Mar 15 • 18M

Death the Dickensian Way

A lot more realistic than you would think

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Public finance, pensions, mortality trends from the perspective of Meep (Mary Pat Campbell), a life-annuity actuary. Less frequent topics: data visualization, actuarial politics, literature, opera, and sumo.
Episode details

I have not checked the following chart from Dear Mr. Dickens for accuracy, but a graphical representation of various named character deaths in Dickens novels:

As you can see, Bleak House is the dying-est novels for named characters.

Obviously, if you really go by what was going on in the novel in general, A Tale of Two Cities, which has a huge part of its action take place in the middle of The Terror, really was set in the most murderous time.

Looking at this body count, I’d say Bleak House is the one that comes closest to accurate Victorian UK mortality. It was brutal, y’all.

Bleak House was published over the period 1852-1853. If you see that volatility in period life expectancy over those years, some of that is disease and some of that was the economic hardship of that period.

A link to Elliot Engel’s (the English prof, not the politician) webpage:


Has been doing his lectures for decades, and as I said, he’s the one who got me into Dickens. My copies of his lectures are on cassette tape! That gives you an idea of how long ago that was.