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Nineteenth-century fiction and the production of Bloomsbury: a local history of the novel, 1800-1904

Ingleby, M.R.; (2011) Nineteenth-century fiction and the production of Bloomsbury: a local history of the novel, 1800-1904. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis traces the cultural construction in fiction and journalism of Bloomsbury in the nineteenth century, a part of London whose streets and squares were largely laid down from the late 1790s to the 1820s, by master-builders such as Thomas Cubitt, on Bedford and Foundling Estate lands. As E. V. Lucas put it in 1906, Bloomsbury 'gives the lie to the poet's statement that East and West can never meet', being situated between other parts of London that had a more stable social identity - rich or poor, residential or commercial. As such, nineteenth-century Bloomsbury harboured a particularly mixed and complex demographic, including professionals, intellectuals, artists and immigrants, and this geographical particularity produced specific narratives, which I examine through a range of canonical and noncanonical fiction from the period. In my introduction, following Franco Moretti’s call for ‘distant reading’, I make a case for the need for critics to develop a fuller repertoire of spatial scales when reading literature, including the local map as well as the atlas. In my first chapter, I address the silver-fork aristocratic satirical construction of newly built Bloomsbury’s aspirational middle-class identity, and this spin’s long cultural afterlife, the first phase of which Dickens and Thackeray participated in. In my second chapter, I trace Bloomsbury’s social decline and its impact on the gendering of the area, showing how by the 1860s, upper-middle-class families, in fiction by Trollope and Braddon, were ‘evacuating’ the place and leaving it to bachelors, many of whom worked in the legal chambers of Holborn nearby. In my third chapter, I explore the area’s increasing association with advanced social medicine, and demonstrate that the figure of the financially compromised and questionably altruistic Bloomsbury doctor is in the latter part of the century a common problematic feature of the local cultural imagination. In the fourth chapter, continuing from Chapter 2's analysis of urban space and gender, I read the prevalence of independent women walkers in fiction set in the area as metonymic of Bloomsbury's growing connection with feminism, through its bi-gendered educational institutions. In the fifth chapter, I discuss the thematization of writing as material practice around the fin-de-siècle, analysing the presence of the British Museum, prime site of literary production in the English-speaking world, in novels by Gissing, Morris, Du Maurier and James. The thesis both attempts a new kind of history of the nineteenth-century novel - one framed by local urban geography - and also makes an argument for the centrality of Bloomsbury to literature in the period, illuminating just how associated with writing the area was long before the Bloomsbury group emerged when Virginia Stephen moved to Gordon Square in 1904.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Nineteenth-century fiction and the production of Bloomsbury: a local history of the novel, 1800-1904
Language:English
Additional information:Permission for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Language and Literature

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