The wandering poor made frequent appearances in nineteenth-century British print and visual media. Objects of pity, derision, fear, and suspicion—but also, sometimes, of surprising kinds of identification—they compelled the attention of middle-class journalists, novelists, and painters, alongside legislators and philanthropists. For Victorian observers accustomed to thinking about the poor generally as a problem, the figure of the poor person on the move was especially loaded.

Alistair Robinson’s meticulously researched study takes up the history of this figure’s representation in British literature and culture over the Victorian period while acknowledging the legacy of earlier narrative tropes of vagrancy. Reading a wide range of canonical and noncanonical texts—from articles published in popular periodicals; to the works of the “Gypsiologist” George Borrow; to fiction by Charles Kingsley, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson; to paintings by Luke Fildes—Robinson does a splendid job of showing how the meaning of...

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