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'Spiders that spun iron': the production of railway space in British literature, 1860-1880

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posted on 2023-08-30, 18:59 authored by Edwin J. Marr
This thesis examines the railway space between 1860 and 1880. By railway space, I mean the entire assembly of seemingly discrete parts (stations, carriages, tunnels, and tracks both above and below ground) brought together into one unified locality that is at once open and off-limits, accessible and regulated. My argument draws on Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974), alongside other more recent works of spatial theory, to explore how the railway space is represented in mid-nineteenth-century British literature as an ideological product of Victorian society. As such, it perpetuates all the principles of the capitalist culture that built it; namely, the mercenary and consumeristic nature of nineteenth-century industrialism, the repurposing of nature and pre-existing places, the mechanisation of individuals, and the forced obedience to its systematic rules. Through analysing novels, novellas, and short stories by George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, and Charles Dickens alongside poems by Alexander Anderson and pieces from a variety of Victorian periodicals, this thesis provides a wide-ranging intervention into the field of railway studies in nineteenth-century literature. Each chapter centres around a specific space that the railway produced: the arrival of railway space, the junction space, the London Underground, workers on the tracks, and the violent destruction of space during accidents. The first three chapters of this project explore the literary representations of the network’s production and solidification, focusing on its impact on the old places and ways of life, the costs upon those who fully integrate with it but equally the impact on those who fall outside of its progress, and repeatedly ask what is gained and lost by these new transportation spaces. In contrast, the final two chapters explore how writers sought a renegotiation of the terms of spatial production, with Chapter Four reclaiming the workers at the heart of the railway space, and Chapter Five demonstrating how railway crashes unified the press against railway directors and how passengers found ways to escape, fight back, and bring change when faced with the violence of accidents.



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