"Jo, the outlaw with the broom": The Public and Pestiferous Role of the Vagrant in Charles Dickens's Bleak House
This article explores Charles Dickens’s unusual characterisation of vagrant figures in his novel Bleak House. Dickens conceived of the vagrant as a public entity without any recourse to private spaces — a thesis supported here by the novel and a series of satellite texts by Dickens, Henry Mayhew and Edwin Chadwick. This conception, in turn, is both a reflection, and a perceived cause, of the vagrant’s intellectual, moral and physical degeneration. Beginning with a brief overview of vagrancy in the nineteenth century, before moving on to a discussion about Dickens’s atypical depiction of vagrant characters, this paper examines both the public presentation of vagrants and the dangers that they were perceived to pose to society at large. In doing this, this article seeks to unpick how one of the great Victorian social critics perceived the problem of nineteenth-century vagrancy and its social ramifications.
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