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London lowlife In Fiction - 1889-1907

We will explore the themes of poverty, politics, gender and ethnicity in London at the end of the 19th century/start of the 20th century through the eyes of writers of fiction, but also through the testimony of their non-fiction contemporaries - social investigators, government officials, journalists and philanthropists.
  • Who is it for?

    This course is for anyone with an interest in the history of Victorian London and/or the study of social inequality more generally. No prior knowledge of these areas is required, however. Curiosity and an appetite for reading and for engaging in challenging and sometimes distressing subjects is desirable.

  • What does it cover?

    How fiction writers reflected the tumultuous fin de siècle - its class relations, new-found interest in structural poverty, and the shortcomings of late-capitalism to provide a basic living for many Londoners.
    We will also be looking at narrative style and literary genre, and the extent to which these works may be considered as forerunners to the Modernist movement.
    We will explore each author's approach to the subject matter, and the historical background to each work of fiction, identifying any gaps in the material, inconsistencies and bias.

    WEEK 1: introduction to the topic and to the course

    WEEK 2:
    A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison (1896). Online version available here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36958?msg=welcome_stranger


    WEEK 3: The Hooligan Nights by Clarence Rook (1899)
    Online version here: https://www.victorianlondon.org/publications7/hooligan-00.htm
    If you are short of time and cannot read the whole book ahead of class, please concentrate on these chapters:
    1 to 9 inclusive; 14 and 15; 19, 21 and 22.


    WEEK 4: In Darkest London by Margaret Harkness (1889) There is a British Library digitised version
    http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_00000003BC76#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=16&xywh=-559%2C0%2C3576%2C1860
    OR
    https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Captain_Lobe.html?id=OaRkJvbwlCUC&redir_esc=y

    Book version available to buy here: https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Margaret-Harkness/In-Darkest-London/7376510
    If you're short of time, please try to read: chapters 1, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13 and 14


    WEEK 5: The Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill (1892)
    Online here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12680
    A great audio version of Part 1 is here:
    https://librivox.org/children-of-the-ghetto-by-israel-zangwill/
    It is huge, so please concentrate on the following chapters. Book 1, Chapters 1 to 8; Book 2, Chapters 1 to 3; and 15 to 18 - but please note, Part 2 is not included in the audio/Librivox version.


    WEEK 6: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)
    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/974



    By the end of this course you should be able to:

    - Identify key concerns expressed about London at the end of the 19th century.

    - Identify the stylistic innovation and shifts in literary genre, which anticipate the Modernist movement.

    - Explain the major ideas for ending poverty as put forward in these years.

    - Pursue further reading on these subjects, with a detailed bibliography/secondary reading list for each session.

  • What will it be like?

    There is quite a lot of reading involved, though extracts will also be suggested if you do not have time to complete an entire book.
    Teaching will be delivered via mini-lecture and seminar; students are strongly encouraged to present their own 15- to 20-minute seminar paper/presentation on any of the fictions or subjects that are of greatest interest.

  • What else do I need to buy or do?

    All of the texts are out of copyright and are available to read online (see above); or they can be purchased relatively inexpensively or borrowed from a library.
    Or you may wish to consider putting in an 'inter-library loan' request at your local library to obtain any or all of the works.

  • What could it lead to?

    Self-directed study: detailed further / secondary reading lists are supplied by the tutor for this purpose.

Available Courses

London lowlife In Fiction - 1889-1907

We will explore the themes of poverty, politics, gender and ethnicity in London at the end of the 19th century/start of the 20th century through the eyes of writers of fiction, but also through the testimony of their non-fiction contemporaries - social investigators, government officials, journalists and philanthropists.

30 April 2025 – 04 June 2025
Wednesday, 18:30 to 20:30
Course Code:453
£87 / £30
6 Meetings
High Street, Stratford
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Meet The Tutor

Course Detail

Sarah Wise teaches 19th-century social history and literature to undergraduates and adult learners and is visiting professor at the University of California’s London Study Center.

Her debut book, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. It was the inspiration for Sky’s The Frankenstein Chronicles.

Her follow-up, The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum, was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize, and was the basis for the BBC’s series The Victorian Slum.

Her most recent book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy and Liberty in 19th-Century England, was shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize. She is currently writing its follow-up, to be published in 2024.

 

For more information contact The Departmental Administrator at admin@marywardcentre.ac.uk

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