A well-stuffed compendium on the transformational era in the history of London that fed both Charles Dickens’ imagination and his well of outrage.
From his first published work, Sketches by Boz (1836), set in pre-Victorian London, until his last, unfinished novel, Edwin Drood (1870), Dickens drew on the life and characters of his beloved city. In her prodigiously detailed work, British journalist Flanders (The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, 2013, etc.) reminds readers that “Dickensian” changed in meaning from the early part of the author’s career—when it meant “comic”—to a posthumous sense of “grim” and “dark.” Indeed, Dickens, the tireless walker of the London streets, author of nimble imagination who composed several works at once, covered all of the city as the early Victorian era of “earnestness and endeavor” gave way to the “moving age” involving increased population, paralyzing traffic, industry, building and slums. Where to begin in such a work? On the street, of course, from just getting around, as most people did by foot, arriving for 12-hour-plus working shifts in a dusty mess and assaulted by a roar of noise; to taking horse-drawn omnibuses, hackney coaches, mail coaches, cabs and so on, all susceptible to natural hazards like fog. The greatest change to London was the arrival of the railroad in 1836, which sliced through old neighborhoods Dickens knew keenly, Moreover, the railways became for him “symbols of a time that was passing, or past.” Flanders writes with bubbling enthusiasm about the old markets, Covent Garden and Smithfield, with their accompanying din and smells, and the plethora of life we only know through Dickens’ eyes: the street vendors and artists, matchstick sellers, slum dwellers, prostitutes, habitués of gin palaces and prisoners.
A terrific companion while reading Boz himself.