Black and white profile portrait of Charles Dickens

Dickens and the Victorian city

Read more about this research project, supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England

...I perfectly recollect that, on our being at Portsmouth together while he was writing Nickleby, he recognised the exact shape of the military parade seen by him as a very infant, on the same spot, a quarter of a century before.

John Forster, Life of Charles Dickens (1871-74)

On the 7 February 1812, Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth at 13 Mile End Terrace.

He is synonymous with the concept of the Victorian City and its major issues: poverty, crime and urbanisation. Portsmouth was a microcosm of London and shared the city’s concerns.

The significance of Portsmouth in Dickens’s work is often overlooked. To think of Dickens and the Victorian City is to think of Dickens and London. While it is impossible to underestimate the importance of London in his writing, readers, critics and enthusiasts inevitably ignore the indirect influence of those other English places Dickens lived, worked, played and – in the case of Portsmouth – where he was born.

About the project

Dickens and the Victorian city explores the parallels between Portsmouth and 19th-century London through Portsmouth’s associations with Charles Dickens, his family, and his theatrical, novelistic and philanthropic interests.

The project’s website and book were written by Dr Patrica Pulham & Dr Brad Beaven, and the project was supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The project focuses on several themes, including

  • The impression made by Portsmouth on the young Charles Dickens, his visits to the city later in his life, and the references he makes to it in his writing
  • Dickens’s perceptions of the ‘Criminal Class’ in London and how these influenced contemporary views of criminal behaviour in Portsmouth
  • Poverty and the poor in London and Portsmouth, and Dickens’s views on workhouses and the legislation affecting poverty relief
  • Dickens’s attitude to the Victorian approach to schooling and his belief that education (whether state, charity or church schools) could provide an escape from poverty – Portsmouth philanthropic organisations the Beneficial Society School and the ragged school founded by local shoemaker John Pounds both played important roles
  • The limited life choices available to women, their involvement with vice in Portsmouth, and Dickens’s relationship with his wife Catherine
  • The development in the forms of entertainment offered in London and Portsmouth, such as theatre and music hall, and Dickens’s contribution through the stage adaptations of his novels and his popular public readings

Visit the Dickens & The Victorian City project website

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