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Dickens and DemolitionLiterary Afterlives and Mid-Nineteenth Century Urban Development$
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Joanna Hofer-Robinson

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474420983

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474420983.001.0001

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Paperwork and Philanthropy: Dickens’s Involvement in Metropolitan Improvement

Paperwork and Philanthropy: Dickens’s Involvement in Metropolitan Improvement

(p.130) Chapter 4 Paperwork and Philanthropy: Dickens’s Involvement in Metropolitan Improvement
Dickens and Demolition

Joanna Hofer-Robinson

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter analyses Dickensian afterlives in nineteenth-century philanthropic works alongside an investigation of Dickens’s personal involvement in a scheme to improve London’s provision of housing stock for the East End poor. Dickens collaborated with a number of his social network on this project, including Angela Burdett Coutts and Dr Thomas Southwood Smith. His chief contributions were bureaucratic, and, contemporaneously with this work, he explored tensions between the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of paperwork in Bleak House. Thus, this chapter suggests that Dickens’s practical and administrative involvement in charity work informed his imaginative representation of the utility and futility of paperwork, and how he conceptualised the effectiveness of different forms of writing. Dickens famously contended for pet causes in his fiction, but the various ways in which Dickens’s works were appropriated by other people, and recontextualised to promote or to criticise philanthropic projects, reveal that his writing was not always useful in the sense that he imagined. Indeed, the instrumentality of Dickens’s fiction to effect charitable projects was often indirect. For example, philanthropists, including Mary Carpenter and Octavia Hill, curated literary afterlives to enhance the effectiveness of their arguments in published treatises, even though the novels are not always relevant to their causes.

Keywords:   Dickens, Philanthropy, London, Bleak House, bureaucracy, afterlives, Angela Burdett Coutts, Octavia Hill, reform, networks

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