Dickens, Prison, and A Christmas Carol

Read this exclusive guest post from Paige Shelton about Charles Dickens's experience with prison and how it shaped his writing—especially A Christmas Carol—and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Cracked Spine and an advanced copy of Of Books and Bagpipes!

When I began writing “A Christmas Tartan,” I knew I wanted to add a well-known book into the mysterious items found in a clandestinely delivered box. Of course, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol came to mind.

Over the years, it has become one of my favorite holiday stories. However, back when I was a little girl and my grandfather switched the television to the channel showing an old black-and-white version, it wasn’t appealing at all. It was so weird and big—full of ghosts and sickly, hungry children. But over the years, and after actually reading the novella, I grew to truly love it.

Dickens was a world famous 19th-century author who wrote his demons into everything he created. Poverty, abandonment, prison, loneliness; these things haunted him, so it was only natural that they showed up in his writing. The instances are numerous, but in A Christmas Carol, specifically, the ghosts deliver the demons, one by one, and force Ebenezer Scrooge to face his past, present, and possible future circumstances. He sees the worst of the worst—and the worst of himself—before the scenes brighten.

Up until Charles Dickens was about twelve, his family lived a poor, lower middle class but hopeful existence with the promise of better days ahead if only Charles worked hard enough and got the right education. But when he was twelve, Dickens’s father was thrown into debtors’ prison with the rest of the family—all except Charles, who was old enough to earn money.

Instead, young Charles was sent to work in a shoe polish factory where, for a year or so, he spent twelve hours a day packing inky polish into containers. Though by all accounts he wasn’t mistreated, his life during that time was terrible to him, not hopeful at all. I have no doubt that Dickens called upon that dark time when Scrooge conveys that children down on their luck should be sent to prisons and workhouses. The Ghost of Christmas Present later uses those words against him.

By Charles Dickens, Photographer: Heritage Auctions, Inc. Dallas, Texas – http://historical.ha.com/common/view_item.php?Sale_No=683&Lot_No=57424&type=&ic=, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4581655
When Dickens’s family managed to pay the debt and were released from prison, his father wanted Charles to go forward with his education, but his mother wanted him to continue working in the factory. He never forgave her. In A Christmas Carol, it is ultimately forgiveness that saves Scrooge. After the ghosts, when he’s welcomed into the homes of those he’s treated the most poorly, he is completely transformed. I wonder if Dickens did that consciously or if it was just a way of working through those old feelings.

Dickens never spoke publically about the time his family went to prison, but, of course, it showed up in all of his writing. It’s not a stretch to think that formidable year was the biggest spark that shaped one of most popular writers of all time—certainly of his time.

Prison has been known to have a big influence on a number of writers: Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Chester Himes, Jack London, and Evgenia Ginzburg, just to name a few.

It seems pretty likely that if they hadn’t served some time, they would never have become the writers they became. It’s not easy to be grateful for their incarcerations, but it is wonderful to have the work they produced in large part because of it.

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge begins as a cranky old man who cares for no one but himself and his money. His name has become synonymous with those who are not merry about the holiday. But after the ghostly visits, he becomes a better person—generous and with hope restored. Perhaps Dickens had wished his had been restored all those years ago.

A Christmas Carol is also the first time we see the phrase “Merry Christmas,” and I can’t imagine this time of year without it. Thanks to Criminal Element for letting me stop by today, and a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Comment below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Cracked Spine and an advanced copy of Of Books and Bagpipes by Paige Shelton!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Paige Shelton Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2016/12/dickens-prison-and-a-christmas-carol-paige-shelton-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) December 12, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 4:59 p.m. ET December 22, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


To learn more or order a copy of Of Books and Bagpipes, visit:

Buy at iTunes

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



Paige Shelton had a nomadic childhood as her father’s job as a football coach took the family to seven different towns before she was even twelve years old. After college at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, she moved to Salt Lake City where she thought she’d only stay a few years, but she fell in love with the mountains and a great guy who became her husband. After a couple of decades in Utah, she and her family recently moved to Arizona.


