London ‘lowlife’ in fiction: 1889-1907

Course Dates: 20/01/23 - 10/03/23
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: Keeley Street
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.
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Full fee £179.00 Senior fee £143.00 Concession £116.00

This course has now finished

Course Code: HLT23

Finished Fri, day, 20 Jan - 10 Mar '23

Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)

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What is the course about?

This online Literature course explores 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 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.
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.

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): (Full online links and further information to all works and extracts to be read provided by the tutor in the first session.)

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)
Online version here:
WEEK 4: In Darkest London by Margaret Harkness (1889)
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)

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.

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

- 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; 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 as noted in No.2.

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

HLT43 Borderlines of Madness in 19th century fiction will be offered on 18 & 25 March 2023 and taught by the same tutor. 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.