REVIEW: Childhood and Death in Victorian England (2021)

A Book by Sarah Seaton

OOOOF! I felt like I needed a drink while reading this.

Childhood and Death in Victorian England by Sarah Seaton is a hard read. That isn’t to say its not insanely informative and well-written, but I still had to take breaks reading comics or watching TV periodically while reading this due to the absolutely soul-wrenching subject matter. If you get squeamish reading about kids being hurt, absolutely DO NOT READ THIS, as it is basically nothing but that for over 200 pages. This is the sort of book that makes one want to travel back in time to The Victorian Era and become a vigilante hero or something. If it wasn’t for the absolute tragedy of dying by simply living back then, most kids were lucky to ever see their teenage years for a multitude of reasons. Neglect, poverty, medical negligence, murder, school discipline, and much more awaited children on a day-to-day basis, and none of that even mentions the horrors brought on by The Poor Law of 1834.

“In this fascinating book, the reader is taken on a journey of real life accounts of Victorian children, how they lived, worked, played and ultimately died. Many of these stories have remained hidden for over 100 years. They are now unearthed to reveal the hardship and cruel conditions experienced by many youngsters, such as a travelling fair child, an apprentice at sea and a trapper. The lives of the children of prostitutes, servant girls, debutantes and married women all intermingle, unified by one common factor – death. Drawing on actual instances of Infanticide and baby farming the reader is taken into a world of unmarried mothers, whose shame at being pregnant drove them to carry out horrendous crimes yet walk free from court, without consequence. For others, they were not so lucky. The Victorian children in this publication lived in the rapidly changing world of the Industrial Revolution. With the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834 the future for some pauper children changed – but not for the better.”

The aforementioned “Poor Law” was a reactionary law attempting to stop beggars and curb people “taking advantage of social safety nets” (hmmm sounds like many modern politicians would love this) by creating a system of workhouses that would shelter and feed the poor in exchange for an honest days work. Sounds great right? In reality, these so-called “debtor’s prisons” were an easy way for rich Capitalists to make an insane amount of profit with a slave labor class at their disposal. The biggest tragedy of all was forced labor by children as young as four years old, many of which were maimed or killed by huge industrial machines on a daily basis. You will leave this book thinking that The Industrial Revolution was a bad idea, and basically hate all adults (LOL). All kidding aside each page was frustrating, especially the sections about the conduct of fishing boat crews and how they treated their apprenticed child laborers.

If you don’t mind the subject matter, and are prepared to be bewildered and enraged in a true test of cultural relativism, this is a solid book. As I stated before, it is well-researched and has an incredible amount of information on the subject. Whenever I feel like life is hard, I will try to ground myself thinking of how bad it was at literally any time in the past, and especially in Victorian England. I have another book by Pen & Sword publishing about Workhouses that I still need to read, but I think I’ll give it a few weeks. I need to rebuild my tolerance for this sort of thing.

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

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