" (They yelled back that ... uh-oh, we're out of room.)