The life of the poor in Victorian England

           During the 1830s, a period covered by Middlemarch, much was changing in terms of class/social structure. During the Victorian era, the rates of people living in poverty increased drastically. This is due to many factors, including low wages, the growth of cities (and general population growth), and lack of stable employment. The poor often lived in unsanitary conditions, in cramped and unclean houses, regardless of whether they lived in a modern city or a rural town. Victorian attitudes towards the poor were rather muddled. Some believed that the poor were facing their situations because they deserved it, either because of laziness or because they were simply not worthy of fortune. However, some believed it was up to personal circumstances. It is important to note that many charities have their roots from this era in English history, because of how overwhelming the issue of poverty became at this time.
            Throughout Middlemarch, George Elliot alludes to the conditions that the poor of the town faced. Dorothea can be seen as sympathetic towards the poor throughout the novel, with her advocation for changes to housing as well as her plans. In just chapter 3, Dorothea’s sensibilities towards the poor and unfortunate are made incredibly clear. In a conversation with Sr. James, she states “Life in cottages might be happier than ours if they were real houses fit for human beings from whom we expect duties and affections.” Both her attitude and her actions towards the poor are charitable, as she actively tries to better the people’s positions in life.

My husband has been deathly ill for a few days now. We are unable to afford anything besides what we have at home, which won’t do him any good. I am worried we have already lost him even though he is not yet gone. I know it would be better in the hospital, as our home not suitable for him in this state. But we simply cannot afford it. Our children work, but I doubt we will be able to survive if he doesn’t recover, both financially and physically. I simply cannot afford to be a widow at this time. He and I both have nothing to leave behind but debt, and I doubt I could ever find a man to remarry too. Our young children simply don’t make near enough to support one person, let alone a widow. I am thoroughly stuck where I am. The most I can hope for at this time is that my prayers are answered, or that someone with money will take pity on me. There is no work for me to do, and nowhere for me to go. The only thing that can be done now is to tend to my husband and pray.

Works Cited

Hidden Lives Revealed: A Virtual Archive - Children in Care 1881-1981. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2020, from

Pennington, J. (2011, February 17). History - British History in depth: Beneath the Surface: A Country of Two Nations. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from

Poverty in Victorian Times. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2020, from

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

circa. 1829 to circa. 1833

Parent Chronology: