London

From Wordsworth’s Westminster Bridge to Blake’s Chimney Sweepers; from Dickens’s pickpockets to Jack the Ripper; and from Wells’s War of the Worlds to Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes; discover the diverse ways in which writers in this period portrayed London.

Looking at the manuscript of William Blake’s ‘London’

Looking at the manuscript of William Blake’s ‘London’

Article by:
Linda Freedman

In his poem ‘London’ William Blake explores poverty, revolution and the power of the imagination. Dr Linda Freedman examines the original draft manuscript, to discover the meanings behind this iconic poem.

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Blake's two chimney sweepers

Blake's two chimney sweepers

Article by:
Linda Freedman

Songs of Innocence and of Experience contains two poems about young chimney sweepers: one in 'Innocence' and one in 'Experience'. Dr Linda Freedman considers how this allows for a complex, subtle engagement with the figure of the sweep.

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William Blake's radical politics

William Blake’s Chimney Sweeper poems: a close reading

Article by:
George Norton

George Norton shows how William Blake’s Chimney Sweeper poems highlight the injustice and brutality suffered by child chimney sweeps in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

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British slave narratives

Voices in the campaign for abolition

Article by:
Brycchan Carey

From the mid-18th century, Africans and people of African descent – many of them former slaves – began to write down their stories. Brycchan Carey describes these writings and assesses their role in the abolition of slavery.

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'Composed upon Westminster Bridge'

'Composed upon Westminster Bridge'

Article by:
John Mullan

Wordsworth’s vision of London’s serene beauty was composed on the roof of a coach – the poet was en route to France to meet his illegitimate daughter Caroline for the first time. Professor John Mullan explores the background to the poem.

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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Frankenstein: graveyards, scientific experiments and bodysnatchers

Article by:
Ruth Richardson

Ruth Richardson shows how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written as a result of a challenge to compose a ghost story, was influenced by thoughts of death, scientific experimentation and Gothic tales.

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Crime in Oliver Twist

Crime in Oliver Twist

Article by:
Philip Horne

Dickens's Oliver Twist depicts the excitement as well as the danger surrounding the criminal underworld. Here Professor Philip Horne examines how Dickens’s portrayal of crime was influenced by public executions, contemporary criminal slang and other sensational literary works.

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Oliver Twist and the workhouse

Oliver Twist and the workhouse

Article by:
Ruth Richardson

The hardships of the Victorian workhouse led Oliver Twist utter the famous phrase ‘Please Sir, I want some more’. Here Ruth Richardson explores Dickens’s own experiences of poverty and the social and political context in which he was writing.

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The origins of A Christmas Carol

Article by:
John Sutherland

Professor John Sutherland considers how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol engages with Victorian attitudes towards poverty, labour and the Christmas spirit.

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Ghosts in A Christmas Carol

Article by:
John Mullan

The ghosts in A Christmas Carol are by turns comic, grotesque and allegorical. Professor John Mullan reflects on their essential role in developing the novel’s meaning and structure.

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Charles Dickens, Victorian Gothic and Bleak House

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Focussing on Bleak House, Charles Dickens's ninth and longest novel, Greg Buzwell explores how the novelist incorporates and evolves Gothic imagery, settings and plot devices.

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‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’: duality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’: duality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Curator Greg Buzwell considers duality in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, exploring how the novel engages with contemporary debates about evolution, degeneration, consciousness, homosexuality and criminal psychology.

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Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper

Article by:
Judith Flanders

The unidentified killer known as Jack the Ripper murdered a series of women in the Whitechapel area of London during 1888. Judith Flanders explores how the excitement and fear surrounding the mysterious murderer made its way into late-Victorian literature.

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Dracula: vampires, perversity and Victorian anxieties

Dracula: vampires, perversity and Victorian anxieties

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

The vampire is a complicated creature: caught between life and death, at once alluring and horrifying. Greg Buzwell considers the way the novel reflects the fears that haunted late 19th-century society – fears of immigration, sexual promiscuity and moral degeneration.

