Social Ills of the Victorian Age

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Bret Wolfe
EN 206
5 April 2012

England’s Victorian Age is known as a long period of peace and prosperity, marked by a sense of refinement and fervent British nationalism. During this era, only the Crimean War in 1854, and the Boer War in the final years of Queen Victoria’s reign, interrupted the peace that Britain experienced. The Victorian Age ushered in a Golden Age for the nation, instilling confidence in British subjects as their country made great strides in technology, commerce, and art. Underneath this gilded surface, however, were dark problems affecting the masses living in England’s cities, making everyday life a burden for these citizens despite their country’s progress. Rapid population growth caused the demand for jobs to quickly grow beyond the supply, keeping wages so low that they were barely adequate for subsistence. The majority of the jobs that were available were under harsh conditions in mines or city factories.

Many Victorian writers turned their attention to these conditions, using the power of their pens to bring attention to the most destitute in society. Of all the social injustices present in the Victorian era, perhaps the most denounced practice was that of child labor. Because wages were so low, it was often impossible for parents to provide for their children, forcing them to send children to work in the mines or factories, or as chimney sweeps, to earn money for their keep. A natural effect of child labor was a lack of education. In 1840 only about twenty percent of London children had any schooling. Some Victorian writers could speak of child labor from personal experience: Charles Dickens worked in a shoe-blacking factory as a twelve year-old, while his father and family lived in a debtor’s prison. In works such as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations, which depict situations taking place in London slums and involving harsh child labor, Dickens gave his readers insight about the plight of children...
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