Children’s conditions in the 19th century with Dickens and Hugo

Hey everyone!


That’s my work for the theme “The writer in his century”. Unfortunately, the girl with whom I worked with was sick on the day of the presentation so I was left all alone, in front of a very scary class and teacher…No, I’m kidding! ^^’ They aren’t THAT fierce…

So… Let me start (Btw: Yay! This blog got over 150 view this month and over 50 visitors, it’s starting to work great, thanks! 😀 ).

As you know, during the 19th century in England, the industrial revolution took place. At that time, children’s conditions got worse: They had to support their families so they worked in factories. Child labor was pretty normal back then and a child (sometimes as young as five years old) would work six days a week and over twelve hours a day. Work injuries were very common and they had no insurance: If they were hurt or sick, they were fired. Most of them had no education and many children were illiterate. In 1870, the government took care of it by making laws but the poorest families couldn’t afford an education until 1891 when the school fees disappeared. Living conditions were very difficult: Poor hygiene, unhealthy or no food, diseases, high infant mortality… The two most terrible and wide-spread diseases were cholera and tuberculosis (and there was no vaccines). Families were used to the idea of losing a child. The situation was pretty similar in France.

Many authors have denounced this industrialized society. Among them are Dickens and Hugo. Through their novels, they have described their society, the social injustices as well as the living conditions…

I) Dickens: Oliver Twist: Misery and Hunger (extract here!):

Through this extract, the author describes the misery in which Oliver Twist lived in and his hunger. Dickens also denounces child exploitation.

Basic storyline: Oliver Twist is a young orphan. At nine years old, he is sent to a workhouse where there is not much food, no affection and hard living conditions.


  • Irony (Black humor)
  • Lexical field of misery and hunger
  • Anaphoras
  • Denunciation of the society through a novel and its characters

II) Hugo, Les Misérables: Poverty and Family (extract here!):

Through this extract, the poverty in the 19th century and the attitude of poor families is shown. As I said earlier, infant mortality was very high so the families didn’t create significant bonds with their children. Most of them had many children. Here, Hugo denounces children being neglected and left alone.

Basic Storyline: Gavroche comes from a poor family who doesn’t love him. He lives in the streets and wanders around. He has no love, no food, no place to stay and finally, no education.


  • Lexical field of poverty and antithesis to underline the drastic living conditions of Gavroche
  • Narrative speech

Hugo denounced through his novel and Gavroche the children’s living conditions in the 19th century.

Thorough the century, laws have been established to protect children and to provide education. Authors have influenced their society by underlining their flaws and denouncing injustice. They have had a very positive impact and have played a role in the evolution of society. As we could witness it,  France and England coped with similar problems and showed similarities concerning their economic and social situation. Other authors such as Blake, Mark Twain, Flaubert, Voltaire or Oscar Wilde have been dealing with such topics.

(picture credit: Eudard-Angelo deviantart – no copyright infringement intended; for educational purposes)

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