The Victorian era was a time of extraordinary breakthroughs, particularly in engineering, science and literature. Beginning this week, NPT will air two series that explore this fascinating era: Victorian Slum House, a living history experience, begins Tuesday, May 2; while Dickens’ characters intermingle in new plotlines in Dickensian, starting Thursday, May 4.
The latest entry in the genre of PBS programs in which modern people attempt to re-create the experiences of earlier generations is Victorian Slum House, airing 7 p.m. Tuesdays, May 2 through 30. Who in their right mind would volunteer for this? As is often the case, some participants are curious about how their ancestors lived, while others want to find out what life would have been like for someone in their situation. Each episode of Victorian Slum House simulates a decade of Queen Victoria’s reign, beginning with the 1860s. In the premiere, we meet the initial cast and learn about day-to-day existence in London’s famously rough East End.
The cast allows the series to consider the lives of a cross-section of the Victorian poor, including a single mother of two, a senior citizen trying to provide for his multigenerational family, and an amputee adjusting to a prosthetic leg. The participants learn how precarious life was in a society that made few, if any, provisions for the injured, sick or old; and how social and legal restrictions on women’s opportunities and an absence of regulations regarding living conditions made it even harder for people to overcome poverty. Over the remaining episodes the participants contend with industrialization; labor competition and economic downturns. Finally, in the later episodes, social reforms begin to offer hope and opportunity to the Victorian Slum House residents as they did for the Victorian poor.
What the Dickens?
Charles Dickens looms large among Victorian writers; indeed many of our ideas about what that time was like come through his characters and stories. What’s not to like, then, about Dickensian, a clever mashup featuring some of the most familiar characters in Victorian literature? The plot begins with the Christmas Eve murder of a truly despicable Jacob Marley – is he really the sort of soul who would come back to warn his former partner? Decide for yourself as Inspector Bucket works his way through the puzzle with a supporting cast that includes Amelia and Arthur Havisham, the Cratchits, Little Nell, Fagin and Dodger. The series airs at 8 and 9 p.m. Thursdays, May 4 through June 1.
No collection of Victorian treats would be complete without Victoria on Masterpiece, the series that explores the transformation of the legendary monarch from sheltered princess into feisty young queen. The series premiered on NPT this past winter and is now available on NPT Passport, the member benefit streaming portal. Learn more about the Passport membership benefit here.