London Labour and the London Poor is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a work of literature, and a groundbreaking work of sociology. It originated in a series of articles for a London newspaper and grew into a massive record of the daily life of Victorian London's underclass. Mayhew conducted hundreds of interviews with the city's street traders, entertainers, thieves and beggars which revealed that the 'two nations' of rich and poor were much closer than many people thought. By turns alarming, touching, and funny, the pages of London Labour and the London Poor exposed a previously hidden world to view. The first-hand accounts of costermongers and street-sellers, of sewer-scavenger and chimney-sweep, are intimate and detailed and provide an unprecedented insight into their day-to-day struggle for survival. Combined with Mayhew's obsessive data gathering, these stories have an immediacy that owes much to his sympathetic understanding and highly effective literary style. In its imaginative power the work can justly be regarded as the greatest Victorian novel never written.
This new selection offers a cross-section of the original volumes and their evocative illustrations, and includes among other features an illuminating introduction to Henry Mayhew and the genesis and influence of his work.