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A Christmas Carol | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens | Biography


Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, on February 7, 1812, to John and Mary Dickens and grew up poor but happy, passing adventurous years exploring the English countryside with his seven siblings.

However, when Dickens was 12, his father, who struggled constantly to make ends meet, was sent to debtors' prison because he was unable to pay a bakery bill he had run up in order to put bread on the table. His mother, too poor to maintain a home on her own, had no choice but to move herself and the younger children into the prison with their father. Young Dickens, old enough to work, was sent to make a living in a boot-blacking factory, so instead of studying or playing with friends, he spent 10 hours a day pasting labels onto jars in a filthy, rodent-infested factory. He made a trifling amount each week, which was used to help pay off his father's debt.

The plight of child workers deeply disturbed Dickens after his experience in the factory, and he sought to shed light on the issue in many of his novels, including A Christmas Carol. The loss of childhood innocence and the exploitation of the vulnerable are two other themes inspired by Dickens's personal experiences and explored in his works.

Dickens was an emotional writer who never shied away from voicing his political opinions, particularly when they concerned the lower classes of society. His concern for the poor and his dismay at the socioeconomic divide in Victorian England likely also led to his joining the Unitarian Universalist church as an adult. His famous novels Hard Times (1854), Oliver Twist (1837), Nicholas Nickleby (1838), and The Pickwick Papers (1836), among others, portrayed the effects of social issues on society's most vulnerable—often children.

Already living as a celebrity in London due to the success of his previous works, Dickens enjoyed immediate success with A Christmas Carol. The initial 6,000-copy print run sold out within two weeks. Dickens went on to write a Christmas book every year for the next four years and, in later years, created special Christmas editions of his magazine, Household Words. A Christmas Carol remains one of his most treasured works despite critiques that it is overly sentimental.

Dickens continued writing and publishing literary classics such as Great Expectations (1860), David Copperfield (1849), and Little Dorrit (1855) until his death on June 9, 1870.

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