King's College London
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Dickens, Scrooge and the Victorian poor

Dickens and the Anatomy debate

Printed page of text giving an account of the number of bodies supplied to anatomical schools by a bodysnatcher, identity obscured by the initials CDParliamentary interview with a bodysnatcherCharles Dickens was a parliamentary reporter at the very time the Anatomy Act was making its passage through Parliament, and a newspaper reporter during the parliamentary debates on the New Poor Law. He is very likely to have heard and recorded much of what passed in the debates on these subjects, and probably had few illusions about what the new Reform era might mean for the poor.

Little is known about how Dickens survived financially in the long breaks between parliamentary sessions during the various parliamentary upsets of the reform era. He would certainly have had to find other work, so it is interesting to note that he is said to have covered the trial of the London Burkers at the Old Bailey, during the Parliamentary recess at the end of 1831. A sixpenny book, or chapbook, published by the printer/publisher Jack Fairburn of Ludgate Broadway has been attributed to him, and there seems little reason to doubt the likelihood that it could be from his hand, or composed jointly with his father, who was also a journalist. The book has an illustrated frontispiece by George Cruikshank's father showing the Italian Boy, his murderers, and the site in Nova Scotia Gardens where more than one set of clothes was unearthed.

Dickens was also familiar with the burial ground in which the Italian Boy was eventually laid to rest, which lay behind the Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street. Dickens knew the workhouse very well, as he had lived nearby for several years.

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