In the 1880s, fashionable Londoners left their elegant homes and clubs in Mayfair and Belgravia and crowded into omnibuses bound for midnight tours of the slums of East London. A new word burst into popular usage to describe these descents into the precincts of poverty to see how the poor lived: slumming. In this captivating book, Seth Koven paints a vivid portrait of the practitioners of slumming and their world: who they were, why they went, what they claimed to have found, how it changed them, and how slumming, in turn, powerfully shaped both Victorian and twentieth-century understandings of poverty and social welfare, gender relations, and sexuality.
The slums of late-Victorian London became synonymous with all that was wrong with industrial capitalist society. But for philanthropic men and women eager to free themselves from the starched conventions of bourgeois respectability and domesticity, slums were also places of personal liberation and experimentation. Slumming allowed them to act on their irresistible "attraction of repulsion" for the poor and permitted them, with society's approval, to get dirty and express their own "dirty" desires for intimacy with slum dwellers and, sometimes, with one another.
Slumming elucidates the histories of a wide range of preoccupations about poverty and urban life, altruism and sexuality that remain central in Anglo-American culture, including the ethics of undercover investigative reporting, the connections between cross-class sympathy and same-sex desire, and the intermingling of the wish to rescue the poor with the impulse to eroticize and sexually exploit them.
By revealing the extent to which politics and erotics, social and sexual categories overflowed their boundaries and transformed one another, Koven recaptures the ethical dilemmas that men and women confronted--and continue to confront--in trying to "love thy neighbor as thyself."...Continua
This book is a very interesting look at class and gender in the late Victorian period. If focuses on the way that wealthy and middle class people portrayed and interacted with the poor, particularly in the East End of London. The book does this by looking at the portrayal of poor people, their jobs, their homes, their apparance in newspapers, photographs and novels. In many ways the Victorian attitudes towards their portrayal of the poor reminded me of reality tv shows today. The book starts with Greenwood's report on the night he spent in a workhouse and the subsequent publication of that event. The book considers the strong homoerotic themes of the article as well as the different responses to it including the coupling of homlessness with homosexuality in the 1898 vagrancy act. Chapter two looks at Dr Barnados photographs of street children and the claims of sexualisation of them. It considers the way images were manipulated to play on the emotions of those that donations were being solicited from. Chapter three looks at the women journalism, particularly the writing of Elizabeth Banks and American journalist who reportedly said that she did her investiagitive journalism on the conditions of the poor not because she wanted to improve their lives but to earn her own living. The chapter was quite hard on Banks, she had a lot of negative things send, but later when she wrote something different, instead of saying that perhaps this was because her ideas had changed Koven seemed to indicate this just proved her unrealiability as a writer. However, there were some very interesting gender stereotypes between the UK and the US examined and I learned a great deal about women journalists.
Part two looked at "cross class sisterhood and brotherhood in the slums". This was divided into two chapters, one on women one on men. The methodology here was a little strange. When the women and their relationships were discussed it was entirely from the point of view of women philanthropists who wrote novels. When the men were discussed it focused entirely on the reality of two homes/charitable agencies Oxford House and Toynbee Hall. This seemed to present a little bit of a strange dichotomy. That said the chapter on women was fascinating, and reminded me once again that I really do need to read some more Vernon Lee. The chapter discussed her book, Miss Brown and L.T. Meade's Princess of the gutter. What was interesting was the portrayal of same sex attraction within these novels. Vernon Lee's book was dismissed as "dirty" even though it was the more restrained of the two. Meade, a devout evangelical Christian, had her two herioines making out in a prison cell and was considered terribly pure.
The only critisicm I had of this book was that it focused entirely on London. I think it would be interesting to expand the work that was done looking at the different portrayal of gender and class into the whole of the UK, particularly the North of England and to see what if anything was different in these accounts. But I would definitely recommend this book very highly....Continua