Victorian Popular Fictions 3.2 7 Hakala

Melodramatic Mayhew:

J.B. Johnstone’s How We Live in the World of London

 Taryn Hakala

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The British stage of the1850s produced a flurry of dramas influenced by Henry Mayhew’s work on urban poverty, many of which were written for the “minor” theatres of London’s East End and the south side of the Thames. Often dismissed as literary “hacks,” the writers for these theatres and their works have been largely undervalued and understudied. This article shines a spotlight on one such writer, John Beer Johnstone, whose How We Live in the World of London; Or, London Labour and the London Poor premiered at the Surrey Theatre on 24 March 1856.  Taking a positive view of literary “piracy,” I argue that Johnstone’s play cleverly re-imagines Mayhew’s social journalism and subverts prevalent stereotypes of the urban poor for the Surrey’s mixed audiences.


John Beer Johnstone; Henry Mayhew; adaptation; piracy; theatre; melodrama; class

Date of Acceptance: 8 December 2021

Date of Publication: 17 December 2021

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Hakala, Taryn. 2021. “Melodramatic Mayhew: J.B. Johnstone’s How We Live in the World of London.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 3.2: 116-134. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

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