Dickens and Victorian Times - a webquest
Oliver Twist - the film
Oliver Twist - the book





A. Charles DICKENS

I. His life

  1. When was he born ? in 1812.
  2. Why didn't he go to school at the age of ten ? Because of his family's limited financial resources.
  3. What happened to his father in 1824 ? and why ? He was imprisoned for debt.
  4. Where did Dickens work then ? at a blacking warehouse.
  5. Was that period important in his life ? Yes, a period of humiliation and neglect.
  6. Where did he go to live with his wife ? 6 months in America.
  7. How many children did he have ? 10.
  8. Did he always stay in England ? No, he went to France and to Italy.
  9. When did he die ? and how old was he ? in 1870 at the age of 58.
  10. Where is he buried ? in the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

II. His works - Find the corresponding titles in English :

1. Les Aventures de Mr Pickwick : The Pickwick Papers.
2. Conte de Noël : A Christmas Carol.

3. Le Carillon : The Chimes.
4. Le Grillon du Foyer : The Cricket of the Hearth.
5. Les Temps Difficiles : Hard Times.
6. Les Grandes Espérances : Great Expectations.
7. Notre Ami Commun : Our Mutual Friend.

B. Before seeing the film : who’s who in Oliver Twist

Find the right letter
Oliver Twist
a) The cleverest of Fagin’s young pickpockets. He talks and dresses like a grown man.
b) A brutal professional burglar brought up in Fagin’s gang
c) An orphan born in a workhouse
Mr Brownlow
d) One of Fagin’s pickpockets
Bill Sikes
e) A criminal who trains homeless children to pick pockets
Mr Bumble
f) Mr Sowerberry’s mean wife
The Artful Dodger
g) A well-off gentleman who is Oliver’s first benefactor
Charley Bates
h) One of Fagin and Sikes’associates, crass and not too bright
Toby Crackit
i) Mr Brownlow’s kindhearted housekeeper
Mrs Bedwin
j) The undertaker to whom Oliver is apprenticed
Noah Claypole
k) A pompous beadle who symbolizes self-righteousness, greed, hypocrisy and folly
Mr Sowerberry
l) A charity boy who bullies and mistreats Oliver
Mrs Sowerberry
m) A young prostitute and Bill Sikes’lover

C. A closer look at the poor’s life in the XIX century

1. The dark side of the Industrial Revolution

During that period, there was a massive increase in the number of factories and mills.
As a consequence, many people from the countryside began to move into the towns
looking for better paid work.
The factory owners built houses for these people.

A typical worker’s house :
- It was built really quickly and cheaply.
- There was no running water or toilets.
- It was crowded with 5 or more possibly crammed into a single room.
- The household rubbish was thrown out into the streets.
In general, these houses, like the new towns, were dirty and unhealthy. They were perfect breeding grounds for diseases like cholera, typhus, smallpox and dysentery.
A poor and dirty neighbourhood like this is called a slum.

2. Child labour

Many factory workers were children. They worked long hours and were often treated badly by the supervisors or overseers. Some of them were as young as 4 or 5.
Where they worked :
- In coal mines, they had to open doors for the wagons to pass. It was the easiest job, but it was very lonely and the place was usually damp and draughty. They could also carry loads of coal on their backs.
- In textile mills, they spent long working hours at the machines which caused some serious accidents.
- In match factories, phosphorous caused their teeth to rot and some died from the effect of breathing it into their lungs.
- They had to sweep chimneys in large houses and suffered many cuts, grazes and bruises on their knees, elbows and thighs because the passages of chimneys were very narrow.
- In the fields, the little bird scarers could work from 4 in the morning until 7 at night.
- In the streets, hordes of dirty, ragged children roamed the streets with no money and no home. They were often orphans. They stole or picked pockets to buy food.

3. Oliver was born in a “workhouse”. What was that ?

Who went to live in a workhouse ?

the poor orphans tramps
old people poor widows sick and deranged people

What was it like in the workhouse ?

The buildings looked like prisons.
Women were kept separate from the men, including their husbands.
Children were kept separately from adults – even from their own parents.
The inmates had tedious work to do (ie hard, tiring work) from early in the morning till late in the evening.
The meals were taken in silence, and no cutlery was provided – inmates had to use their fingers.
These meals were dull, tasteless and so meagre that they were described as “a slow process of starvation” (people were always hungry : see the famous episode in OliverTwist, I want some more).