Dickens describes the prison as essentially a house of death:. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is … Talk to THEM of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Written when Dickens was 24, this piece nevertheless reflects a number of obsessions that he would carry with him into his mature journalism and fiction. Newgate itself featured in four of his later novels Oliver Twist , A Tale of Two Cities , Barnaby Rudge and Great Expectations ; while in life Dickens made a point of visiting new prisons as they opened, or when he heard that some new style of incarceration or correction was being employed.

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During the 19 th century, London was home to some of the most cruel and ruthless environments in Victorian England. However, for many, there were none quite as unforgiving as the dreaded Newgate gaol. Given its status in London both during, and after, its time as a gaol, it is unsurprising to discover that the dreaded Newgate had a profound influence on literature.

This could be seen in the growing popularity of the criminal broadside, which provided entertainment for a variety of readers, and as discussed in a previous blog post , marked the beginnings of what would become the novel. However, this blog post will focus on the influence that Newgate gaol had on one of the most celebrated authors of all time. Charles Dickens was known worldwide for his unwavering support for the working class, his calls for social reform, and his marvelous body of work which highlights an array of social and political issues.

However, prior to his success and long before the world became familiar with the likes of Magwitch or Fagin, a year-old Dickens took part in a research trip that would help to shape his entire career and ensure his place in history. On the 5 th of November , Dickens wrote to his wife Catherine to tell her of his research trip, which consisted of a visit to Newgate gaol and the House of Correction.

See the Full Collection Here. The relationship between Dickens and the infamous gaol has been very well documented. For Dickens, the inclusion of crime and punishment became a method of encouraging reform, and as a writer, he became known for his empathy towards the working class and his feelings about crime and punishment.

Written in , two years after the visit to Newgate, Oliver Twist displays an array of criminal activity. Throughout the novel there are various connections to Newgate, ranging from the inclusion of the Newgate Calendar, to the presence of gaol itself. The first can be seen through the introduction of the Artful Dodger and the description of the juveniles Dickens met during his visit to Newgate.

In Oliver Twist , the Artful Dodger is described as:. One of the queerest-looking boys that Oliver had ever seen. He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough, and as dirty as a juvenile as one would wish to see Dickens, , p.

On trial for pocket-picking; and fourteen such terrible little faces we never beheld- There was not one redeeming feature among them- not a glance of honesty Dickens, , p. Interestingly, the two descriptions focus on the facial features of both the Artful Dodger and the juveniles, and imply that they possess harsh and disturbing characteristics.

Both illustrations epitomize the heartbreaking last hours of a condemned man, and expose the dark, lonely and vulnerable situation which was hidden from the public eye. After 23 years, it may seem a little odd to suggest that Dickens continued to be influenced by his visit to Newgate. Nevertheless, his novel Great Expectations provides evidence which suggests that this was in fact the case. Intriguingly, none of the following examples are set within Newgate gaol, despite its repeated presence in the novel.

In his description of the setting, Dickens states that he:. As the novel progresses, a further connection is discovered, though this time it can be found between Miss Havisham and Estella, who share a loveless and brittle relationship.

Allowing her heartbreak and hate to consume her, Miss Havisham unwittingly destroys her remaining chance of love by encouraging Estella to embody devious and cruel principles. Consequently, their relationship as a mother and daughter is devoid of affection and the two continue their involvement through loyalty, rather than love. During his visit to Newgate, Dickens happened to observe a meeting between a mother and daughter who, much like Miss Havisham and Estella, appear to have allowed their situations to affect their relationship.

His interest in the seemingly uneventful meeting suggests that he found the dynamics of the relationship thought-provoking. Therefore, the idea that he may have revisited the exchange and used it to inspire the characters of Miss Havisham and Estella, is certainly conceivable.

It is clear from the examples provided, that the 5 th of November was a defining date in the career of Charles Dickens. Cruikshank, George. Accessed 5 January Dickens, Charles.

Accessed 3 January Eytinge, Sol, Jr. Furniss, Harry. Accessed 7 January Keily, Jackie. Accessed 9 January Trujillo, Caitlin. Great article and a truly fascinating subject. Like Like. Like Liked by 1 person. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account.

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A Visit to Newgate

Your browser does not support JavaScript! Contact with death even in its least terrible shape, is solemn and appalling. How much more awful is it to reflect on this near vicinity to the dying - to men in full health and vigour, in the flower of youth or the prime of life, with all their faculties and perceptions as acute and perfect as your own; but dying, nevertheless - dying as surely - with the hand of death imprinted upon them as indelibly - as if mortal disease had wasted their frames to shadows, and corruption had already begun! It was with some such thoughts as these that we determined, not many weeks since, to visit the interior of Newgate - in an amateur capacity, of course; and, having carried our intention into effect, we proceed to lay its results before our readers, in the hope - founded more upon the nature of the subject, than on any presumptuous confidence in our own descriptive powers - that this paper may not be found wholly devoid of interest.


Charles Dickens "A Visit To Newgate"

Dickens's Sketches by Boz , Household Edition, vol. Scanned image and text by Philip V. In one corner of this singular-looking den, was a yellow, haggard, decrepit old woman, in a tattered gown that had once been black, and the remains of an old straw bonnet, with faded ribbon of the same hue, in earnest conversation with a young girl — a prisoner, of course — of about two-and-twenty. It is impossible to imagine a more poverty-stricken object, or a creature so borne down in soul and body, by excess of misery and destitution, as the old woman. The old woman was talking in that low, stifled tone of voice which tells so forcibly of mental anguish; and every now and then burst into an irrepressible sharp, abrupt cry of grief, the most distressing sound that ears can hear. The girl was perfectly unmoved. Hardened beyond all hope of redemption, she listened doggedly to her mother's entreaties, whatever they were: and, beyond inquiring after 'Jem,' and eagerly catching at the few halfpence her miserable parent had brought her, took no more apparent interest in the conversation than the most unconcerned spectators.


Jeremy, Good discussion of Dickens's reactions to his visit to Newgate prison. You select good passages to illustrate your observations, and share some good insights. I believe the most creative part was the description of the inmate on death row last hours. The narrator does an extremely good job in showing the misery. I enjoyed reading "A Visit to Newgate". I thought that Dickens was able to make the reader feel for these people. Even though the young boys did not seem to care that they were in the prison, I still felt for them.


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