A fascinating post entitled, “Little Dorrit, Dickens and Debt”, which explores the connection between Charles Dickens and the long demolished Debtors Prison. The prison appears in several of Dickens writings, including “Little Dorrit”. To read the post please follow this link, https://memoirsofametrogirl.com/2020/02/25/marshalsea-prison-remains-borough-history/.
In his novel, Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens portrays Wackford Squeers (the headmaster) as a sadist with no redeeming features. Squeers was based on the (actual) headmaster of a Yorkshire school named William Shaw who was prosecuted for child cruelty. However, according to a descendant of William Shaw he was, in fact a humane man who was liked by his students and by the community in which his school operated. Dickens therefore does Shaw a great injustice in his portrayal of him in Nicholas Nickleby.
To read the article please visit https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1316931/The-real-Squeers-was-no-Dickens-brute-claims-descendant.html
(“Hard Times” by Charles Dickens, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/786/786-h/786-h.htm).
On Wednesday 2 December I gave a talk about my experience of working with guide dogs. Below are extracts from that presentation.
I remember being struck on reading Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol” by the reference to guide dogs. Speaking of Scrooge Dickens writes,
“Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then
would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!” (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm).
Researching the history of guide dogs, I have been unable to discover any record of guide dogs being trained in the United Kingdom until the 1930s, when the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association was established (the same charity that trains guide dogs today). However the reference to blind men’s dogs in “A Christmas Carol” indicates that dogs where being used by blind people in Victorian England. I can only surmise that visually impaired people trained the dogs themselves or training took place with the aid of family and friends.
The history of guide dogs does, however go back far beyond the 19th century. A roman sculpture exists of a blind man being lead by a dog, while a plaque from the middle ages shows a blind man being lead on a leash.
In the late 18th century the Paris hospital for the blind trained guide dogs.
It appears that the first (modern) and systematic attempt to train guide dogs took place in Germany. A German Doctor left his dog with a patient while he was called away to business elsewhere. On his return he was so impressed by the way in which the dog had been looking after his patient that he determined to train dogs as guides for the blind. The doctor’s work lead to the establishment of several guide dog schools in Germany and there is evidence of dogs being sent to the UK amongst other countries.
The work of Doctor Stalling inspired the founding of The Seeing Eye in the United States which trained dogs for the blind and (later) the establishment of The Guide Dogs For The Blind Association in the UK. (http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/aboutus/guide-dogs-organisation/history#.VmMIbL-yKSo).
I am now working with my fourth guide dog, a lovely brindle lab/retriever called Trigger. All of my companions have been male with the exception of my third dog, Drew, a lovely yellow lab/retriever who sadly died in March 2011 as a result of a heart attack.
Guide dogs are trained to walk in a straight line and to avoid obstacles. On reaching an obstacle they can not navigate the dog stops and it is then incumbent on the owner to assess the situation and (if in any doubt as to how to proceed) to ask for sighted assistance.
Guide dogs are taught to stop at kerbs and to only go into the road at the command of their owner. Guide dogs lack the capacity to know that vehicles pose a danger (there sitting at kerbs is, therefore purely down to their training). However guide dogs are taught not to go into the road when a vehicle is approaching. However owners are told not to rely on the dog taking evasive action as they have no understanding of road safety (I.E. it is a useful aspect of training but the responsibility for safety remains fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the owner). Having said that, Trigger has, on several occasions pulled me back when I have misjudged the situation and attempted to cross as vehicles approach.
In the UK guide and other assistance dogs are allowed by law to enter food and other premises which pet dogs are prohibited from entering. It is, in fact an offense for a provider of goods or services to refuse entry to a working guide dog. Despite the legislation discrimination does, unfortunately persist and I have myself experienced it on a number of occasions.
In conclusion, guide dogs enhance the independence of visually impaired people and on a much deeper level provide companionship. I and other guide dog owners have built up strong bonds with our dogs who are, to us much more than mere working animals.
I moved to the Norwood area (Upper Norwood to be exact) in 1997. Norwood possesses the advantage of being high above sea level which means the air is much fresher than certain other areas in the sprawling mass which constitutes greater London. The name Norwood derives from “The Great North Wood”, vestiges of which can still be glimpsed by residents and visitors alike.
Norwood has a fascinating history including a rich literary heritage. Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor and the Queen’s Hotel which stands some 10 minutes walk from my home has a plaque commemorating the French novelist, Zola’s residence, (Zola fled France at the time of the Dreyfus Affair. He advocated for Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer falsely accused of spying for a foreign power).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sets one of the Sherlock Holmes adventures, “The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder” in the area, (http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/AdveNorw.shtml). In “The Norwood Builder” the former lover of the mother of a local solicitor fakes his own death and attempts to frame her son. However, in his usual brilliant manner Holmes proves the innocence of the son and the builder is apprehended.
There is a fascinating article on the history of Norwood here, (http://www.norwoodsociety.co.uk/articles/68-on-the-trail-of-norwood.html).
I have happy memories of my grandfather reading Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five as I sat on his knee. As a child it never crossed my mind that Blyton’s books could be construed as being racist. Today however a number of reprints of the author’s works have been published with certain words and passages having been amended to avoid giving offence. Today’s Daily Mail has an article concerning a school who removed Blyton’s books from it’s shelves, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2519806/Enid-Blyton-Famous-Five-childrens-classics-axed-school-win-race-equality-award.html. If you read the entire article it becomes clear that most of the books which where deemed to be unacceptable have been replaced by versions with the language which some deem offensive, having been removed.
Racism is ugly and it is right and proper that children are taught that all ethnic groups possess equal worth and everyone, irrespective of their origin should be treated with respect. Having said that, would it not be possible for teachers, parents etc to explain the historical context in which Blyton was writing to youngsters, explaining that words and phrases which where once deemed acceptable are now (rightly) not so deemed. Blyton as with Kipling was a product of her time. Even great authors such as Dickens used language which we now view as unacceptable, for example his reference to “the jew” in Oliver Twist. I love Dickens, Kipling and Blyton, however to say this does not imply that I or any other reader shares their views on race or any other issue. We need, as I said above to judge authors in accordance with the historical context in which they wrote. Obviously it is easier for adults to make such judgements but, with sensitive and appropriate explanation it ought to be possible for children to continue to enjoy The Famous Five.