Did Charles Dickens really save poor children and clean up the slums?

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Did Charles Dickens really save poor children and clean up the slums?

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feb 14, 2012, 11:19am

Here's another BBC magazine article from this month that might be of interest to members of this group:

Did Charles Dickens really save poor children and clean up the slums?

I found it odd that the writer quotes an 'expert' who says: "He was certainly alive to the issues posed by child labour in the new work situation of the industrial revolution, but it is striking that none of his child heroes or victims was directly involved in such work," Prof Cunningham suggests.

Doesn't David Copperfield work in a factory after his mother dies and before he runs away to his aunt's?
Doesn't Oliver Twist have two brief careers (chimney sweep; undertaker's assistant) as an apprentice?

Unless I am misunderstanding the quote...

feb 14, 2012, 11:48am

> 1

I wouldn't call "chimney sweep" and "undertaker's assistant" part of the industrial revolution.

feb 14, 2012, 3:51pm

I read that. It was an interesting article, but I thought it a little unfair. Of course he didn't have a coherent doctrine of social reform. He was a writer not a political activist. But surely he affected the atmosphere and climate of opinion. Also, of course he had the assumptions of his time about certain issues and cannot be judged by modern standards any more than any other historical figure.

feb 15, 2012, 5:34am

The article makes short shrift of Dickens' journalism and I would also like to echo post >3 john257hopper:, regarding his fiction. A "coherent doctrine" is not the point and perhaps is not even desirable. Note that the quote comes from a professor of social history, who is instrumentalizing literature for a certain purpose.

That's one way to read. But it's not the only way to read.

In addition to trying to flex his imagination a little harder, maybe this professor should read George Orwell's essay on "Dickens". Orwell, obviously, is no timid soul about politics. And he's amusingly critical of some of Dickens' tics and tone-deafness about political structure. But on the whole it's a spirited defense of Dickens from a political perspective, posited on an appreciation of Dickens' interest in the human spirit.

If you haven't read this essay, check it out.

feb 15, 2012, 10:26am

> 2 True, those aren't examples of industrial revolution work specifically, just of child labor. The quote seemed to imply that Dickens never wrote about child laborers, but maybe that's the part I'm misunderstanding. Maybe the professor meant only industrial revolution work, but again I point to David Copperfield working in a factory.

> 3 My feelings exactly.

> 4 Thanks for the suggestion! Sounds like an interesting read.