The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London

Judith Flanders. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $27.99 (544p) ISBN 978-1-250-04021-3

Charles Dickens grimly portrayed Londoners as people resigned to hardscrabble living, ubiquitous filth, and prevalent violence, and Flanders (The Invention of Murder) successfully recreates the feel of London at Dickens’s peak as she delves deep into the rhythms and architecture of particular neighborhoods. This information-packed profile of Victorian London offers renewed insight into Dickens’s youth as an imprisoned debtor’s working child; his love of walking the city’s winding streets; and finally, the reality behind the traumatic adventures of such well-known characters as Oliver Twist. The book is divided into four comprehensive sections, covering topics like urban water and road transportation systems, affordable entertainment, and the wide range of linguistic dialects. Only the somewhat abrupt ending, after a segment on suicides, feels incomplete. While Dickens typically hewed close to reality in his work, Flanders’s expertise shines when exposing Dickens’s embellishments, particularly when his character Fagin faces execution rather than the less powerful but more realistic punishment of deportment. This well-researched sociological overview provides highly detailed context for cultural touchstones, while shattering the popular yet inauthentic image of a pristine Victorian age that never existed. (July)