Dickens Progressive Views on Insanity, Asylums and the publishing of The Woman in White

By KellieW

Star of Bethlehem

Over a century and a half ago, the two friends Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins often broached the subject of insanity and insane asylums in their writing. Collins regularly contributed to the family magazine Household Words, which was edited by Dickens. Later when Dickens broke away from Household Words and went on to found the magazine All The Year Round, Collins followed. During his time at Household Words, “Charles Dickens was uncomfortable writing open, transparent editorials about the current topics relating to mental illness, and about the institutions that housed the insane(Wynne 52). Dickens specifically avoided discussing hereditary mental illness because, as he said, he “shrink[s] from the responsibility of awakening so much slumbering fear and despair” (Wynne 53). Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens shared a concern of how to openly discuss insanity and asylums. Collins preceded Dickens in exposing those issues but eventually Dickens tackled the issues with openness and honesty. Continue reading

A “Change of Air” and Invalidism in North and South

By Elena Rardon

Change of Air 1

The figure of the invalid in nineteenth-century writing was often one of ridicule, as authors and playwrights poked fun at those overly infatuated with aches, pains, and nerves. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, the author upends some of these common tropes with the humanization of the invalid character Mrs. Hale. Often concerned with the effect of the “air” on her health, Mrs. Hale most likely followed the idea behind the Household Words article, “Change of Air”—namely, that physical constitution has a direct correlation with climate.

Between 1850 and 1859, Charles Dickens edited Household Words, a weekly-published journal that Gaskell herself contributed to in a serialized format with North and South. All articles were anonymously published, although they all had a fairly “Dickensian” feel. The article “Change of Air,” published in Household Words in 1854, discusses the idea that climate can have an effect on health, encouraging traveling as a method of self-care. Continue reading

Sympathy for the Working Classes in North and South and “Fencing for Humanity”

By J. F.


North and South is a novel that to its very core is concerned with divisions within society, a concept embodied in its dichotomous title. The resultant tensions from these divisions are most visible in the tension shown between factory workers and their masters. Gaskell portrays the struggles of these oppressed workers with a passionate, yet balanced eye, eager to show to the public the reality of the harsh lives led by the working classes in the Victorian era. And the same passionate voice Gaskell uses to speak of events such as Bessy’s slowly deteriorating health appears in the first article of the No. 264 issue of Household Words, published in eighteen-fifty-five.

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Status, Virtue and Bestowing Charity Beyond the Sea

By April Oldford

April's ScanCharles Dickens’ Bleak House is social problem novel, regarding the terrible conditions for those living in Victorian England and a scathing critique of those among society who remained indifferent on the subject, particularly those whom Dickens’ felt concerned themselves with “telescopic philanthropy,” that is, charity with a narrowed focus on issues external to Britain, rather than issues closer to home (Dickens 52). One of the charitable targets of Dickens’ criticisms was Caroline Chisholm, the founder of the Family Colonization Loan Society, a foundation that “transferred Great Britain’s poor, unemployed and starving from the slums of London, Liverpool, Manchester, and other Continue reading

A Bleak House of Delayed Cases: Drawing a line between Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and “The Law’s Delay: Chancery Experience” in The Illustrated London News, 28 August, 1852.

By Riley Strother

Chancery LIN

During the Victorian era, a feeling of progress was in the air with regards to many aspects of society; however, it is safe to say that law and Chancery were not as often placed in this category. In The Illustrated London News’ “The Law’s Delay: Chancery Experience,” the case of “Beckford v. Jaspar” is reported to be “wound up” after over a hundred years in the Chancery Courts. This small, un-illustrated, article simply sketches out the major proceedings within the case that occurred between the dates of 1748 and 1852 (“The Laws Delay”).  Jaspar owed Pope 10, 000 pounds, and after Pope died in 1743 his executor, Beckford, filed a suit against Jaspar in 1748. Jaspar died before he could respond, but the suit was revived against his executors and in 1753 the case was “referred to the Master to take accounts” (“The Laws Delay”). In 1764 and 1772 further action was taken place; then from 1772 to 1851 the case was dormant, until it was revived by one Mr. Wadham, who had “obtained administration to Pope” and “had to take out administration to five intermediate estates, and to pay 778 pounds for the stamp duties” (“The Laws Delay”). This apparently led to the conclusion of the case. Continue reading

