City of Dreadful Night

Hell is a city much like London— A Populous and smoky city-- Percy Shelley

London was arguably the first modern metropolis. By the end of the18th century it was a sprawling city of more than million people. Moreover, it embodied in a single place all the characteristic social contradictions of the newly ascendant capitalist system, boasting an affluent elite of bankers and investors who lived in dazzling luxury side by side with an army of extremely poor casual laborers who worked at the city’s docks, labored in sweat shops, begged and even stole to get by. London’s slums – which housed the growing ranks of the poor-- became notorious around the world for their squalor, viciousness and sheer size. They were a source of concern for the city’s ruling class throughout the 19th century and became something of an obsession for the intellectuals, journalists, writers and artists of the period.

This course will examine the various ways in which British culture attempted to come to terms with what historian Gareth Stedman-Jones has called “Outcast London,” the London of rag pickers, prostitutes, street thugs, serial killers and overcrowded tenements. We will read novels, newspaper articles, government reports as well as polemics written by social reformers, all of which attempted to represent and make sense of the horrors of the slums for their respectable readers. We will also look at the way the slums and the urban poor were rendered visible in the art and photography of the late-Victorian period.

To supplement our classroom discussions and my own lectures, we will hear guest lectures from experts on 19th century slum life, art history, British literature and Victorian culture. We will also take field trips to a number of museums with exhibits relevant to our topic and will take at least one walking tour of London’s East End.

Students will write several short papers about the primary texts, take a midterm and a final, and complete a group research project which they will present to the class during the last two weeks of the term.


Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Arthur Morrison, A Child of The Jago

Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delights: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Victorian London

Short excerpts from Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (online)

Excepts from Andrew Mearns, The Bitter Cry of Outcast London (online)

Short excerpts from Charles Booth, Inquiry into Life and Labour of the People of London. (online)

Short excerpts from General William Booth, In Darkest England and the Way Out (online).

In addition, students will read contemporary newspaper and magazine articles about the Jack the Ripper case as well as a number of shorter (primary and secondary) texts by W.T. Stead,  Arthur Conan Doyle, James Greenwood, Fredrich Engels and Octavia Hill.

Course Format.  This course presupposes the active involvement and collaboration of everyone enrolled. I will give no more than one prepared lecture a week (and some weeks there will be none). The rest of class time will be given over to field trips and guest lectures or to structured group discussion of issues and questions raised by the lectures, guest speakers, field trips and assigned reading.  That means that you'll have to do the required reading for each session, attend class regularly, arrange your schedules so that you can attend the field trips and make an effort to participate. In class discussions, it will be my job to facilitate and to keep the conversation flowing.

Writing Assignments.  In this class, you will be asked to complete a total of four short (4-5 page) response papers on aspects of the assigned readings or the field trips. All writing assignments should be machine produced (i.e. typed or printed) double-spaced in 12 point Times or New York font and should be relatively free of mechanical and grammatical error. My grading criteria for your written work are laid out in detail at the end of this syllabus. I’m always willing to look at drafts of anything you’ve written.

Reading Questions. Both as a way of encouraging you to do the reading and to enhance class discussion, I expect you to write up no less than 2 discussion questions on the main reading for each class session that has assigned readings.(In cases of multiple readings, you should write at least one question per reading).  You should make two copies of these questions: one that will be handed in at the beginning of class and the other for you t o refer to during course of our discussion. These can be handwritten or typed and should normally run no longer than a half a page. The reading questions will not receive a letter grade but instead a check plus (√+), a check (√) or a minus (-). At the end of the term I will give you a global reading question grade based on the cumulative score for all your questions (i.e. if you got a majority of a √s, you’ll get a B; a majority of √+s and you’ll receive an A; a majority of minuses, a C or a D and so on).

Group Research Project. Finally, as part of your work in this class each of you will take part in a group research project on some issue having to do with the slums and 19th century British society. Depending on enrollment, groups will be made up of anywhere from 2 to 5 people.  Each team will be expected to prepare a final (collectively written) report of roughly 8 to 10 pages and to present their research to the class in the last two weeks of the term.

Attendance. It will be extremely difficult for you to do well in this course if you don't come to class. I expect you to attend class regularly, to be on time and to stay for the entire session. I'll allow you three (3) unexcused absences without penalty; after that I will lower your final grade by 5% for each unexcused absence.

Participation.  The amount and quality of your contributions to class discussion will determine 10% of your final grade. To receive a high score for your participation, you should not only do the reading for class but also come prepared to say something. It might help if you came to class with a list of questions about the films we’ve seen or a passage from one of the books you'd like to hear discussed. At the end of the course I will give you a short written evaluation of your participation.

