English writer and social critic, Charles Dickens created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters. Regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, his works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, he was recognized as a literary genius.
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Born in Portsmouth, Charles Dickens had to leave school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtor’s prison. Charles, only 12-years-old, boarded with a family friend in Camden Town.
To pay for his board and to help his family, he worked ten-hour days at a Blacking Warehouse, earning six shillings ($23.50 USD) a week pasting labels on pots of boot blacking.
He later wrote that he wondered, “how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age.”
The strenuous and harsh conditions made a lasting impression and became the foundation of his interest in labor/socio-economic reform for the working class, poor and became the major themes of his work.
“The warehouse was a tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs. The dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again.” ~ Dickens
After his mother died and left him money to pay off the creditors, Charles’ father was released from prison and went to live with family members. However, Charles’ own mother would not support her young boy’s removal from the boot blacking warehouse.
“I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother left me there.”
Eventually, Charles was sent to Wellington House Academy where much of the desultory teaching, poor discipline punctuated by the headmaster’s sadistic brutality, seedy ushers and general run-down atmosphere, are embodied in David Copperfield.
Charles then worked as a junior clerk in a law office. A theater buff, he went to theaters obsessively, claiming that for at least three years, he went to the theater every day!
At 20, he set out on his career as a writer, working as a political journalist, and travelled across Britain to cover election campaigns. In 1836, he accepted the editor’s position at Bentley’s Miscellany. He also finished the last installments of The Pickwick Papers, and began writing the first installments of Oliver Twist.
Becoming disillusioned in England, Charles spent a month in America giving lectures and questioning international copyright laws.
Returning to England in 1843, he began work on A Christmas Carol. The seeds for the story were planted during a trip to Manchester when he witnessed the conditions of the manufacturing workers there. This caused Dickens to “strike a sledge-hammer blow” for the poor.
He later wrote that, as the tale unfolded, he “wept and laughed, and wept again” as he “walked about the black streets of London 16 or 20 miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed.”
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. Published on December 19, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve. By the end of 1844, 13 editions had been released. In 1849, he began public readings of the story, which proved so successful he undertook 127 further performances until 1870, the year of his death. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages. The story has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera and other media.