  1. MaryC

    My favorite movie version of A Christmas Carol stars Alistair Sim as Scrooge.

  2. Sally Schmidt

    Charles Dickens had quite the life. Thanks for the giveaway.

  3. Theresa Jones

    I’ve been looking for a new series to get into, thank you

  4. Gordon Bingham

    Working in a prison or jail also changes a person…seein those who were rehabilitated has been a godsennd for my wife…

  5. Deb Philippon

    I haven’t read anything about Dickens for many years. I’d be interested in becoming reacquainted with him.

  6. Nancy Spitznagle

    Love this opportunity! Dickens was one of my favorite authors.

  7. Carol Meyer

    Loved the Cracked Spine, can’t wait for book 2.

  8. John Geraci

    Even the Bill Murray movie “Scrooged” has its moments of recognition and enlightenment. It’s hard to comprehend the significance and popularity of Dickens. It would be like Stephen King and James Patterson rolled into one.

  9. Karen Legee

    A Christmas Carol has always been a favorite story for me. It’s fascinating to read about Dickens’ childhood experiences and how they influenced his writing. Thank you!


    Great article! I loved “The Cracked Spine” and “A Christmas Tartan” and I can’t wait for the next book! Thanks for the opportunity to win. ( miss the Country Cooking School series, by the way.)

  11. Mary Brockhoff

    I have always enjoyed The Christmas Carol. My favorite movie adaptation is from 1938 with Reginald Owen.
    Thank you for such a delightful article.

  12. Esther Ressel

    Thank you for this great article! Learned some things about Dickens that I’d never heard before.

  13. Amy Hubbard

    Thank you for this article. Learn a lot about Dickens I didn’t know. What a hard life he had but yet he persevered and became an amazing writer. Fantastic!

  14. Tatiana deCarillion

    I’ve not actually read A Christmas Carol, but have seen numerous iterations on film. I had no idea about the unfortunate part of Dickens’ life, mentioned above. It’s easy to see how such hardship and trauma may have colored everything he did from then on. Happy Holidays to all!

  15. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the books.

  16. Alice

    I love Paige’s Country Cooking School Series and would love, love, LOVE to win this! Thanks!!

  17. Kevin McKernan

    Dickens is a very interesing author to say the least

  18. Kevin McKernan

    Dickens is a very interesing author to say the least

  19. Susanne Troop

    I love to read…both books sound great!

  20. Susanne Troop

    I love to read…both books sound great!

  21. Jean Bearrick

    I’m ready to start reading!

  22. Susanne Troop

    I love to read…both books sound great!

  23. pearl berger

    These books would be captivating. I had read Charles Dickens classics and knew about his life. Thanks for this great giveaway.

  24. Tad Ottman

    I love all the ways that A Christmas Carol and Scrooge have been reinvented and reimagined throughout the years.

  25. Andrew Kuligowski

    A Chrstimas Carol has been around so long, and is so well known that it’s hard to put myself in a place and time when it was new and fresh (although I obviously know it was).
    What would Dickens say if he were to learn that his attempt at catharsis has become a model for so many other writers?

  26. Marissa Culp

    I actually read A Christmas Carol for the first time this year. I’ve seen almost every version of the movie but had never read the book – a serious slight now that I see what I was missing all those years! While several of the movies follow closely, the book provides further insight into Scrooge and, surprisingly, his nephew. This will become a yearly read, along with my childhood favorite, The Birds Christmas Carol.

  27. ellie lewis

    Thanks for this treasure of a giveaway which interests me greatly. Dickens life was filled with trials and tribulations. His novels captivated me and still do.

  28. Marlyn Beebe

    I love Dickens, but I have to admit that A Christmas Carol is probably my least favorite of his books. Perhaps it has something to do with the annual deluge of adaptations.

  29. Vickie Shaw

    I have never read A Christmas Coral. I guess I should, I love every verison of that story on film. Some more than others. And I would love to have your book.

  30. Hippiechck1955

    I read A Christmas Carol many times as a child but never as an adult. I’ve no doubt I would see it from another perspective reading it now.

