CHARLES DICKENS’ CAREER
Next to Shakespeare, Charles Dickens is the most recognized writer’s name in the western world. His well-known lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and, “God bless us, every one” are quoted more than any other author’s lines. He single-handedly changed the traditional season’s greeting from “Happy Christmas” to “Merry Christmas.”
Although Dickens published 15 major novels, he is best remembered for A Christmas Carol which he wrote in just six weeks.
He often spent his evenings walking for miles on the streets of Victorian London to find subjects to write about. His first book, entitled “Sketches by Boz” after his little brother’s nickname, was a flop. In Dickens’ own words, it “fell stillborn from the press.”
But A Christmas Carol was his signature piece. The poor but contented Cratchit family was Dickens’ own; his father spent time in debtors’ prison. Tiny Tim was his frail nephew who died. Ebeneezer Scrooge was based on Ebeneezer Scroggie, a scurrilous town councilman who liked to pinch ladies’ bottoms as they walked by.
Dickens’ publishers were Chapman and Hall, a pair on the brink of bankruptcy who were trying desperately to convince a well-known artist that they should publish his work. But did they know of a spirited, young writer who could do the captions?
“We certainly do!” said Chapman compulsively as he avoided looking into the eyes of his client when he told that whopper. He then spotted on a shelf, “Sketches by Boz,” thus beginning a long search with the whimsical theme, “Who the Dickens is Boz?!”
When they found the 23-year-old, he had some very innovative suggestions: Instead of expensive wood covers and spines, use cardboard; and instead of high-quality paper, use cheaper pulp; and instead of presenting the entire work in one volume, leave the reader twisting at the end of each monthly chapter so that he would have to come back to find out what happened to the endangered hero.
Thus was born The Pickwick Papers. In one fell swoop, Charles Dickens had invented the paperback, pulp fiction, the serial, and the cliff hanger. But that wasn’t all. When the faithful readers returned for the last installment, there in front of them was a luxury-bound edition of the entire work! Since the readers’ monthly editions were now just a rustling pile of papers, they just had to have this polished product for their libraries. But wait, there’s more!
Dickens had a team who would go door to door offering to buy back from his customers the original series—at a reduced price, of course. Naturally, folks were happy to recover some of their investment, and Dickens reassembled those original pages into full albums with gilt-lined covers, and titled them, “The Collector’s Edition…printed on original paper as when this famous work was first published.” Yes, the folks had to have that, too.
Such was the illustrious career of Charles Dickens, a 19th Century hack writer who became a published titan, earning some 70 million dollars as the only author in history to sell the same novel three times to the same readers.