Charles Dickens, the most popular writer of the Victorian age, was born near Portsmouth, England, in 1812 and died in Kent in 1870.
When his father was thrown into debtors’ prison, young Charles was taken out of school and forced to work in a shoe-polish factory, which may help explain the presence of so many abandoned and victimized children in his novels.
As a young man he worked as a reporter before starting his career as a fiction writer in 1833. In his novels, short stories and essays, Dickens combined hilarious comedy with a scathing criticism of the inhuman features of Victorian industrial society.
In 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne, aged 18. By the time of her death in 1901 London was a very different city. It had grown enormously due to industrial progress, population growth and the network of railways which had brought many parts of England within easy reach of the capital. In the Victorian era London was the centre of world trade and a powerful British empire. Better street lighting, sanitation, roads and transport gradually developed.
In Victorian London the poor were crowded into rotting houses, where they often starved or died of disease. Some of the worst-off were poor children. They were sent out from the age of four or five to make a few pennies by doing things like begging, pickpocketing and chimney sweeping.
Charles Dickens, and other campaigners, shocked the public by writing about these things, and in 1870 a new law was passed which meant that all children between the ages of 5 and 12 had to go to school.