In Victorian Britain rags were not only associated with the inadequate clothing of the poor, they were also viewed as a valuable commodity, widely collected for recycling into paper. This essay examines rags as simultaneously despised and precious objects, tracing the connections between Victorian accounts of poverty, the industrial recycling of rags into paper, and the redemption narratives created by Charles Dickens about rescued children. A supporter of Ragged Schools and champion of rags recycling, Dickens drew on the idea of the transformation of dirty rags into clean paper in his representations of ragged children. To him, the recycling of rags indicated the civilizing forces of modernity, and reading Dickens's representations of ragged children in this context reveals how cloth recycling became a paradigm for society's duties towards destitute children. This essay explains Dickens's juxtaposition of ragged children with references to rag-dealing in his novels; by this means he suggested that street children, like their ragged clothing, were capable of being purified and transformed into social usefulness.
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