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A Tale of Two Cities: Dickens’s ‘London’

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Abstract

The narratives of Charles Dickens, one of the many migrants from the Home Counties into nineteenth-century London, offer revealing insights into the disorientation caused by migration and by the capitalist reshaping of the city.1 But although his experiences were representative ones, his imaginative transformation of them was unique in combining reportage and social criticism with the obsessive fantasies that set his metropolitan fiction apart from that of his contemporaries. The London he depicts is recognisably that of the 1820s to 1860s, dominated subjectively by law courts and lawyers’ offices, slums, prisons, the City and the river. But it is also a place of fog-bound ‘devious mazes’ (MC, 127) and macabre hallucinations, in which the sup¬posedly familiar turns without warning into a terrifying reminder of what has been repressed. This chapter therefore looks at both the realistic and the melodramatic in Dickens’s tale of two cities by tracing, through recurrent preoccupations and motifs, some of the idiosyncrasies of his imaginary ‘London’.

Keywords

Family Business Hedge Fund Finance House Paper Money Promissory Note 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    For surveys, see Philip Collins, ‘Dickens and London’, in The Victorian City: Images and Realities, ed. H.J. Dyos and Michael Wolff, 2 vols. (1973), pp. 537–57; Google Scholar
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  6. 3.
    ‘Branch’ in this sense dates from 1817 (OED). Fraudulent insurance promoters of this period are discussed in Norman Russell, The Novelist and Mammon (Oxford, 1986), pp. 86–99.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Pierce Egan, Life in London; or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, Accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, 2nd edition (1822), pp. 23–4.Google Scholar
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    Dana Arnold’s otherwise perceptive account of city planning in Re-presenting the Metropolis: Architecture, Urban Experience and Social Life in London, 1800–1840 (Aldershot, 2000) overstates the degree of self-conscious coordination on the part of hypostasised but undocumented class interests.Google Scholar
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    Compare De Quincey’s futile quest for the prostitute Ann: ‘If she lived, doubtless we must have been sometimes in search of each other, at the very same moment, through the mighty labyrinths of London; perhaps even within a few feet of each other — a barrier no wider in a London street, often amounting in the end to a separation for eternity!’ (Confessions of an English Opium Eater[1821], ed. Alethea Hayter (Harmondsworth, 1975), p. 64).Google Scholar
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  23. 26.
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  25. 29.
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  26. 33.
    Characteristically, there is a class element in David’s anxieties. The dealer’s reiterated curse ‘Oh goroo’, ‘goroo’, combines ‘ogre’ with the ‘vulgar’ Cockney ‘Oh gor’. On Dickens’s ogres and fascination with cannibalism, see Harry Stone, The Night Side of Dickens: Cannibalism, Passion, Necessity (Columbus, 1994).Google Scholar
  27. 37.
    Barnaby Rudge[1841], ed. Gordon Spence (Harmondsworth, 1977), p. 373. Such clothes were a traditional perquisite of the executioner.Google Scholar
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  31. 51.
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  33. 53.
    Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 2 vols. (Harmondsworth, 1962), I, p. 208.Google Scholar
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    Charles Dickens, The Public Readings, ed. Philip Collins (Oxford, 1975), pp. 465, 483.Google Scholar
  37. 60.
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  39. 61.
    The argument in this sentence derives from Gail Turley Houston, Consuming Fictions: Gender, Class, and Hunger in Dickens’s Novels (Carbondale, 1994).Google Scholar
  40. 64.
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  43. 65.
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  45. 67.
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  46. 69.
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  47. 71.
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  50. 79.
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  52. 81.
    Lisa Surridge puts a Foucauldian spin on this in “‘John Rokesmith’s Secret”: Sensation, Detection, and the Policing of the Feminine in Our Mutual Friend’, Dickens Studies Annual, 26 (1998) 265–84.Google Scholar

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© Alan David Robinson 2004

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