Childhood has changed dramatically in the last 200 years. Life was hard and rough for working people in Britain at the end of the 19th century. From a very early age, children were expected to do all they could to help their parents, this was necessary in order for the family to survive. Life was quite different in a wealthy home- there was plenty of space, good food and clothes, and no duties to do as a child. However all children were expected to be seen and not heard, and to respect their elders.
‘Be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand’ – Mr. Pumblechook, page 26 In the novel Great Expectations, there are three children who grow up throughout the story, Pip the main character, Estella, and Herbert Pocket. Society was firmly divided into three parts in the Victorian era, there were upper class, middle class, and working class people. Pip is an orphan, he lives with his sister and her husband Joe Gargery. Pips family are working class as Joe does hard, manual work.
‘Wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith’ – Pip, page 7Upper class people had a very superior attitude to anyone below them. Estella was born into poverty as her parents were criminals, but she was adopted by Miss Havisham so was brought up as upper-class. Miss Havisham invites Pip to her estate and wants Estella to play with him. ‘With this boy! Why, he is a common labouring-boy!’ – Estella, page 57 Later it becomes apparent that Miss Havisham cultivated her to become a man hater like herself after she was stood-up on her wedding day.
Charles Dickens himself, born in 1812 had a childhood like many of those portrayed in his novels, not a particularly happy one. Due to his father’s imprisonment he was sent to work in a blacking warehouse, memories of this time haunted him for the rest of his life. Oliver Twist another well-known character created by Dickens portrays a slightly more typical poor Victorian childhood; being driven into crime at such an early age in order to survive in Victorian London. Working class children were sent out of the house early in the morning, and not allowed to return until dusk, and children of wealthy parents were brought up by nannies and governess’ and sometimes only saw their parents for a few minutes a day. Pips sister, Mrs Joe Gargery is very proud of the fact that she has raised Pip herself, or by hand as she is constantly reminding him.
‘If it warn’t for me you’d have been to the churchyard long ago… who brought you up by hand?’ – Mrs Joe Gargery, page Mrs Joe Gargery has established a great reputation with herself and the neighbours because she has brought Pip up by hand. But in this case, by hand means to be brought up using violence. Mrs Joe used Tickler to beat Pip. ‘Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame’ – Pip, page This certainly worked to beat fear in to him as shown on page 15; Pip and Joe are trying to communicate without speaking so that Mrs Joe doesn’t get angry. Using violence to teach children to behave was not uncommon in the Victorian era, particularly in schools. In fact, if the child had been naughty at home the parents would often tell the headmaster so that he would be punished in school.