Oliver Twist Have you ever thought about how it would be to live in a time of poverty? How would life be if you were poor and did not know from where you would be getting your next meal? What would it be like to be forced to live in a workhouse? These are some of the questions you might ask yourself if you were living in early nineteenth century England. Dickens addresses these issues in his timeless masterpiece Oliver Twist. In the story of Oliver Twist, Dickens uses past experiences from his childhood and targets the Poor Law of 1834 which renewed the importance of the workhouse as a means of relief for the poor. Dickens’ age was a period of industrial development marked by the rise of the middle class (Wagenknecht 219). In the elections brought about by the accession of William IV in 1830, the Tories lost control of the government.
Assumption of power by the Whigs opened the way to an era of accelerated progress (Kaste 8). In this time period children worked just as much, if not more, than some of the adults. After 1833, an increased amount of legislation was enacted to control the hours of labor and working conditions for children and women in manufacturing plants. The Poor Law of 1834 provided that all able bodied paupers must reside in a workhouse (8). Widespread hostility was felt to the new law; many believed that life was harder in a workhouse than in prison (Rooke 22).
The plan was successful from one standpoint, for within three years the cost of poor relief was reduced by more than one-third. However, this system was sharply censured. The increased prevalence of crime was attributed towards it. Inmates of the workhouses became objects of public stigma, and to further heighten the unpopularity of the institutions, living conditions were deliberately made harsh (Kaste 8). Poverty was at it’s peak around this time in England. Houses were overcrowded, packed together in narrow streets and courts which were often piled deep in rotting refuse (Rooke 33).
New problems of food and public health were faced by a parliamentary and economic system which was better suited to the eighteenth century. On June 20, 1837, Queen Victoria came to the throne of England as the long period of middle class ascendancy was gaining momentum (Kaste 8). The Victorian age, which this time period is often referred, comes from Queen Victoria. In 1840, it was thought that only twenty percent of the children of London had any form of schooling. The 1840s were years of crises. The character on English life was being transformed by industrial expansion and by great movements of population towards urban life.
Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsea, on February 7, 1812. He was the second son of John Dickens. John Dickens was a clerk in the Navy pay office. His improvidence would eventually lead to imprisonment in the Marshalsea, a debtor’s prison for debt (Hardy 41). As a child Charles Dickens explored London and the fascination that he felt for this booming city remained with him throughout his life (Rooke 15). Dickens received his first instruction from his mother and later attended regular schools in Chatham. When John Dickens, his wife, and their four children went to the debtor’s prison, Charles Dickens didn’t go.
He soon became intimate with his father’s small collection of literary classics. He also revealed early signs of genius. Dickens’ recollections of early life were centered in Kent and he often regarded himself as a member of that region (Kaste 9). Dickens was sent to work at the age of twelve in Worren’s Blacking Warehouse. After his father’s release he went back to school. When school was complete he went to work in an attorney’s office.
He spent much of his time exploring the busy and varied life of London and decided to become a journalist. He mastered a difficult system of shorthand and by March 1832, at the age of twenty, he was a general and parliamentary reporter. In 1829 he met and soon fell in love with Maria Bendnell, but her parents found him socially inferior (Hardy 41). Not long after, in 1836, he fell in love with and married Catherine Hogarth. They had ten children together. In 1858 Dickens fell in love with Ellen Terron, an actress.
This was soon after Dickens and his wife Catherine separated, ending a long stream of marital difficulties. In1842, Dickens traveled to the United States hoping to find an embodiment of his liberal political ideals. However, he returned to England deeply disappointed. He was dismayed by America’s lack of support for an international copyright law, acceptance of the inhumane practice of slavery, and the basic vulgarity of the American people (Charles Dickens). Dickens became distinguished by furious energy, determination to succeed, and an inflexible will (Kaste 9).
It is likely that Dickens’ introduction to the consequences of poverty was a contributing factor in shaping his life and literature. Dickens’ early short stories and sketches, which were published in various London newspapers and magazines, were later collected to form his first book, Sketches by Boz in 1836. Dickens’ early period includes his work Oliver Twist in 1838. By 1837, Dickens was the most popular author in England. His fame soon spread throughout the rest of the English-speaking world and eventually throughout the continent.
It still has not diminished (Charles Dickens). For many readers, Dickens is not only a great novelist but also a history book. Although he is a great entertainer and comic genius, we have come to know him as a famous example of the wounded artist, whose sicknesses were shed in great art, whose very grudges against family and society linked him throughout personal pains with larger public sufferings. Charles Dickens’ long and illustrious life came to an end on June 18, 1870 at Gad’s Hill, Kent due to a paralytic stroke. He is buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey (Blount; Charles Dickens).
A frequent early criticism that Dickens’ works are formless is not accepted by most modern critics. Many now see Dickens’ novels as vast and complex denunciations of the bourgeois society that corrupt it’s members. Even as the structure of his novels grew more intricate, Dickens never abandoned this method of publication, for he cherished the constant contact with his readers through monthly or weekly installments (Charles Dickens). Dickens was also a novelist who loved to devise plots that hinged on secrets and disclosure and succeeded in keeping secret his own private life (Hardy 43). Dickens’ fictions are packed with social information and social passion.
Dickens bitterly attacks the defects of existing institutions: government, law, education, and penal systems. He also mercilessly exposes the injustice and wretchedness inflicted by them. However, Dickens was not a propagandist exposing utopian panaceas for the ills of the world. Dickens was fascinated by the grotesque and had a particular talent for exaggeration. His exuberance carried him beyond the bounds of moderation, but he seldom lost sight of his intentions (Kaste 15).
Charles Dickens is frequently charged with offering a view of the world that does violence to reality. However, he really was able to just create a fictive world that was a mirror in which the truths of the real world were reflected. Almost all of his novels display, to varying degrees, his comic gift, his deep social concerns, and his extraordinary talent …