Why ‘A Christmas Carol’ Should Scare The Dickens Out Of You
When he was 12 years old in 1824, Charles Dickens worked 10-hour days in a rat-infested shoe-polish factory for six shillings a week. That’s the equivalent of $41+ today.
It was all the money he had to get by.
His father, mother, and five siblings aged 2-11 were in prison because the family was in debt. This is what Western society did with the poor in the mid-1800s. If you fell behind on your bills or couldn’t pay legal fines, you and your family went to flea-ridden government workhouses where you would labour to earn your keep.
Your work did not, however, pay off your debts – you could spend the rest of your life there. If you died in a debtor’s prison, your body was given to anatomists to dissect in the name of science.
Needless to say, Charles Dickens grew to hate the system and rail against it in his works.
In his seminal novella “A Christmas Carol,” which was published on December 19, 1843, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by two portly men raising money for the poor.
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said one of the gentlemen, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.