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English Literature

Context

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The 19th-century social, historical and cultural setting

The key social and cultural influences of the time were:

  1. Ambition

    In 1859, Samuel Smiles published his book Self-Help, which told people that if they worked hard they could improve their station in life. The 19th century was the age of the 'self-made man'.

  2. Social class

    In Victorian times, society was strictly layered - not only into rich and poor, or even upper, middle and lower class, but hundreds of 'grades'. People were expected to 'know their place', and the Church taught them to be content in their 'station'. Dickens did not like the effects of social class.

  3. Social problems

    At the time, many people were becoming aware of the need to improve the condition in which the poor found themselves. Dickens was a great supporter of social reform [reform: Change for the better, often within politics or society. ] - especially in education and prisons.

  4. Church and religion

    In Victorian times, Britain was overwhelmingly Christian. The Church dominated religion and the morals of the time. Dickens, however, disapproved of the power the Church had over people's lives.

  5. Family

    Family was at the centre of Victorian society. People had large, extended families - although Dickens was aware that not all families were happy families.

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