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Life in the East End of London in 1902.
Published: Start Classics an imprint of NBN Books on May 1, 1970
ISBN: 9781633551473
List price: $1.99
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The old adage, "You can't judge a book by it's cover" certainly applies in the case of this particular book. Hesperus have put together a really lovely thick cover and good quality pages. I wanted to like it, I really did, and it initially started off well, being about poverty in London in the early 1900's. I wanted to be interested because my grandparents were born around 1910, and so not so far into the future of London's study of the people of London, which was 1902. I felt that he barely touched the surface of the people of the East End's lives, he wrote about the dire circumstances in which those people lived, and although you could sense his anger, I felt that all the time he was comparing our lives to those of those living in poverty in America, who he considered to be much better off. The book ended up being a chore to read and I forced myself to finish the last quarter of it, although I'm sure I didn't take much of it in.read more
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If you're looking for a scholarly and unbiased account of life among London's poor at the turn of the last century, Jack London's The People of the Abyss would probably not be very interesting or helpful. But as an admittedly slanted, but nevertheless apparently accurate account of one man's interactions with poverty-stricken Londoners of the period, this is the book for you. I've never been a great fan of politically fueled "exposes," and London's writing does at times go over the top a bit, in his depth of emotion and strident belief in the veracity of his opinions, but regardless, he is an excellent reporters of interesting conversations. His novelistic skills in building character and establishing place are employed quite well and would be, in my opinion, the best reason for reading this work. And, as other reviewers have noted, the Hesperus Press edition of The People of the Abyss is really a lovely little softcover book, very nice both for its shelf appearance and ease of reading.read more
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In 1902, Jack London went to the city of London and spent a few months posing as an unemployed American sailor in the East End slums. He lived with them, on the streets and in workhouses, and in The People of the Abyss he reports back on the living conditions he found there. They are horrific. Starvation, filth, disease... people standing hours in line trying to get a spot to sleep for the night, unable to find or keep jobs. Many of the people London met were merely unlucky - an illness, a death in the family, an injury that cost them a job, the "thing that happened" - and the next thing they knew they were homeless, no longer able to make ends meet (sounds familiar, no? The more things change, the more they stay the same). It is difficult reading, and London only hints at some of the worst of the problems. As other reviewers have said, this is by no means an unbiased, just-the-facts-ma'am book. London was outraged by what he saw. In the book, he lays blame at the feet of the government, society, the lack of jobs, and even do-gooders, stopping just short of calling for class revolution. For what it is worth, an outraged Jack London is a compulsively readable Jack London, for this reviewer. So, so difficult to put down.read more
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The old adage, "You can't judge a book by it's cover" certainly applies in the case of this particular book. Hesperus have put together a really lovely thick cover and good quality pages. I wanted to like it, I really did, and it initially started off well, being about poverty in London in the early 1900's. I wanted to be interested because my grandparents were born around 1910, and so not so far into the future of London's study of the people of London, which was 1902. I felt that he barely touched the surface of the people of the East End's lives, he wrote about the dire circumstances in which those people lived, and although you could sense his anger, I felt that all the time he was comparing our lives to those of those living in poverty in America, who he considered to be much better off. The book ended up being a chore to read and I forced myself to finish the last quarter of it, although I'm sure I didn't take much of it in.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
If you're looking for a scholarly and unbiased account of life among London's poor at the turn of the last century, Jack London's The People of the Abyss would probably not be very interesting or helpful. But as an admittedly slanted, but nevertheless apparently accurate account of one man's interactions with poverty-stricken Londoners of the period, this is the book for you. I've never been a great fan of politically fueled "exposes," and London's writing does at times go over the top a bit, in his depth of emotion and strident belief in the veracity of his opinions, but regardless, he is an excellent reporters of interesting conversations. His novelistic skills in building character and establishing place are employed quite well and would be, in my opinion, the best reason for reading this work. And, as other reviewers have noted, the Hesperus Press edition of The People of the Abyss is really a lovely little softcover book, very nice both for its shelf appearance and ease of reading.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In 1902, Jack London went to the city of London and spent a few months posing as an unemployed American sailor in the East End slums. He lived with them, on the streets and in workhouses, and in The People of the Abyss he reports back on the living conditions he found there. They are horrific. Starvation, filth, disease... people standing hours in line trying to get a spot to sleep for the night, unable to find or keep jobs. Many of the people London met were merely unlucky - an illness, a death in the family, an injury that cost them a job, the "thing that happened" - and the next thing they knew they were homeless, no longer able to make ends meet (sounds familiar, no? The more things change, the more they stay the same). It is difficult reading, and London only hints at some of the worst of the problems. As other reviewers have said, this is by no means an unbiased, just-the-facts-ma'am book. London was outraged by what he saw. In the book, he lays blame at the feet of the government, society, the lack of jobs, and even do-gooders, stopping just short of calling for class revolution. For what it is worth, an outraged Jack London is a compulsively readable Jack London, for this reviewer. So, so difficult to put down.