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He was a poor boy who made good but then his past and his present collide.Dickens’ life becomes frenzied, as any writer relying on the next check could understand.Indeed, the fictional character seems almost saintly, untouched by the wretched surroundings of Marshalsea debtors' prison where she was born.Unbeknown to his respectable readership, Dickens was privy to a phenomenal database of other real-life stories during the late 1840s and 1850s.Dickens scoured prisons and workhouses for likely candidates and interviewed them all himself, entering their stories into a casebook.

Now, as Little Dorrit is brought to the screen in a lavish BBC production, Caroline's story is being told for the first time in a new book, Charles Dickens And The House Of Fallen Women by Jenny Hartley.In 1846, he had come up with the idea of founding a home that would turn around the lives of 'fallen women', and with the backing of Angela Burdett-Coutts, heiress to the Coutts bank fortune, he had set up a refuge called Urania Cottage, a comfortably-sized house in Urania Cottage and, inset, Angela Burdett-Coutts London's Shepherd's Bush, which was big enough to house a dozen girls and two matrons. There would be no religious sermonising or gruel or shaven heads.Rather, the girls, who were mostly in their teens, would be trained to be domestic servants, capable of earning their own living and running decent homes of their own, once they emigrated and - so Dickens hoped - eventually married. The girls had to sign up for emigration, because it was almost impossible for 'fallen women' to reinvent themselves at home, for without a good character reference, who would employ them?Only days before Christmas, he completes his story and the rest, as they say, is history, or rather in this case, a Christmas classic. The story not only reawakened Dickens’ career but also reinvigorated Christmas.The book’s message of giving substantially spurred charitable donations that year among the Victorians and has continued to touch hearts for generations to come.

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