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Everyday Life in Victorian England

Posted on by Nick Okrent

While running through Covent Garden to purchase the first shocking issue of The Gentleman in Black for a penny, a young man in Victorian England might hear a cry from a woman selling flowers--
"Bow-pots, two bunches a-penny,
Come buy of me, if you want any."
while watching ladies and gentleman entering the theatre to see King Lear. He would stop to see posters advertising the circus and perhaps wonder whether any 'freaks' as wonderful as General Tom Thumb would be on display.

On a busy day, he would be likely to encounter impoverished Londoners going to the workhouse or to their decrepit housing, tourists reading guides to the sites, working class and well-to-do folks seeking entertainment, and street urchins, among others.

Three databases recently purchased by the Libraries provide access to scans of rare material that throw light on everyday life in Victorian England, bringing together material that reflects the lives and experiences of the poor and working class.  Likewise, this material gives insight to the mundane and unseemly aspects of life that are often ignored in depictions of the Victorian period.

These databases can be searched simultaneously in Adam Matthew Explorer along with other databases that cover topics such as the 1851 great exhibition, commodity culture (coffee, for example) and guild society (The Stationers' Company).

Material about everyday life in Victorian England is not only fascinating, it helps explain how structures in 21st century Anglo-American society related to poverty, entertainment and spectatorship developed in the way they did, a topic addressed by students in Professor of History Thomas Safley's history course Capitalism and Charity: The Long Complicated Connection, who made heavy use of these resources.

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