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‘Victorian Journalist of Genius’? Henry Mayhew as Character in Neo-Victorian Fiction and Drama

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‘Victorian Journalist of Genius’? Henry Mayhew as Character in Neo-Victorian Fiction and Drama

Cette communication a été filmée dans le cadre du colloque international  "Writers in Neo-Victorian Fiction" organisé par l'équipe anglophone ERIBIA le 11 octobre 2019 à la Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines de l'Université Caen Normandie, sous la responsablilité d'Armelle Parey (ERIBIA, Caen) et Charlotte Wadoux (19-21, Paris 3).

Chris Louttit is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He researches Victorian fiction and its afterlives, and has published an article on neo-Victorian fictional responses to Mayhew’s work. Other recent publications include a co-edited special issue of Neo-Victorian Studies on screen Victoriana and a Gothic Studies piece on Tim Burton and the neo-Victorian.


London Labour and the London Poor (1850-1862), the magnum opus of Victorian social investigator and miscellaneous writer Henry Mayhew, has been mined as a source of period detail by neo-Victorian authors since the 1980s. Matthew Kneale’s Sweet Thames (1992) and Terry Pratchett’s Dodger (2012) are even dedicated to the pioneering work of this ‘Victorian Journalist of Genius’. More recently, Mayhew has started to appear as a character in a variety of neo-Victorian texts, from Pratchett’s Dodger to Michelle Roberts’s The Walworth Beauty (2017) and Penny Gold’s BBC Radio 4 Drama A Chaos of Wealth and Want (2010). My paper will examine this intriguing textual afterlife of Mayhew, a figure well-known to Victorianists but less familiar to the general public. It will consider the representation of Mayhew in relation to the period’s securely canonical authors such as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Henry James and Oscar Wilde. The neo-characterisation of Mayhew, I will suggest, provides insight into responses to the more marginal forms of authorship of the period. In Mayhew’s case, it is difficult to disentangle the man from his most famous work. Unlike canonised authors such as Dickens and James, those representing Mayhew show little interest in his romantic life, preferring instead to view him through the lens of social investigation. His authorial afterlife is a deeply metatextual one that, in line with other forms of neo-Victorian rewriting, probes and reassesses his complex, ambiguous interactions with the Victorian working poor from the perspective of the present day.



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