A portrait of London’s famous intellectual neighborhood before Virginia Woolf and her friends moved in.
“It was in the nineteenth century that [Bloomsbury] acquired its distinctive, important, and above all progressive role in the life of both London and the nation,” writes Ashton (English Language and Literature/University College London; 142 Strand: A Radical Address in Victorian London, 2006, etc.), a good point that she makes as repetitiously as she does every other point in this informative but dull text. Although the British Museum had been located in Bloomsbury since it opened in 1759, the story of Victorian Bloomsbury begins in the 1820s with the construction of a grand new building for the museum and with the establishment of the University of London, designed to offer higher education at prices more affordable than those of Oxford and Cambridge and without the religious test that prevented non-Anglicans from attending Oxbridge. Now known as University College London, the school was attacked from the start as a hotbed of godless radicalism. Bloomsbury was indeed an important center for Victorian liberalism, home to institutions designed to educate women, members of the working class and young children, as well as to nonconformist religious institutions and one of the city’s first settlement houses. The author’s claim that “from the eighteenth century onwards Bloomsbury was central to medical progress” seems more dubious, something of an excuse to include a history of the University College Hospital. Yes, the hospital was the site of the first use of anesthesia in Europe, but there is more here about the ins and outs of its personnel than seems necessary. Victorian Bloomsbury is a mildly specious catchall that muddies the particulars of the book one senses Ashton really wanted to write: a history of University College London.
Plenty of good material, but this unfocused text will be of interest mainly to scholars.