Archives for posts with tag: Charles Dickens

Before we stray too far from the holidays, here’s an article about Dickens and food. Not just the Cratchit Christmas table, Oliver asking for more, or how Magwich’s hunger may have influenced his temperament, but also bits about the life of the author after his father was sent to debtor’s prison when Charles Dickens was only twelve years old. No wonder his writings about poverty were so authentic feeling. He was an ultimate example of the words that have long urged writers to write what we know. Though that idea is debated as much as it’s​ adhered to, Dickens is an alarming example of where such practice may lead. 

His type of experiences were common in harder times even in our own century, and even still in the small dark corners of modern day poverty. When my grandfather was killed in a car crash in a time when cars themselves were in their adolescence, my father had to leave school at twelve years old and shoulder responsibility for his mother, sister, and young niece. His sacrifice made it possible for his family to carry on much as they had before. Without a father to run the farm, but left with a man grown up out of time to provide for them. Hardship​ was and is common in the rural south, though lacking in one thing that made Victorian England stand out as a stark example of poverty​ and injustice…the class system.

While there will always be harsh instances of have and have not, the Victorians across the pond made a life’s work of it. Many of the very wealthy would have stepped over a starving child lying in the gutter…if they ever stepped close to a gutter in their entire life. Even in their own insulated world of high society, they lived lives of pampered excess. To the starving guttersnipe the clean, beautifully dressed people who lived physically nearby would have been as alien to them as if they’d landed from Mars. 

Food was a vivid demarcation line between classes. This wonderful Guardian article gives intriguing examples, the very reading of which leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those fortunate to be only reading about such a harsh way of life.

Ever drawn to Victoriana, as a writer I was particularly interested in this article about the lives of Victorian writers. Apparently, the writing life dragged a comet tail of hardship in its wake in Dickens’ time, just as it has done since writers started telling stories. It’s difficult to believe that Dickens had no formal education. His writing is as evocative and often heartbreaking today, as it was when he first set pen to paper. Somehow I find it easier to imagine Brontes working as governesses, fitting in their writing as the demands of caring for children not their own allowed. For as long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve found myself imagining favorite authors’ lives, as they gathered ideas and started putting together their famous plots. Articles like this one make that more vivid, and also make me admire them all the more.

In one of my regular rambles around the internet searching out the flotsam and jetsam of our Earth’s existence that might capture my interest, I found this article about a hot New York City summer in 1852. On the surface, as I first started reading and mentally shuddering over accompanying pictures, I thought it was very interesting. It struck a think-of-this-when-you-gripe-about-malfunctioning-AC kind of chord.

The more I read, the more I felt drawn into the scenes of squalor, illness, horrific smells, and the sickening concept of the alarming amount of manure produced in just one day by just one of the estimated 25,000 horses clipclopping their way through the streets of the city that never sleeps. I can’t really explain my interest in all aspects of Victorian living in great cities like New York and London. I just know that authors such as Charles Dickens, Anne Perry, and Caleb Carr have painted such vivid word images for me that I feel almost as if I’ve toured it all for myself. The squalid and the splendid, often rubbing shoulders physically, even as the people of either station lived in oblivious blindness to each others existence.

The above titled article sticks with the horrors, using the hot summer of 1852 and the already unbearable conditions it made worse as a spring board for social, cultural, and ethnic commentary on the times. The wider article about the 1852 article goes into ways the author was influenced by Dickens’ (an author who taught me about my own wider world) writing and how Caleb Carr (whose The Alienist is among my large list of favorite novels) was interested in the article. I really enjoyed the way this one headline led me to a fascinating old article wrapped in an equally fascinating new article about it.