Youth in the Victorian Urban Context

Mayhew’s account on youth during the Victorian age is one that is very different from our views on youth nowadays. Youth’s back then had a lot more responsibility, having to help the family make money as well as helping out in every way they could. Because of youth’s playing such an important role in the family economics, many times the children had some schooling but then were forced to stop due to their family’s need for them to go out and make money, or the lack of money to send them to it. A lot of the time they “knew no more of London than that part [they] had seen on [their] rounds,” showing just how limited their lives really were because of their family’s dependence on them (p1108). Also, because of this dependence on them, children were forced to grow up much quicker than they probably should. As mentioned by the watercress girl, it was no use for children to cry so they didn’t, showing that their way of life was the norm for hundreds of children and that they had already accepted their fate. Mayhew’s account really shows the dependence on youth that the working class had to really make ends meet, as well as the normality of youths as young as eight going out into the streets to work. I believe that it also shows where Victorian’s priorities were. Also, it shows the huge discrepancies in wealth during the time, because there were tons of children who were forced to go out at young ages, seen by the groups of them that worked together, who were just trying to help their family make money, or even just to survive themselves, because of the unfair advantages in wealth and the distribution of it which obviously wasn’t helping most of the working class if children at such a young age were forced to go out and earn money on the streets through street sweeping, begging, or other means.

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One thought on “Youth in the Victorian Urban Context

  1. I definitely agree with you that Mayhew’s depiction shows that youths in Victorian times had much more responsibility, but I also think it shows that to him, and by extension, the Victorians in general, youth, if we are thinking of ‘youth’ as a mindset or general attitude, was not even a period of life. When he talks about the watercress girl, who was only 8 years old, he says that she had “entirely lost her childish ways, and was, indeed, in thoughts and manner, a woman” (1108). Youth, because young children were burdened with such responsibility and hardship was essentially skipped over. This little 8 year old girl, Mayhew now considers a woman because she has endured such hardship and struggle. All the aspects that we think of when we consider youth now, freedom, playfulness, fun, seem to not apply at all to the youths of the Victorian period.

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