The Victorian Underworld
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The Victorian Underworld

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  58 ratings  ·  11 reviews
Beneath the respectable surface of Victorian society lay a criminal world as diverse, as turbulent, and at times as vicious as any that has existed. Policemen could only stand in awe of the occupations and illegal practices which grew up.

Kellow Chesney begins his book by taking a general look at the society and its penal methods. Then, ranging over the whole spectrum of un...more
Paperback, 470 pages
Published 1976 by Penguin (first published 1970)
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Very interesting book, belonging on the same shelf as Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier or Down and Out in Paris and London. Basically like time-traveling back to the 1840s or 1850s for a tour of the seediest, grimiest, most dangerous urban and rural English environments, and spending time getting to know the local criminals, charlatans, and ne'er-do wells about the particulars of their lives.

Looking at the Table of Contents, we see chapters devoted to rookeries (urban ghettos where the police wer...more
I came to this looking for a London "Low Life," and it kind of is. However, Kellow Chesney is not Luc Sante. Or to put another way, if Luc Sante is your cool, history obsessed neighbor who will gladly pour your a whiskey and tell you about how many gang murders happened in your tenement corridor in 1890, Kellow Chesney would probably get the vapors if he passed a woman in provocative clothing coming out of an H&M yesterday. And that's part of the charm of his book. It takes a special kind of...more
Apr 16, 2009 Chloe marked it as to-read
Recommended to Chloe by: William Gibson

After reading yesterday's post about the role that Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor played in the birth of steampunk, William Gibson wrote in to add:

"I've never actually read Mayhew, but feel I've long had him, through brilliant osmosis, with Kellow Chesney's Victorian Underworld, which is easily one of my favorite books ever. People assume, when I tell them that, that Chesney would mainly have influenced The Difference Engine, but actually this was very cons...more
G Lott
England in the late 19th century is brought to light in this very interesting and revealing book The book shows the origines of many phrases and words used today. More importantly it discusses the dirty work done in order to survive.

For those who think crime is a modern problem and that modern society is more violent and more crime-ridden than earlier societies this book will come as a revelation. It’s not only the scale of crime in Victorian times that is shocking, the extent of the suffering and the horror of life in that period for such a large proportion of the population is almost beyond belief. The most fascinating thing about the book is the depiction of the various underworld sub-cultures – each type of crime had it...more
een lekkere tweedehands Penguinpaperback uit 1970, jawel, met een blauwe rug! Prachtig hoofdstuk over de connecties tussen de onderwereld en de sport in het midden van de 19e eeuw. Illegale bokswedstrijden met 10.000 bezoekers en intimidatie van de scheidsrechters, vergeven paardenracewedstrijden, hanengevechten.
Unusual homophobia appears from nowhere from the author in the 'Prostitution' chapter, hilarious scribbling in pencil from a disgusted student reacting to Chesney's views was very entertaining.

Despite being very helpful and illuminating, that end left me with an uneasy feeling about it.
Sep 02, 2012 Steph added it
Remember the musical "Oliver!" and those poor urchins pick-pocketing to eke out a living on London's harsh streets?

That was pretty much CAKE compared to how life actually worked for the poor then.

Fascinating, horrifying, intriguing stuff.

More later when I'm finished.
A interesting book if one is likes the way people lived and survived in poverty during the victorian era
Pickpockets and beggars and prostitutes, oh my!
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