Thursday, July 15, 2010

Victorian view on Consumerism

I came across this in my research recently and it really resonated. First published in 1872, this is an excerpt from Blanchard Jerrold's book London: a pilgrimage. Part of the fascination that middle-class Victorians held for social dissection that was spearheaded by Henry Mayhew and, later, Charles Booth, this book charts typical activities of people in London, including big events such as the boat race and balls, alongside every day life (and death) amongst the poor through a series of short chapters, exquisitely illustrated by Gustave Dore.

This is from the chapter entitled Humble Industries:

“There really isn’t any knowing what we shall come to,” said an intelligent New Cut dealer, who was fast disposing of immense mounds of cabbages and lettuces. “Just look how common pines have become, at a penny a slice. In my young days no such thing as a pine had been seen in any market except Covent Garden. But the worst of it is” – the man continued, following out his practical line of thought – “the worst of it is while what I call luxuries get cheaper every season, necessities – the things a man must have – get dearer. These are curious times, gentlemen; and we must keep up to them, or go to the wall. People want so many more things than they did when I was a lad. You see, as I said before, cheap luxuries and dear necessities are the cause of all the mischief. I don’t know how it’s to be helped: it isn’t my business – but I see the mistake plain enough, when the crowds in rags are collecting round the new-fangled ginger-beer and penny-ice man.”

It's worth considering his final points in terms of life today ...

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