London Labour Analysis

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Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (hereafter London Labour) is a journalistic work that describes the living conditions of the working street-folk and the poor in mid-19th century London. Whilst creating vivid impressions of metropolitan street-life, the text also tries to arrange a part of the population unknown to the middle and upper classes into systematic order. Personal narratives alternate with numbers, tables and statistics. On an abstract level, there is a dichotomy between subjective and objective forms of representation, which makes it hard to pin down the text as either fact or fiction. Several critics take this dichotomy as a starting point to examine the status or relevance of London Labour as a historical document.…show more content…
Nowadays, due to high professionalisation and specialisation of the sciences, scientific discourses are rather far apart from literary discourses. In the nineteenth century, however, their relationship was much closer. Scientists like Darwin wrote in a style similar to that of other educated writers of the time and their works were read by large parts of society (Flohr, 1999, 3). The fact that Mayhew writes for a large public, while clearly having scientific ambitions makes him a middleman between science and popular culture in the nineteenth century. This paper shall investigate whether the scientific and literary strategies in London Labour work together to support Mayhew in this function. To examine the deconstructive tendencies within the text, which undermine its status as either fact or fiction, a poststructuralist approach will be pursued, reading especially for tensions and contradictions within the logical structure of the…show more content…
He admits that the group of interest is large and diversified, which makes it hard to comprehend it in all detail. He is aware of the fact that a systematisation is only possible by means of reduction, which inevitably means limitation and omission of certain characteristics. Yet, he postulates six “distinct” categories under which all of the London street-folk could be subsumed, without further commenting on the aforementioned problems. The paradox he thereby creates reveals also on the semantic level, where the antonyms “multifarious” or “varied” and “distinct” are used to refer to the very same group of
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