Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew: An Image of the London Poor (1830-1870)
Dr. Marc Baer
Many readers have enjoyed the compelling novels of Victorian author Charles Dickens (1812-1870). His characters are lively, memorable, and imaginative, sometimes to the extent that they seem implausible. Despite the seeming sensationalism of the novels, it is often their characters that come to mind when Victorian London is mentioned. This research uses the in-depth study of the London poor done by Victorian social researcher and journalist Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) as a standard by which the accuracy of Dickens’s poor can be measured. By comparing the engaging characters of Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1838) with the poor studied in Mayhew’s four volume series of articles London Labour and the London Poor (1849-1850), this research reveals the extent to which Dickens’s pickpockets, prostitutes, and pawn-brokers can be accepted as authentic.
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