The Youth of Victorian London

Henry Mayhew’s interviews with London street children reveals a terrible consequence of Industrialization. The factory owners and other members of the upper class have capitalized on the massive influx of people into urban centers by paying them abysmal wages for horrid jobs. Many people cannot find work or make enough money to support a family. Many, especially children, have nothing else other than drastic measures such as stealing or begging. The Watercress Girl in “London Labour and the London Poor” has etched out a pathetic living by selling lettuce on the city streets. This little girl should be a youth; she should embody the carefree life for which so many are nostalgic, but, sadly, the class she was born into forced her to forgo any chance of youth. She fails to even see her self as a child anymore, she believes that “[they] wouldn’t let such as [her] go there” in referring to the parks of London that she had never seen (1109). She also clearly admits that she “ain’t no child,” but she does not see herself as yet a women grown (1111). The poor youth of London found themselves stuck in a state of limbo, or perhaps purgatory, between youth and adulthood. They know that they are children, but they spend all their time trying to merely survive rather than growing and learning as they ought to. The age of industrialization does not simply redefine youth, it crushes and distorts it into something that cannot be recognized.

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One thought on “The Youth of Victorian London

  1. I do agree with the point being that the youth in the industrial period is being oppressed, so much so, that children have forgotten how to be children; the youth only know how to do one specific job well, just like how adults in factories at that time only do one job in an assembly line. During the interview with the little girl, she says that “children never play…’cos [they have to think] of [their] living” (1109). The point being made in this statement is that there is no youthful period anymore due to the tough competition undergone for survival in the industrial setting. Children don’t have the luxury of being children and must focus on surviving to the next day. To do this, they must master one specific thing and get good enough at it to make money where there is no money.
    This little girl, for example, has a “capital hand at bargaining-but only” for what she knows how to sell. She can’t bargain with anything else because she has specialized in that one thing (1110). She “knows the quantities very well” and even has strategies to sell them more effectively, such as “puff[ing] them out as much as [possible]” (1110). The little girl is an expert in the market of watercreases, but besides that, she really doesn’t know anything. It is a clear example of the youth being poisoned by the workforce of the industrial period. In an assembly line, each worker does one specific job. These workers can only do that one job; they couldn’t do the job of the man or woman next to them. This little girl is the same way. She can do her job of selling and bargaining watercreases well enough to make money, but she knows no other way of making money. The industrial mentality has crept into the mind of the youth in a way that has essentially eliminated the youth from Britain at this time period.

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