  31. Ray Palen

    As an actor who has played Scrooge for over 10 years I am highly interested!

  32. Ray Palen

    As an actor who has played Scrooge for over 10 years I am highly interested!

  33. Mary Vanderburgh

    I love “A Christmas Carol” by Dickens and re-read it every year. I also must watch the movie starring Alistar Sim (the b&w version). Thanks for this insight into what have motivated Dickens to write this wonderful story. It amazes me that after all this time, the story still has value <3

  34. Portia Asher

    Thank you for the excellent article. It explained Dickens’ story. Much appreciated.

  35. T

    I really love a book I can get into, and this genre qualifies. I enjoy historical novels tremendously. Charles Dickens has been a favorite since “A Tale of Two Cities” in high school. I can really get lost in his books. I am interested to read Paige Shelton.

  36. Diane Pollock

    Fascinating article!

  37. Barbara Bibel

    O love Dockens. This book sounds great.

  38. Joanie Hinton

    I am interested in reading books by Paige Shelton

  39. Jerrie Adkins

    Each version of “A Christmas Carol” has its own strengths and weaknesses.

    Thank you for this give-away.

  40. elizabeth findlay

    I adore that short story by Dickens and always look forward to a new look at it. Christmas mysteries are also a favorite of mine and ghosts just add something to any story.

  41. Barbara Lima

    Life experience helps us in many ways, as it did Dickens.

  42. Sue Farrell

    I had no idea that the Dickens family was in debtors prison at one time. Very interesting interview. Thanks for the contest
    [email protected]

  43. Suzanne Rorhus

    Merry Christmas, indeed!

  44. julie hedrick

    Love books!

  45. Katherine M Patchen

    I wish I could write. I simply do not have the discipline.

  46. Rudy Wright

    A new book? Yay!

  47. Clydia DeFreese

    I love reading biography material about mystery writers. So many have overcome all kinds of obstacles. I am in awe of their talent.

  48. Wilifred Alire

    It’s miserable to see that so many writers have had a prison experience, Dickens had it at a very young age which makes it even sadder.

  49. Jacki Robertson

    Enjoyed Paige Shelton’s first book and can’t wait to get into the others.

  50. Jacki Robertson

    Enjoyed Paige Shelton’s first book and can’t wait to get into the others.

  51. Gwen Ellington

    I love all books about books!!

  52. Rebecca Brothers

    Proof it’s the utlimate Christmas story is that almost every other Christmas story around today is a call back to Dickens. And how do you top that opening line? “Marley was dead; to begin with.”

  53. Rebecca Brothers

    Proof it’s the utlimate Christmas story is that almost every other Christmas story around today is a call back to Dickens. And how do you top that opening line? “Marley was dead; to begin with.”

  54. Darlene Slocum

    I just read the excerpt on The Christmas Tartan and I must put that on my book shopping list. Looks like some good reading.

  55. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    Christmas shoud be a time of love! Yes!

  56. Rick Ollerman

    Thanks for the essay. I love Dickens and Dickens biographies. When I read his work, despite the language and the time period, he’s one of two authors who make me feel like there’s a wire from the book to my brain and that Dickens’ voice is piped directly into my mind. All time favorite.

  57. Michele Van Epps

    I love having literary references in contemporary books — this sounds like a good read!

  58. Julie Goodding

    Interesting back story

  59. John Smith

    Dickens–that guy sure wrote a lot!

  60. pat murphy

    Anything from Paige Shelton is a good read .

  61. Anita Nowak

    This sounds like a good book I would enjoy

  62. Anita Nowak

    This sounds like a good book I would enjoy

  63. Jean Dickinson

    I would like to read Paige Shelton’s Scottish Bookshop Mysteries and while I’m waiting to win “Cracked Spine” and “Of Books and Bagpipes”, I plan to read “A Christmas Tartan”!

  64. jeanne sheats

    I just logged in – thanks!

