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date: 22 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses Dickens’s career-long engagement with the ills of mid-nineteenth-century society. It stresses the importance of the 1832 Reform Act in determining Dickens’s limited engagement with the political process and creating a broad, socially conscious readership for his novels. Dickens neither created an agenda for reform nor achieved specific legislative change. His engagement with reform was less a campaign than a dialogue, enlarging the knowledge of his readers and increasing their commitment to change. He subverted the emerging structures of power less by direct attack and more by addressing his broad readership as equal moral beings, capable of challenging the agents and agencies of authority, whether in political action or private philanthropy.

Keywords: prisons, education, public health, prostitution, poor laws, philanthropy, political reform

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