Andrea Warren tells the story of Dickens' life starting from his childhood in this easy-to-read, illustrated, young adult novel. Did you know that his parents forced him into workhouses where he lived and worked with the poor children who were being treated so horrifically in London during his time? It makes sense, because his childhood experiences obviously shaped the way he would write for the rest of his life, but I never knew that about him before reading this.
He was never allowed to go to school except when he was almost 18 and only went for a month before he realized he had self-educated himself past what the schools had to offer him anymore. His sister was allowed to receive her education, but Charles had to work to support his family who lived in a prison cell because their father was in so much debt. It was while he worked in a shoe-polish factory that Dickens realized that his society needed to change.
Warren follows Dickens' life through each of his 20 novels to explain what inspired him to write about specific social situations. It's really incredible to realize that he wasn't writing just to show off his prowess. He sincerely hurt for the poor and wanted the rich to be emotionally moved to offer their help. Each of his novels were written for some specific purpose and each achieved the desired results. By the time Dickens had passed on, his novels and speeches had brought about:
- Education being free for 5-13 year olds in London
- Children under the age of 5 no longer being forced to work in cramped, damp, dangerous tunnels
- Schools with headmasters who abused the young boys were shut down because boys were dying unnoticed at the hands of incompetent and cruel teachers.
- It was no longer legal for mothers to leave their newborn babies on the sidewalk for dead.
- Philanthropists were alerted to the situation of the poor and homeless children in London and donated generously to good schools, boarding houses, and private adoptions to provide children with the prospect of getting out of poverty.
There were others, as well, but one other interesting fact I learned was that Handel's Messiah? It was written to support one of these boarding houses for abandoned babies. He didn't even think it would be popular; he was just trying to be charitable in offering his music to a fundraiser. Every year since that event, Handel's Messiah has been performed at a concert for the benefit of London's poor.
I just loved reading about how innately good some people are. I've always loved Dickens' novels anyway, but I feel like I just love the man even more now. He was generous from the time he first published a story to the end of his life. England mourned for two days solid after his death because he was such a beloved and kind-hearted man. Talk about making an impact!