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Dickens, Scrooge and the Victorian poor
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Dickens, Scrooge and the Victorian poor

Wood engraving depicting a group gathered around a street coffee stall with holly on the hot water urn and on one of the women's hatsLondon coffee stallThis is our second online exhibition designed to celebrate the double-centenary of Charles Dickens's birth in 1812. Our first exhibition looked at Dickens's long writing lifetime, from the 1830s to his death in 1870.

This exhibition brings together a number of strands which connect Dickens's life and work - especially his concern for the poor - with materials in the collections at King's College London.

Dickens's efforts to improve the harsh New Poor Law which established the punitive workhouse system, were not confined to his fiction: he worked throughout his life to change attitudes towards poverty, and to alleviate its sorrows. Dickens had experienced hunger and deprivation himself, and he never forgot it. He recognised the humanity of the pauper and the beggar, and refused to behave like the Pharisee in the story of the Good Samaritan, and cross over the way. At the same time, he despised the petty officialdom that exacerbated suffering for so many.

These concerns emerge in differing ways throughout his fiction, and in his lifelong involvement in journalism and ameliorative social change. Here we focus particularly upon three of his early works Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. We glance at Dickens's efforts to draw public attention to neglected children, to tightfistedness as a cause of privation and hardship, and to the lot of the Victorian poor incarcerated in or terrorised by the workhouse system, and especially his efforts to touch consciences and increase the sum of goodwill - particularly at Christmas-time.

Guest curator: Dr Ruth Richardson, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Life-Writing Research at King's

PLEASE NOTE: This exhibition was created for the web and is only available to view online.

Click each thumbnail to view full image and bibliographic details. Click folders on the right to expand menu content. Unless otherwise specified, items in this exhibition are held in the Foyle Special Collections Library and are available for consultation there.

Listen to Miriam Margolyes reading the opening paragraphs of A Christmas Carol in our December In the Spotlight web pages, used by kind permission of AudioGO Ltd and of Miriam Margolyes.

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