Charles Dickens

A picture of the author Charles Dickens

Rising from a difficult childhood, Charles Dickens rose to become one of the world's most famous writers. With the difficult experiences of his childhood in mind, he was also a prominent social critic and used his fiction to illuminate many of the social problems of his times. Dickens described his first eleven years as idyllic, but his father's bankruptcy brought a swift end to those days. When Dickens was twelve years old, his father was thrown into debtor's prison; as was customary for the times, his family joined him. He was soon boarded with a family acquaintance and found himself working ten hours a day, under cruel conditions, in a blacking factory (pasting labels to pots of boot polish).

"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."