The life of the great English novelist, as documented in a biography by Claire Tomalin:

“The great drama—which is to say, the abiding trauma—of Dickens’s childhood was his year-long stint in a rat-infested blacking factory near the Thames, when he was twelve years old, following the arrest of John Dickens for debt in 1824 and his incarceration in the debtors’ prison at Marshalsea. Much has been written about this long-secret episode in Dickens’s life, including, most recently, Michael Allen’s heavily documented Charles Dickens and the Blacking Factory (2011), a work of some three hundred pages of interest primarily to Dickens scholars, but very likely impenetrable to Dickens readers in its concentration upon historical minutiae only tenuously related to Dickens and his novels. Another recent book, Ruth Richardson’s Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor (2012), gives a more intimately evoked view of Dickens’s childhood and the New Poor Law of 1834 by which workhouses became ‘a sort of prison system to punish (the poor).’

“For the child Dickens, the shock of this change of fortune was all the more in that his seemingly loving parents so readily agreed to the enslavement of their bright young son:

“‘No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so, if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar-school, and going to Cambridge.’”