  65. Russ Cross

    A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim is my favorite movie version. I always brings tears to my eyes. I have to admit the TV version with Mr. Magoo gives me a good case of the feels. I really enjoy the music from the Magoo version. The books sound like they would be good holiday reads.

  66. Skip

    Interesting history.

  67. Lori P

    We should indeed be thankful for our more comfortable living situations than Dicken experienced in his lifetime. We should also be thankful that an abundance of genius resulted from his earlier, grim situation,

  68. Kay Bennett

    Wow, interesting information. Thanks for the chance to win amazing reading material. Love your books!

  69. susan beamon

    I was familar with the book long before I saw any of the movies based on it. We used to read it at Christmas.

  70. Bonnie Karoly

    I love The Christmas Carol and have watched many different takes on this book. I would love to read Paige Shelton’s books.


    Our favourite Christmas tradition is for the whole family to gather around the television set and watch Dicken’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Alastair Sim. The messages it sends of humanity, generosity, friendliness. and love makes it a must watch anytime of year.

  72. DJ Shatley

    I’ve never read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I guess now would be a good time. I’ve also never won a contest… *sigh* I do love mysteries though, so I’ll be checking out Paige Shelton’s books even if I don’t win them. I love finding authors I’ve never read. 🙂

  73. Susan Robinette

    Thanks for the information of Charles Dickens — I didn’t know that. I can see that it must have had an effect on his “A Christmas Carol.”

  74. Sandra Furlotte

    This is a new series to me and the books look wonderful. Background information adds so much to the reading experience.

  75. redron

    I want to read this book

  76. Veronica Sandberg

    I read Christmas Carol a couple of times. Would love to win.

  77. Angela Jett

    Interesting article. Look forward to new book.

  78. Pat Dupuy

    Dickens’ mom wanted him to keep working and forget about education?
    Good grief. Debtors prison must have really messed her up.

  79. Carol Lawman

    I love Dickens but I find it takes me more time than usual to read his books because I find myself rereading passages repeatedly; what a beautiful genius he had.

  80. Jerry Lafferty

    I had no idea so many different formidable authers had served time

  81. Beth Talmage

    I know someone for whom this would be the perfect gift. Thanks for the chance to enter.

  82. EricStar

    This sounds fantastic – thanks for the opportunity.

  83. Laurent Latulippe

    Very interesting. I look forward to reading this.

  84. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  85. Anastasia

    This would make for great cold weather reading 🙂

  86. Diana Meyer

    Look forward to reading.

  87. Janice

    Interesting info on Charles Dickens. Hope I win.

  88. Margot Core

    I do associate the ‘merry’ over the ‘happy’ with Dickens, but I did not realize that his influence in that regard was so extensive.

  89. Ida Umphers

    Love the incomparable Dickens characters. Merry Christmas! Thank you for the giveaway.

  90. M Thompson

    I never tire of watching A Christmas Carol on tv every year. Would love to win these books by an author who is new to me. Thanks and Merry Christmas to all!

  91. Deborah Dumm

    This proves that with hard work & determination you can accomplish a lot in life. I can’t wait to read this book it sounds amazing!

  92. Nicole

    This is fascinating. I admit I don’t know much about Charles Dickens and this taste of his life makes me want to learn more.
    I was never into a Christmas Carol (other than the Disney version), but I think it might be time to revisit it now that I’m older.

  93. Nicole

    This is fascinating. I admit I don’t know much about Charles Dickens and this taste of his life makes me want to learn more.
    I was never into a Christmas Carol (other than the Disney version), but I think it might be time to revisit it now that I’m older.

  94. Paula Adams

    I never read the book A Christmas Carol but I’ve watched several versions of it made into movies. I loved A Cracked Spine and can’t wait to read Of Books and Bagpipes.

  95. Marjorie Manharth

    Too bad everyone’s misfortunes don’t translate into a masterpiece. I also didn’t know Dickens led such a life. Thank you.

  96. Marjorie Manharth

    Too bad everyone’s misfortunes don’t translate into a masterpiece. I also didn’t know Dickens led such a life. Thank you.

