Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, and spent the first nine years of his life living in the coastal regions of Kent, a county in southeast England. Dickens' father, John, was a kind and likable man, but he was financially irresponsible, piling up tremendous debts throughout his life. When Dickens was nine, his family moved to London. At twelve, his father was arrested and sent to debtors' prison. Dickens' mother moved seven of their children into prison with their father but arranged for Cha rles to live alone outside the prison, working with other child laborers at a hellish job pasting labels on bottles in a blacking warehouse.

The three months Charles spent apart from his family were severely traumatic. He viewed his job as a miserable trap—he considered himself too good for it, stirring the contempt of his worker-companions. After his father was released from prison, Dickens returned to school, eventually becoming a law clerk. He went on to serve as a court reporter before taking his place as one of the most popular English novelists of his time. At age 25, Dickens completed his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, which met with great success. This started his career as an English literary celebrity, during which he produced such masterpieces as Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two CitiesDickens died in Kent on June 9, 1870, at the age of fifty-eight.

Background on A Christmas Carol

Dickens’s beloved novella A Christmas Carol was written in 1843, with the intention of drawing readers' attention to the plight of England's poor. (Social criticism, a recurring theme in Dickens’s work, resounds most strongly in his novel Hard Times.) In the tale, Dickens stealthily combines a somewhat indirect description of hardships faced by the poor with a heart-rending, sentimental celebration of the Christmas season. The calloused character of the apathetic penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge, who opens his heart after being confronted by three spirits, remains one of Dickens’s most widely recognized and popular creations.

A Christmas Carol takes the form of a relatively simplistic allegory—it is seldom considered one of Dickens’s important literary contributions. The novella’s emotional depth, brilliant narration, and endearing characters, however, offer plenty of rewards for literature students, Dickensian fans, and Grinches alike. Like A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol has won much appreciation among general readers despite being dismissed by scholarly critics of Dickens’s work.