The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves and Prostitutes

Courier Corporation
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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."
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About the author

Henry Mayhew had a varied career as a London writer of the mid-Victorian period. He was the son of a London solicitor, Joshua Mayhew, who reputedly was a rather tyrannous father. Apparently, Henry was a bitter disappointment to his father; the younger Mayhew had been educated at the Westminster School but, in objection to a flogging he had received, ran away from school and went to sea for a year. On his return, he was articled to his father but after three years, he abandoned the law to seek a career as a journalist and a dramatist. Mayhew achieved some early success as a dramatist, most notably with his 1834 farce, "The Wandering Minstrel." In the late 1830's, he was the joint editor of a successful satirical weekly, Figaro in London, and later helped to found Figaro's most significant and long-lived successor, Punch. Evidently, a fairly serious rift developed between Mayhew and his magazine colleagues, although the details of this falling-out remain a mystery---one of the many unanswered questions about Mayhew's life. Mayhew was never without financial worries, and, as a means of making quick money, he collaborated on a number of comic novels with his younger brother, Augustus (1826--75). Their most successful work is "The Greatest Plague of Life" (1847), which was issued in monthly numbers and proved very popular. They followed it with "Whom to Marry and How to Get Married" (1848); later Mayhew singly authored 1851, or, "The Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Sandbags 1851," (1851). Mayhew's attempt, in 1851, to publish the 82 "letters" he had written for the Morning Chronicle, in which he investigates the plight of London's urban poor, was a financial failure. They were issued in 1861, however, in four volumes under the title London Labour and the London Poor. It is for this classic work that Mayhew is today best known. In it, he unhesitatingly depicts the opprobrium under which most of the London working classes led their lives. In many ways, London Labour and the London Poor epitomizes the Victorian tendency to be simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the working classes, the "Great Unwashed" huddled together in the urban centers of England. Along with Edwin Chadwick and J.P. Kay-Shuttleworth, Mayhew stands as one of the earliest of urban sociologists. Although recent years have witnessed an increase in interest in Henry Mayhew, a "definitive" biography remains to be written. The introductions to his work, notably John Rosenberg's preface to the Dover facsimile edition of London Labour and the London Poor and the essays framing the edition of "The Unknown Mayhew," are good sources of information.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Courier Corporation
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Published on
Aug 28, 2012
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Pages
416
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ISBN
9780486130842
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Great Britain / General
Social Science / Sociology / Urban
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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WINNER OF THE 2017 PULITZER PRIZE GENERAL NON-FICTION 

From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America
 
In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR NONFICTION | WINNER OF THE PEN/JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH AWARD FOR NONFICTION | WINNER OF THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN NONFICTION | FINALIST FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE | NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by The New York Times Book Review • The Boston Globe •  The Washington Post • NPR • Entertainment Weekly • The New Yorker • Bloomberg •  Esquire • Buzzfeed • Fortune • San Francisco Chronicle • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel • St. Louis Post-Dispatch •  Politico •  The Week • Bookpage • Kirkus Reviews •  Amazon •  Barnes and Noble Review •  Apple •  Library Journal • Chicago Public Library • Publishers Weekly • Booklist • Shelf Awareness
In The Devil in the White City, the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.

Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

To find out more about this book, go to http://www.DevilInTheWhiteCity.com.
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