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CfP for Interpolar London: Between the Extremes of the Nineteenth-Century Metropolis

30 January 2015

For information about the Symposium, and for booking, please click here.

Interpolar London: Between the Extremes of the Nineteenth-Century Metropolis

One Day Symposium: Queen Mary, University of London. Friday 24th April 2015.

Speakers include: Joseph McLaughlin (Ohio, English); Richard Dennis (UCL, Geography); Nadia Valman (QMUL, English); John Marriott (Oxford, History); Alex Warwick (Westminster, English); Lucie Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores, History); Rohan McWilliam (History, Anglia Ruskin).

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.​​​

We invite 200 word abstracts for 20 minute papers on topics related to the theme, including those that consider:

  • The role of distance and scale in nineteenth-century metropolitan discourse and ideology.
  • The participation of cultural products such as novels in the cultural construction of a polarised city.
  • Late-18c and early-19c representations of the ‘St. Giles-St. James’ axis, and the mid-century residue of this in, for instance, Douglas Jerrold.
  • The development of the West-East axis, within the imagination and material reality
  • Other ways of ‘polarising’ London, such as North-South, Centre-Suburbs.
  • The place of the ‘west end’ in ‘east end fiction’, and vice-versa.
  • Institutions dedicated to bridging ‘gulfs’ and reconciling ‘poles’; philanthropic, educational, political etc.
  • The movement of people and things across gulfs and between poles.
  • Moments of rupture, in which the one pole invades the other – riots in the 1880s etc

Please send proposals, with a 50 word biography, to Dr Matthew Ingleby (QMUL, English) at or Dr Alastair Owens (QMUL, Geography) at

The deadline for this CfP is 4th March 2015. We will get back to you by 11th March 2015.



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