Reading Against Violence.

Every year the Regione Toscana holds an annual month-long celebration of reading, and this year the inspiration is Karl Popper’s dictum, ‘Civilisation essentially consists in reducing violence.’ Libraries are positive and peaceful spaces, full of possibilities, as you can educate yourself on anything. In their own way, they can help to discourage violence, as their essence opposes it. Not only do they bring the community together over the most peaceful of activities (reading), but they are a physical mark of civilised society. The hundreds of pages of stories, biographies, criticism and historical accounts, record how society has evolved.

The British Institute of Florence is getting on board, by holding an exhibition called ‘Children Of The Nineteenth Century: Henry Mayhew And Charles Dickens.’ The exhibition looks at the work of these two nineteenth-century British writers, the first a researcher, the other a novelist, as both men, in their separate ways, unambiguously criticised the violence of contemporary society, in particular the treatment of the poor and of children.

I’ve read books by both authors, but for me, Mayhew’s ‘London Labour and the London Poor’ is something special. It really offers you an insight into the working world of Victorian London, detailing everything about the people, their habits, their professions and home lives. The interviews with London’s characters bring it all home. Alongside these anecdotes, he includes tables and numerical estimates, about the population to crime statistics. If you’re looking for a book just to dip in and out of, this is a great one.

The exhibition opens pages from this text and many of Dickens’ books that adress similar issues, such as ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Little Dorrit.’ Amongst these are old black-and-white photographs of children, with haunting eyes and gaunt faces. Children, poverty and the problems of society are all issues that are relevant today, so these have a pretty poignant effect.

If you want to see the exhibition, it’s on from 3 to 28 October at the Harold Acton Library, Lungarno Guicciardini 9, during the opening hours of the library (10-18.30). It’s open to all and entrance is free, so there’s no excuse not to have a nosy around.

 

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