”His brief stint at the Blacking Factory haunted him all of his life — he spoke of it only to his wife and to his closest friend, John Forster — but the dark secret became a source both of creative energy and of the preoccupation with the themes of alienation and betrayal which would emerge, most notably, in David Copperfield and in Great Expectations.”
Lant Street, he wrote later in ”Pickwick Papers” , was colonized by ”a few clear-starchers, a sprinkling of journey-men bookbinders, one or two prison agents for the Insolvent Court, several small housekeepers who are employed in the Docks,a handful of mantua makers, and a seasoning of jobbing tailors…The population is migratory, usually disappearing on the verge of quarter- day, and generally by night. His Majesty’s revenues are seldom collected in this happy valley; the rents are dubious; and the water communication is very frequently cut off. .”
Now that he was living on Lant Street, Charles did not have so far to walk home after evening visits to visit his father in Debtors Prison, and he was able to go to the prison for breakfast and supper. And after supper on Saturdays, as he made his way home, his money burned a hole in his pocket.More than once, as he confessed, ”I have been seduced …. by a show van at the corner; and have gone in, with a very motley assemblage, to see the Fat-pig, the Wild-Indian, and the Little-lady. There were two or three hat-manufactories there, then… and among the things which, encountered anywhere, or under any circumstances, will instantly recall that time, is the smell of hat-making.”
After seeing the show in the traveling circus van, he might call at a shop selling Hunt’s roasted corn, which had become a popular substitute for coffee and which he enjoyed roasting for his Sunday breakfast; or he might spend two-pence on the latest issue of ” The Portfolio of Entertainment and Instructive Varieties in History, Science, Literature and Fine Arts”, a magazine that specialized in burlesque and parody; or a linger at a street corner to watch a Punch-and-Judy show. And he remembered once going into a theatre ”of the lowest description” and seeing a performance that included two dramas, a comic song sung from a donkey’s back, and a display of fireworks.
On Sunday, he spent all day in the prison, going first to fetch his sister Fanny from the Academy of Music, where she was studying. One day he went to the Academy to see fanny presented with a prize and felt overwhelmed by the contrast between her acclaimed success and his own disregard and hopelessness. ”I could not bear to think of myself, beyond the reach of all honorable emulation and success,” he wrote. ”The tears ran down my face…I prayed , when I went to bed that night, to be lifted out of the humiliation and neglect in which I was. I had never suffered so much before. ”
In April, 1824, John Dickens came into an inheritance from his mother, and the debts could be paid at last. The family moved out of the prison, first to stay with Mrs. Roylance, then to Hampstead, before finding a more permanent home in a seedy house in Johnson Street between Camden Town and Somers Town. John Dickens went back to his job at the Navy Pay Office.
With his father working again, Charles was sure that he would be allowed to go back to school. He waited for something to be said. But nothing was. Charles continued with his hated work. He was not so poor now,for his mother provided him with his dinner, which he carried to the Warehouse at Warren’s shoe blacking factory, tied up in a handkerchief, yet he was ”just as solitary and self-dependent as before…”