What is the symbolic meaning of Brownlow's name?

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Have you ever wondered why Dickens, the master of symbolic names, chose "Brownlow" as the name for Oliver's benefactor? A case could be made that since Brownlow was a man with a deep sorrow--but one that he didn't allow to darken his whole being--Dickens made him "brown" and "low" to symbolize mild depression. Yet, when you think carefully about Dickens' themes of education and poor children's lives (see our Themes Insights), you find another reason for using the symbolic name Brownlow.

In 1769, a workhouse called "House of Industry" was built on Brownlow Hill in Liverpool to serve the needs of the poor and orphaned. While it has more than one notable spot in the history of its existence, a significantly notable event was the introduction of an experiment in overseeing health care for the workhouse population. In 1838 Brownlow House introduced into the workhouse infirmary twelve nurses trained at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing. The experiment was successful enough that the practice of having nurses in workhouse infirmaries spread across England (Workhouses.Org.UK).

Recalling our query regarding the symbolic meaning of Mr. Brownlow's name, it is a strong possibility that Dickens chose the name for the connections to (1) a successful experiment and (2) the workhouse. The Brownlow Hill House of Industry and nursing experiment symbolize Mr. Brownlow's humanitarian experiment in rescuing, nursing then fostering the boy, Oliver, from the workhouse.

An interesting historical note is that in 1904, the Registrar General of England required that birth certificates could no longer indicate that a child was illegitimate. To accommodate this new regulation, local registrars registered illegitimate births to a local street address, which sometimes required the invention of a fictitious one. For example, the Liverpool workhouse used 144A Brownlow Hill when in need of a fictitious address. Was this mere convenience or a salute to Dickens' Mr. Brownlow, who was himself a salute to Liverpool's Brownlow Hill House of Industry?

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