Charles Dickens, “Ignorance and Want”, A Christmas Carol (1843)
Wood-Engraved image of Scrooge starring remorsefully at the two impoverished children


This illustration taken directly from Charles Dickens' famous novella “A Christmas Carol'' was done by illustrator John Leech in wood-engraved black and white style. Leeches' work although traditionally more cartoonish was utilized perfectly in this scene in which scrooge is confronted by the dark underbelly of industrilization and the horrors of child labour in England. For the first time Scrooge is faced with the social consequences of the unrelenting capitalism he defends so passionately in the opening stave of the story. This image paints a stark picture of the kind of class disparity in England and the complacency on behalf of the upper-class that was quickly becoming a controversial topic around the time of the story's release. John Leech was a strong advocate of social reform as well as political critique through his illustration. Prior to his work on “A Christmas Carol'' Leech was famous for his series of socially charged cartoons such as Cheap Clothing and The Agricultural Question which call into question the morality of capitalist culture. Leech is credited as one of the first political cartoonists and his depiction of “Ignorance and Want” is a clear reflection of his views on the exploitative capitalist system. The subject of child labour was becoming increasingly prevalent even among the upper class of British society. Only a year prior was the release of the first document detailing the working conditions of children in the  mines titled “The Employment and Conditions of Children in Mines and Manufactories.” This document gave the public first hand accounts of the terrible working environments children as young as four were forced to endure. Charles Dickens was cited as being outraged by the contents of that document and it is in part credited as the inspiration behind the writing of “A Christmas Carol''. That inspiration is apparent when looking at this image in which the depiction of the children closely mirrors that of the drawings presented in the original document. 


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Timeline of Events Associated with Charles Dickens, “Ignorance and Want”, A Christmas Carol (1843)