Group 5 context: On Dickens

Much like Pip, Charles Dickens led a life that closely resembled the narrative of ‘rags to riches.’ However, unlike Pip, Dickens was raised by his two birth parents, and led a life of relative gentility. This gentility was sporadic though because Dickens’ father led a life far beyond the means of the family and was thrown into debtor’s jail. Dickens’ witnessing his father being jailed marked a major turn in his life as he was taken out of school and thrust into a London comprised of long and laborious days in the factory, with his free time spent wandering the streets. Regarding Dickens’ rise as a social critic, this is of great importance, but it also figures heavily in the charity work that Dickens would take up once he gained eminence as an author. Herein comes Arlene Bowers Andrews article, “Charles Dickens, Social Worker in His Time,” which notes that Dickens devoted ten years of his time to help create and operate a transition home for impoverished and abused women. This is all to add depth to Dickens as not just an author who wrote on the social issues of the time, but as an activist and practitioner against the ills he saw apparent in Victorian society. He was supported over 43 different charity organizations, among which were the Poor Man’s Guardian Society, and the Metropolitan Sanitary Organization. Dickens sympathized so greatly with the lower class that his book Oliver Twist was actually written as a response to a particularly nasty piece of legislation known as the New Poor Law, which was an attempt by the Parliament to reduce the cost of looking after the poor and take beggars off the streets by commissioning workhouses where poor men, women, and children would work under harsh conditions for many hours a day in order to receive the benefits and help offered by the poor law, like housing, schooling, and food. No able-bodied person who did not work in a workhouse could receive any of the aforementioned benefits. Dickens was so disgusted by this, that he wrote Oliver Twist to show the plight of an innocent child raised in the conditions of the workhouse, where no fault could be attributed to Oliver in any way to justify the neglect, mistreatment, and starvation that he and some of the other boys in the book endure.

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