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‘The Smallness of the World’: Dickens, Reynolds and Mayhew on Wellington Street

In this special guest blog post, Dr Mary Shannon writes about the remarkable London street where a number of noted Victorian journalists worked

Last week, I turned a street corner near Oxford Circus and bumped into a friend from university who I had not seen in a good while. We both exclaimed at the coincidence which had brought us both to this same spot at the same time. If one of us had chosen a different route, or been delayed by a few minutes, we would never have even been aware that we had been in such close proximity. What a chance encounter, we both exclaimed, in a city of 10 million people.

And yet, when I thought about it afterwards, the encounter was not so much of a co-incidence after all. The same factors which made us friends in the first place (age, interests, values) brought us to the same city and then made us familiar with the same areas of it: the same locations, the same streets. Our work and social lives brought us to similar places, week in, week out; it was only a matter of time before we crossed paths again. This kind of encounter is not unusual, I think, for many people who live in London. This may be a city of strangers, but it is also a collection of villages, and on a surprisingly regular basis I find myself bumping into friends on busy tube station platforms, on bridges, and at the theatre. When you share similar interests and lifestyles, London can begin to feel like a much smaller place. When you work in the same part of London, it feels localised. When you work on the same street, it feels simultaneously large and small at the same time. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of Wilkie Collins’s Armadale

An introduction to a classic Victorian novel

Will the real Allan Armadale please stand up? Armadale, Wilkie Collins’s longest novel (and he wrote quite a few doorstops), was serialised in Cornhill magazine between November 1864 and June 1866, and published as a two-volume novel in 1866. It took Collins two years to write. Like another of Collins’s perennially popular novels, The Moonstone, the narrative comprises a series of testimonies and accounts (such as from characters’ diaries and letters) which gradually shed light on the mystery. What follows are some notes towards an analysis of the novel’s themes and characters, perhaps the most notable of whom is Lydia Gwilt, one of Victorian fiction’s most scandalous villainesses.

Armadale is a long novel – over 800 pages in the (recommended) Oxford World’s Classics edition – but this will have to be a short plot summary. In 1832, Allan Armadale confesses on his deathbed to murder: his clerk, Fergus Ingleby, stole his name and married Jane Blanchard, the woman Allan loved. Pursuing the couple on board a ship, Allan locked Fergus in a cabin and left him to drown when the ship was wrecked. Allan later travelled to the West Indies where he married a creole woman and had a son. Read the rest of this entry

Dante Among the Machines: Margaret Oliphant’s ‘The Land of Darkness’

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle considers a curious dystopian story by Queen Victoria’s favourite novelist

The terms ‘dystopian’ and ‘ecology’ both gained currency in the mid-nineteenth century, although ‘dystopia’ has been traced back even earlier. The Victorian era witnessed the emergence of a new genre of science fiction, dystopian literature, which would produce several classic novels of the twentieth century. Victorian writers used this new genre to fashion responses to the dramatic social and technological changes they were living through, chiefly the discovery of Darwinian evolution and the rise of industrialisation in the period. The changing landscape of Victorian Britain played an important part in how authors of early dystopian works addressed questions about what we now call ‘the environment’: in both Richard Jefferies’ After London (1885) and H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895), the crowded smoggy metropolis of contemporary London was refigured in some future age as a wild garden, following some dramatic alteration in the world’s climate. Read the rest of this entry