Charles Dickens wrote the immortal story “A Christmas Carol.” In the process, he enlivened what was a somber holiday. The Puritans had made sure that most of the fun was squeezed out of Christmas for the prior two centuries, mandating a quiet day exchanging presents at home and going to church.
“He was frustrated and felt ineffective after giving a lecture in Manchester (England) on the benefit to the nation of educating the working class, at a time when there were no free public schools,” Carlo DeVito, author of “Inventing Scrooge,” told IBD. “His first idea was to write a pamphlet about helping the less fortunate, but then realized he could get the message across better if he created a compelling story. As he drew on his own experiences growing up, both hurtful and joyous, he became obsessed with the tale of personal redemption and completed it in six weeks.
“It changed both his career and the way the holiday season was celebrated around the world.”
Dickens (1812-70) had an early childhood in southern England, including London, that he called idyllic. Yet his father, a government clerk, spent more than he earned and was sent to debtors’ prison for a few months when the boy was 12.
As the second of eight children, Charles began working at a boot factory 10 hours a day, six days a week. The family had to move to cheaper quarters and pawn everything it owned to get by.
Dickens had only a few years of formal education, but his mother taught him a love of reading, the foundation for his career. At 15, he began clerking at a law office, learned shorthand and became a freelance reporter at the courts.
At 22, he began writing entertaining reports about city life under the pen name Boz. Two years later, in 1836, they were collected into the two-volume “Sketches by Boz.”
The next year, Dickens broke through big-time.
“The Pickwick Papers” came out under his own name — and when the novel was serialized in a magazine, it drew 400,000 readers for the last installment.
The year before, he had married Kate Hogarth, daughter of one of his editors, and they would have 10 children. Dickens provided for the growing family with increasingly nicer homes by churning out one masterpiece after another.
In 1838-39, he had two smash hits — “Oliver Twist” and “Nicholas Nickleby.” Then in 1841, he had two more: “The Old Curiosity Shop” and “Barnaby Rudge.”