This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Was Queen Victoria a Malthusian?

If you are a fan of PBS's "Masterpiece Theater," as my wife and I are, then you have probably already seen the first episode of the second season of "Victoria." This series has thus far brought us into the early days of Queen Victoria's nearly 64-year reign, starting in 1837. Charles Dickens was just gaining fame, and Thomas Robert Malthus had recently died. I mention these two people because they both show up in Season 2, Episode 1, which starts in 1840 after the birth of her first child. The ladies of the court are very complimentary of Dickens' new story, "The Old Curiosity Shop." Dickens was decidedly not a Malthusian, in the sense that he did not agree with the way in which Malthus's ideas had been politicized to suggest that the government should not encourage the poor to have children. Indeed, there is a lot of discussion on the internet that Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" was deliberately anti-Malthusian and that Scrooge was Dickens' representation of Malthus.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a little later in the episode we see Queen Victoria reading aloud from Malthus' "Essay on Population," referencing the geometric growth of populations. She seems in agreement with these sentiments in the TV program, and that squares with comments by a British Historian, Stephanie Polsky, in her book "Ignoble Displacement: Dispossessed Capital in NeoDickensian London." Indeed, in one page about Victoria, Polsky brings in Malthus, Darwin, and Marx--along with Dickens. Although I don't talk about Dickens in my book, you can get more on the connections between Malthus, Darwin, and Marx in Chapter 3.

Keep in mind that one motivation of the writer(s) of "Victoria" to introduce Malthus might be that Victoria herself had children at what seems like a geometric pace--9 children in the 21 years that she and Albert were married before he died of typhoid fever. They were all married off to various European royalty and Victoria was dubbed "the grandmother of Europe." We could probably have a long discussion about whether that was a good or a bad thing.

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