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Was Charles Dickens a social progressive?
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Dickens was not an active reformer

Although Dickens drew public attention to the plight of the working classes, he was not himself an active reformer.
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The Argument

Dickens used his fiction to draw attention to the issues faced by working-class people in England such as poor housing and sanitation, but he was not himself an active reformer. He did not have clear goals he wished to achieve in helping poor people, so in his writings can often appear benevolent but misguided, and instead allowed other people to focus on material help.

Counter arguments

It seems a little harsh to criticise Dickens for not being an active reformer. He used his writing to draw significant attention to public issues, and encouraged lawmakers in parliament and those who worked for charities - in other words, the people whose full-time jobs were active reform, so would be much better at it than Dickens - to help in more material ways. Not every social progressive is an active reformer, and it is perhaps enough that Dickens focused so much public attention on previously overlooked issues related to poverty.


Dickens' primary advocacy for the poor was through writing, not helping to make active changes. His goals in raising public attention through his novels were not always clear.

Rejecting the premises

Not everyone could be an active reformer, and Dickens was perhaps right to allow people who knew more about improving the poor's material conditions to do the actual reform work. His writing was still beneficial because it drew public attention to serious issues of poverty and poor living standards.


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 14 Jul 2020 at 10:58 UTC

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