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London's Underground Spaces

Representing the Victorian City, 1840-1915

Haewon Hwang

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Provides an innovative approach to articulate what ‘underground’ meant to the Victorians

The construction of London’s underground sewers, underground railway and suburban cemeteries created seismic shifts in the geography and the psychological apprehension of the city. Yet, why are there so few literary and aesthetic interventions in Victorian representations of subterranean spaces? What is London’s answer to the Parisian sewers of Victor Hugo or the unflinching realism of Émile Zola’s underworld? Where is the great English underground novel? This study explores this elision not as an absence of imaginative output, but as a presence and plenitude of anxiety and fears that haunt the pages of Charles Dickens, George Gissing, Bram Stoker and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The way in which these writers negotiated the dirt and messiness of underground spaces reveals both the emergence of Gothic, socialist, and modernist sensibilities, and the way all modern cities deal with what is unseen, intangible and inarticulable. The inclusion of illustrations of Victorian maps, cartoons, photographs and art bring the period to life.

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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Spatial Practices and Realignments
Digging through the Layers
Which Way to the Underground?
1. The Incontinent City: Sewers, Disgust and Liminality
The ‘Great Unwashed’ and the Incontinent City
Literature of Filth/Visions of the Sublime
Tainted Love: Prostitutes and Sexual Contagion
Reading the Body of the Prostitute
Imperial Impurities/Foreign Filth
Embanking the Empire: Literature of Otherness
Beyond Cleanliness
2. Tubing It: Speeding Through Modernity in the London Underground
Spatial Annihilation, Production and Representation
Recuperating Meaning in the Underground
Temporal Dislocations
Failure and Psychological Disjunctions
3. The (Un)Buried Life: Death in the Modern Necropolis
The Disposal of the Dead: Shifting Attitudes towards the Corpse
Geographies of the Dead
Resurrection, Resurrectionists and the Revenant
Feminine Resurrections and Spectral Dispossessions
Underground Mourning, Memory and Memorabilia
Final Exhumation
4. Underground Revolutions: Invisible Networks of Terror in Fin-de-Siècle London
Infernal Machines and Diabolical Plots
‘Fenian Fire’: Unfolding the Revolutionary Plot
Middle-class Socialists and Anarchic Aristocrats
Domesticating Terror
Language of Rebellion/Performing Terror
From Individual Action to Existential Inertia
After the ‘Revolution’…

About the Author

Haewon Hwang completed her BA in Russian Literature at Harvard University and holds an MA and PhD in English from King's College London. She is an Honorary Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong and has taught courses on London, Literary Theory and Global Fictions. She is currently exploring the lives of Russian revolutionary émigrés in fin-de-siècle London and the representation of dirt and contagion in global literatures.


Readers with an interest in how London Underground and other below-the-ground engineering have contributed to the image and reality of the capital will find this a rewarding and fascinating read.
- Richard Thorogood, Underground News: Number 627

Hwang’s book marks the newest addition to a growing body of work on subterranean London, applying Derridean ‘hauntology’ to the Victorian underground. Useful insights are scattered throughout, especially regarding marginalized populations, and the chapter on underground revolutions is a tour de force.

- David L. Pike, Professor of Literature, American University

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