CHARLES DICKENS – Exclusive interview published for the first time in conjunction with Bicentennary Celebrations
The Media is abuzz with news on the launch of the 2012 Bicentennary Celebrations for Charles Dickens, however, none of them have such an exclusive as we have. Thanks to the BioView® time link – a new top secret system developed by The Amazing People Club, we are proud to bring you the following exclusive interview with none other than Charles Dickens!!
The Charles Dickens’ Interview
By Dr Charles Margerison
It is my pleasure to introduce Charles Dickens who wrote many outstanding books…
Charles your books like Oliver Twist, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and other titles have been read by millions of people. Why did you write them?
Thank you for taking an interest in my books. A lot of the books reflected my own life experience living in London during the period 1812 to 1870.
I was the second of eight children. We knew what it was like to be hungry. My parents named me Charles John Huffman Dickens. Seeing my father sent to a debtor’s prison was a shock as it meant the rest of the family went with him and were treated as criminals. It was even more of a shock when I went to work in a factory. Warren’s Blacking Warehouse was near Charing Cross Railway Station. The noise, dirt, smell and the rats made me want to run away. Although only 12 years of age, I could not, as the money paid for my families lodgings.
On my first days there a young bloke showed me how to cover and prepare pots of blacking paste, his name was Bob Fagin. What a good name I thought!. Later the name of Fagin was to become famous as that of the mastermind criminal leader of the boys gang in ‘The Adventures of Oliver Twist’ which I completed in 1838.
Given the family problems, did you have much of a formal education?
Once my father came out of prison, I was able to continue with my education. I eventually got a job in a legal office and then as a journalist. Therefore, my training in those jobs was as important as my formal education. For example, I learnt how to write in shorthand, which was a great skill to have. Each day, I had to report on issues at Court and political issues of the day. I was known as Boz. That was the title under which I wrote short stories. Those stories became the foundation for many of my books which emerged from the weekly and monthly short stories.
It seems that your job enabled you to gain ideas for your stories.
Yes, that was definitely the case. Also, in order to keep fit and taking an interest in what was going on, I went for long walks around the streets of London. That gave me a real insight into life on the streets and the community.
My book, Nicholas Nickleby reflected on the criminal treatment of children in schools. Another book called The Old Curiosity Shop told of Little Nell’s loneliness in a mad world. Another story, called Barnaby Rudge, noted the problems between fathers and sons. That no doubt reflected the relationship I had with my father. Those books and the one on Oliver Twist were all completed before 1840, when I was 28 years old. So, it was a busy and productive time of my life.
By that time, I presume you were becoming well known and people were waiting upon your next story?
Yes, in 1840, I started a new work called ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock’. It was a series of short stories. Developing on my previous work, I resolved to expose the problems of the poor and the weakness of the law in giving them protection in a tough world. You need to remember that the Poor Laws meant that people who could not pay their way were sent to the workhouses. Conditions there were brutal, with little food and harsh living conditions designed to get people to go out and find work.
Thousands of people were leaving agricultural jobs and pouring into the cities, as the industrial revolution made factories more profitable than the fields. The living conditions in many places were appalling and disease was widespread. Many children, as well as adults, took ill and died. So, I felt strongly about these issues and wrote my stories hoping that they would get politicians to focus on such problems.
By that time, you also became known in the USA, which you visited in 1842.
Yes, there were clearly many social problems in the USA, albeit different in a number of ways. It was dreadful to see slaves traded like cattle. The whites were becoming rich at the expense of the blacks. That was one of various crimes of exploitation that I raised. Another was the exploitation of children, who were put to work in the fields as soon as they were able to fetch and carry. While in the USA, I started the Martin Chuzzlewit book and also began writing my ‘American Notes’.
So, what did you do on your return to Britain?
I decided to highlight the gap between the rich and the poor. In October 1843, I commenced The Christmas Carol. In this book Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser who was greedy and selfish, received a shock. The Ghost of Jacob Marley, his dead employee, re-appeared and spoke to him. ‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Present’, said the spirit. As a result, Scrooge began to see things differently and transformed himself into a benefactor of poor people.
That is interesting as your own financial situation was improving as the sales of your books increased.
Yes, I take your point that by writing about the poor I was becoming rich. I had married 10 years earlier. In due course, we had 10 children. So, it was important that I kept writing to provide for my family and buy a house in Doughty Street, London. In addition, the income I gained enabled me and my family to travel in Europe. It was an excellent way of gathering stories while also having a holiday. In 1844, we went to Italy and later to France and Switzerland. Dombey and Son was written partly on my travels.
During that time, I started a number of theatrical events where excerpts from my work were read and these attracted large numbers of people. It was the start of many, that I later did for charity. Indeed, my readers demanded more, particularly for Christmas. Five novellas were produced which included Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and Battle for Life.
You must have been very busy, as you were also an editor of a newspaper.
Yes, I wrote every day when I was not travelling. It became second nature and ideas came to me quickly, particularly those where they touched on my own life. For example, the book David Copperfield was, in one sense, autobiographical. Perhaps it should have been called Mr Micawber, as he was a key character. He was always hoping something would turn up to change his fortunes. Some say Mr Micawber was like my father. Invariably poor but equally optimistic about the future. However, during the years from 1850 to 1852, it was hard to be optimistic. We had to face tragedy when my infant daughter Dora and also my father died. My wife collapsed under the great strain, unable to cope.
Another example of a personal experience that guided my writing was the story of Little Dorritt. That was my book about the evils of the prison system. Set in Marshalsea Prison, where my family had suffered. Amy Dorrit lived in the prison caring for her father. She was a victim of the system that needed to be exposed. I, also could have been trapped and my life ruined in a similar fashion when my father was sent to such a prison.
Beyond the novels and stories, I wanted to write for children. From 1851 to 1853, I produced The Child’s History of England. It covered the period from 50 BC to when Victoria became Queen. She attended some of my theatre presentations.
But I also continued writing books. Hard Times was another title with a social meaning. It was published first in a weekly magazine Household Words, which I edited.
Your life however was about to change in many ways.
Things were not going as well on the home front. In June 1858, a legal separation was arranged from my wife Catherine. A year earlier, I had met Ellen Ternan, an actress. She took a role in The Frozen Deep, a play that I had written. We became friends, albeit she was 18 and I was 45. It was a friendship that blossomed into a lifelong relationship
In the meantime, I started a new book, The Tale of Two Cities. The start of the book summed up my feeling when I wrote, ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.’ So it began, and maybe reflected my life. It was a time when I needed to start again.
The title Great Expectations reflected my new mood. A story of how a poor boy became a gentleman. Pip, Estella, Joe Gargery, Magwitch and Miss Haversham. I had met them all on the road of life. The sadness and happiness and all stations in between. But, sadness returned in 1863, when my mother died. Within a short period, my son, Walter died on a visit to India.
During that time, I wrote a new book, titled Our Mutual Friend. It was a story of wealth and how it can be gained and misused by judgements of what is fair and not so fair.
While writing it, I was involved in a train accident. Many people were killed and injured. While escaping I left behind an instalment of my new book. Taking a risk, I returned and retrieved it.
But the time for my writing was ebbing. Aged 58, I suddenly took ill. There was no time to finish writing my book The Mystery of Edwin Drood. However, I hoped my stories would stir people into action to make the best of their lives and help others they met on life’s road to do likewise.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the great books that you wrote, which have left us with a considerable legacy and understanding of your life and times.
The Charles Dickens BioView® is available in the title ‘Amazing Writers’ HERE
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Dr. Charles Margerison is President of The Amazing People Club and the author of The Amazing People Club books and audios.