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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  290 ratings  ·  32 reviews
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 su ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published July 25th 2005 by Dover Publications
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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Start your review of The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves and Prostitutes
 (shan) Littlebookcove
Interesting book, wasn't quite what i expected as i expected there to be more picture's and actually facts from the underworld themselves but never the less it was quite good!
Daniel
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
In the 1840s, journalist Henry Mayhew published a series of articles about the poor of London. These were published in book form in 1851, in the three-volume London Labour and the London Poor. When the books were reprinted in 1861 a fourth volume was added, subtitled Those That Will Not Work, comprising Prostitutes, Thieves, Swindlers and Beggars. The present book is a Dover reprint of that fourth volume.

Despite the cover and title page, Mayhew does not seem to have contributed to this volume.
...more
Alessandro Mana
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A work that is a classic reference source for sociologists, historians and criminologists.
 
One of the most informative books on Victorian London, written in a simple language even if sometimes it falls into Victorian terminology.

Although Mayhew's accounts are more personal than scientific, there is much to discover by reading the lines, especially in the section on prostitution.

Investigating the London criminal plot, the reader realizes that for many people there was no other way to resort to cr
...more
Tuuli Hypén
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book because of the first-person accounts and the dialect that sounded very authentic. If you want to get into the grimy numbers and details of Victorian Period larceny, here's a good book for that.

It's very nice source material for fantasy writers and roleplayers. The book is teeming with all sorts of miscreants from rough glass-cutting burglars to blind paralytic drunk prostitutes and pickpocket children. While reading this book I often found myself thinking "I didn't even
...more
pearl
Sep 19, 2012 marked it as to-read
Beggars! Thieves! And prostitutes!
Emily
Apr 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
You can definitely tell that this was written in the 19th century, because the author takes practically no steps towards legitimising his authority as a social scientist. The most scientific aspect is the inclusion of some data collected on the number of prostitutes, the trades & occupations of prostitutes arrested, the number of felonies committed & the value of the property stolen, etc, etc. Theres plenty of data throughout which is not distracting but adds to the text. Im not big on a lot of ...more
Rebecca
This book is exactly what it claims to be - an authentic study of the London Underworld in the middle of the 19th century. And it does so very well. It is an interesting read, showing a world (thankfully) long gone - not written to be sensational but to give a true picture of the enormous social problems in London at the time.

It is well written, it is easy to read (despite its age) and you will learn quite a bit reading it. If you are a writer and want to add some crime to your novel this is an
...more
Patrick Lum
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Super interesting and super thorough first-person accounts from Victorian London, pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. Found myself nodding off halfway through the Thieves' chapter though, not from lack of interest but just from sheer information overload. Fantastic reference book, plus you get a great sense of the character of the time (from a high-class scholar's view, anyway)
Annelie Wendeberg
Jul 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Useful for background research, but the arrogant tone of the well-to-so author annoys me.
J.L. Slipak
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
MY THOUGHTS:

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 endur
...more
Royce Ratterman
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves & Prostitutes, shall remain a continual source of research for me throughout the upcoming years.
Referenced/Read for personal research and historical clarity. I found this work of immense interest. The details given to the lives, jobs, activities, etc., portrayed are full of life - amazing tales of life's struggles and the spirit of human persistence.
This work is one of my resources for personal wri
...more
Steve Parcell
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, uk-history
It was fairly interesting although a little hard going. It was written in the 18th century by Mayhew and the stories are from each individual so it just feels a little stilted and mundane.
Filip
Mar 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 3-stars
Not often you can read such an interesting first hand account.

Of course it isn't very objective. In fact, it is WONDERFULLY biased showing all the prejudices existing in that times... even though you get a sense that the author, despite looking down on many unfortunates, still has more compassion and open mind than most of his peers.

