Work, it might be argued, is one of the great overlooked subjects of British fiction, always in the background, always necessary, sometimes fervently desired, at other times roundly disdained, frequently a source of tension and unhappiness, but rarely conceptualized, deconstructed or otherwise considered as one of the key influences on our inner lives. Naturally, there are good reasons for this: one of them is sheer heredity. Victorian novelists were habitually uninterested in what their characters were doing for a living. When money turns up in a Dickens novel it tends to fall out of the air into the hero’s lap: the processes by which it is earned are entirely beyond his scope, together with any real knowledge of what happens on a shop-floor or in barristers’ chambers. — D. J. Taylor, “Worker bees,” Times Literary Supplement (18 & 25 December 2015): 3

When it is considered that most of the objects of desire and even the means of subsistence are the product of labor, it is evident that the means of insuring labor must be provided for as the foundation of all. — James Mill, Essay on Government


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Skilled Labor — Craftsman

Semi-Skilled Labor

Agricultural Labor

Unskilled Labor

Gender and Work


Child Labor

Criminal classes

  • burglars ***
  • mudlarks ***
  • smash and grab ***

Some Recent Publications

Gooch, Joshua. The Victorian Novel, Service Work, and the Nineteenth-Century Economy. Palgrave, 2015.

Dore's Pedlar

Dore's Woman Pedlar

Dore's Pedlar

Three London pedlars by Gustave Doré

Last modified 23 February 2022