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Having looked at the Victorian house, Victorian crime and Victorian leisure in previous books, the author now turns her attention to the Victorian city. In particular, London during the time of Dickens', using his journalism and novels to illustrate her own book. Judith Flanders makes an important point that today the word 'Dickensian' often refers to squalor - such as the term 'Dickensian conditions' - whereas in his own time the author was more often seen as convivial and often humorous. As anyone will know who has read any biography of the great man, what Dickens was, more than anything, was an observer of his city and his people. In this book, Flanders attempts to create a picture of London during that time and to show the differences and similarilities with now.

One of the main impressions I came away with from the book is that London was much busier then than our present time - if that is possible! When the author recreates the working day, it showed that even in the middle of the night people were trudging around, either going to work or returning from it. Another major difference is that most people walked fairly long distances to get to and from places. In her section about the city itself, she covers all elements, from the methods of transport, accidents, commuting and even what the roads were surfaced in. She presents a place of immense noise and bustle, with street hawkers, markets, music and crowds, in which many of the inhabitants complained of never having any peace from the constant roar of the streets.

Other sections of the book look at how people lived, enjoyed themselves and the city at night. I learnt that markets and public houses had to close during church services, something I had not been aware of before, and a whole host of other interesting and informative facts. London during Dickens' time was always on the move. As the population increased, slum dwellings (or rookery's) began to grow, with workhouses and prisons visible presences in the city. Poverty led to many ingenious ways to make things cheapest for the very poorest. Public houses had a 'saveall' to collect dregs from glasses to be sold cheaply, or given away, for instance. My very favourite was the fact that you could have newspapers delivered, or 'rent' them - if that was too expensive for you, you could rent the previous days paper for an even cheaper price. Still, the author looks carefully at the poverty and injustice Dickens' was famous for exposing and also looks at life expectancy, public water pumps, illness and epidemics and the links between crime and poverty.

London was not always so dark and depressing and her vivid descriptions of London at night, with public houses, theatres, street organs, parks and public spaces are fascinating. I have lived in London all my life, but was never aware of the work on Trafalgar Square, for instance, which went on for so long that hardly anybody could muster any enthusiasm when the lions were finally installed - only a handful of men witnessing they arrival in the capital. There are interesting digressions into royalty, food, street violence and fascinating accounts of public executions. For Dickens' his city was a place that encompassed all life, and leaving London and leaving life one and the same. Flanders does a wonderful job of recreating that time and of relating it always to Dickens' London and his work. If you have an interest in Victorian London or the work of Charles Dickens, this will be a must read. Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and it contained illustrations.
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on 11 September 2013
Judith Flanders has created a veritable plum pudding of facts and revelations. I pride myself on being knowledgeable about Charles Dickens and his times, but on almost every page there was a fact, a statistic, a revelation, to make me realise how much more I had to learn. One of your reviewers, quite rightly, confessed to needing to stop reading for a while to try to absorb some of the flood of material which fills each glorious page. I too felt this, and see it as a positive indication of the breadth and depth of the work.
Flanders has a pleasant style - neither a lecture nor dull research being regurgitated - and leads the reader in with titbits and startling facts,like the lamplighters of Victorian times shedding much needed light.
Having read countless biographies of Dickens over the years, as well as myself writing about him, I found the parallel stories of Dickens in London and London itself, seamlessly interwoven, painting pictures of London's sprawling and burgeoning community alongside Dickens and his world. It works brilliantly.

I would recommend this book to anybody who is a true Dickensian and/or has a thirst for further knowledge about the origins and development of the greatest city in the world.
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on 25 April 2013
This is an excellent and readable book which brings to life London in the time of Dickens. It covers in detail three broad topics - the City Wakes, Staying Alive, and Enjoying Life. The author has researched well and provides anecdote as well as facts - the facts, unsurprisingly often debunking anecdotal evidence. Many of the daily facts of life are obvious once you've been told, such as if the main mode of transport is horse (tens of thousands of them), there will be lots of horse muck which needs to be removed, feed to be brought in and stored, stabling, and carcasses to be disposed of - hence glue factories, slaughter houses, appalling smells and such like. And similar with regard to the human population (not the slaughter house bit, though prisons and executions are covered).
This is history much more interesting than Kings and Queens, even though royalty and the aristocracy do get a mention too.
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on 8 January 2015
A fantastic and fascinating book on life in Victorian London. Flanders covers the minutiae of living in the metropolis with skill. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I am not really a fan of Dickens' work, but I thought the author struck the balance between an informative history and referencing characters and scenes from Dickens' writing well.

