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Dickens Describes The Homeless

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Dickens Describes The Homeless

Post by Karen on Sat 28 Aug 2010 - 7:16

"A Night Scene in London."

Under this heading, Mr. Dickens describes, in Household Words, what he witnessed one night outside the Whitechapel workhouse:

On the 5th of last November, I, the conductor of this journal, accompanied by a friend, strayed into Whitechapel. It was a miserable evening, very dark, muddy, and raining hard. We had forgotten the mud and rain in slowly walking and looking about us, when we found ourselves before the workhouse. Crouched against the wall of the workhouse, in the dark street, on the muddy pavement stones, with the rain raining upon them, were five bundles of rags. They were motionless, they had no resemblance to the human form.
"What is this?" said my companion.
"Some miserable people shout out of the casual ward, I think," said I. We went to the ragged bundle nearest the workhouse door, and I touched it. No movement replying, I gently shook it. The rags began to be slowly stirred within, and by little and little a head was unshrouded - the head of a young woman of three and twenty, as I should judge, gaunt with want and foul with dirt, but not naturally ugly.
"Tell us," said I, stooping down, "why you are lying here?"
"Because I can't get into the workhouse." She spoke in a faint, dull way, and had no curiosity left. She looked dreamily at the black sky and the falling rain, but never looked at me or my companion.
"Were you here last night?"
"Yes; all last night and the night afore."
"Do you know any of these others?"
"I know her next but one; she was here last night, and she told me she come out of Essex. I don't know more of her."
"You were here all last night, but you have not been here all day?"
"No; not all day."
"Where have you been all day?"
"About the streets."
"What have you had to eat?"
"If you had a shilling to get some supper and a lodging, would you know where to get it?"
"Yes, I could do that."
I put the money into her hand, and she feebly rose and went away. She never thanked me, never looked at me, but melted away in the miserable night in the strangest manner I ever saw. One by one I spoke to all the five. In every one interest and curiosity were extinct as in the first. They were all dull and languid. No one made any sort of proferrion or complaint, no one cared to look at me, no one thanked me.

Source: The Quincy Daily Whig, February 27, 1856, Page 2

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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