Back when I used to teach Victorian Literature, I would always start with A Christmas Carol, both because it's just a fantastic story -- everyone loves it, it's a cracking good read -- and because it's such a great introduction to the Victorian World, what with Scrooge's attitude toward the poor, and the filthy streets, and the smog, and the wealth and poverty side by side.
"Richest country in the world at this point," I said. "They owned half the world. And children are starving to death in their streets. What the shit is up with that?"