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Jack London remains one of the most prescient observers of human society. This work of journalism is the product of his own immersion into the slums of London after witnessing the coronation of Edward VII in the capital of the British Empire in 1902. Hindsight reveals that the British Empire was at its height. The eponymous London was also at the height of his powers, and published his most famous work, "The Call of the Wild" in the following year back in California, which remained his home.This work is the first manacle of reportage by London which indicts the hands of the wealthy criminal class where "The Iron Heel" published in 1907 caught their feet. London had the insight and courage to expose as ineluctable fact that criminals in the name of capitalism would use every device of fraud and violence to seize the wealth and labor of the poor. These twin volumes prophecied the utterly pointless destruction of WWI and the rise of fascism which culminated in WWII.This edition is brilliantly prefaced by Jack Lindsay who provides historical background on London without indulging in any clap-trap ideological bias. The background touches upon London's reactionary streaks--his own racism, and views on women, affected by readings on Hegel and Nietzsche [4]--and whatever internal inconsistencies lie in the heart of a man who built up a fortune while advocating socialism. The Preface notes that it "was nothing new for a writer to make a journey into slumland and return to recount its horrors." Lindsay compares London to the Victorians who preceded him: William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, whose kitchens and beds for the poor were visited by London, wrote "In Darkest England" in 1890. He documented the horrific conditions "within a stone's throw of our cathedrals and palaces".George R. Sims, another colorful and highly productive journalist, repeatedly documented the perils of lives in the London slums. For example in his "How the Poor Live" and "Horrible London" in 1889.Charles Booth, the Unitarian philanthropist famous for providing a map of povertry in London, in "Life and Labour of the People in London" (1889). William T. Stead, the English journalist and editor who pioneered "new journalism" and investigative reporting, published numerous articles on urban poverty, especially in England, but including one series after living six months sub rosa in Chicago. In placing London in this historical setting, Lindsay notes that both Booths, and Sims, Mayhew and James Greenwood, among others, gave striking accounts of the terrible conditions for the poor in England. He notes that the life of the poor had been academically studied by W. Wyckoff, luridly depicted by William Stead, and scientifically analyzed by Charles Booth. But Lindsay offers the argument made by a reviewer at the time (in The Independent) that London offered a unique addition: London brought these conditions to life--making it "real and present to us". [7] London depicts the inhabitants as our brothers and sisters, unblurred by sentimentality.The authenticity of London's documentation is vouch-safed by the American's use of street cant. He also recites numerous "stories" told by the denizens of the crowded streets, "gardens" (patches of grass), doss-houses, and workhouses -- the Mile End Waste, the Spike, Whitechapel, Hoxton, Spitalfields, and Wapping. He found the women in Leman Street, Waterloo Road, Piccadilly, the Strand [100]. He could compare the places serving "skilly", a fluid concoction of oatmeal and hot water provided as breakfast and supper. [38] Includes his observations of the Coronation. He documents the rise of a "new race of street people". [94] London spells out how these brutalized degraded and dull "Ghetto folk" have been incapacitated and cannot, cannot, perform service to England, either as workers or as soldiers, because of their weakness and desperation. [94] He compares jails in America with the fare of an English workingman, and finds the latter severely lacking. The work also recites the latest statistical and economic data on pauperism in London. [101] Of particular import was his grasp of how many English were killed and maimed by their participation in the forms of "work" available to them--West End factories, carding and chemical concerns, slayed even the most splendid men and women. [104] London lines up the suicide cases. He presents the gestures--ghastly simulacrae--toward a "family life" made impossible for the desparate wailing for lasting employment to enable workers to earn food and shelter. Where the labor is so productive that a single workman can produce cloth for 250 people, and five men can produce bread for a thousand, yet millions starve. It comes down to "criminal management". [120]In a chapter on "drink, temperance and thrift", London addresses the fecklessness of most of the do-gooders and charities. He holds up the remedial exception in the work of Dr Barnardo Homes, the "child snatcher". The doctor took waifs not yet hardened to a vicious society, and sent them to Canada, where they had a chance to thrive. [124]In the final Chapter, London examines the "management". He compares the English "Civilization" with the Inuit living along the banks of the Yukan, in Alaska. [124]The Inuit have good and bad times, in which they all share, but chronic debt and starvation is unknown. London is one of the first to fix the label of "criminal mismanagement" to the political powers of the Kingdom, by documenting the numbers, the conditions, the markets, and the deliberate misappropriations of the wealthy who live off the poor.
