Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Perils of Certain English Prisoners, Leadership


The 1850s are infamous for the political scene within the British Empire and her colonies. The Crimean War against Russia, a rebellion in India treated as a mutiny against the empire, and a shifted focus to international issues over domestic problems highlighted every mistake and misstep of the largely aristocratic government. Rumbles of discontentment arose from the working class within Britain as they watched governmental neglect produce massive repercussions at home and abroad. Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins wrote their 1857 novella The Perils of Certain English Prisoners with these perceived political disasters and leadership failures in mind. Leslie Mitchell argues that the collapse of leadership in The Perils parallels the social scene of the time: when appointed leaders are unable to function in their duties or propose a solution to a grievous situation, the “leadership devolves upon a common soldier . . .” (Mitchell 236). While it is true that dire circumstances call for unusual solutions, the idea of devolving leadership does not consider the often-overlooked role of common citizens and soldiers as the unofficial social leaders and workhorses that bring about change. The Perils can be used to illustrate that the common citizens and soldiers are the compelling social leadership of a country or colony. In the novella, those with rank and position should be the respected and trusted leaders in power, but it is the common people, without rank or title, who are the trusted allies and the driving force that ensures success. This textual presentation of Gill, Marion, and Short as common citizens and soldiers who effectively fulfill leadership roles when the established government has collapsed can act as a reminder for government and other leaders not to neglect the true source of their power – their citizens.

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Class Project or Paper

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English 295