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“He believed he knew London better than any person alive, because he spent so much time walking the streets,” said Alex Werner, curator of the exhibition “Dickens and London,” running at the Museum of London until June.

Dickens‘ drive and productivity were fueled by early poverty. When he was 12, his father was sent to debtors’ prison and Dickens went to work in a factory, placing labels on jars of boot polish.

Those early experiences were reflected in his novels. Dickens exposed the cruelty of workhouses in “Oliver Twist,” the harshness of child labor in “David Copperfield,” the chasm between the rich and the poor in “A Christmas Carol” and the brutality of the legal system in “Bleak House.”

He also was one of the first writers to depict the modern industrial city — a place where millions of us still live.

Many features of his world are still familiar. The 19th century was an era of fast-paced technological change, and Dickens embraced it. He traveled Britain on newly invented steam trains — though he hated the juddering journeys — and crossed the Atlantic in 1842 on one of the first steamships.

He was also a commercially astute writer. His books were published in monthly installments, in an inexpensive magazine-style format interspersed with ads for everything from “Alpaca Umbrellas” to “the gentleman’s real head of hair.”

“It feels very modern,” Mr. Werner said. “A bit like TV soaps — you have to get through the adverts.”

Mr. Werner said he thinks that if Dickens were alive today he’d write for television — he always wanted to reach the widest possible audience.