Octavia Hill and the Influence of Dickens
In housing management and the preservation of the countryside, writes Alan S. Watts, Octavia Hill was a Victorian pioneer.
Among public-spirited Victorian women, Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was pre-eminent.
She was the pioneer of housing management, became the adviser of politicians and ecclesiastical commissioners, and devoted the final years of her life to helping preserve the countryside for her fellow countrymen.
Her biographers rightly stress her great debt to John Ruskin, who not only enabled her to begin her housing work by providing the necessary capital, but compelled her to confront the fact (which she tried to avoid) that her talent for art was mediocre, while her personality and many-sided abilities made her uniquely qualified for work among the poor.
Undoubtedly, Ruskin’s friendship and outpouring of ideas made a tremendous impression upon her; but it is clear that Dickens also played an important part in shaping her basic thoughts on the work she was to do.