The Railway and the River: Conduits of Dickens’ Imaginary City

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


This chapter analyses the railway and the river as two key conduits of Dickens’ imaginary city, arguing that each simultaneously connects and fractures the modern urban world that he depicts. Focusing on Dombey and Son and Our Mutual Friend, the chapter explores how railway and river combine modernity with the primordial past, arguing that these are not separable but overlay and interpenetrate one another, forming a spatio-temporal palimpsest. Drawing on Walter Benjamin, the chapter proposes that these conduits are signs of a spatial or architectural unconscious that thrusts to the surface the ruination that the city tries to repress. Through this drawing together of new and old, known and unknown, the railway and the river come to embody Dickens’ vision of modernity.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AmsterdamAmsterdamNetherlands

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