What remains of the London that Dickens knew? Not much. The characters are gone and the life-breath of what gave them reason does not exist anymore. .
London is more or less still Victorian if we consider the buildings, above is my house in London and if you live in a typical London house left over from the Victorian period then you will obviously understand that time much more.As someone said "The past is still with us in ;London just look around".
The man who made Victorian London live was Dickens. . Maybe without Dickens we'd be left solely with what remains, the architecture.
Writers and critics tend to think that Dickens had an incredible imagination as regards his characters but when asked if he imagined and invented his characters he replied "All my characters are people I actually met" .
This is obvious if we consider that unlike today London was a city where "ways to be" or to think were not forthcoming as with the television/publicity generation of today where most ideas and reasons to be are "second hand".thye point is thatr media "role models" didn't exist so what seems to us far fetched today as regards the writers characters was simply the norm then.
There are many who try to intellectualise Dickens into more than what he was but the most important thing is to realise that he was first and foremost a great writer of observation. He wrote about London because that was what he knew and was expert on and it wasn't really a choice.
At the same time as Dickens there was Karl Marx.
Basically Marx was the moral counterpart to Dickens as the real Marxist is to the Neo-Lib today. Like the Neo Lib do gooder of today Dickens sought to highlight injustice but didn't know what the real cause was. Marx on the other hand understood the cause of economic misery. Dickens knew the suffering but not the cause.
The cause was that workers were basically slaves to capitalists. Marx said "When England was the wonder of the world it was also the workhouse of the world". Marx added that the American slave in the cotton states of America was healthier and fitter than a "free" Londoner in the Rookery.
From Thomas Beames The Rookeries of London (1850): "…the worst sink of iniquity was The Rookery, a place or rather district, so named, whose shape was triangular, bounded by Bainbridge Street, George Street and High Street, St Giles… the colony, called The Rookery, was like an honeycomb, perforated by a number of courts and blind alleys, cul de sac, without any outlet other than the entrance. Here were the lowest lodging houses in London, inhabited by the various classes of thieves common to large cities… were banded together… Because all are taken in who can pay their footing, the thief and the prostitute are harboured among those who only crime is poverty, and there is thus always a comparatively secure retreat for him who has outraged his country's laws. Sums here are paid, a tithe of which, if well laid out, would provide at once a decent and an ample lodging for the deserving poor; and that surplus,which might add to the comfort and better the condition of the industrious, finds its way into the pocket of the middleman…"
London's poor tried to scrape a living doing jobs which one can only imagine the Devil himself thought up. River Men made their living from fishing from drowned bodies, and Scavangers searched the sewers and rubbish tips for coins or rope to sell on. London's docks expanded rapidly. Smaller boats, mainly carrying cargoes such as coal and grain from other British ports, still used riverside wharves, but congestion on the Thames was such that purpose-built docks were needed to handle the big ocean-going vessels. Whole new villages and communities grew up to serve the docks, but poverty was endemic because the wages were extremely low.
London became an increasingly stratified city, with a relatively prosperous West End and a poor East End.
Model dwellings to house the poor began to appear - the American philanthropist, George Peabody, left substantial funds for their construction - but never enough to make any serious dent in the growing problem of the slums. In workhouses, families were split up and made to wear drab clothing deliberately intended to destroy individuality. A standard workhouse haircut also made them instantly recognizable if they went out in public. Inside they worked pointlessly at stone-breaking and oakum-picking. The situation gave rise to many philanthropic initiatives, such as the founding in 1878 of William Booth's Salvation Army, which set up soup kitchens and hospitals to help the very poor. Ultimately, the extreme poverty in London was to have massive and worldwide repercussions: Karl Marx's observations on its causes and solutions were to become the basis for Communist-inspired revolutions in several parts of the world. Marx understood the link between work and profit and spent most of his days in the British museum reading room building up his theories on what he thought would without doubt become a world revolution.Dickens on the other hand had little idea of what would be the result of people living in absolute poverty in the city of London.Here Marx found what he was looking for, what he needed,” said the German socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht. “The bricks and mortar for his work Capital, which could only have been written in London.”
