Hard Times, Great Expectations

In October 1843, a 31-year old author had an idea for a book which he believed would 'strike a sledge hammer blow' for the poor. Despite some early success, he was not doing well as a writer. The 1840s were a time of severe economic downturn in England, and his books had not been selling well.

But the economic situation was taking a far worse toll on the poor, exacerbating their already desperate living conditions. Starving to death was not uncommon. This was the Autumn of 1843, and Engels was in Manchester observing at first-hand the horrors of poverty and child labour. What he wrote as a result of what he saw continues to impact societies across the globe.

The struggling author had also visited Manchester, and the story which came to him - and which he composed "entirely in my head" - was a direct result of that visit. He felt the same anger as Engels, but he focused his anger into fiction. The book was written, illustrated and rushed into print on December 19 1843, sold 6,000 copies in the six days before Christmas, and has since gone on to become one of our most enduring works of fiction.

Much of our attitude towards Christmas - its imagery and traditions - can be traced back to Charles Dickens and "A Christmas Carol". When one thinks of the prevailing 'spirit' of Christmas, of hope, joy, thinking of others - these are all messages that spring readily from Dickens' tale.

It's entirely appropriate, therefore, that two books on Dickens are near the top of our Christmas newsletter - the annual gathering together, by everyone at Mostly Books, of all the titles and gifts that we think you should consider for friends and family this Christmas.

February is the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth - and Claire Tomalin's masterful biography is published in anticipation of that - along with many other titles scheduled throughout 2010. Dickens has plenty of advice for the hard times we currently face, incidentally.

We are biased of course, and we believe books make wonderful gifts. But whether you are buying books for others or yourselves this Christmas, we urge you to "make time for books". Turn off your gadgets, clear some time for you and your family, and approach a book with great expectations for providing some solutions to current problems you may face.

And we are here to help. Please just ask.

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