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
A government report detailing the terrible conditions of the Metropolitan workhouses in 1848.
A table showing the food allocated to workhouse inmates in 1823 by a Chelmsford parish.
This chart shows the kind of work that inmates were forced to carry out in workhouses around the country.
Dickens's handwritten preface to the 'cheap edition' of Oliver Twist.
Booth's poverty map represents varying levels of poverty in different districts across London.
This illustration by George Cruikshank shows Oliver Twist asking for 'more'.
A photograph by Thomas Annan showing the tenements of Glasgow in 1868, some of the most squalid slums in Britain.
This is the ground plan of Epping Union Workhouse in Essex.