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Anglo-American conference 2009: Cities
Imagining the East End in literature and social survey, 1880-1900
Richard Dennis (UCL)

This paper will explore the emergence of ‘East End’ as a category of description and analysis in fiction and social scientific discourse.

Where, exactly (or even approximately!), was the ‘East End’ and what were its social, cultural and geographical attributes? The paper will pay particular attention to the writings of George Gissing, whose reputation as a novelist of slum life has often led to his being associated with the East End; to the relationship between Gissing and other ‘East Enders’, such as Arthur Morrison, Walter Besant and the Rev. Osborne Jay; and to the parallels and interactions between Gissing’s fiction and Charles Booth’s Labour and Life of the People and the associated ‘Descriptive Map of London Poverty 1889’. Of special interest is Gissing’s early novel, The Unclassed. In its first edition as a three-volume novel (1884), the slums that play a prominent role in The Unclassed were situated in Westminster, but by 1895, in revising – mainly abridging – the novel into a single volume, Gissing relocated the slums to the East End, reflecting shifts in both popular perceptions of the East End and ‘real’ ongoing changes in the geography of poverty in London in the 1890s that are also revealed by the 1898–99 revised edition of Booth’s poverty maps.

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Anglo-American conference 2009: Cities
Imagining low life before the East End’s invention, c.1780s to 1840s
Vic Gatrell (University of Cambridge)

Abstract: This paper looks at East London life before Victorian observers ‘invented’, ‘ideologically constructed’, ‘mythicised’, or ‘problematised’ the ‘East End’ (as the fashionable phrases nowadays go). It sets aside the Victorian judgements and anxieties through which many historians still filter their views of East London and, without denying its deprivations, it speculates how best we might treat its ‘low life’ in its own and more positive terms.

Recalling Dr Johnson’s advice to Boswell in 1783 to go with curious eye and philosophic mind to Wapping the better to measure London’s ‘wonderful extent and variety’, the paper focuses on the century after 1750 or so, to wonder what it was that outsiders were responding to when they described East Enders as ‘happy’, and allowed them their own exuberant vitality.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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