Kids, of course, know “A Christmas Carol,” with the mean Ebenezer Scrooge and poor Tiny Tim. The story is about finding kindness in your own heart when the world seems hard and cold.
All of Dickens’s 15 novels are still being read, and have been made into movies, television shows and even plays, puppet shows and cartoons.
Today, most kids learn about Dickens by reading “A Christmas Carol.” As you get older, you might read other classics, including “Oliver Twist” or “A Tale of Two Cities.” All of his novels are powerful and sometimes a little spooky. All in some way are about children who have to overcome hardships, including growing up without their parents.
What many kids — and adults — may not know is how famous Dickens was during his lifetime. He was as a big a celebrity in the 1800s as any of today’s TV, movie or music stars.
When he visited North America in 1842 and 1867, people lined up on the streets to see him. Two presidents invited him to the White House.
“He was so handsome when he visited Boston,” said Diana Archibald, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, which is hosting a citywide party today for Dickens. “He had long hair like a woman, and they treated him like a rock star.”
Dickens loved kids, too. He and his wife, Catherine Hogarth, had 10 children and a bunch of pets, including a talking raven named Grip. With all the money he made from his books and public appearances, Dickens helped set up homes for orphans and poor women.
But Dickens wasn’t always wealthy. Six years after he died in 1870, secrets about his childhood came out that helped explain many of his writings.
Dickens was so poor that when he was 12, his parents went to jail because they couldn’t pay their bills. Dickens spent a year working 10-hour days at a factory. His pay was 6 shillings a week, or about $32 in today’s money. He slept on straw, was ragged and dirty most of that year.
“He wrote about his own childhood,” Archibald said. “He was too ashamed to reveal that this is where he gathered the material for his stories.”
— Raymond M. Lane