Wednesday, February 28, 2018
But A Christmas Carol's seemingly timeless transcendence hides the fact that it was very much the product of a particular moment in history, its author meaning to weigh in on specific issues of the day. Dickens first conceived of his project as a pamphlet, which he planned on calling, "An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man's Child."
But in less than a week of thinking about it, he decided instead to embody his arguments in a story, with a main character of pitiable depth.
So what might have been a polemic to harangue, instead became a story for which audiences hungered.
Dickens set out to write his pamphlet-turned-book in spring 1843, having just read government report on child labor in the United Kingdom.
The report took the form of a compilation of interviews with children -- compiled by a journalist friend of Dickens -- that detailed their crushing labors.
This new, brutal reality of child labor was the result of revolutionary changes in British society. The population of England had grown 64% between Dickens' birth in 1812 and the year of the child labor report.
More and more, employers thought of their workers as tools as interchangeable as any nail or gluepot. Workers were becoming like commodities: not individual humans, but mere resources, their value measured to the ha-penny by how many nails they could hammer in an hour.
But in a time of dearth -- the 1840s earned the nickname "The Hungry 40s" -- the poor took what work they could arrange. And who worked for the lowest wages?
Popular theories about how -- or whether -- to help the poor often made things worse. The first was the widespread sense that poor people tended to be so because they were lazy and immoral, and that helping them would only encourage their malingering.
If they were to be helped, it should be under conditions so awful as to discouraged people from seeking that help. The new workhouses were seen as the perfect solution -- where families were split up, food was minimal and work painful.
"Those who are badly off," says the unreformed Scrooge, "must go there."
Admin's note: Participants in this discussion must follow the site's moderation policy. Profanity will be filtered. Abusive conduct is not allowed.