Drinking With Dickens

If student loan isn’t being spent on fresh food then what is it being spent on? Alcohol might be one intelligent suggestion, a suggestion that Dickens wasn’t opposed to either. Alcohol is prevalent in various forms throughout Dickens’ novels, from his characters’ moderate (but recurrent) visits to public houses to the suggestion of Bill Sikes’ more concerning alcoholism; “he had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke" (Oliver Twist 1838).

Bill Sikes, Oliver Twist

David Perdue’s ‘Charles Dickens Page’ suggests that Dickens had little time for the Temperance Movement and gives us a quotation from a letter Dickens wrote in reply to an “irate advocate of abstinence” in 1847:

"I have no doubt whatever that the warm stuff in the jug at Bob Cratchit's Christmas dinner had a very pleasant effect on the simple party. I am certain that if i had been at Mr. Fezziwig's ball, I should have take a little negus - and possibly not a little beer - and been none the worse for it, in heart or head. I am very sure that the working people of this country have not too many household enjoyments, and I could not, in my fancy or in actual deed, deprive them of this one when it is so innocently shared."

Dickens indicates here that he sees nothing wrong with the inclusion of alcohol in everyday situations. Although it may be bleakly represented in characters like Bill Sikes, Dickens also offers it to us comically in the Pickwick Papers; "it wasn't the wine,' murmered Mr Snodgrass, in a broken voice, 'It was the salmon.' (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases)". (1836)

Dickens of course lived in a time where alcohol was often considered safer to drink than water - an excuse that many students would love to try i'm sure! Similar to Dickens, alcohol is considered by the majority of my peers to be a large focus of student life... alongside tea and coffee of course. Without caffeine i'm not sure how any of us would survive!

Work Cited

Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. London: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1993

Perdue, David. ‘Charles Dickens Page’. 1997-2014. Web. 3 March 2014.

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