Victorian Babylon

People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London

Lynda Nead

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In this fascinating and innovative look at nineteenth-century London, Lynda Nead offers a new account of modernity and metropolitan life. She charts the relationship between London’s formation into a modern organized city in the 1860s and the emergence of new types of production and consumption of visual culture. She considers the role visual images played in the creation of a vibrant and diverse urban culture and how new kinds of publics were created for these representations. Shifting the focus of the history of modernity from Paris to London, Nead here argues for a different understanding of gender and public space in a society where women joined the everyday life of city streets and entered the debates concerning morality, spectacle, and adventure.
The book draws on texts and images of many kinds—including acts of Parliament, literature, newspaper reports, private letters, maps, paintings, advertisements, posters, and banned obscene publications. Taking a highly interdisciplinary approach, Nead explores such intriguing topics as the efforts of urban improvers to move water, air, traffic, goods, and people in the Victorian metropolis; the impact of gas lighting and glass on urban leisure; and the obscenity legislation that emerged in response to new forms of visual mass culture that were perceived as dangerous and pervasive.

Lynda Nead teaches history of art at Birkbeck College, University of London.


Victorian Babylon is an evocative and visually-stunning account of the shifting geographies, temporalities, and visions of mid-Victorian London. . . . This is a well-researched and beautifully written book that persuasively shows how the visual was a constitutive part of Victorian culture and identities. It also reminds us of the cultural importance of the 1850s and 1860s.”—Erika, D. Rappaport, