[Those curious about the history of the Victorian Web (which began before the WWW in another hypermedia environment) might be interested to learn that this document was one of the very first written specifically for what became this site by someone outside Brown University. (The materials on public health that Professor Wohl also contributed came from his previously published book [GPL].]
Mayhew conveys a sense of the differentness of the poor by employing the genre of travel literature and its drastic shock tactics to convey an exciting discovery — that of a different people, a savage or heathen race right in our very midst and at the center of the capital city, at the heart of the empire. When, for example, the Eclectic Review uses the phrase "unknown land" or terra incognita for the London slums, it is doing more than stating a fact (they were, indeed, unknown), it is using shock or sensationalist techniques to whet the appetite of the reader and also to convey a voyage down (and it is always down) into the depths of the slums — a lower, hidden, dark netherworld, a voyage to a different Continent. This appeals to the same voyeurism, the same thrill of terror, the same demand for excitement, the same "attraction of repulsion" to which Dickens' Household Words catered. Thus Thackeray, in his famous review of Mayhew, stressed that "some clear-sighted, energetic man like the writer . . . travels into the poor man's country for us, and comes back with his tale of terror and wonder" and "brings back"
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; and that the griefs, struggles, strange adventures here depicted exceed anything that any of us could imagine. Yes; and these wonders and terrors have been lying by your door and mine ever since we had a door of our own. We had but to go a hundred yards off and see for ourselves, but we never did. . . . We are of the upper classes; we have had hitherto no community with the poor. We never speak a word to the servant who waits on us for twenty years. [Punch, March 9, 1850, p. 93; quoted in Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty, New York, NY: Knopf, 1984, 350.]
How did this emphasis on "the unknown," "undiscovered," "foreign," "strange" country discovered by Mayhew condition contemporary images of the lower working classes?
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