ABSTRACT

As Oliver asks for more food, so do readers ask for more imperfect children in literature. Both Victorian and contemporary readers enjoy and desire stories of the imperfect child; a child whose construction is largely dependent on the learning it experiences. Learning here is not limited to traditional schooling, which would have been highly unusual for characters like Oliver or Little Nell to obtain. While elements of traditional classroom education do occur for some of Dickens’s imperfect children, this usually happens in the outside world, such as on the harsh streets of London or the enclosed rooms of a dismal country estate. While the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile or On Education (1762) was still popular during the Victorian period, Dickens does not suggest children should be left to learn from nature alone and without benefi t of a formal social education. The education received by children taught from Rousseau’s perspective is realistic and only enhances the natural nature of the imperfect child.