Grades.  Your grade for the course will be based on your midterm, your response papers, your group research project and your participation in class discussions. The response papers will each be worth fifteen (15) percent of your final grade. The group research project will be worth twenty (20) percent. The reading questions will be worth ten (10) percent. And your class participation will count for (10) ten percent. To make it easier for me to calculate final grades, each assignment or grade component will receive both a letter grade and a corresponding point score. On my grading scale, an A is 93% to 100% of the possible points, 90 to 92% is an A-, 87% to 89% is a B+, 83% to 86% is a B, 80% to 82% is a B-, 77% to 79% is a C +, 73% to 76% is a C, 70% to 72% is a C-, 67% to 69% is a D+, 60% to 68% is a D and anything less than 59% is an F. Below is a breakdown of the points for each assignment or final grade component:

4 short papers @ 150 points each=                                     600 points

Reading questions@ 100 points=                                        100 points

1 group research project @ 200 points=                           200 points

Class participation=                                                                100 points

                                                                                                       1000 total points possible


If you want to figure out how you are doing in the class at any time during the semester, simply divide the points you've earned so far by the number of points you could've earned.

Late Work. The due dates for each of the writing assignments are clearly listed on the schedule below. All written work will be docked half a grade for each week it is overdue. 

Plagiarism. I expect you to do your own work in this class. Anyone caught plagiarizing-- representing the work of others as his or her own-- will fail the course.


Tentative 14-Week Schedule

Week 1. Imagining the City, Imagining the Slums; A Brief History of London


Judith Walkowitz, "Introduction" and  "Chapter 1: Urban Spectatorship" in City of Dreadful Delights: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Victorian London


Week 2. Conditions in the Slums: Crowding, Poverty, Crime, Filth, Disease ; Victorian attitudes toward the Poor; Mayhew and the London Poor


Fredrich Engels, “The Great Towns” (only the first few pages on London are required; you may stop reading when he turns his attention to other cities in England) in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844)

John Hollingshead, "The East" in Ragged London in 1861 (1861)

James Greenwood, "Of Professional Thieves: Chapter VI: Their Number and Difficulties" in The Seven Curses of London (1869)

Henry Mayhew, "Chapter 1:



"Chapter 2:

in London Labour and the London Poor Vol 1.


Week 3. Mayhew and the London Poor

Museum of the Docklands


Henry Mayhew, "Of the Street Finders or Collectors:

Of the Mud-Larks.

Of the London Dustmen, Nightmen, Sweeps, and Scavengers." in

London Labour and the London Poor Vol 2.

Response #1


Week 4. The Literary Response to the Slums: Dickens

Dickens walking tour or Dickens Museum


Dickens, Oliver Twist (read roughly the first half of the novel)


Week 5. The Literary Response to the Slums: Dickens

Dickens walking tour or Dickens Museum


Dickens, Oliver Twist (finish the novel)


Week 6. Into the East End: Morrison’s A Child of Jago


Arthur Morrison, A Child of The Jago

Walking tour of East End

Response #2


Week 7. ****Midterm Break****


Week 8. Race and Ethnicity in Outcast London

Jewish Museum

 No Reading


Week 9. Modern Babylon: Sexual Anarchy in the Great City

Walking tour of Jack the Ripper murder sites.

W. T. Stead, "Notice to Our Readers", "We bid You be of Hope,"  "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon I, " The Pall Mall Gazette July 4-8, 1885.  

Judith Walkowitz, "Chapter 2: Contested Terrain: New Social Actors" and "Chapter 3: 'The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" in City of Dreadful Delights: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Victorian London


Week 10. The Detective, the Killer and the Metropolis: Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Museum


 Judith Walkowitz,  "Chapter 4: 'The Maiden Tribute': Cultural Consequences," "Chapter 7: Jack the Ripper" and "Epilogue: The Yorkshire Ripper" in City of Dreadful Delights: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Victorian London

Jack the Ripper articles from the London Times, August-November 1888

Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Man with the Twisted Lip"  in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

 Response #3


Week 11. Reforming the Rookeries


Andrew Mearns, The Bitter Cry of Outcast London (1883)

Octavia Hill, "Space for the People" in Homes of the London Poor (1883)

General William Booth, "Part1. Chapter 1: Why 'Darkest England'? and Chapter 2: the Submerged Tenth" and "Part 2: Chapter 1. A Stupendous Undertaking" in In Darkest England and the Way Out


Week 12. Social Scientific Investigation of the Slums: Charles Booth’s Mapping of the London Poor


Charles Booth, "Concerning the Whole District Under Review" in Life and Labour of the People in London. (1892)

Browse Booth's Poverty Maps

Read about how Booth conducted his research


Week 13. Dr. Barnardo Homes and Ragged Schools

Ragged School Museum


 Seth Koven, "Chapter Two: Dr. Barnardo's Artistic Fictions: Photography, Sexuality and the Ragged Child" in Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London (To be distributed)


Week 14. Research Presentations.

Response #4