Charles Dickens and the Blacking Factory

Charles Dickens and the Blacking Factory

by Michael Allen
     
 

The story of Charles Dickens' childhood is dominated by a single narrative, mostly written down by Dickens himself, then edited, arranged and supplemented by John Forster. His time spent working at a blacking factory was a pivotal point in that story. The accuracy and truthfulness of his account of his own life was never seriously questioned or tested, reinforced or…  See more details below

Overview

The story of Charles Dickens' childhood is dominated by a single narrative, mostly written down by Dickens himself, then edited, arranged and supplemented by John Forster. His time spent working at a blacking factory was a pivotal point in that story. The accuracy and truthfulness of his account of his own life was never seriously questioned or tested, reinforced or challenged. Neither of his parents, none of his uncles and aunts, nor any of his brothers and sisters wrote down their own recollections of the childhood of their famous relative. Or if they did, it hasn't survived. Forster claimed a prodigious memory for his friend, but if it frequently failed him we wouldn't know about it. And if Dickens chose to omit particular events or people from his narrative, or to adjust their impact and influence, then we are entirely in his hands - there has been nobody to challenge him. He exercised supreme control over the history of his own childhood and of his time at Warren's Blacking.
Against this background Michael Allen's discovery at The National Archives of documents from the Chancery Court in London, relating to disputes between the people who owned and ran the blacking factory where Dickens was employed and also between them and their rival Robert Warren, has opened up a wealth of information not previously available to us. Where Dickens' young memory and understanding failed him these documents do, in many instances, correct and enhance the story.

RUTH RICHARDSON, author of Dickens and the workhouse
Times Higher Education Supplement
Michael Allen's astonishing new book - a truly fine new work: not a confection of gossip or a rehash of tired theories, but real data, unexpected and important.

DANIEL TYLER, Oxford University
The Times Literary Supplement
[This] is a book intended for those who share Allen's dedication to the details of Dickens's life and a useful sourcebook for any future biographer of Dickens.

CATHERINE PETERS, author of Charles Dickens
The Literary Review
A rough nugget of important research... the information in it will be taken seriously by Dickens scholars. I hope there is more to discover; Michael Allen is the person to do it.

PAUL SCHLICKE, editor of the Oxford Reader's companion to Dickens
The Dickensian
Michael Allen is to be congratulated for his discoveries, and we are indebted to him for his commentary.

MARGARET HEILBRUN, Senior Book Review editor
The Library Journal
Essential for all who love Dickens down to the bone, and for all serious academic collections.

DAVID PAROISSIEN, editor of Dickens Quarterly
Dickens Quarterly
The labors of Michael Allen have provided an impressive foundation on which to base his claims and reveal facts long concealed behind those "hard experiences" first practically exposed to public scrutiny by Forster. Charles Dickens and the Blacking Factory, without question, adds significantly to our knowledge of a truly great writer and to the single narrative that dominates the story of his childhood.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL SLATER, Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature, Birkbeck College, University of London
Michael Allen has made a major contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Dickens's early years, especially those all-important months in the blacking factory.

PETER ACKROYD
The Times (review of Charles Dickens' Childhood)
It is heartening that in the last few years scholarship rather than free association has become more evident ... Michael Allen's account of Dickens's childhood, for example, is exceptional for its reliance upon fact rather than upon moody conjecture... and as a result he writes with conviction and authority.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
It's not easy to uncover additional primary-source details relating to Dickens's much-examined life, but Allen, a Dickens expert retired from a library career, has done just that. The story of Dickens, sent as a boy to work in a blacking factory for about a year while his father, with the rest of his family, was housed in debtor's prison, is legendary. It was a trauma that Dickens told only to close friend John Forster to be first revealed in Forster's posthumous biography. As with some other historical "moments," it is thanks to archived court records that scholars may still discover hidden truths. In this case, Allen's study of Court of Chancery records clarifies details obscure from the start owing to Dickens's faulty memory. Even bicentennial Dickens studies, including Callow's (below), have not had these details right. "James Lamert," the customary Dickens cousin held responsible for the boy's labor in the factory, did not exist. Allen does not simply sort through names; he explores the alleyways and hidden stores and stories in Dickens's fiction as well, enabling greater understanding of both the writer and the works. VERDICT This is not for Dickens generalists, but is essential for all who love Dickens down to the bone, and for all serious academic collections.—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781463687908
Publisher:
CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
09/09/2011
Pages:
322
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)

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