On the evening of October 5 1843, Charles Dickens took his place on the stage of the Athenaeum in Manchester. The Athenaeum was a society for the “advancement and diffusion of knowledge”.
It had been founded in 1837 to provide education and recreation for the working men and women of the city. However, thanks to a recent economic recession, the club was heavily in debt.
Dickens was about to give a speech that, it was hoped, would help raise much-needed funds. What few of that night’s audience would have realised was that Dickens himself was a troubled man. The author was 31 and, for the past seven years, the success of his books such as The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby had seen him rise to become, arguably, the second most famous Victorian, behind only the Queen herself.
However, Dickens’ fortunes had taken a downturn in 1843. His latest work, Martin Chuzzlewit, had seen disappointing sales; his wife, Catherine, was pregnant with their fifth child; and he himself, just like the noble institution he was about to address, was heavily in debt.
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