2
THE PEOPLE

To a modern visitor, the ‘human landscape’, the crush of people in the streets, of Dickens’ London would seem disturbingly unfamiliar. Almost everything about the Londoners of the time – their clothes, hairstyles, language and even their smell – would bear little resemblance to the population of today. The first and perhaps most obvious thing an observer would notice about them would be their unhealthy appearance. Contemporary foreign visitors often mentioned the strapping build of Englishmen, the soft complexions of the women and the attractiveness of the children, and they may indeed have looked more robust than the peasantry of poorer European countries, but to us the great majority of people would seem smaller, thinner and more malnourished: the overworked adjective ‘pinched’ would apply to many faces. Although there were both brawny and overweight individuals, the appearance of many of their contemporaries reflected a lifetime of unhealthy and inadequate diet. The lined, shrivelled and toothless faces of the elderly (and some who seemed to be in their 70s would only have been about 40 years old) was witness to the fact that men and women could begin their working lives as small children and have no prospect of retirement. There would anyway be far fewer elderly people than we are accustomed to seeing. ‘Good Mrs Brown’, the hag who accosted Florence in a scene from Dombey and Son, might have been no older than middle-aged:

She was a very ugly old woman, with red rims round her eyes, and
a mouth that mumbled and chattered of itself when she was not
speaking. She was miserably dressed, and carried some skins over
her arm. She seemed to have followed Florence some little way at all

-36-

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Inside Dickens' London
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 6
  • 1 - The Place 13
  • 2 - The People 36
  • 3 - Shops and Shopping 66
  • 4 - City and Clerk 95
  • 5 - Transport and Travel 120
  • 6 - Entertainment 148
  • 7 - The Poor 216
  • 8 - Crime and Punishment 261
  • 9 - The Respectable 296
  • Gazetteer 335
  • Chronology 339
  • Index 341
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