Charles Dickens and the Coffee Shop

Written by Lori Thiessen

As I was lying in bed, fighting the good fight against the flu, I was reading a couple of Dickens’ novels. The first one I read was Nicholas Nickelby and the other was, The Old Curiosity Shop.

The coffee shop or coffeehouse featured rather heavily in Nicholas Nickelby. In fact, one of the most exciting moments in the novel takes place in a coffeehouse.

It seems that the coffeehouse still played an important role in English society in the 19th century, if Dickens writing is anything to go by.

I think the main difference between the coffeehouse of the 17th/18th century and the 19th century is the realm in which it occupied.

In the early era, the role was largely economic, serving as an informal office space. By the 19th century, the coffeehouse, I think, played a more social role.  Though in Nicholas Nickelby, Mr. Squeers, the schoolmaster, makes the coffeehouse a meeting place to pick up new scholars and to interview parents who wish to send their children to his lonely boarding school on the bleak moors of Yorkshire. A much more fitting place than a public house.

The coffeehouse is a more genteel venue for getting together with friends, and it is a place to get a meal. Before the appearance of the coffeehouse, the public house would be the only place to get victuals.  I would even hazard a guess that the coffeehouse might be progenitor of the restaurant.

Even though the novels are obviously fiction, it is interesting to see them as ‘slice of life’ pieces, showing us where people went and what they did. Victorians, according to Dickens’ work, did frequent the coffeehouses for both business and pleasure.

Until Next Time,

May Your Coffee Always Be Freshly Brewed!

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