“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 Londonexplores not only the challenges faced by reformers as they strove toclean up an increasingly filthy city but the resistance to their efforts.Beginning in the 1830s, reform-minded citizens, under the banner of sanitaryimprovement, plunged into London’s dark and dirty spaces and returned withthe material they needed to promote public health legislation and magnificentprojects of sanitary engineering. Sanitary reform, however, was not alwaysmet with unqualified enthusiasm. While some improvements, such as slumclearances, the development of sewerage, and the embankment of the Thames,may have made London a cleaner place to live, these projects also destroyedand reshaped the built environment, and in doing so, altered the meanings andexperiences of the city.
From the novels of Charles Dickens and George Gissing to anonymous magazinearticles and pamphlets, resistance to reform found expression in the nostalgicappreciation of a threatened urban landscape and anxiety about domestic autonomyin 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. More info →
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The Victorians were image obsessed. The middle decades of the nineteenth century saw an unprecedented growth in the picture industry. Technological advances enabled the Victorians to adorn with images the pages of their books and the walls of their homes. But this was not a wholly visual culture. Pictorial Victorians focuses on two of the most popular mid-nineteenth-century genres—illustration and narrative painting—that blurred the line between the visual and textual.Illustration
Throughout the nineteenth century, the southern shores of Lake Superior held great promise for developers imagining the next great metropolis. These new territories were seen as expanses to be filled, first with romantic visions, then with scientific images, and later with vistas designed to entice settlement and economic development.
In Victorian England, virtually all women were taught to sew; needlework was allied with images of domestic economy and with traditional female roles of wife and mother- with home rather than factory. The professional seamstress, however, labored long hours for very small wages creating gowns for the upper and middle classes.
In Reading for Health: Medical Narratives and the Nineteenth-Century Novel, Erika Wright argues that the emphasis in Victorian Studies on disease as the primary source of narrative conflict that must be resolved has obscured the complex reading practices that emerge around the concept of health.
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