The first and possibly the greatest sociological study of poverty in 19th-century London, this survey by a journalist invented the genre of oral history a century before the term was coined. Henry Mayhew vowed “to publish the history of a people, from the lips of the people themselves — giving a literal description of their labour, their earnings, their trials and their sufferings, in their own ‘unvarnished’ language.” With his collaborators, Mayhew explored hundreds of miles of London streets in the 1840s and 1850s, gathering thousands of pages of testimony from the city’s humbler residents. Their stories revealed aspects of city life virtually unknown to literate society.
A sprawling, four-volume history resulted from Mayhew’s investigations. This extract focuses on the criminal class–pickpockets, prostitutes, rag pickers, and vagrants, whose true stories of degradation, horror, and desperation rival Dickensian fiction. A classic reference source for sociologists, historians, and criminologists, Mayhew’s work is immensely readable. As Thackeray wrote, these urban vignettes conjure up “a picture of human life so wonderful, so awful, so piteous and pathetic, so exciting and terrible, that readers of romances own they never read anything like to it.”
approx. 416 pages
Out July 2005
I received this book in exchange for my honest review.
This is quite the book. It shows an ugly side to London’s early beginnings. The series was initially written mid-1800s, with the last at the end of the 1800s.
Full of effective resource material for anyone interested in or writing about the Victorian era. Full of interviews, and first-hand accounts, although a fascinating read, it does show the sexism of the times, the discrimination against women and what some were forced to endure out of hardship and the inability to have financial security because of the mindset of the male population of the times. Thankfully, this part of life in London is over. I’m sure there’s still a darker side to the city, like there is for every city, but not like what was researched and written in this book.
I found the book opened my eyes to a lot of things. Many topics in the book, I already knew about because of my own research. I think anyone who is not as familiar with Victorian era life, should get this book.
I gave it: