Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. The novel’s London is a place of two nations: the powerful and the dispossessed, signed by the terms “West End” and “East End” respectively. The West End comprises the fashionable parts of London, such as Piccadilly or the Dulwich Art Gallery, in which the Dean Winnstay’s family lives and moves. The East End, the “cockney” side of London is the area of grinding poverty, slums, insanitary conditions and disease. Places are not named here, as they are in Dickens’s novels, apart from a brief excursion to Bermondsey, on the south bank of the River Thames, where, symbolically, houses of the poor are being demolished to make way for more fashionable homes.

As Dickens would do several years later in Bleak House (1852-1853), the reformer Kingsley shows particular interest in disease caused by lack of sanitation. However, unlike Dickens, he makes little symbolic use of the condition. On the other hand, the poor tailor Alton Locke’s boyhood London is invested with the literary features of the City of Destruction of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684). Its suburbs spread like tentacles deep into the countryside, devouring its natural beauty and life.


Sweatshops. Alton’s first place of work is ostensibly a respectable tailor’s shop, situated in London’s Piccadilly district. Downstairs it seems to promise high life. However, each higher floor of the building represents some disease caused by the dreadful work...

(The entire section is 634 words.)