Poverty & Wealth

John Mullan discusses wealth & poverty in Dickens's novels

John Mullan discusses wealth & poverty in Dickens's novels


Simon Callow reads from Oliver Twist - Oliver asks for 'more'

Simon Callow reads from Oliver Twist - Oliver asks for 'more'


By the 1830s, Dickens was a man of rising fortunes, but he knew that just below his comfortable middle class readership lay the abyss of poverty. Dickens had experience of this himself; his father was sent to debtors' prison when he was younger and Dickens had to work in a blacking factory. The threat of poverty is a constant presence in Dickens's fiction.

Watch the films above to see John Mullan discussing wealth and poverty in Dickens's novels; and Simon Callow reading from Oliver Twist - Oliver asks for 'more'. Filmed at the Charles Dickens Museum, London. 

Then explore the historical and literary sources to find out more.

Historical & Literary Sources

Government report on Metropolitan Workhouses, 1848

A government report detailing the terrible conditions of the Metropolitan workhouses in 1848.


Workhouse Food, 1823

A table showing the food allocated to workhouse inmates in 1823 by a Chelmsford parish.


Workhouse Labour, 1852

This chart shows the kind of work that inmates were forced to carry out in workhouses around the country.


Preface to the 'Cheap Edition' of Oliver Twist

Dickens's handwritten preface to the 'cheap edition' of Oliver Twist.


Booth's Poverty Map of London, 1892

Booth's poverty map represents varying levels of poverty in different districts across London.


Illustration of Oliver Twist asking for 'more'

This illustration by George Cruikshank shows Oliver Twist asking for 'more'.


Photograph of a Glasgow Slum, 1868

A photograph by Thomas Annan showing the tenements of Glasgow in 1868, some of the most squalid slums in Britain.


Floor Plan of Epping Union Workhouse, 1837

This is the ground plan of Epping Union Workhouse in Essex.