Charles Dickens’ life is well documented, but the reformation home he established for “fallen” women, who were then shipped off to the colonies, is one of his little-known undertakings. This intriguing slice of history provides the inspiration for a new Australian play by Seanna van Helten called Fallen.
The cast of Fallen. Photograph © Marnya Rothe
In the 1840s, the prolific English novelist and social reform advocate founded Urania Cottage with the financial backing of banking heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts, reputedly the richest woman in England.
Located in Shepherd’s Bush, then a semi-rural area of London, Urania Cottage was a kind of halfway house for women who Dickens found in prisons or living and working on the street; women who he thought had the potential to be rehabilitated and domesticated. Apparently, the home was in operation for around a decade.
The women were well treated, but subjected to strict rules, including surrendering their one dress each evening so that they couldn’t escape. Instructed never to talk about their past so that they could start afresh, they were taught social etiquette and domestic duties, from gardening and sewing to playing the...