At our first TOCS reading group meeting today, we talked (among many other things) about the fact that Charles Dickens used his novels to address specific social problems - and that the awareness his novels created often led to the solution (at least partially) of these problems. In Oliver Twist (1838 - full text and Kindle here), one of Dickens's most famous works, he describes the ghastly living circumstances of workhouse labourers. As a boy, Dickens of course spent time in a workhouse himself, while his father was in the debtors' prison - a horrible experience which influenced this author's work greatly.
British historian Ruth Richardson has just published a new book called Dickens & the Workhouse: Oliver Twist & the London Poor (Oxford University Press, 2012).
Photo: Celebrating Dickens 2012
In this book she describes her discovery of the actual workhouse Dickens worked in as a child, and the building's astonishing proximity to a residential house Dickens lived in for years. See her enthuse about her discovery in this video clip:
(full version here)
or read about her petition to save this historical workhouse from demolition here. (It worked, by the way, and the building was saved.)