Charles Dickens was a significant figure in the timeframe of the Industrial Revolution and is remembered today as a famous writer and social critic. For example, he wrote some of the most famous stories in the English language and his stories are still read and studied today. More specifically, he wrote: ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Great Expectations’. Many of his stories focused in on the realties of life for working-class people in industrial England. As such, his works are often considered to be a critique on government policy in England during the Industrial Revolution.
Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England on February 7th, 1812. As a child, Charles Dickens is said to have read continually and had a fairly positive childhood afforded by his father’s (John Dickens) work as a Navy Pay Officer. Despite this, the family was actually quite poor due to his parents overspending and living beyond their means. Because of this, the Dickens family incurred a great deal of debt and by the time Charles Dickens was twelve years old, his father had been sent to prison for not being able to pay back these debts. Charles’ mother (Elizabeth), and seven siblings were sent away in hopes of a better life, but Charles, being the eldest boy, was sent to work in a blacking factory. The job involved putting labels on pots, and paid Dickens just six shillings per week. The conditions of the blacking factory were horrible, and Dickens was often cold and very lonely whilst working. After three years of hard work, he was lucky to be able to return to school. His experience in the factory, as a child laborer, was important as it served as inspiration for several of his stories, including: Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. In both of these stories, he heavily criticized the poor treatment of children in the industrial towns and cities across England.
For example, Charles Dickens discusses life at the blacking factory in the below quote from John Forster’s famous biography of Dickens titled ‘The Life of Charles Dickens’.
"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."
After graduating from school, Charles Dickens started working as a journalist. Initially he worked with ‘The Mirror of Parliament’ and ‘The True Sun’. As Charles’ skills developed, and he learnt shorthand, he moved up the ranks, and in 1833 he started working on ‘The Morning Chronicle’ as a parliamentary journalist. This role allowed him to publish some more creative works, under the pseudonym ‘Boz’. In 1836, Dickens got married and also wrote the first edition of the ‘Pickwick Papers’ which quickly became very popular. The following year, Victoria became Britain’s Queen.
Charles Dickens wrote numerous editions of the Pickwick papers. The stories he wrote were inspired by travels around England and his own life experiences. In fact, many of his characters were named after people he knew and interacted with in his own life. Dickens had so many ideas that he started writing novels such as ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Great Expectations’. These books reflected Dickens’ childhood, and his time in the factory. The books were loved at the time, and Charles Dickens became a celebrity in his own life with people in the street recognizing him. The books have continued to be well loved today because of their interesting characters, and plot lines. The books that Dickens wrote are also important historically because they have captured what life was like during the Industrial Revolution in Britain. In particular, his classic story 'Christmas Carol' captured the difficult living conditions and horrible working conditions that many people experienced during the Industrial Revolution. He wrote about how life changed during the revolutionary years, with special focus on the lives of the poor. Charles Dickens died following a stroke in 1870, and is buried at Westminster Abbey in London.