Historical Context (A Christmas Carol)

The historical context of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol was written in 1843 at a time of great change in Victorian Britain. The industrial revolution was taking place and there was a sudden growth of the cities as the economy shifted from agriculture to industry and trade people moved from the countryside to the cities and many lived in squalor as the housing was appalling. 

Money from industry made the rich, richer and the gap between rich and poor widened. Workers had to toil for long hours and for little money. Children didn’t go to school and worked long hours for a low wage to help support their families who barely had enough money to buy food. In the poorer areas of Britain's larger cities almost 1 in 5 children born in the 1830s and 40s had died by the age of five. The main causes of death were polluted drinking water, damp and tuberculosis, which claimed between 60,000 and 70,000 lives in each decade of Queen Victoria's reign.

There was no healthcare at this time and if you got ill and couldn't work, your whole family was at risk of death. For those who were unable to support themselves, there were the workhouses: these were not intended as pleasant places to stay. Men, women and families were separated and those who were physically able were expected to work for their keep. Those who could not pay their debts were sent to debtors' prisons such as Marshalsea, where Charles Dickens' father spent time.

During this period a small number of people became very wealthy and they lived in luxury with large houses, plenty of money, food and clothes. Their children didn’t work and were educated. Being seen to be civilised and adhering to a strict set of morals was important to high society in the Victorian age.

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