It is no wonder that Dickens and artists concerned with the “Condition of England” were disturbed at the discrepancy between such opulence and the conditions that 9/10ths of the English population had to endure during this period. Typically a family of seven had one room in which to live
Or workers had to share a single bedroom:
So this is why Dickens launched into an attack on the greed of the moneyed classes and the insensitivity to the conditions of the poor in the mid to late 19th Century. This is why he lampooned the structure of a city like Coketown which displays its complete disregard for human habitation in every corner of its construction: “It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next….. “
These photographs from contemporary images remind me strongly of the painting we saw by Luke Fildes “The Widower”, one of the few Victorian paintings in the NSW Gallery that pick up Dickens’ concern:
Blog Topics for Week 5:
Creative: 1/ Using some of the methods you have discovered through reading and hearing Dickens’ satiric prose, write a short paragraph describing some city scape that you know drawing attention to the way in which this environment shapes the lives of the inhabitants. You can write about the contemporary world or you can be futuristic.
2/ Ekphrastic: in one paragraph or in a few short stanzas tell the story – as you see it- of Luke Fildes’ painting “The Widower“.
Critical: See if you can discover the specific historical circumstances that led Dickens to write Hard Times and why he actually dedicated this book to Thomas Carlyle. This information could be very useful for the whole class. I suggest you start with The Victorian Web as a useful collection point for the best criticism and historical data on the period.
Audio Tutorial on Coketown: