Prisons & Crime

John Mullan discusses prisons and crime in Dickens's novels.

John Mullan discusses prisons and crime in Dickens's novels.

Simon Callow reads 'the death of Nancy' from Oliver Twist

Simon Callow reads 'the death of Nancy' from Oliver Twist

What does crime represent for Dickens? The dark realities of urban life - but also sensationalism, sentimentality, entertainment.

Watch the videos above and then explore the historical and literary sources below to find out more. Filmed at the Dickens Museum, London.

Historical & Literary Sources

Newspaper Article: 'Another Dreadful Murder', 1811

In 1811 there had been a brutal multiple murder in the east end of London, which brought about a debate about policing. This newspaper article describes what happened.

 

Newspaper Article: 'Extraordinary Attempt at Murder and Suicide', 1842

This article reports an 'extraordinary attempt at murder and suicide' that had occurred in London in 1842.

 

A Day on Board the "Defence" Hulk by Mayhew, 1862

These pages from Henry Mayhew's, The Criminal Prisons of London (1862) describe in sinister detail the conditions experienced by the average prisoner on board the hulks.

 

Diagram of the Interior of a Hulk, 1862

This is a cross-section of a hulk called the Defence, published in Henry Mayhew's 'The Criminal Prisons of London', in 1862.

 

Execution of a 12 Year Old Boy, 1829

Executions were often advertised or reported in broadsides such as this one, which describes the crimes and confession of a twelve year old boy.

 

Dickens's letter on execution, 1849

In 1849, Charles Dickens, along with 30 thousand other spectators, watched the hanging of a notorious pair of murderers, and was appalled by what he saw.