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Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor

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Overview

It's one of the best known scenes in all of literature—young Oliver Twist, with empty bowl in hand, asking "Please Sir. I want some more." In Dickens and the Workhouse, historian Ruth Richardson recounts how she discovered the building that was quite possibly the model for the workhouse in Dickens' classic novel. Indeed, Richardson reveals that Dickens himself lived only a few doors down from this notorious building—once as a child and once again as a young journalist. This book offers a colorful portrait of ...

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Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor: Oliver Twist and the London Poor

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Overview

It's one of the best known scenes in all of literature—young Oliver Twist, with empty bowl in hand, asking "Please Sir. I want some more." In Dickens and the Workhouse, historian Ruth Richardson recounts how she discovered the building that was quite possibly the model for the workhouse in Dickens' classic novel. Indeed, Richardson reveals that Dickens himself lived only a few doors down from this notorious building—once as a child and once again as a young journalist. This book offers a colorful portrait of London in Dickens' time, looking at life in the streets and in the workhouse itself. Illustrated with maps, documents, photos, and illustrations, this fascinating book provides an engaging blend of history, biography and literary criticism, rooted in hitherto largely unexplored historical sources, in Dickens' own fiction and journalism, and in works of biography and criticism. Richardson's discovery made headlines worldwide. Published on the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth, Dickens and the Workhouse offers an intriguing glimpse of one of the great literary figures of the Victorian Age.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Offers a detailed study of the Dickenses' family home and its surrounding neighborhood, as well as an evocative and damning portrait of Britain's de-facto 'prison system to punish poverty.'" —The New Yorker

"Gives an intimately evoked view of Dickens's childhood and the New Poor Law of 1834 by which workhouses became 'a sort of prison system to punish (the poor).'" —Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books

"By sprinkling a fairy dust of creativity and imagination over mundane primary sources like maps, rate books, directories and newspapers, [Richardson] has breathed new life into Dickens's early years...This is a delight of a book, fresh and stimulating." —Dickens Quarterly

"Ruth Richardson's fascinating new book takes Oliver Twist as its subject and tells the story of her recent discovery that Dickens grew up only a few doors from the major London workhouse that inspired both the novel and, likely, the novelist's passion for social justice. Showing a deep understanding of the history of cities, the history of city planning, architecture, sociology and even sight-lines, this book is a detailed account of the boy Dickens's neighborhood and its possible influences upon him." —America Magazine

Library Journal
Medical historian Richardson (The Making of Mr. Gray's Anatomy) joined the cause to preserve a London building that had once been the Strand Union Workhouse in (as the British say) Cleveland Street. She made what she calls "the remarkable finding" that Dickens lived only a few doors away as a toddler and again in his late teens. Never mind that Dickens's London addresses have long been known and that he placed the Oliver Twist workhouse 75 miles north of London (an area he visited where there was a workhouse)—Richardson wants to make the case for this workhouse as the basis for the famous workhouse scenes in Oliver Twist. The possible connection has in fact saved the building from demolition. VERDICT It may not matter which real workhouse(s) inspired Dickens, but Richardson reveals Dickens's passionate relationship with London, its urban poor, 19th-century parliamentary reforms, and the task of social crusading. For all readers interested in Dickens's formative years and how he transformed experience into both narrative and action. They should also seek out Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's Becoming Dickens.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199681280
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 1,457,319
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Richardson is Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the author of a number of books. The Wall Street Journal described her last book, The Making of Mr. Gray's Anatomy as "one of those rarities, history that reads like a novel." That book won the 2009 Medical Journalists' Open Book Award.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
1. Discovery: threat, silences, discovery, Dickens' first London home
2. Vicinity: environs of gentility, Norfolk-street, medical charity, environs of poverty
3. Home: house, landlord, inside, views: upstairs/downstairs
4. Street: looking down, and around
5. Calamity: gap years, catastrophe, blacking factory, Marshalsea, Somers Town, schooling
6. Young Dickens: Return to Norfolk Street: clerk, young professional, Parliament, first essays
7. Workhouse: government/management
8. Works: family moves, Sketches by Boz, Oliver Twist, Marylebone borders, human heaps
9. Poor Law: visitor, doctor, master, commission, change
10. The Most Famous Workhouse in the World
Notes
Index

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