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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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on 17 July 2016
It's difficult to think of Victorian London without thinking of Charles Dickens, and Judith Flanders has chosen to combine the two by examining the social conditions of the capital during Dickens' adult life.

The breadth of scope is astonishing. From street theatre to sewers, transportation to public health, Flanders isn't shy about examining everything and anything that was connected with everyday life.

Naturally certain sections get a bit dull after a while, but on the whole the book is extremely interesting, and packed full of little titbits that make you realise that in all honesty, you have no clue how life was in earlier times.

Historical books often have the problem of getting bogged down in detail, and it's to Judith Flanders' credit that this never becomes an issue here. She takes the factual detail from her exhaustive primary research and connects it with the emotional details present in Dickens' work to truly make Victorian London come alive.
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on 23 December 2017
This is a fascinating social history of London during the epoch associated with Charles Dickens. It is replete with information presented with consummate readability; it has copious notes and bibliographical references: and, above all, it quotes from the works of Dickens on nearly every page. He was obsessed with London life and topography. What an extraordinary man he was!
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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 20 April 2015
This sort of book really appeals to me...how things used to be, how people used to live. The surprise in some things that are so similar to now and then the shock at things that are so difficult that you struggle to imagine them. This is a story of a place that you can see as being in the process of becoming what it is, but both it and the people who inhabited it are not modern, they are not us, although they may be on the way.

So descriptions of morning coffee houses and the street vendors that appear ubiquitous and the care needed to ensure that you had enough to eat to perform physical labour for many hours all resonate as things that you can almost picture and almost project yourself into.
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on 15 January 2017
i was really enjoying this book but when i got to the bottom of page 312, the next page was a previously written chapter !!! on my search for the elusive page 313 it could not be found and went straight to page 345! i know this is a printing error but it is really frustrating when you are enjoying reading it
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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 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 10 June 2014
I have always had an interest in central London having lived there for a number of years as well as now living by the Thames. This book was like a guide showing me all the parts of London that I had formally walked by. Having only read a couple of Dickens's books (and those I never finished) I thought I might be hindered, but not at all.

The book was thematically arranged covering subjects such as the roads, market life, streets sellers, the slums, the waters of death, leisure, street violence and much more. What struck me most is that Judith Flanders spoke very much to my senses. I could almost hear the noise of London, smell the stench of life (and death) as well as sense the frustration of the constant fogs and the fear of cholera that was so prevalent.

I can certainly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in London and especially anyone who travels into London every day - you might appreciate your own journey and own life much more! it is both easy and a joy to read!
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on 8 August 2015
It is taking much longer to read than I thought - densely packed text can be hard going. But it is a fascinating look at Dickens' London, bringing it to life in a way that you can almost smell the streets, hear the sounds and experience the crush of the throng. A small type face is a drawback but with the amount of detail in the book, a larger type would add to its 520 pages (with notes and references). It is extremely well written and researched and the text flows well. Highly recommended.
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