The Cockney and the Prostitute: Dickens from Sketches by Boz to Oliver Twist

  • David Payne
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Early Victorians generally agreed that the northern industrial city of the 1830s and 1840s — Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham, and especially Manchester — was a phenomenon of modernity, “the type of a new power on the earth,” as the London People’s Journal exclaimed in 1847.1 The pressing question concerning this new city was whether the mysterious and powerful processes at work in and on it were constructive or destructive. Such was the implicit topic, for example, at an October 1843 meeting of literary luminaries at the just-completed Free Trade Hall, Manchester, with speeches by Richard Cobden and Benjamin Disraeli among others, several thousand in the audience, and Charles Dickens presiding. The purpose of the occasion’s “brilliant assemblage of beauty and fashion” was the raising of funds for the Athenaeum, a philanthropic and educational organization conceived by Cobden and others in 1835 as the middle-class counterpart to the fashionable Royal Manchester Institution and the working-class Mechanics Institution, but struggling by 1842 with lackluster membership and attendance as well as a heavy mortgage on its recently completed headquarters.2 Class conciliation was the common goal of all three of these organizations: in the words of the Mechanics Institution’s Annual Report for 1836, though it and the Athenaeum each “has its separate sphere of action, the interests of both will ever be promoted by the mutual cooperation and friendly intercourse which the Directors trust will always subsist between the two Institutions.”3


Literary Field Free Indirect Discourse London Street Commodity Form Implicit Topic 
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© David Payne 2005

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  • David Payne

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