Victorian Illuminations: A Twilight Walk around Soho

London was the most illuminated city in the Victorian period, and the gas-lighting of the streets created a new literature of nocturnal exploration. Join Victorian literature specialist Dr Nadia Valman (Queen Mary, University of London) to discover the urban locations that inspired the nineteenth century’s most compelling writing about the night city, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Man of the Crowd and Charles Dickens’ Night Walks.

For some fiction writers, like Poe, Stevenson, and Charlotte Mew, the atmospheric effects of streetlights, shadow and fog transformed London into a ghostly, dreamlike theatre set, blurring the distinction between night and day and perceptions of space. Journalists as well as novelists were enthusiastic night-wanderers. Blanchard Jerrold described with relish the gaslit night markets and shops that formed London’s new consumer culture, but for George Augustus Sala and Jack London, lighting the night also revealed the hidden underside of Victorian London’s prosperity. They documented the very different experience of the urban night for London’s poor and homeless people.

Using text projections against twilit streets and walls, the walk will conjure the myriad meanings of the London night for Victorian writers.

Dr Nadia Valman
Dr Nadia Valman
Nadia Valman is Senior Lecturer in the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London and the author or editor of eight books on Victorian literature. Her current research, supported by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, focuses on the literary history of London in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She has previously led literature walks in Shoreditch and Whitechapel.

Image: Gusave Dore from ‘London: A Pilgrimage’ (1872). 

Queen Mary, University of London