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Thursday, April 19, 2012

2 Charles Dickens between legal and social issues

Dickens concerned a lot for the legal system shaping economy and society but he was also very much interested in education. Do you think there is a connection between the two issues?


  1. One could say that education wasn’t a priority during the Victorian age: only in 1880 it become compulsory. Charles Dickens himself was forced to end his school career and start working in a factory when his father was arrested for debt and imprisoned in the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison. He was then able to continue his education after John Dickens was released from prison.

    Access to education was easier for those born in wealth and probably very appealing to those forced into child labour. Nowadays a working child is a despicable image, but at the time children, especially if abandoned or orphans, had to provide for themselves, so it was only natural that most had to work; besides they didn’t earn much so their labour was less expensive than that of adults. It took a certain amount of time for the government to acknowledge the need to protect children with laws, and grant all a minimum of equality of opportunity. This shows how social issues can be shaped by legal ones.

  2. You're right Vania. Just a curiosity: when John Dickens was released from prison Elizabeth Dickens(Charles' mother) did not immediately remove Charles from the boot-blacking factory(she was the true leader inside the house). This was a big trauma for Charles and maybe for him education represented a hope for a new, better, life...

  3. I can add that, analyzing the regulation of the workhouses they provided for education: "the boy and girls who are inmates of the Workhouses shall, for three of the working hours, at least, every day, be instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of the Christian religion"...unfortunately it wasn't what the inquiries found about workhouses, so even if the legal system was interested in education, reality sometimes is quite different.

  4. I think that there is certainly a connection between the attention that Dickens raised on the legal system and about education. Experiencing in his personal life what could mean going against the law ( I'm referring to the fact that his father was in the debtors' prison for a while) he surely understood the value of freedom linked to a 'good conduct' and to education. That's why it is not surprising that he has been a solicitor's clerk at the very beginning of his career.
    I think that we can find one of the most important traces of this concept in "Hard times", where Dickens leaves a very important message.
    It is important to study,to have an education and have a correct knowledge of what surrounds us,about the 'facts', but it is also very important to not lose our imagination and capacity to reason without rules.
    So still, I think he is somehow saying that it is important to understand our social and legal system, but at the same time beeing 'well educated people' also means that everybody must know how to reason with their own minds!

  5. Dickens was deeply concerned with many different social, legal and even political aspects of English but also American society. Few people know that he also attacked the institution of slavery in the United States. He denounced the barbarities that he observed on his first trip into US, in 'American Notes', the book written after he returned to England, in which, describing his American visit, he wrote scathingly and sarcastically about the institution of slavery, quoting newspaper accounts of runaway slaves horribly disfigured by their cruel masters. Dickens came away from his American experience with a deep sense of disappointment and disillutionment. In some published letters he wrote:"Thus the stars wink upon the bloody stripes; and Liberty pulls down her cap upon her eyes, and owns oppression in its vilest aspect for her sister" and also "this is not the republic I came to see; this is not the republic of my imagination". In Dickens' next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit , he sends Martin to America, where he continues to vent his feelings for the young republic. American response to both books was extremely negative, but eventually Dickens' popularity was restored.
    This is just an example of how Dickens was involved in the events of his contemporary society and how all this influenced his works, surely confirming his attitude as a reporter, perhaps, I think, with an educational intent.