"The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists."

The characters in Dickens' novels were once burned into every schoolchild's memory, from Pip in "Great Expectations" to Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol."Romantic - and yet devastating - as Charles John Huffman Dickens' novels were, in their day they were commentaries on the state of working people in a Britain obsessed with capital gain and much less concerned with social welfare.

Yet in America and his homeland, he captured the popular imagination as no man has done, says the "Oxford Companion to English Literature." The standard reference work points out that Dickens, whose work did not attract serious academic attention until nearly 30 years after his death, was "held in high critical esteem, admired by contemporaries as varied as Queen Victoria and Dostoevsky."

Today, the term "Dickensian" conjures visions of a simpler, but harsher, world of an England long gone.