Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dickens and Poor Law

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the British novelist Charles Dickens, author of classics such as Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

Charles Dickens published the first installment of Oliver Twist in the February 1, 1837.

The New Poor Law of 1834 had systematized the care of poor people, forcing parishes to send their wards to regional, live-in workhouses, where they became systematically mistreated.

Up Right: George Cruikshak's illustration for the first installment, showing the newly-arrived workhouse inmate Oliver asking for more; RIGHT.

Dickens had the law-makers up on trial for another count.

Below, the excerpt from the end of the novel in which beadle Bumble - soon to be an inmate of the same poorhouse he tyrannized at the beginning of the story - famously complains of being legally responsible for his wife:

"That is no excuse," replied Mr. Brownlow. "You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction."

"If the law supposes that, " said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is a ass - a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience - by experience."


  1. good post! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. law is supposed to be blind and not poor.
    you worked hard to find this story.

  3. What an answer by Mr Bumble! :D

    Oliver Twist (2005) had been one of my fav. movies...due to its cinematography , music and ofcourse a poignant end.

    Its so nice to see you back in action Thinking :)

  4. Read Dickens writing about my favourite London church on the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth here and join in the celebrations at Dickens 2012.

  5. My daughter loves Dickens so I need to let her know about this anniversary. He is one of the greats with a deep heart for the common people.

    Thank you for the post...and great to see you continue with your gift.

  6. "... where they became systematically mistreated." I like that expression.

  7. That is a striking phrase. To be "systematically mistreated" says a lot about that goes on for decades once begun. (and packs a lot into so few words.