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Victorian vagrancy: a cultural history of the wandering poor

Robinson, Alistair John; (2019) Victorian vagrancy: a cultural history of the wandering poor. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis examines the representation of vagrants and vagrancy in British culture in the nineteenth century. Focused on the Victorian period, but ranging widely from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, it explores the portrayal of vagrants through literature, the visual arts, and the periodical and newspaper press. The study is organised around three topographies – the country, the city and the colony – and the vagrants that were imagined to inhabit them. Each of these topographies forms the backdrop for two chapters that address specific types of vagrant; these are Gypsies and hawkers, poachers, casual paupers, loafers, colonial vagabonds, and beachcombers. As this taxonomic structure suggests, the type of vagrants that were represented was dependent upon the locality in which they existed or were thought to exist. On a more granular level, location also determined their aesthetic, social and political attributes. These were conditioned, and in part expressed, by the way in which vagrants moved; the manner in which their vagrancy was articulated. This, too, was dependent upon location. Topographies shaped vagrant movement through the contours of their landscape; the resources and opportunities they provided; and the degree to which they were subject to control and observation. Using literary texts ranging from Hannah More’s Black Giles (1796) to Jack London’s The People of the Abyss (1903), as well as photographs, paintings, illustrations, newspapers and periodicals, this thesis builds up a detailed picture of how six vagrant types were imagined to move and to mean. In the process it explores how thinking about vagrants and vagrancy changed over the nineteenth century, and why certain types of representation became particularly common during certain historical moments. These inquiries in turn shed light upon broader social, political and historical anxieties regarding urbanisation, migration and colonisation – the potentially threatening movements of the British population.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Victorian vagrancy: a cultural history of the wandering poor
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Third party copyright material has been removed from this e-thesis.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10056421
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