London ‘lowlife’ in fiction: 1889-1907

Course Dates: 27/09/21 - 15/11/21
Time: 19:45 - 21:30
Location: Online
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.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Book your place
In stock
Full fee £149.00 Senior fee £149.00 Concession £91.00

Course Code: HLT23

Mon, eve, 27 Sep - 15 Nov '21

Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 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?

How fiction writers reflected the tumultuous fin de siècle – its class relations, new-found interest in structural poverty, and the shortcomings of late-capitalism to provide a basic living for many Londoners. We will explore each author’s approach to the subject matter, and the historical background to each work of fiction, identifying any gaps in the material, inconsistencies and bias. We will also be looking at narrative style and literary genre, and the extent to which these works may be considered as forerunners to the Modernist movement.

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?

London’s socio-economic situation; changes in literary style; class relations and political movements; and various London locations, including Lambeth, Soho, Whitechapel, Seven Dials, Shoreditch, Shadwell.
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): (Online links to all works provided by the tutor.)

WEEK 1: introduction to the topic and to the course

WEEK 2: A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison (1896)

WEEK 3: The Hooligan Nights by Clarence Rook (1899)
Please concentrate on these chapters: 1 to 9 inclusive; 14 and 15; 19, 21 and 22.

WEEK 4: In Darkest London by Margaret Harkness (1889); Please try to read: chapters 1, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 13 & 14

WEEK 5: Sissero’s Return, short story by Henry Woode Nevinson(1895): Digitised version of Neighbours of Ours

WEEK 6: No 5 John Street by Richard Whiteing (1899)
If you’re short of time, please read ahead of class chapters 1 to 11 inclusive; 18; 22 to 28; 30 to 31.

WEEK 7: The Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill (1892)
It is huge, so please concentrate on the following chapters: Book 1, Chapters 1 to 8; Book 2, Chapters 1 to 3; and 15 to 18 – but please note, Part 2 is not included in the audio/Librivox version.

WEEK 8: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907);

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.
- Understand the relationships between 'realism', 'subjectivity', non-fiction narrativity and novelistic narrativity
- Identify elements in the contemporary debates about immigration and labour; and gender and labour.

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

No previous skills or knowledge required, but curiosity and an appetite for reading and for sharing your insights with the group are desirable.

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; students are encouraged to present their own short seminar presentation on any of the fictions that are of greatest interest, though this is not mandatory.

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

Most of the works can be purchased relatively inexpensively or borrowed from a library. The tutor
will also provide online links to the works studied.

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

Please see our range of Literature courses under History, Culture and Writing/Literature on the website 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.