Author Charles Dickens: The Conscience of His Age
With debtors and the poor being remanded to rat infested prisons in 1812 when Charles Dickens was born, the Victorian age was a brutal time to be poor. And young Dickens himself experienced some of this brutality first hand as a child when his middle class family had descended into deep poverty because of debt.
His father, John Dickens had been able to provide a pleasant lifestyle for Charles Dickens and his siblings until the family thrown into debt by the lavish spending of his father. John Dickens was then thrown into prison by his debtors along with his wife and younger children. So Charles had to drop out of school at age twelve to work in a shoe polish factory, doing hard manual labor, in order to help support his family and pay down the debt. And although Dickens had to drop out of school, this hard experience was the catalyst to make Dickens become one of England’s great novelists, with most of his most endearing characters being taken out of his poverty experience, especially a young co-worker, whose named Bob Fagin, whose name he used in Oliver Twist, as he confided to his close friend John Forster.
The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, 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 at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label, and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist.
Starting with the success of the his first novel The Pickwick Papers that was published as a series in a magazine, Dickens wrote 15 novels in all, including Oliver Twist, Bleak House and the Christmas Carol and numerous short stories and many essays highlighting the injustices of the day and the dangers of greed. He became a wildly popular author in England, loved by rich and poor alike. The rich were greatly entertained by his stories and the poor could relate to his characters. The illiterate poor would even have someone read the installments of his stories to them, and Dickens became a wealthy man in his own rite. Dickens then became a philanthropist when he financially sponsored a school for wayward girls with an eye to rehabilitate them rather than punish them as was the order of the day.
Dickens died as the result of a stroke on June 8, 1870 after a full days work om his last novel Edwin Drood which he left unfinished; he died doing what he loved to do.