Cleansing the City: Sanitary Geographies in Victorian Londonexplores not only the challenges faced by reformers as they strove toclean up an increasingly filthy city but the resistance to their efforts.Beginning in the 1830s, reform-minded citizens, under the banner of sanitaryimprovement, plunged into London’s dark and dirty spaces and returned withthe material they needed to promote public health legislation and magnificentprojects of sanitary engineering. Sanitary reform, however, was not alwaysmet with unqualified enthusiasm. While some improvements, such as slumclearances, the development of sewerage, and the embankment of the Thames,may have made London a cleaner place to live, these projects also destroyedand reshaped the built environment, and in doing so, altered the meanings andexperiences of the city.
From the novels of Charles Dickens and George Gissing to anonymous magazinearticles and pamphlets, resistance to reform found expression in the nostalgicappreciation of a threatened urban landscape and anxiety about domestic autonomyin an era of networked sanitary services. Cleansing the City emphasizes the disruptions and disorientation occasioned by purification—a process we are generally inclined to see as positive. By recovering these sometimes oppositional, sometimes ambivalent responses, Michelle Allen elevates a significant undercurrent of Victorian thought into the mainstream and thus provides insight into the contested nature of sanitary modernization.