Falling Angels: The Tension between Sin and Femininity in Henry Nelson O’Neil’s Painting “Myrrha” and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House

By Halley Fulford


The sharp juxtaposition between two conceptualizations of the feminine – the “angel in the house,” and, conversely, “the fallen woman” – helps define the Victorian age. Nina Auerbach, in her essay “The Rise of the Fallen Woman,” challenges this binary by saying that while the “groveling figure [of the fallen woman] lies at the heart of some of the most powerful literature and art the age produced,” contemporary feminist critics and Victorian social reformers alike are unconvinced by the “irreversible sin and doom” represented time and time again as the natural end of the fallen woman (30, 32). Dicken’s Bleak House and the painting “Myrrha” by Henry Nelson O’Neil particularly exemplify the tension between the literary tradition of the fallen woman and a more flexible reality where “the mobility of actual social life reverses the popular myth of a woman’s implacable fall” (Auerbach 32). Continue reading

Slim Chances in the Court of Chancery: Law in Bleak House and “The Oldest Chancery Suit in the World”

By Jessica Turvey

Chancery Suit

Punch, or The London Charivari, was a magazine established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. Originally created for the British lower/working class, Punch became popular among all class levels. The main purpose of Punch was to add an element of humour to controversial topics including politics, the legal system, class and gender differences, the role of women, the lower class and poor sanitation (Allingham). The last issue came out in 2002 after a brief shut down in 1992 and attempted revival in 1996. Punch was the first magazine to create humorous political sketches and is responsible for creating the term cartoon (Allingham). Continue reading

The Problem with Charity: A Review of Charity and Race in Victorian England

By K. P.

Punch ScanIn 1841, Henry Mayhew and Ebenezer Landells founded a weekly satirical magazine entitled Punch, or The London Charivari. It was published from 1841 until 2002 and primarily focused on politics of the era (Punch Magazine). All of the articles were published anonymously under the title character “Mr. Punch,” which allowed writers and editors to share their opinions without any fear of judgment and produced a more unified voice that helped the paper successfully make its point (Punch Magazine). Since this magazine was released weekly, sold for three pennies, and included picture and text, its target audience would appear to be the middle class. Continue reading

“Locked Out” and Hopeless: Historical and Fictional Strikes in Victorian England

By Mary Luco

Locked Out Image 1 Mary LucoA key element in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is the cotton industry. This includes the working conditions of the cotton factories, the cleanliness of the town, and the workers’ dissatisfaction with low wages, leading to lockouts and strikes. The Preston lockout of 1853 to 1854 provides a historical foundation for the plot and themes of North and South while the Household Words article, “Locked Out,” offers a contemporary perspective on the event.

Locked Out Image 2 Mary LucoIn 1853, the cotton industry virtually ceased production for seven long months due to tensions arising between workers and factory owners, with cotton mills outputting only eighty percent of their normal volume (Dutton and King 94). Under the guidance of George Cowell, Continue reading

I Cannot Hear You Over the Sound of How Awesome I Am: A Brief Exposition on Grandiose Figures in “Bullfrog” and Bleak House

By L. R.

BullfrogThe article “Bullfrog” was published in issue no. 243 of Household Words in 1854. Household Words was a weekly journal edited by Charles Dickens and each issue cost readers a mere tuppence (Allingham). New issues were published on Wednesdays, although they were dated as the Saturday prior, and they contained 24 pages divided into two columns. There were no illustrations or breaks in the layout; each article contained a small bold title followed by the text. Only the serialized novels received special treatment by having double sized titles. The articles in Household Words were published anonymously (except for novels); however, Anne Lohrli was able to ascertain the identity of each author through the financial records kept by the publishers (Allingham). Household Words ran in print from 1850 until 1859. Continue reading