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Dickensian London and the author’s inner child

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012

Dickens’s Victorian London is a collection of 19th-century photographs that has been published by the Museum of London to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. This picture shows London Bridge, teeming with vehicles and pedestrians in 1875.

The London of Dickens

The book accompanies the Museum’s current exhibition on the writer’s life. One remarkable image, a Fox Talbot picture from 1841, is thought to be the earliest existing photograph of the Thames. It provides a view of Westminster, with no Houses of Parliament and no Big Ben. When we do see the river, it appears with not a single duck, cormorant or coot in sight because the water was simply too filthy. Dickens’s Victorian London was an industrious, dynamic place, but it was also a dirty, dangerous city, where children were as likely to die as survive. It was the city of Oliver Twist. But it was not all grim as the late, great Christopher Hitchens explained in his final essay, “Charles Dickens’s Inner Child“. Snippet:

“It is all there to emphasize the one central and polar and critical point that Dickens wishes to enjoin on us all: WHATEVER YOU DO — HANG ON TO YOUR CHILDHOOD! He was true to this in his fashion, both in ways that delight me and in ways that do not. He loved the idea of a birthday celebration, being lavish about it, reminding people that they were once unborn and are now launched.”


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