Books Magazine

Book Review: London Labour and the London Poor

By Mariagrazia @SMaryG

LONDON LABOUR AND THE LONDON POOR. HENRY MAYHEW'S LONDON AND ITS FIRST ITALIAN TRANSLATION London Labour and the London Poor is a remarkable work of Victorian journalism by Henry Mayhew, Dickens's contemporary and like Dickens celebrating his bicentenary this year (both were born in 1812).  Mayhew observed, documented, interviewed, described hundreds of poor people living in the abyss which was London in the 1840s-50s for a series of articles published in the Morning Chronicle. Those articles were later on compiled  into book form (1851 in 3 volumes, 1861 a fourth Extra Volume was added). 
As a fond reader of Victorian literature, yesterday I was in Rome, at Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, for the presentation of the first Italian translation of Mayhew's work by Mauro Cotone: Il lavoro e i poveri nella Londra Vittoriana.
The Italian version of the work is a selection of 138 articles out of the many hundreds Mayhew wrote. Mauro Cotone selected them obtaining a significant wide range of typical figures from the crowd inhabiting London slums: beggars, street entertainers, mudlarks, prostitutes, labourers and thieves. A great portion of those destitute beings had no fixed place of work nor a fixed abode, they lived in the slum alleys and streets where Mayhew meet them. The caricatures full of pathos we find in Charles Dickens's pages become sketches of real people in these articles, people telling about themselves in authentic first-person accounts and objectively described by a professional reporter. 



Mauro Cotone's selection is a thorough work presenting a very rich variety of characters from London underworld with great care for the translation, not only of Mayhew's journalistic prose but also of Victorian poor people's slang, and with the addition of a great deal of information to support readers unfamiliar with the reality and history of the Victorian Age. If you open the book random and read the story chance proposes you,  you'll be taken away into a dark,  desperate world, as compelling as Dickens's, but without his grand eloquence, emphasis or hyperboles.
This work is an incredible data bank completing academic studies of the Victorian Age, a useful supplement to studies of Victorian literature, a wonderful source for historical fiction writers. It may also suggest stimulating contrasting analysis with works focusing on 19th century London - like Dickens's novels, Marx & Engels's essays or Jack London's People of the Abyss (1903) -  or it can be read following the thread of the social and economical transformations of the age.  Last but not least, this survey can bring forth important reflections and analogies with the appalling underworld  of a 21st century megalopolis. Back to the future?
Henry Mayhew's work is available on  (various formats, various editions) Mauro Cotone's translation is available on line as an e-book or paperback

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • London Street Art

    London Street

    The last time I was on Brick Lane, there was a lot of discussion about whether the famous street art should be removed or left up. Read more

    By  Magsrepublic
  • British Library, London, England

    British Library, London, England

    As well as being the national library for the United Kingdom, The British Library also has a rather exciting exhibitions programme. I visited last weekend and... Read more

    By  Theexhibitionlist
  • James Kalinda and Centina London Book Launch

    James Kalinda Centina London Book Launch

    Get Up Get Down is proud to present Italian artists James Kalinda and Centina in their first ever UK exhibition.Join them for a one-night only exhibition in eas... Read more

    By  Invisiblemadevisible
  • OBEY Sample Sale London

    OBEY Sample Sale London

    Just in time for Christmas the London OBEY Sample Sale is kicking off this Thursday 20th - Sunday 23th December!!! Returning to their regular spot within The Ol... Read more

    By  Invisiblemadevisible
  • A London Christmas

    London Christmas

    The Boxing Day tube strike is becoming a tradition, but there are plenty of others which are more enjoyable. Here's a quick round-up of some London-y festive... Read more

    By  Carolineld
  • VLOG Episode 3 : Visiting The Philippine Version Of Venice Italy.

    VLOG Episode Visiting Philippine Version Venice Italy.

    No need to visit Rome Italy just to experience the amorous atmosphere if the Grand Canal. Philippines has also a version of that. Located at Cluster B,... Read more

    7 hours, 20 minutes ago by   Jonathan Orbuda
  • Guest Post: "I Am a Badass"

    Guest Post: Badass"

    In January 2015 Mel was both diagnosed with cancer and, within 24 hours, made redundant from her day-job. By January 2016 Mel was in remission and returning to... Read more

    8 hours, 41 minutes ago by   Priscillamacmillan