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Subject:
From:
Patrick McCarthy <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Tue, 7 Mar 1995 10:50:34 -0800
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 7 Mar 1995 11:18:58 -0600 (CST)
From: [log in to unmask]
To: Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Cc: Multiple recipients of list DICKNS-L <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Jacob's Island: Did It Exist?

I'm writing this in hopes that the smart, well-informed Dickens
scholars on this list will be smarter and better-informed than I am.  I
am interested in Dickens' representation of Jacob's Island in _Oliver
Twist_ (for anyone who doesn't remember, I think that this is the place
where Bill Sikes goes to hide out after the murder of Nancy), and about a
political controversy that occured later
about that representation.  I don't have the books in front of me now,
unfortunately, so I may be foggy on the details of this controversy, but
basically, what occured was this: 1) Dickens and the Bishop of London
make speeches at a fundraiser for sanitary reform, and the Bishop refers
to Jacob's Island as an example of the horrors that need to be remedied.
2) the London politician Sir Peter Laurie (who Dickens satirized as Alderman
Cute in _The Chimes_) claims in a meeting soon afterwards that Jacob's Island
did not exist, and that the Bishop, in his simplicity, took Dickens' novel for
fact...or words to that effect.
        I am writing a dissertation on
sentimentality and the Victorian cultural discourse on social reform, and
I am interested in this episode because it seems to demonstrate that
nobody in the bourgeois reading public would ever have been to Jacob's
Island, or to any other slum, and only would have experienced them through
literature,
thereby indicating that written discourse (especially fiction) came to
fulfill an extrmemely important
social function in an environment of increasing class separation.  My
problem is: I can't seem to determine for certain whether Jacob's Island
did or did not really exist.  I have read about the Dickens/Laurie
episode in Sheila Smith's _The Other Nation_ and K.J. Fielding's edition
of Dickens' speeches, and have also read that Kingsley refers to Jacob's
Island in _Alton Locke_, but I haven't been able to find any nonfictional
"documentation" of this place in any of these sources so far.  Is there
something obvious I'm missing here?  Is Jacob's Island a pseudonym for a real
place, like the Isle of
Dogs?  I await your responses with interest, and would like to hear
about both factual information
and other possible interpretations of this episode and what it represents
about Dickens and his work.

Mary Lenard
UT Austin
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