Dickens and Education

Education for the masses albeit a basic education was created by the 1870 Elementary Education Act.

It created local school boards that were to be responsible for the ‘provision of elementary education’.

Some of them, however, had ‘significantly altered the legislators’ original concept of elementary schooling in terms of buildings, equipment, curricula and age range’  by establishing higher classes, ‘higher tops’ and even separate higher grade schools for older pupils who showed ability and commitment. A few had gone still further and created a new type of evening school for adults.
Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history www.educationengland.org.uk/history

Which I suppose where ‘higher education’ comes from, but was it all in vain I ask?

Claire Tomalin who recently published a great biography of Charles Dickens has stated that

‘children are not being taught to read with the attention span necessary to appreciate the novelist’s works’. Claire Tomalin

There is no doubt (and probably more so under this government) that Dickens’s depiction of an unequal society is still of much relevance.

Tomalin goes onto to say that children were now unable to appreciate this due to:

“being reared on dreadful television programmes, Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that’s a pity.”

I tend to agree, education seems to have fallen by the wayside with such vocational courses as ‘Beauty Therapy’ are available and encouraged for our youth.

Hopefully the celebrations of Dickens 200th Birthday will encourage more to read his fine works. Tuesday is the big day when we celebrate Dickens’s bi-centenary.

The celebrations will include a street party in Portsmouth, Hampshire, where the novelist was born, a wreath-laying ceremony at his grave in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, London, attended by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. A Global Dickens Read-a-thon will also take place in 24 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe, beginning in Australia with a reading from Dombey and Son.

Clare Tomalin who will be at Westminster Abbey for the wreath laying event goes on to say:

“after Shakespeare, the greatest creator of characters in English. He has gone on entertaining people since the 1830s and his characters’ names are known all over the world. “And because of the way he wrote, he adapts very well for theatre and even people who do not read him know about him from films, the TV and musicals. “You only have to look around our society and everything he wrote about in the 1840s is still relevant – the great gulf between the rich and poor, corrupt financiers, corrupt MPs, how the country is run by old Etonians, you name it, he said it.” Clare Tomalin

Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life has been widely acclaimed by literary critics and was shortlisted for 2011’s Costa Book Awards biography prize.

  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (October 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594203091
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Dickens and London at the Museum of London

A new exhibition entitled ‘Dickens and London’ opens at the Museum of London. It will  reveal how Charles Dickens and London are bound together. The Dickens family moved to Camden Town in London in 1822, John Dickens, the father and head of the household continually lived beyond his means and was eventually imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Southwark London in 1824 for owing £40. This left the young Charles to earn some money.

The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label, and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens

I think Charles dickens brought the grime and hardship of London in the Victorian Era alive for all who read his works. Indeed Walter Bagehot in 1858 observed how Dickens’s ‘genius’ was ‘suited to the delineation of city life’ and noted how he described London ‘like a special correspondent for posterity’ and so he did.

The ‘Dickens and London’ exhibition is arranged thematically.

William Powell Frith’s famous and arresting portrait of the author, painted in 1859 and commissioned by Dickens’s close friend and biographer John Forster, is given pride of place at the entrance to the show. Describing the work, the artist felt that he had depicted a man “who had reached the topmost rung of a very high ladder, and was perfectly aware of his position”. Alongside it, small ‘carte de visite’ photographs bring one face-to-face with Dickens’s family, friends and acquaintances.

The central display space builds a city of the imagination through projections and subtle lighting. Dickens called London his ‘magic lantern’ and visitors glimpse the world that the author might have seen or imagined as he walked the streets at night. Dickens described his mind as a “sort of capitally prepared and highly sensitive [photographic] plate”. As he walked he mapped out the intricate storylines of his novels. Just as his fictional characters make their way from one place to another, so he followed in their footsteps across the real city. On the walls, coloured to reflect the dirt and grime of the Victorian city, paintings and drawings capture the appearance of London and Londoners. A few key objects inhabit this space including a watchman’s box from Furnival’s Inn, one of the old Inns of Court where Dickens had chambers as a young man, and a door from Newgate Prison associated with the Gordon Riots. Floating above are signs from London shops and taverns and alphabet letters that are beginning to shape themselves into words and phrases. They lead towards the manuscript of Bleak House, open at the very first page with its evocative description of the fog that has enveloped London. The exhibition includes other manuscripts including Great Expectations, Dombey and Son and David Copperfield which give a fascinating insight into how Dickens worked creatively. Alex Werner, Head of History Collections at the Museum of London.

There have been some good reviews:

“The Museum of London’s new exhibition will enthrall.” The Times

Items being exhibited will include paintings, photographs, costume and objects will illustrate themes that Dickens wove into his works, while rarely seen manuscripts including Bleak House and David Copperfield.

Sound like a must and in on until 12 Jan.

A little conversation – Part 1

Conversation, something we take for granted. However how many people interrupt, talk over or generally talk about nothing!

Routledges Manual of Etiquette offers some great insight to conversation and its proper place in society:

Let your conversation be adapted as skilfully as may be to your company. Some men make a point of talking commonplaces to all ladies alike, as if a woman could only be a trifle.

I guess this is the ‘talking down’ to women that is seen by men in many of the Victorian dramas we see but is that really a surprise when women were not held up as equals as they supposedly are today. (I say supposedly as wages for a man and women doing certain jobs are less). It seems strange to me that with a Queen and a very successful one at that married women had limited rights, the husband was in charge of her legally and bound to protect her, and she was expected again legally to defer to the judgement of the husband. In fact everything hat a women brought into a marriage was the husbands even when divorced. Even if you were able to get a divorce opportunities for women to work was generally limited to the household, domestic service.

In talking with ladies of ordinary education, avoid political, scientific, or commercial topics, and choose only such subjects as are likely to be of interest to them. Remember that people take more interest in their own affairs than in anything else which you can name. If you wish your conversation to be thoroughly agreeable, lead a mother to talk of her children, a young lady of her last ball, an. Author of his forthcoming book, or an artist of his exhibition picture.

This is a very good point even today and I guess most of us probably still do this anyway, I mean what point is there in talking politics or literature to someone who has no knowledge or interest in it.

Having furnished the topic, you need only listen; and you are sure to be thought not only agreeable, but thoroughly sensible and well-informed. Be careful, however, on the other hand, not always to make a point of talking to persons upon general matters relating to their professions. To show an interest in their immediate concerns is flattering; but to converse with them too much about their own arts looks as if you thought them ignorant of other topics.

So the conversation needs to be a balanced one.

Do not use a classical quotation in the presence of ladies without apologising for, or translating it. Even this should only be done when no other phrase would aptly express your meaning. Whether in the presence of ladies or gentlemen, much display of learning is pedantic and out-of-place.

Indeed and as they say down my way ‘de gustibus non est disputandum’!!

There is a certain distinct but subdued tone of voice which is peculiar to only well-bred persons. A loud voice is both disagreeable and vulgar. It is better to err by the use too low low a tone than too loud a tone.

Loud shouty people especially when on a train on bus journey, why can;t they realise they are making everyone’s life a little harder and just shut up.

Remember that all “slang” is vulgar. It has become of late unfortunately prevalent, and we have known even Indies pride themselves on the saucy chique with which they adopt certain Americanisms, and other cant phrases of the day. Such habits cannot be too severely reprehended. They lower the tone of society and the standard of thought. It is a great mistake to suppose that slang is in any way a substitute for wit. The use of proverbs is equally vulgar in conversation ; and puns, unless they rise to the rank of witticisms, are to be scrupulously avoided. There is no greater nuisance in society than a dull and persevering punster.

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