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The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England


The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England

Migrants made up a growing class of workers in late sixteenth- and seventeenth- century England. In fact, by 1650, half of England’s rural population consisted of homeless and itinerant laborers. Unsettled is an ambitious attempt to reconstruct the everyday lives of these dispossessed people. Patricia Fumerton offers an expansive portrait of unsettledness in early modern England that includes the homeless and housed alike.

            Fumerton begins by building on recent studies of vagrancy, poverty, and servants, placing all in the light of a new domestic economy of mobility. She then looks at representations of the vagrant in a variety of pamphlets and literature of the period. Since seamen were a particularly large and prominent class of mobile wage-laborers in the seventeenth century, Fumerton turns to seamen generally and to an individual poor seaman as a case study of the unsettled subject: Edward Barlow (b. 1642) provides a rare opportunity to see how the laboring poor fashioned themselves, for he authored a journal of over 225,000 words and 147 pages of drawings. Barlow’s journal, studied extensively here for the first time, vividly charts what he himself termed his “unsettled mind” and the perpetual anxieties of England’s working and wayfaring poor. Ultimately, Fumerton explores representations of seamen as unsettled in the broadside ballads of Barlow’s time.

288 pages | 34 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2006

History: British and Irish History, European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


"There is much interesting material in Unsettled about the emergence of a new category of poor: those who wanted work but could not find it and were obliged to change occupation. . . . [Fumerton’s] reading are shrewd and persuasive."

Sandra Clark | Times Literary Supplement

"Fumerton has produced a masterful account of the culture of vagrancy in early modern England, one that makes a significant contribution both to early modern scholarship and to the history and theory of subjectivity. . . . Unsettled brilliantly illuminates the often dislocated, mobile, and fragmentary expoeriences of England’s poorest subjects, making it a timely and welkcome addition to the field of early modern cultural studies."

Michelle M. Dowd | Renaissance Quarterly

"With this sensitively researched and handsomely illustrated book, Patricia Fumeron makes a crucial contribution to a burgeoning area of literary and historical study . . . . the realities and representations of rogues, vagrants and vagabonds. . . . As wide-ranging as her unsettled, mobile subjects."

Adam Hansen | Early Modern Literary Studies

"Since Karl Marx, the critical discourse about abstract economic forces . . . has always seemed to betray an uncanny complicity with the inhuman system that it meant to lay bare. Fumerton is able to connect the abstract with the concrete, revealing, elegantly and powerfully, that real human lives are at issue."

Craig Donne | Project Muse

"[Fumerton] makes important new links between the socioeconomic history of Elzabethan and 17-century England and the popular literature of the age. . . . Students of Elizabethan and Stuart popular literature will have much to learn from this book."


"A detailed and convincing picture of the experiences of the labouring (and non-labouring) poor."

Tom Rutter | MLR

"An original and certainly illuminating treatment . . . and admirable for its capacity to engage the reader in a fascinating journey to the ’underworld’ of Renaissance London."

Francisco J. Borge | Kritikon Litterarum

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface: Making Space for the Working Poor
A Note on the Text

Part 1 - Unsettled Subjects
1. Mobilizing the Poor
2. London’s Economy of Unsettledness—and Beyond
3. Disguising the Working Poor: Harman’s Caveat
4. Unsettled Subjectivity: The Virtual "I"

Part 2 - The Case of Edward Barlow
5. "Not Well Settled in My Mind"
6. Poor Men at Sea: "Never to be worth one groat afore a beggar"
7. Charting Barlow

Part 3 - Toward a Lowly Aesthetics of Unsettledness
8. The Ballad’s Seaman: A Constant Parting
Epilogue: Unsettling the New Global Economy

Appendix A:  Edward Barlow’s Family Tree
Appendix B: Inventory of George Barlow, 1686
Appendix C: Record of Edward Barlow’s Mobility (On Land and Sea)
Appendix D: Will of Edward Barlow, Commander of the Liampo, 1708
Appendix E: On the Variation of the Compass
Selected Bibliography

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