Borderlines of Madness in 19th century fiction

Course Dates: 17/01/22 - 28/02/22
Time: 19:45 - 21:30
Location: Online
The late 19th/early 20th century was a tumultuous time in London, and many fiction writers sought a new way to explore the themes of poverty, social injustice, gender and ethnicity in the capital. We will explore each author’s approach to the subject matter, and travel in fiction to many vividly realised London locations, ranging from Lambeth to Soho, Whitechapel to Seven Dials, Shoreditch to Shadwell, identifying innovations in narrative style and literary genre.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £99.00 Senior fee £99.00 Concession £60.00

Course Code: HLT178

Please choose a course date 

Mon, eve, 17 Jan - 28 Feb '22

Duration: 7 sessions (over 7 weeks)

Or call to enrol:020 7831 7831

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

We will explore the themes of poverty, politics, gender and ethnicity in London at the end of the 19th century/start of the 20th century through the eyes of writers of fiction, but also through the testimony of their non-fiction contemporaries – social investigators, government officials, journalists and philanthropists. Stylistic innovation and literary genres will also be examined, in these years just before the arrival of Modernism.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

Our first session will be an introduction to the topics/authors, and then, from session 2 onwards, we will explore the following works (in this order):

* A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison (1896) (Chronic poverty, street violence, Church of England charitable work, Social Darwinism, literary ‘Naturalism’, Shoreditch)

* The Hooligan Nights by Clarence Rook (1899) (Selected chapters) (Juvenile delinquency, personal ‘moral failure’, Cockney cynicism, policing, Lambeth)

* In Darkest London by Margaret Harkness (1889) (Selected chapters) (Salvation Army, women’s experiences of poverty, factory girls, feminism, unions, south Whitechapel)

* Sissero’s Return by Henry Woode Nevinson (1895) (The black and Asian experience of London, Dock-life, the Thames, mixed-race marriages, Shadwell)

* No 5 John Street by Richard Whiteing (1899) (Luxury trades & poverty wages, the slum ‘Amazon’, relations between the upper and labouring classes, the West End)

* The Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill (1892) (Selected chapters) (The Jewish experience, assimilation and its dilemmas, Anglo-Zionism, Whitechapel)

* The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907) (Anarchism, the Home Office, threats to social ‘order’, Scotland Yard, Soho)

I will be giving an extensive information sheet about the availability of books in our first session but links are in No.6.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Identify key concerns expressed about London at the end of the 19th century.

. Identify the stylistic innovation and shifts in literary genre, which anticipate the Modernist movement.

- Explain the major ideas for ending poverty as put forward in these years.

- Define significant attitudes towards 'welfare' payments and charitable help for the poor.

- Identify elements in the contemporary debates about immigration and labour; and gender and labour.

- Pursue further reading on these subjects, with a detailed bibliography/secondary reading list for each session.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

No previous skills or knowledge required, but curiosity, an appetite for reading, plus a willingness to engage with occasionally distressing subject matter, will be very helpful.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

There is quite a lot of reading involved, though extracts will also be suggested if you do not have time to complete an entire book.
Teaching will be delivered via mini-lecture and seminar.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Most of the 7 works are out of copyright and are available to read online; links will be provided by the tutor.
They can also be purchased relatively inexpensively or borrowed from a library. The exception is ‘In Darkest London’ by Margaret Harkness, which is currently only available for around £12 in a recent paperback reprint. You may wish to consider putting in an ‘inter-library loan’ request at your local library to obtain any or all of the works, if you prefer to read paper copies. I will be giving an extensive information sheet about the availability of books, and which chapters to focus on, in our first session but here are links to the texts:

A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison (1896) -
WEEK 3: The Hooligan Nights by Clarence Rook (1899)
Online version here:
WEEK 4: In Darkest London by Margaret Harkness (1889) - There is a British Library digitised version
Book version available to buy here:
WEEK 5: Sissero’s Return, short story by Henry Woode Nevinson (1895)
It can be read online in the digitised version of Neighbours of Ours, here:
WEEK 6: No 5 John Street by Richard Whiteing (1899)
It’s online here:
WEEK 7: The Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill (1892)
Online here:
WEEK 8: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other literature courses under History, Culture and Writing/Literature at

Sarah Wise

Sarah Wise is an award-winning writer and historian, with an MA in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck, University of London. She teaches social history and literature at the University of California’s London Outreach Center. Her interests are urban history, working-class history, medical history and nineteenth-century literature and reportage. Her most recent book, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England, was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize. Her 2004 debut, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and won the Crime Writers’ Association Golden Dagger. Her follow-up The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum (2008) was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize. Last year she was a contributor to the volume Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps, published by Thames & Hudson/London School of Economics. For reviews

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.