“Professor Allen is to be congratulated on rescuing those who had a pessimistic view of reform, or who opposed it in principle, from obscurity or the facile dismissal of scholars. She investigates what is clearly a powerful and recurring undercurrent in Victorian thought and elevates it into the mainstream.”
Anthony Wohl, author of Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain
“It is a useful corrective...to be shown that the path of reform was strewn at every bend with those who saw themselves as losers in a process of unwelcome change.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Cleansing the City has much to offer students of social history, urban planning, environmentalism, and literature....(A) most valuable study.”
The Victorian Web
“What Allen’s book contributes to this already-established field of literature is an expansive drawing-together of a rich variety of source material previously unconnected.”
Technology and Culture
Cleansing the City: Sanitary Geographies in Victorian London
explores not only the challenges faced by reformers as they strove to
clean up an increasingly filthy city but the resistance to their efforts.
Beginning in the 1830s, reform-minded citizens, under the banner of sanitary
improvement, plunged into London’s dark and dirty spaces and returned with
the material they needed to promote public health legislation and magnificent
projects of sanitary engineering. Sanitary reform, however, was not always
met with unqualified enthusiasm. While some improvements, such as slum
clearances, the development of sewerage, and the embankment of the Thames,
may have made London a cleaner place to live, these projects also destroyed
and reshaped the built environment, and in doing so, altered the meanings and
experiences of the city.
From the novels of Charles Dickens and George Gissing to anonymous magazine articles and pamphlets, resistance to reform found expression in the nostalgic appreciation of a threatened urban landscape and anxiety about domestic autonomy in an era of networked sanitary services. Cleansing the City emphasizes the disruptions and disorientation occasioned by purification—a process we are generally inclined to see as positive. By recovering these sometimes oppositional, sometimes ambivalent responses, Michelle Allen elevates a significant undercurrent of Victorian thought into the mainstream and thus provides insight into the contested nature of sanitary modernization.
Michelle Allen is an assistant professor of English at the U. S. Naval Academy. She has published an edition of Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore.
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