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Gothic fiction in the Victorian fin de siècle: mutating bodies and disturbed minds

Gothic fiction in the Victorian fin de siècle: mutating bodies and disturbed minds

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

The Victorian period saw Gothic fiction evolving and taking on new characteristics. With a focus on the late 19th century curator Greg Buzwell traces common themes and imagery found in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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An introduction to The War of the Worlds

An introduction to The War of the Worlds

Article by:
Iain Sinclair

Writer Iain Sinclair discusses how H G Wells’s The War of the Worlds disturbed the public by combining journalistic sensationalism, scientific fantasy, suburban mundanity and fears of invasion.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: art, ethics and the artist

The Picture of Dorian Gray: art, ethics and the artist

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Dark desires and forbidden pleasure are at the centre of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Greg Buzwell examines the interplay between art and morality in Oscar Wilde’s novel, and considers its use of traditional Gothic motifs as well as the theories of the new aesthetic movement.

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An introduction to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, the world's most famous literary detective

Article by:
John Sutherland

Why has Sherlock Holmes continued to captivate readers generation after generation, while other fictional detectives of the Victorian period have been forgotten? To investigate, Professor John Sutherland explores shilling shockers, arch criminals, and forensic science.

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Slums

Slums

Article by:
Judith Flanders

Judith Flanders examines the state of housing for the 19th-century urban poor, assessing the ‘improvements’ carried out in slum areas and the efforts of writers, including Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew, to publicise such living conditions.

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Foundlings, orphans and unmarried mothers

Foundlings, orphans and unmarried mothers

Article by:
Ruth Richardson

Ruth Richardson explores the world of poverty, high mortality, prejudice and charity that influenced the creation of Oliver Twist.

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Prostitution

Prostitution

Article by:
Judith Flanders

What was the place of prostitution in 19th-century society? Judith Flanders looks at documents and publications that provide an insight into attitudes towards the profession.

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Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor

Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor

Article by:
Mary L Shannon

London Labour and the London Poor is a key work in the development of investigative journalism. Dr Mary L Shannon describes how Henry Mayhew conducted numerous interviews with street-sellers, sweepers and sewer-hunters, in order to share their stories with the reading public.

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The Cries of London

The Cries of London

Article by:
The Gentle Author

The Gentle Author explores William Marshall Craig’s Cries of London prints, which portray the realities of life for street traders in the early 19th century.

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Tom and Jerry's Life in London

Tom and Jerry's Life in London

Article by:
The Gentle Author

The Gentle Author explores Pierce Egan’s 19th-century bestseller, Life in London, in which Tom and Jerry's 'rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis' offer readers a unique glimpse into both high and low urban culture.

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An introduction to The Hound of the Baskervilles

An introduction to The Hound of the Baskervilles

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

The Hound of the Baskervilles merges two popular genres, the detective story and the Gothic tale. Here curator Greg Buzwell examines the novel’s depiction of scientific deduction, eerie landscapes and violent ancestry.

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Further themes

Romanticism

How did the Romantic poets explore landscape, class, radicalism and the sublime?

The Gothic

What are the key motifs of Gothic literature and how do these works reflect the contexts in which the genre emerged and evolved?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

London

How did the writers of this period portray our iconic capital city?

The novel 1780–1832

From the origins of the Gothic to depictions of the emerging middle classes, what are the key characteristics of late 18th- and early 19th-century literature?

The novel 1832–1880

How did the writers of this period incorporate fantasy, realism, sensationalism, and social commentary into their work?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Popular culture

From music hall to pleasure gardens, explore the extraordinary range of entertainments on offer in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

Poverty and the working classes

How did writers respond to the social inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence literature and reading habits during this period?

Technology and science

How did 19th-century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

The middle classes

How were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored in the literature of the period?

Visions of the future

How did 19th-century depictions of the future reflect contemporary fears of social, political and technological change?

Gender and sexuality

How did the literature of this period portray and challenge traditional gender roles?