n 1860 when Charles Dickens published Great Expectations 1860-1, the British public had great concerns about the state of crime, something evidenceow'd by witnesses in such clubs and societies, and nowt to his disadvantage'" (Dickens, 325). Indeed, even The Westminster Review points to the ready assumption to stereotype criminal behavior, as the tickets-of-leave have printed upon them this one of three conditions: that the ticket may be taken away in the case of misconduct. However, it also specifies that no crime need be committed, as any general trend towards “misconduct" means that “it will be assumed that he is about to relapse into crime and he will be at once apprehended and recommitted to prison under his original sentence." Once already convicted of a crime, one may face the possibility of called guilty until proven (or not) innocent. Dickens, then aptly denounces the judicial at the roots of its trial system.
However, Dickens also recognizes the general fear of English citizens about escaped or prematurely released convicts. For instance, the opening Christmas Day of the novel has the great excitement of soldiers coming to the smith in order to repair manacles before marching off to the marches and recapturing two escaped convicts. The entire party of guests “were all lively in anticipation of 'the two villains' being taken" (Dickens, 31). Also notable is the incredible lengths to which British authorities stretch themselves to recapture the very dangerous Magwitch at the end of the novel, and the expediency with which he is tried and found guilty. The fictional events reflect a public anxiety of free-roving convicts, but also portray a rather competent punitary reaction against them which is not necessarily historically accurate.
The article in The Westminster Review, discusses both the relative ease with which a convict may obtain a ticket-of-leave and the lack of supervision thereafter. It also deals with the mutinies and prison riots plaguing the penal system, which, according to the Review, stem from the misunderstanding about shortening sentences anyway. The writers of the article must insist that with “the public becoming more apprehensive and the liberated convicts more audacious...a fallacious theory or mal-administration, or both, must have brought about this state of things, which is at once so deplorable and discreditable." Perhaps Dickens allows himself some fictional space to give some comfort to his readers, but overall and as to the condition of the justice system, Dickens seems to agree with The Westminster Review.
- The Cornhill, Great Expectations , and The Convict System in Nineteenth-Century England
- Charles Dickens's “Philadelphia, and its Solitary Prison," Ch. 7 in American Notes (1842)
- Pentonville Prison (the silent system)
- Prisons in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit
Last modified 1996