Victorian Workhouses: Background information when reading Splendors and Glooms

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Splendors and Glooms

by Laura A. Schlitz

Splendors and Glooms by Laura A. Schlitz X
Splendors and Glooms by Laura A. Schlitz
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2012, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2014, 400 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BJ Nathan Hegedus
Buy This Book

About this Book

Victorian Workhouses

This article relates to Splendors and Glooms

Print Review

In the early nineteenth century in England, parish churches and towns provided relief for the poor, but as the cost of looking after them kept rising and the method became increasingly disorganized, the upper classes and growing middle class who carried the burden of this expense by paying increasingly higher property taxes, sought a central alternative solution.

Parliament passed the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which was meant to reduce this cost. The new law stated that in order to receive aid one needed to surrender everything (home, processions and most important, personal freedom) and move into the local parish workhouse. In return, one would be fed, clothed and given medical care. If this was not agreeable, no matter how destitute things became there would be no help given.

Orphans in Victorian workhouse Families forced to enter the workhouse were split apart. Husbands separated from wives, children from parents. Once segregated, everyone slept in dormitories. Residents had to wear uniforms and were referred to as inmates. Rules were enforced with punishments arbitrarily handed out by "matrons" and "masters," often in cruel and unjust ways.

Those inmates capable of work were expected to do so. Hours were long and physically taxing, consisting of such chores as breaking up rocks for building roads and smashing animal bones for fertilizer. The inmates also labored doing laundry, cooking and cleaning the workhouse.

Food was meagerly rationed, fruit, vegetables and milk nonexistent. Gruel was served twice daily. This poor diet when combined with unsafe and unhealthy living conditions made outbreaks of infections and disease a common occurrence. Yet this dismal place was often the only option left to children like Parsefall, orphaned with nowhere else to go. With no family to take them in, the workhouse, unlike the streets, at least offered shelter and something to eat.

In 1861, 35,000 children under the age of twelve lived and worked in workhouses throughout Great Britain. The children earned their keep by working alongside the adults. It was common practice for children to be "hired out" which in reality meant that they were sold to factories or mines as apprentices. Chimney sweeps found them useful because of their size.

Despite the very harsh conditions in the workhouse, this system did provide free health care and education for children, things the poor living outside the workhouses could not take for granted.

For Parsefall, the abysmal conditions he experienced working for Grisini were still better than those he probably would have had at the workhouse. And though he barely had enough to eat and his shoes were worn thin with holes at least as Grisini's apprentice, he was learning the art of puppetry.

Picture from Film Education

This "beyond the book article" relates to Splendors and Glooms. It originally ran in November 2012 and has been updated for the January 2014 paperback edition.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
    by Ocean Vuong
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the bold and bracing debut novel by acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong, ...
  • Book Jacket: Daisy Jones & The Six
    Daisy Jones & The Six
    by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    In this evocative novel written in the format of an interview with members of a fictional music ...
  • Book Jacket: The Age of Living Machines
    The Age of Living Machines
    by Susan Hockfield
    In the face of looming global challenges, such as overpopulation, resource depletion and disease, Dr...
  • Book Jacket
    The Mars Room
    by Rachel Kushner
    There is palpable tension between expectation and reality in Rachel Kushner's third novel. The ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    More News Tomorrow
    by Susan Richards Shreve

    An irresistible portrait of a family drawn together in search of truth.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Patsy
    by Nicole Dennis-Benn

    A haunting depiction of immigration and womanhood, and the silent threads of love.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Guest Book

The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense."
—Entertainment Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

M I Haste, R A L

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.