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Imagining the East End in literature and social survey, 1880-1990

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Imagining the East End in literature and social survey, 1880-1990


histoire urbaine, fin de siècle, littérature, imaginaire, nineteenth century, dix-neuvième siècle, Gissing George, quartier défavorisé, London, Londres, East End, Dennis Richard


This paper was part of the Anglo-American Conference of historians 2009, on the theme 'cities'.

Conference description by the organisers :

The conference will deal with cities throughout the world, with papers examining the networks of cities and their role in cultural formation, the relations between cities, territories and larger political units, the ideologies and cosmologies of the city and what distinguishes the city or town from other forms of settlement or ways of life.
Paper abstract from the organisers :
This paper will explore the emergence of 'East End' as a category of description and analysis in fiction and social scientific discourse.

Where, exactly (or even approximately!), was the 'East End' and what were its social, cultural and geographical attributes? The paper will pay particular attention to the writings of George Gissing, whose reputation as a novelist of slum life has often led to his being associated with the East End; to the relationship between Gissing and other 'East Enders', such as Arthur Morrison, Walter Besant and the Rev. Osborne Jay; and to the parallels and interactions between Gissing's fiction and Charles Booth's Labour and Life of the People and the associated 'Descriptive Map of London Poverty 1889'. Of special interest is Gissing's early novel, The Unclassed. In its first edition as a three-volume novel (1884), the slums that play a prominent role in The Unclassed were situated in Westminster, but by 1895, in revising – mainly abridging – the novel into a single volume, Gissing relocated the slums to the East End, reflecting shifts in both popular perceptions of the East End and 'real' ongoing changes in the geography of poverty in London in the 1890s that are also revealed by the 1898–99 revised edition of Booth's poverty maps.
  Richard Dennis is a Professor in the Department of Geography at UCL.

NB : This recording may be streamed via your web browser or opened in iTunes.   See also recordings of the other conference sessions: Ideas of the metropolis What is a city? The English experience Cities and peripheries Imagining low life before the East End's invention, c. 1780s to 1840s Multicultural London: Past, present and future. A history and policy discussion  


Richard Dennis


2 July 2009