What is the best Charles Dickens novel? The one you are reading right now! He never put out a bad book. In that sense he’s the Buddy Holly of English prose; in a greater sense he’s the Dylan or Mozart. Anyhow, happy just-belated birthday (7 February) to him!

Here he is in 1842 during his first US tour, painted by Boston artist Francis Alexander. He’s just turned 30, he’s had five novels published – all big hits – and he’s only a year or so away from writing A Christmas Carol.

Dickens