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Dickens and Demolition

Literary Afterlives and Mid-Nineteenth Century Urban Development

Joanna Hofer-Robinson

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Traces and measures the material impact of Dickens’ fiction in London’s built environment

Dickens and Demolition examines how tropes, characters, or extracts from Dickens’ fiction were repurposed as a portable terminology in arguments for large-scale demolition and redevelopment projects in London during his lifetime. Commentators with public voices repeatedly mobilised a Dickensian vocabulary to communicate their opinions about how and where London’s built environment should be improved in the mid-nineteenth century, or to justify proposed alterations. In analysing allusions to Dickens in a variety of archival sources, including dramatizations, press reports, political debates, and the visual arts, this book asks what cultural work is performed by literary afterlives, and whether we can trace their material effects in the spaces we inhabit.

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Abbreviations and a Note on Editions
List of Illustrations
1. Charles Dickens and Metropolitan Improvements
2. Sets and the City: Staging Oliver Twist and London
3. Dickensian Afterlives and the Demolition of Field Lane
4. Instrumental Writing: Paperwork, Philanthropy, and Dickens’s Involvement in Urban Improvements
5. From Sanitary Reform to Cultural Memory: The Case of Jacob’s Island
Archival Sources and a Note on Method
Select Bibliography

About the Author

Joanna Hofer-Robinson (née Robinson) is a lecturer in nineteenth-century literature at University College Cork. Joanna completed her doctorate at King’s College London, where she held an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, and then moved to University College Dublin to take up a postdoctoral fellowship funded by the Irish Research Council. With research interests in nineteenth-century literature and theatre, Joanna is Project Lead for a practice-led research project (Dickensian Drama), which has staged two rarely-performed plays.


Dickens and Demolition shows how Dickens shaped London. Not only was the novelist actively involved in urban sanitation schemes, but his fictional depiction of London's most deprived areas helped to bring down buildings, and construct new streets. As Hofer-Robinson vividly demonstrates here, novels have afterlives, and literary tropes sometimes have decidedly material effects.

- Nicholas Daly, University College Dublin

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