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‘Vice and wretchedness exist in their most appalling and hideous forms, stalking about with bold front, unblushingly, as though vice were virtue.’ For the middle-class moralists and reformers of Victorian London, poverty was synonymous with depravity: their descriptions of the urban working classes portray a swarming, undifferentiated mass, impoverished and immoral. In the absence of written accounts by the poor themselves, these nineteenth-century prejudices still cloud our understanding of popular attitudes to sensuality and courtship, marriage and pregnancy.
Love in the Time of Victoria overturns these prejudices by presenting and analyzing an extraordinary range of hitherto unpublished first-hand documents: love letters and testimonies from working-class women who faced pregnancy alone, and from their suitors, relatives and employers. These unique and moving writings provide the fullest and most accurate picture to date of love and sex among the poor in Victorian London.
Francoise Barret-Ducrocq has painstakingly uncovered autobiographical fragments which show women and men who are neither depraved nor unusually virtuous. They meet in the course of their work, in the streets or through family and friends; they seek romance in parks and pubs, servants’ attics or rented rooms. The women’s own records of their relationships resonate with all the singularities of desire, passion and regret, and they reveal a wide range of responses to separation or abandonment. For, despite their limited options, these women continued to exercise real choice. Their words vividly bring to life the material and emotional conflicts of the poor in nineteenth-century London.
This remarkable book restores dignity and individuality to its subjects, but never idealizes them. The stories here contain cynicism and tenderness, cruelty and generosity. As the author says, this is history amazingly like real life.