Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birthday. Arguably the most famous British Victorian author, Dickens created beloved characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge, Miss Havisham, John Jarndyce, and Oliver Twist.
Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, the first child of John and Elizabeth Dickens. From very early in life, Dickens displayed a vivid imagination, no doubt fueled by his voracious reading habits. However, Dickens’s childhood was marred by his father’s financial problems, which led to his incarceration in Debtors’ Prison in February 1824. Dickens was forced to work in a blacking factory, pasting labels on blacking bottles. This experience was intensely traumatic for Dickens; the only people that knew of his childhood employment in the blacking factory during his life were his wife and one close friend. His father was released from prison in May after inheriting a small sum of money from his mother, but Dickens remained at the blacking factory for another ten months. It was only after his father had a disagreement with his employer that Dickens was allowed to leave the factory and return to school.
In 1828, Dickens began work as a reporter, after teaching himself shorthand. While his journalism career steadily improved, Dickens began contributing short stories to the Chronicle using the pseudonym “Boz.” Dickens was approached to write a story that would be published monthly for twenty installments. Dickens’s contribution became The Pickwick Papers, a publication that made him famous almost overnight. Dickens realized that this was the beginning of a lucrative career and resigned from journalism to become a full-time author. Dickens went on to publish a remarkable amount of fiction, including well-known favorites such as David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. He never forgot his time in the blacking factory, and much of his fiction concerns the injustice faced by the poor in England, particularly the suffering of children.
Special Collections owns a large number of early editions of Dickens’s work, including two first editions of A Christmas Carol.