The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London.
The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens" London. Judith Flanders. Atlantic Books. [pounds sterling]25.00. xxiv + 520 pages. ISBN 978-1-84887-795-5. This survey of life in London from 1810 to the 1860s takes Dickens' writings as its point of reference because Dickens was predominately a writer of life in London. Indeed, one of the book's aims is to act as a handbook for readers of Dickens who want to understand those references which he took for granted. For others the text is a gold-mine of information about life in this period when London grew threefold to hold over three million souls in a rich pot pourri of little Londons which coexisted more or less peacefully. Her point of departure are the streets of London for while the main thoroughfares were increasingly crowded with traffic, side streets were still meant to be lived (and worked) in, a way of life that carried on into the 1950s. The author has compressed a wealth of study into her pages: the wide range of food and drink to be bought in street stalls was because working people usually had no kitchen or running water, and so on. She describes the noise of the streets as hawkers and tradesmen filled them. This leads her on to discuss road-building, traffic, foot-traffic and throughout she relates her finds to characters and plots in Dickens' works. She also looks at London's relations with the rest of England (in those days London was still an English city), markets, poverty, pollution (especially water pollution and resulting typhoid), civic improvements (roads, sewers, drains and buildings), what we would call 'leisure activities' (clubs, theatres, music halls), violence, prostitution, and gay life. However there is nothing about religious life in the Capital although to be fair there wasn't much religion in Dickens' works either. This book contains a wealth of information told in a relaxed and easily digestible manner. (R.G.C.)