How two chapters of Great Expectations reflect the influence of society

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How two chapters of Great Expectations reflect the influence of society

in the time it was set.

Charles Dickens is one of the most popular British novelists in the

history of literature with many of his characters being recognised in

British society today. His ability to combine pathos, comedy, and most

of all, his social satire has won him many contemporary readers.

Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812. At 12 he was sent to work for

a few months at a shoe-polish warehouse on the banks of the Thames

when his family hit financial difficulty. A few days later Dickens's

father was sent to jail for debt. He recalled this painful experience

in the early chapters of David Copperfield. While his father was

imprisoned, all his family except himself and his sister, who was

studying music, stayed at the Marshalsea Prison with his father, very

much like the Dorrit family at the beginning of Little Dorrit. By the

time he was 25 years old, Dickens was already famous.

Dickens's life influenced his writing a lot, and many of the novels he

wrote were based on real experiences during his lifetime. For example;

in 1832 he met Marie Beadnell and wanted to marry her but she rejected

him; the comic portrait of Flora Casby in Little Dorrit is said to

have been inspired by Dickens's meeting with Maria again later in


Dickens lived in Victorian times, times when there was a lot of focus

on social class and status. Victorian society was, for all the change

that was taking place, a stratified, hierarchical society with a great

gap between rich and poor. In his childhood Dickens was part of a

working class family who soon became low class due to their financial

difficulty. But when he became an adult he was of high social class

while his novels kept increasing in popularity and was earning him

money all the time. Dickens had been from one end of society to the

other and the contrast he saw was widely expressed in his novels.

Victorian society had a constantly growing urban population, and with

the pessimistic analyses of Thomas Malthus, this helped mould one of

the most notorious Victorian institutions, the workhouse. This was

based on a theoretical distinction between the "deserving" poor, who

owed their poverty to misfortune, and the "undeserving" poor, who were

to blame for their poverty: the workhouse was made as unpleasant as

possible to deter the latter from seeking refuge there. Tight-fisted

and callous administration made the institutions even worse, and the

target of some of the bitterest controversial literature of Charles

Dickens. Conditions gradually improved, but the dreaded "workhouse
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