dickens_fat_boy“The Fat Boy” from Character Sketches From Charles Dickens  by Joseph Clayton Clarke – Kyd (1889)

Read much of Charles Dickens and you quickly see his talent for making keen observations on society. Particularly, he was a champion of the poor and downtrodden, both in his writing and in his own life. For example, in a speech made May 10, 1851 he said, “I can honestly declare that the use I have since that time made of my eyes and nose have only strengthened the conviction that certain sanitary reforms must precede all other social remedies, and that neither education nor religion can do anything useful until the way has been paved for their ministrations by cleanliness and decency.”

No doubt his heart for the outcast arose from the fact that his own family spent time in debtors’ prison, while he went to work in a boot polish factory. He was twelve.

In addition to his impact on society, he also left his mark on the world of medicine. His skillful hand at describing various symptoms gave a face to the likes of sleep disorders (‘the fat boy’ of The Pickwick Papers), asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, Parkinson’s disease, restless leg syndrome, epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, and more–many long before they ever had a name or proper diagnoses.

So you see, those who argue fiction has no purpose but to entertain, really should think again . . .


If you’re interested in the details, check out ‘Charles Dickens: Impact on Medicine and Society‘ from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health

If you’d like a quick overview, check out ‘9 Dickensian Diagnoses‘ from the Encyclopedia Brittanica