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You're smarter for 10; On December 19, 1843, readers were introduced to Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit as Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was first published. NICOLA WEATHERALL takes a look at the story behind the author.


Dickens? He was quite famous wasn't he? So when and where was he born? Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth to John and Elizabeth Dickens. Despite massive success later in life, he started out from humble beginnings and followed the path from rags to riches. In fact, his life story was almost like one of his own stories - a triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

You've got me hooked there, come on, what exactly happened? Well, young Dickens was relatively lucky and was sent to school at the age of nine where he receive a formal education and started to develop his love of language, stories and writing. This happy state of affairs, however, was short-lived. His father John was in Queer Street and was ultimately thrown in prison due to his spiraling debts.

Ouch, that must have hurt the family. So Charles had to leave school, then , I suppose? Absolutely right. The family, apart from Charles, went off to live at Marshalsea. Meanwhile, Charles, aged just 12, was sent to work in Warren's shoeblacking factory and endured appalling conditions and he later wrote how this caused him loneliness and despair. The factory was located near to The Strand in London.

He needed money then, didn't he. Did A Christmas Carol sell as well as he'd hoped? Not at first. Due to a falling out with his publisher, Dickens published the work at his own expense. High production costs brought him only PS230 (equal to PS19,128 today) rather than the PS1,000 (equal to PS83,164 today) he'd expected.

His 10 children...?Did I hear you right, 10 children? You did, he was a man of many appetites and fathered 10 children with Catherine while simultaneously carrying out his long-running affair. He was, all in all, quite a busy man, what with all his writing, his affair and his family responsibilities.

Wow, he was a busy man then, wasn't he? He certainly was, and in many respects he was the first "celebrity" of the literary world and kept a hectic social diary, which took its toll on his personal life. He separated from his wife Catherine in 1858 after the birth of their 10 children, but he continued his affair with his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan.

Aah, Mr Pickwick, I've heard of him, too. So did he just stick to writing novels? Not at all. He edited weekly periodicals, wrote travel books and administered charitable organisations. He was also a theatre enthusiast and wrote plays and even got the chance to perform before Queen Victoria in 1851.

Moving around in Parliament, this must have helped him meet the right people? It did indeed, and with his new found friends and parliamentary contacts he was able to publish a series of sketches under the pseudonym "Boz". Then in April 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of George Hogarth who edited "Sketches by Boz". Within the same month came the publication of the highly successful Pickwick Papers.

I've heard of them, they're great stories, but just how did his literary career take off? Well, like many budding writers, he started as a journalist. His dad became a reporter and Charles began with the journals The Mirror of Parliament and The True Sun - neither of them have got anything to do with modern-day namesakes. Anyway, then in 1833 he became parliamentary journalist for The Morning Chronicle.

That's tough for the young fellow, did he ever get to go back to school? Happily yes. He returned after three years, but the dreadful experience in the factory was never forgotten.

In fact, his experience was fictionalised in two of his better-known novels David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 19, 2012
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