That was certainly educating, if not exactly accurate.
Lucinda Elliot
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have found this book fascinating since I first came across it at the age of fifteen.
Invaluable reading to gain a true insight into the nature of Victorian England, and Victorian London in particular.
Patcholi1961
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Such an amazing book, particularly when the author recounts people's experiences in their own words. I would've given it another star, however I find that it tends to get bogged down in statistics but then again this is to be understood considering that it was written by a sociologist. The other problem that I have with the book is that I no longer have a dictionary from that time period, so occasionally I will get hung up on a word that the definition has changed so much over time that it is n ...more
Tracey
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a gem of a book as it is a good source material of social history of London's Underworld around the 1850s.
Henry Mayhew while proclaiming to be objective is not that all, he certainly comes in with 'an holier than thou attitude' about the profession that 'these' people undertake.
He goes through an extensive analysis of prostitution, he categorises the levels of engagement that women participate. For example Mayhew defines one class as 'female operatives' who can be milliners, dress make
...more
Starfish
May 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: joys_of_research
Great book. Mayhew is a pretty surprising narrator in that while he does censor and frame the accounts he has collected within his Victorian prejudices, he does point out that it is really hard for people to earn an honest living. He's collected these accounts over the course of years, has statistics to go alongside them, but does let the people he encounters speak for themselves.

And of course, you learn a lot about Mayhew's predjudices too. He has some wonderful quotes, particularly on prostit
...more
M.
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
One of the most informative books on London's Victorian underbelly, written in simple, unflowered language and accessible even today. Though Mayhew's accounts are more personal in nature than scientific, there is a lot being said between the lines, especially in his section on prostitution in London. You come away from this investigative look on London's underworld with the understanding that Mayhew felt a certain sympathy for many of these people, some of whom had no other recourse than to turn ...more
H.L. Stephens
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a good introduction into the overwhelming works of Mayhew. For those interested in whetting their appetite but not drenching themselves in the history of the times, this book helps cover the highlights of the dozens of volumes that were the extent of Mayhew's works. This book also tempers some of the darker aspects of Mayhew's disillusion and outright prejudice that are more apparent in the unabridged versions of his volumes, enabling the interested parties to learn about the detail ...more
Lachlan Pezet
Nov 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm no where near finishing this book since my approach has been to peruse the chapter headings and read whatever captures my fancy. However, the experience has been wonderfully grim. I should admit that I chose Mayhew's underworld over labour because I'm a terrible being that prefers accounts of the decline in well mannered highway men than cutting edge studies of poverty. Labour and Poor is sitting on my bookshelf but I'm more than happy to keep company with London's underworld figures for a l ...more
Nicolas W
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very fascinating book. Interviews with prostitutes and thieves from all levels and walks of life in mid 19th century London. The interviews are written in a monologue form, showing that they were likely written by memory of the encounter, so there may have been some leeway for embellishment. Nonetheless, the interviews are very descriptive and personal, to the length where I could actually visualize a teenage mudlark boy scavenging in the River Thames.
H.L. Stephens
Jul 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is only an exerpt from the complete 4 volume series that was originally printed in 1861, but the details and language are incredible. As a historical first hand reference, it is a gem for me, a fiction writer of that era looking for unadulterated details of the Victorian Era and society at that time.
Cocaine
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Having read bits of this book whilst researching for my own 'Wilful Walks' essay/journal, I found the text useful. It was far more of a struggle though when confronted with reading it from cover to cover. It is of its time, obviously, but gives a splendid indication of how life would have been then.
Terry
Oct 20, 2008 rated it liked it
In 1862, eleven years after the publication of Henry Mayhew's gigantic survey of conditions among the London proletariat, London Labour and the London Poor, this fourth volume was added to the series. As eye opening as ever I am at present struggling along the London sewers. Not a pretty sight!!
johnny dangerously
Extremely informative, but very dense and difficult to get through due to the dated structure of Mayhew's prose. It's not his fault, he wasn't writing for us, but all the same, the thing's a bit of a slog.
Emel
Sep 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. This book really gives you first hand accounts of some of london's seedy underworld. This book makes you cry and laugh at the same time, and makes you appreciate living in the 21 century.
Rebecca Wright
Jan 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a fun book...if you like reading about the underbelly of life in Victorian London, which of course I do:)
Huckle
Oct 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Henry Mayhew. . . The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: BRILLIANT.
Callie
Jan 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Read this book more times than I can remember over the space of 9 months. Ah, the joys of a history dissertation.
Kim
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very informative and enjoyable.
It feels that the 1800's was a whole entirely new world. Parts of the book were quite boring and I did skip a bit (mostly near the end), but I am very glad I read it.
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Henry Mayhew was an English social researcher, journalist, playwright and advocate of reform. He was one of the co-founders of the satirical and humorous magazine Punch in 1841. He is also known for his work as a social researcher, publishing an extensive series of newspaper articles in the Morning Chronicle that was later compiled into the book series London Labour and the London Poor (1851), a g ...more

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