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This is a very interesting book set in London in the first decade of the twentieth century. You can read it as a social history as long as you remember what Alexander Masters writes in the foreword to the book; 'as an objective, trustworthy analysis, Abyss won’t do at all'.In 1902 Jack London moves temporarily into East End, disguised as a poor inhabitant. He observes and tells us about how the poor in East End live and how they go about their daily chores.Even if not everything in the book is considered trustworthy the stories tell us a lot of the persistence of social inequality in Britain. The atmosphere is vividly described and all that happens in the book seems genuine.Besides the stories of different people there are statistics, all showing the misery the working class lived in during the first years of the twentieth century.All together the book is absolutely worth reading, especially if you are interested in the history of England.
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When somebody says “muckraker,” I recall names such as Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell, Izzy Stone and a few others. I never thought of Jack London in that context because books I associated with his name (White Fang, et al.) were works of adventure fiction. I was aware of London’s socialist-labor sympathies having read a few of his short stories: tales such as South of the Slot come to mind. But I never knew Jack London for a muckraker.Now I’ve read The People of the Abyss (London: Hesperus Press Limited; 2009), I’m willing to allow that Jack London was a muckraker. Still, I note that London’s approach to muckraking was different than some. Where Ida Tarbell (for example) did years of research, gathered mountains of documented evidence and used something like 800 pages to expose the foetid monstrosity of John D. Rockefeller, Jack London did only a few weeks of leg work, composed just one airtight analogy and used only 232 pages to expose the foetid monstrosity of the British Empire and of civilization as we know it.The People of the Abyss is Jack London’s eyewitness account of what he saw when, in the summer of 1902, he went to England disguised as a merchant seaman on the skids. Arriving in England, the author dived headlong into the reeking labor ghetto at the notorious East End of London.Walking the same mean streets that Jack the Ripper had stalked just 12 years earlier, the American novelist spent several months living the life of London’s poor. He wore the clothes. He ate the swill. He slept out in the weather. He visited housing in which families of six, eight, or more dwelt in single, 7-by-8-foot rooms with no heat or water. He stayed in Dickensian workhouses. He visited hospitals that made people sick and asylums that drove people crazy. He worked for pennies a day while he watched multitudes of people slog through filth, disease and starvation to achieve misery, despair and death.In this writer’s ken, Jack London never wrote a book that didn’t contain a purple passage or two. No surprise, then: The People of the Abyss contains a few. But if London was a passionate writer, he was also a damned good one. He understood that rhetoric won’t stand without facts to support it. He also understood that a long recitation of bald facts will alienate most readers. Accordingly, London’s Abyss uses few statistics and those few statistics are shrewdly chosen. The following paragraph (p. 178) is about as thick as the narrative gets:"The figures are appalling: 1.8 million people in London live on the poverty line and below it, and one million live with one week’s wages between them and pauperism. In all England and Wales, eighteen percent of the whole population are driven to the parish for relief, and in London, according to the statistics of the London County Council, twenty-one percent of the whole population are driven to the parish for relief. Between being driven to the parish for relief and being an out-and-out pauper there is a great difference, yet London supports 123,000 paupers, quite a city of folk in themselves. One in every four in London dies on public charity, while 939 out of every 1,000 in the united Kingdom die in poverty; 8 million simply struggle on the ragged edge of starvation, and 20 million more are not comfortable in the simple and clean sense of the word."The bulk of London’s narration describes with horrid clarity what it meant to be “driven to the parish for relief” and to be “not comfortable in the simple and clean sense of the word.” Here it should be sufficient to say that in America today, cattle and hogs are often more “comfortable” than poor Britons of 1902.For all it tells a depressing story, The People of the Abyss is an almighty good book that offers today’s American reader plenty to think about. Tales of parents who killed themselves after murdering children for whom they could not provide ring all too familiar. Even more chilling is the idea that we today are afflicted with militantly moronic leaders who want to do away with “entitlements” such as Social Security and Medicare and Food Stamps so we can enjoy the good old days that supposedly prevailed before such programs existed.Jack London was a great writer who was never better than he appears in this muckraking reprint from Hesperus Press. The People of the Abyss will curl your hair, stiffen your spine, and stand you right up on your hind legs. Read it. Get mad. Raise Hell!
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