The Britain that Marx was exiled to was the US of its day. The Union Jack already flew over a large part of the world, and during Marx’s lifetime more colonies would be conquered. British capitalism was the power of the world’s first great globalisation.
The world’s goods were increasingly carried in British ships. World finance was centred on the City of London and what Disraeli, the Tory politician, called its “mighty loan managers, on whose fiat the fate of kings and empires sometimes depend”. And if economic power was not enough, British capitalism could always depend on the Royal Navy to open up routes for trade.
Britain was also changing within. The 1851 census recorded that 51 percent now lived in the towns. No other major economy would achieve this before the 20th century. London was the world’s greatest city, with a population of 3.8 million by 1881. In the countryside the peasantry had all but disappeared. Aristocrats owned the land and rented it to farmers.
But the landowners were themselves capitalists. They developed their properties for profit. The dukes of Bedford, Norfolk and Westminster earned huge rents from the areas of London that Marx walked around.
Even if they still used ancient titles and enjoyed fancy dress, they merged with the lords of finance and industry to create a ruling class that was united.
But if capitalism allowed the accumulation of wealth that Marx analysed in Capital, it also brought misery, some of which he experienced. In its first years in the capital the Marx family lived a life of “bourgeois misery” in lodgings in Dean Street, Soho.
London concentrated not only wealth but poverty and degradation. There were said to be 3,000 brothels in metropolitan London at this time.London Brothels could give satisfaction to nearly any perversion a French visitor said.
There were many times when the Marx family was reduced to living on bread and potatoes. “I live in pawn,” Marx said. It was only help from Engels in Manchester that enabled them to survive.Engels was the owner of a factrory but syupported the ideas of Marx.
Even so it was a life of ill health, the death of children and low morale until they finally managed to escape to Hampstead in north London in 1856. Yet his personal troubles still continued. His wife, Jenny, had a stillborn child, and later she caught smallpox.
They would also have to deal with what happened as capitalism in Britain and other countries shifted towards monopoly and state intervention. These were possibilities he wrote about, but only after his death would the trends become clearer.
There is another dimension to Marx’s time in London—his contact with the working class. Some accounts minimise this, making Marx an academic seeing the world from the British Museum. But no serious socialist develops that way.
Engels led the way in 1843 when he not only observed factory conditions in the north but made contact with radical Chartists. Engels dedicated his book on the condition of the working class “to the working classes of Great Britain”.
Reading it, Marx saw a description of the working class as a political force the like of which he had not yet met in Germany or France.
In Europe before 1848, movements of protest drew on artisan and craft workers. But in Britain the working class movement was different. It drew on large numbers of factory workers who barely existed in the rest of Europe.
The potential power of these “first born sons of modern industry” could be seen in the 1840s in their support for the Chartist movement for working class political rights.
But it could also be seen in the world’s first general strike in 1842, and it could be seen in their fight for union rights. The British trade unions in the 1840s were better organised than trade unions in the rest of Europe.
Marx first briefly visited London and Manchester with Engels in 1845, and made contact with the Chartists. When he returned in 1849 there were new contacts, and in 1850 The Communist Manifesto was published in English in the Red Republican newspaper.
Marx’s direct links with the British working class movement weakened in the 1850s. They grew again in the 1860s when he became secretary of the First International.
These more engaged years were the context for major developments in his political analysis. Here we find Marx thinking through issues like that of racism, as he considered the anti-Irish culture that existed in parts of the working class. Here too in 1871, when defending the Paris Commune, he saw that socialism could not just be about seizing state power. Workers had to make it for themselves.
Even the completion of the first volume of Capital in 1867 reflected the greater urgency of these years of more active engagement.
Theory does not thrive on air, least of all the air of the British Museum. Liebknecht was right—it was in Britain and London that Marx found the “bricks and mortar” for his work.