Charles Dickens' childhood was pivotal in forming his opinions on 19th-century England. The experiences he encountered in early boyhood, as well as the friends, family and acquaintances he had, appeared in many forms throughout his extensive literary works. Known as a champion for the underprivileged, poor and downtrodden, Dickens' own life experiences gave him plenty of inspiration for his endearing writings.
Born to a financial clerk and his wife in 1812, Charles John Huffman Dickens enjoyed a comfortable childhood as the third of eight children. Although the family moved several times by the time Charles reached his teen years, the homes were comfortable and contained a few servants. The Dickens children attended school and played elaborate games of make-believe. The siblings also loved to put on plays and perform for friends and family. Young Charles learned to love books and read popular authors of the day, such as Defoe and Goldsmith.
The Debt Years
Dickens' father was a poor money manager, and in 1824, when Charles was just 12, his father landed in debtor's prison along with the rest of the family. Charles was spared the same fate, but he was instead sent to work in a factory under harsh conditions. Long days and six-day workweeks combined with the cruel working environment caused Charles much distress. It exposed him to the world of child labor, orphans and the oppressed poor-topics that would appear consistently in his later writings. Eventually, Charles' father was able to negotiate with debtors and get released from prison. However, Charles' mother insisted he continue to work at the factory, something that Charles could never forgive her for.
Later Teen Years
Charles attended school from 1824 to 1827 at the Wellington House Academy, until the Dickens family was evicted from their home for nonpayment of rent. In later years, he described the school as a place of brutal and sadistic discipline and poor teaching. He left school to work as an office boy and clerk for a law firm and learned shorthand there. This quickly led to other jobs as a court reporter and journalist for various papers and periodicals. Charles worked as a journalist until his early twenties, developing his wit and storytelling abilities for his prolific career as a novelist and writer.