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Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

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  • Posted August 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    OLIVER TWIST showed Charles Dickens "how much power he wielded as a writer"

    Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812 - 1870 was born of lower middle class parents. Both were in domestic service and could afford to send the future novelist's sister to a grand music school. Both parents were gifted story tellers. At age 12, just before Charles's father went to debtors' prison, the boy began working ten hour days six days a week in a factory that made boot blacking substances. For the first time the well dressed, clean, carefully spoken boy was rubbing shoulders with desperate children of the lower classes of London. *** The lower classes had been taught that they had been placed low by the will of God and they were to accept their poverty, dirt and horrible health meekly. Middle and upper classes, aristocracy and royalty looked down on them, wanted nothing to do with them. Charles Dickens, by contrast, in daily contact with them, saw that many if not most of the poor were "deserving" poor. They had done nothing wrong. People better off than they should notice them, feel for them and work to improve their terrible plight. *** It is a major thesis of Andrea Warren's 2011 CHARLES DICKENS AND THE STREET CHILDREN OF LONDON that Charles Dickens in most of his 20 novels and numberless short stories deliberately set out to inspire readers in a position to uplift the poor to do so. His first published book was a collection of BOZ stories. His first novel was OLIVER TWIST. That novel was also England's first novel with a boy as its hero. Instantly Charles Dickens was on all men's lips and in many readers' hearts, including Queen Victoria's. *** Dickens made Britons hate workhouses, poorhouses, miserable private schools and the whole system of parish-run doles for the poor. "Dickens learned from the public's embrace of OLIVER TWIST and the subsequent outcry against the workhouses how much power he wielded as a writer, and he was determined to use it to end the suffering of innocent boys by closing down the Yorkshire schools" (Ch 11) *** This is a book for teens and young adults. It presents a debatable portrait of Charles Dickens as essentially a social reformer whose tool was his pen. Author Andrea Warren makes it clear that though Dickens did much good for the poor, he was not alone, nor indeed the first to do so. Musician Handel and painter Hogarth are singled out for special praise as is the ship captain who rescued foundlings. *** The book has a good bibliography and points out channels in which today's young people can work to improve the lot of today's poor. I found it helpful that the author was careful on almost every third page to make it clear exactly how old Charles Dickens was in a given year. In a couple of ways, Dickens reminds of the young Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936). Both were teen age journalists. Both had written notable works before they were 25. Neither was a university man, though Kipling's formal education was better. This book, CHARLES DICKENS AND THE STREET CHILDREN OF LONDON is a keeper. -OOO-

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