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London Labour and the London Poor…
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London Labour and the London Poor [abridged|Neuburg]

by Henry Mayhew, Victor Neuburg (Editor)

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"London Labour and the London Poor" is an extraordinary piece of mid-19th-century journalism. Henry Mayhew, a writer and editor well-known in his time (he was an early editor of Punch), spent years roaming the poor neighborhoods of London, seeking out stories of the poor and downtrodden. He carefully describes the work and economics involved with each profession, and presents many faithfully recorded statements from the people he finds.

From mudlarks (scavengers during low tide on the Thames), to prostitutes (of several distinct classes, such as soldiers' women and moonlighting housewives), to street food-sellers (who knew that one could write so engagingly about the sale of baked potatoes?), Mayhew presents an astonishing portrait of the lives and struggles of poor people in the world's richest city at the height of its power. His writing is detailed but never dull, and he provides invaluable economic data without letting it overwhelm his storytelling. (In particular, his description early in the book of the bustle of activity in the Brill market is one of the loveliest stretches of historical descriptive writing I've ever seen.) Additionally, the statements from his informants are extraordinary and heartbreaking; each one could spawn a novel all by itself.

This particular edition is a collection of well-chosen excerpts from the original three-volume work, plus a few selections from the later fourth volume (edited by Mayhew but largely written by others). My only complaint about this version is that it has no index and only a very general table of contents, for which it loses half a star. But even with these oversights, it is a marvelous reading experience and a priceless source of information about Victorian London. Today, "London Labour and the London Poor" has become an essential resource for anyone who writes about Victorian culture, from Dickens scholars to steampunk and alternate-history authors, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. ( )
  brianeisley | Nov 22, 2010 |
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  MightyLeaf | May 25, 2010 |
The journalist Henry Mayhew started writing articles on London's poor in 1849, interviewing people so they could tell their own story. Over the years by adding vivid descriptions, statistics, essays and drawings it spiralled into a giant 4 volumes dealing with nearly every aspect of poverty. This verson abridges these books into a mere 500 pages and the result is utterly fascinating.

There are personal accounts from nearly every possible occupation: musicians, vagrants, street traders, thieves, chimney sweeps and on and on. Their tales are usually deeply tragic, heartbreaking stories rub up against self inflicted woes, evryone of them now stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty in Victorian England. Although not all are sad, some purely uncover fascinating information. So we get to hear stories such as: the many dirty tricks of cheap photographers, a lively description of a penny theatre or the impact of the Poor act. It's all here in overwhelming detail.

Of course there are some problems (whether with the abridgement or original text I could not say). Too much time is spent on accounts of street traders but fallen women are non existent (I presume being too depraved to even consider!). I also found it just too much to read straight through but it's perfect for dipping into.

Also this version also contains a brief intro of Henry Mayhew himself, placing the work in much needed context. Its very useful for to gage Mayhew views for as well as a study of the poor we also see the views of the middle classes though Mayhew's admonishments. ( )
  clfisha | Aug 24, 2009 |
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Neuburg, VictorEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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This is the abridged Penguin Classics edition of London Labour and the London Poor and is edited and introduced by Victor Neuburg. Please do not combine with other selections made and introduced by other editors. Both the contents and the critical introductions differ.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140432418, Paperback)

Unflinching reports of London’s poor from a prolific and influential English writer

London Labour and the London Poor originated in a series of articles, later published in four volumes, written for the Morning Chronicle in 1849 and 1850 when journalist Henry Mayhew was at the height of his career. Mayhew aimed simply to report the realities of the poor from a compassionate and practical outlook. This penetrating selection shows how well he succeeded: the underprivileged of London become extraordinarily and often shockingly alive.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:51 -0400)

"I shall consider the whole of the metropolitan poor under three separate phases, according as they will work, they can't work, and they won't work". This book originated in a series of articles written for the "Morning Chronicle" in 1849-50, when Mayhew was at the height of his powers as a journalist, and was eventually published in four volumes in 1861-2. Victor Neuburg's judicious selection ranges from costermongers to ex-convicts, from chimney-sweeps to vagrants, and includes illustrations from the 1865 impression. Mayhew had no theoretical or political axe to grind, and eschewed vague philanthropy: he was as prepared to attribute the hardships of the poor to themselves as to society. Nevertheless, his outlook was compassionate and practical; and his aim was simply to report. This selection shows how well he succeeded: the underprivileged of London become extraordinarily and often shockingly alive - and Dickens is shown to be no exaggerator of life on the breadline in the middle of the 19th century.… (more)

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