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Home > History home > Prospective students > Undergraduate > Victorian Babylon: Life, Work and People in London, c.1840-1890
More in this section Third Year Courses

Victorian Babylon: Life, Work and People in London, c.1840-1890


Value: two units


Dr Alex Windscheffel


Taught through weekly two-hour seminars and supervisions of dissertation through a series of 1-to-1 meetings


Taught unit: Oral Assessment (10%); Best 2 Essays out of 3 (20%) and 3-hour Exam (70%); dissertation unit: 10,000-word dissertation (100%)

NB: Not to be taken in conjunction with HS2325 The Age of Thatcher: Politics and Culture in Britain, 1970-1997

Victorians were both fascinated and repelled by their capital city, often at the same time. For the American writer Henry James, London was not only "magnificent", but also a "brutal" city which had "gathered together so many of the darkest sides of life". This course strolls through the sights, smells, and senses of Victorian Babylon, the "dreadfully delightful city" with its extremes of imperial splendour and crushing poverty. On our way, we will study topics including work and labour; poverty and the East End slums; consumption and shopping in the West End; literature, fantasy and the imaginary worlds of the city; London’s economy and the rise of the financial 'City'; Conservative and radical politics; men and women in the metropolis; family life and motherhood in the city; prostitution, obscenity and pornography; crime and policing (explored in particular through the sensational Whitechapel – or "Jack the Ripper" – murders); housing and the burgeoning London suburbs; mobility and traffic; gaslight, electricity and new ways of seeing the Victorian city; and the problems of governing London. To aid us on our journey, we will look at various writers and commentators including Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, W.T. Stead, Charles Booth, Bram Stoker, and Beatrice Webb.


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