In our discussion of A Christmas Carol in Engl 170-01, I mentioned Ruth Richardson's Death, Dissection, and the Destitute, which tells the story of the 1832 Anatomy Act, under which the dissecting table could become the destination of those who died in the workhouse.
Richardson has a new online exhibition on the website of King's College, London titled Dickens, Scrooge and the Victorian Poor. The site provides useful context for understanding Dickens' view of poverty, individuals, and the state in early Victorian England, including information about the Anatomy Act and the Poor Law Amendment Act.
Unknown User (mrb21)
"Dickens's efforts to improve the harsh New Poor Law which established the punitive workhouse system, were not confined to his fiction: he worked throughout his life to change attitudes towards poverty, and to alleviate its sorrows. Dickens had experienced hunger and deprivation himself, and he never forgot it. He recognised the humanity of the pauper and the beggar, and refused to behave like the Pharisee in the story of the Good Samaritan, and cross over the way."
This quote from the Dickens, Scrooge and the Victorian Poor page confuses me a bit, seeing as we talked about how small the changes in A Christmas Carol are. Scrooge does a few nice things for the poor, giving that big turkey (roast?) to Crachit on Christmas Day and raising his wages and giving him a little more coal for the fireplace. Sure, he becomes a 'second father' to Tiny Tim, but overall Scrooge seems to glean the most benefit from this arrangement - becoming a much, much happier individual, getting the benefit of his nephew and Tiny Tim's company, and living rest assured that someone will care about him after he dies. It seems like Dickens's book really isn't all that radical, yet this quote make him seem like a champion and activist for the rights of the poor.
Perhaps it is simply his willingness to bring any attention at all to the plight of the poor that makes him a 'champion for his time' even if he fails the modern test for activism?