24 April 2015
Venue: Geography Building, Room 1.26, QMUL Mile End Campus
In the nineteenth century, London expanded at an unprecedented rate and was by far the largest city in the world by 1900, in terms both of population and physical proportions. As the city grew, so did the ‘gulf’ of economic inequality between its richest and poorest inhabitants. Writers often drew upon a global rhetoric in order to express this disparity, turning not only to the idea of ‘gulfs’ between extremes but also to the ‘poles’ as metaphorical means by which excessive social urban distance could be articulated. But the polar vision of London also shifted in this period to reflect a pronounced change in the city’s social zoning, whereby the wealthiest moved westwards away from the centre. Whereas novels from the first part of the century conceive of the extremes of the city as juxtaposed in a physically restricted centre, borrowing the eighteenth-century poles of St. Giles and St. James, later novels increasingly construct interpolar London via East and West Ends.
Literature tends to sensationalise the interrelations of extremes in the city and often plays off the supposed ignorance of the one to the other, but in reality, mobility between the richest and the poorest parts of London was ubiquitous and was manifest in a host of highly varied forms. A huge range of diverse expressions of physical, cultural, intellectual, and social traffic from the rich west to the poor east and vice versa was in operation, much of which has not yet been fully mapped by scholars in any discipline. This one day symposium will seek to trace some of the different ways in the extremes of the unequal city interacted with one another materially, as well as thinking about how ‘poles’ or opposite sides of a ‘gulf’ were imagined or constructed in relation to each other, in cultural products such as novels. Drawing together scholars from English, Geography and History, Interpolar London will facilitate a conversation across and between the disciplines about the socio-spatial dialectic at the heart of nineteenth-century London, which will further an understanding of how urban inequality is practised and imagined.