Literature and Poverty offers an engaging overview of changes in literary perceptions of poverty and the poor.  Part I of the book, from the Hebrew Bible to the French Revolution, provides essential background information. It introduces the Scriptural ideal of the ‘holy poor’ and the process by which biblical love of the poor came to be contested and undermined in European legislation and public opinion as capitalism grew and the state took over from the Church; Part II, from the French Revolution to World War II, shows how post-1789 problems of industrialization, population growth, war, and urbanization came to dominate much European literature, as poverty and the poor became central concerns of major writers such as Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and Hugo.   

David Aberbach uses literature – from the Bible, through Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Zola, Pushkin, and Orwell – to show how poverty changed from being an endemic and unavoidable fact of life, to a challenge for equality that might be attainable through a moral and rational society. As a literary and social history of poverty, this book argues for the vital importance of literature and the arts in understanding current problems in International Development.

chapter |22 pages


Biblical ideals to secular realities

part |2 pages

The ‘holy poor’ and its desecrations: from the Hebrew Bible to the French Revolution

chapter |17 pages

The Bible and the poor

Law and literature

chapter |17 pages

The medieval transformation

The unholy poor in literature and Poor Law

chapter |16 pages

Sixteenth-century English nationalism

Poor Law, Scripture, and Shakespeare

chapter |16 pages

From Shakespeare to Wordsworth

The rediscovery of biblical love for the poor

part |2 pages

Poverty in the West and the failure of ideologies, 1789–1939

chapter |40 pages


Peasants and literature in England, Russia, and France

chapter |19 pages

East European Jews 1861–1917

Degradation and recovery

chapter |11 pages


From Pushkin to Orwell

chapter |16 pages

The end of extreme poverty in the West

Interwar Italy and America