Take time to read the footnotes also; they are really interesting and given they take up a large proportion of the book, should be paid attention to.

My only gripe would be the obvious lack of effort the publisher put into converting the book into an ebook, with page references left in throughout. This is fairly useless on Kindle and made referring back to former comments a pain.
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on 5 December 2013
As an avid London lover - daughter lives 40 mins commute away and we are there often - I loved being able to pin point places that I know and am now able to go back to London and look for places that were and see what is in their place.
Loved how the history of the city came alive with the comparisons between the Dickens books and the real place.
A little puffed up in places but for London lovers and history people I'd recommend this as a read
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on 8 November 2012
This book, by choosing as its primary viewpoint Charles Dickens' display of his intimate knowledge of Victorian London gives a well-coloured close-up of its subject, drawing the reader ingto all the capital's vibrant, noisy, smelly life. Above all, London was bursting with energy, and this is beautifully conveyed. My only criticism is that for my elderly eyes the print, especially of the footnotes, is rather small
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on 13 October 2014
This book got off to a dodgy start when the author told us that Dickens "was born in the reign of George II although by 1836 the old King was.......mad". But a few lines later she tells us (correctly) that in 1820 the Prince Regent inherited the throne as George IV. Later in the book she again muddles (twice) George II and George III.

Having said that, once you get into it, the book is detailed and informative. The author has obviously done a good deal of research and knows her Dickens. In many ways Victorian London seems to resemble the India I visited in 1978. The phrase, "the past is another country" comes to mind frequently. For example, I don't suppose that many Londoners eat eel or whelks now, and certainly oysters are no longer associated with poverty.

My criticism of the book is that if anything it goes into too much detail (the chapter on prostitutes is an example). That made me turn pages fairly quickly. This is a pity because the subject matter is very interesting.
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on 23 March 2013
Judith Flanders has a knack of bringing her subject to life. She showed 19th century London expanding at a breathtaking rate into a sprawling, vibrant, squalid, noisy yet exciting metropolis. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in social history. I first purchased the book for my Kindle, but I have now bought a hard back copy which shows the illustrations to greater advantage.
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on 17 April 2013
Fantastic book covering all aspects of life in the Victorian era with direct links to dickens charicters .
The sights,smells & sounds are all captured here. After reading this I have started reading Oliver Twist
Again & it's like reading it for the first time.....only better .
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on 30 September 2014
Original, gossipy, full of colour, sounds and smells, this is one of the most all-encompassing works I've read in some time. Years of Dickens had convinced me that there were few areas of his work left to explore. Thank you, Judith Flanders for destroying that embarrassingly stupid illusion. Having studied Dickens at University in the early seventies, I recall the smug teaching stance taken by certain tutors. Essentially, Wilson's 'The Wound and the Bow' had shifted the direction of scholarship; Johnson's biography was the last required word; Hillis Miller had done the final spadework; and Leavis had jumped belatedly on the bandwagon. Certain minor critics were helpful - Philip Collins, and Harry Stone (whose great works in the following decades achieved so much) for example. But we'd probably reached the terminus of Dickens Studies.

Of course, that was nonsense. Over the years, new biographies, new psychological readings, new structuralist and post-structuralist works have been produced. Few have brought the combination of insight and pleasure of Judith Flanders. Buiding on massive research, she creates a vision of the London of Dickens, and proceeds to illuminate his concerns, ideas and knowledge of his world by taking the lid off the squalor, the villainy, the 'idealistic' 'planners, the diseases and the poverty. And she sent me back to Dickens with a far greater awareness than I'd expected. Her pace is rapid, and her prose deftly readable,but that's not the key thing. She writes with a cataloguer's memory and a journalist's edge. While history purists might condemn her method, and the Lit Crit brigade object to her raciness, the Dickens reader will respond with passion as Flanders hurtles off in her grubby mail-coach into areas which have almost been too dark to explore in the past.

And if you know nothing of London's history, and little about Dickens, you will find many treasures here.
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