  97. Kris Kaminski

    now thats the holiday read

  98. Kris Kaminski

    now thats the holiday read

  99. elsie321

    I would like to read this book.

  100. charles j hauser jr

    Awesome- Dickens and Mystery and Old London

  101. charles j hauser jr

    Awesome- Dickens and Mystery and Old London

  102. Lisa Ahlstedt

    Would love to read both of these!

  103. Saundra K. Warren

    I learned something new today

  104. Marisa Young

    Interesting article – want to read Paige’s book.

  105. Sue Bazner

    Wouldn’t have wanted to have Dickens experience what he did, but wouldn’t want to have missed any of his glorious writings either

  106. Christal Mormann

    Sounds good

  107. Robert Grieco

    Seems extremely interesting!

  108. Richard Edmundson

    I had never heard Dickens’ life history before. Very interesting.

  109. Diana Petty-Stone

    What a wonderful article about Dickens. It’s aways amazing how such beautiful literature can come from such hardship and suffering.

  110. Mary Ann Woods

    Have always looked forward to the family reading or watching of A Christma Carol each Christmas. Thanks for the chance to learn more about Dickens!

  111. Richard Derus

    Terrific sounding new-to-me series.

  112. Rhonda Barkhouse

    Great article. I love to read Dickens this time of year.

  113. Rhonda Barkhouse

    Great article. I love to read Dickens this time of year.

  114. Kim Johnston

    Just in time for Christmas! Thank you!

  115. Terrie

    I have not previously read any of Ms. Shelton’s works, but look forward to doing so! A Merry Christmas to us all!

  116. vicki wurgler

    thanks that was interesting to read

  117. Daniel Morrell

    would love to check it out

  118. BasBleuBarb

    Although being in prison is a bad thing, we can be glad it probably had an influence on Dickens’ writing.

  119. Marty Crosson

    To be honest, I’ve never been a Dickens fan. His books, written to be serialized over many months, read as padded and melodramatic. (Call me Scrooge! No, wait, don’t)

  120. Lucinda Larson

    I had no idea what he had gone thru in his life.

  121. Sharon Haas

    I never knew that Dickens had such a dramatic childhood but it explains a lot about his stories.

  122. lasvegasnv


  123. L

    Big fan of Charles Dickens, so I enjoyed the biographical information on how his life influenced his writing, and how his writing influenced Paige Shelton’s.

  124. Melissa Keith

    This is a fantastic post. I love Dickens and didn’t know these facts. My favorite Christmas movie is A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The 1951 version with Alastair Sim. I also love Scotland and enjoy Paige’s books. It would be a dream come true for me to win. I would enjoy both books immensely!! This has been a really rough year. Please make my spirits (hee) bright! TA!

  125. Suzanne Timmsen

    Always a good read when Charles Dickens is involved. Facts I did not know or probably knew but forgot.

  126. Carolyn

    A fan of history, a fan of Dickens, and a fan of mysteries, this book looks to be very interesting!

  127. Joyce Lokitus

    I had no idea that Dickens had been in prison nor that the words “Merry Christmas” were first printed in [u]A Christmas Carol[/u]. Two years ago I had the opportunity to see the great grandson of Charles Dickens perform a one man dramatic reading of [u]A Christmas Carol [/u]- it was so special. I love mysteries and enjoy reading them in the winter. Hoping to win yours for a nice read during this wintry season in PA!

  128. Sabine Blanch

    Interesting! Thank you for the chance.

  129. Karen Hester

    I never knew Dickens ws responsible for Merry Christmas

  130. Kelli ende

    I love this!

  131. bill norris

    So many new Dickens facts that i hadnt been aware of before. Thanks.

  132. Pat Murphy

    Looking for a new series and this seems to be it.

  133. Sarah H

    I adore your series Scottish Bookshop Mysteries! Excited for the next release! Very interesting post on Charles Dickens, lots of info I didn’t know 🙂

  134. Catherine Myers

    That is what makes Dickens so fabulous he lived it.

Comments are closed.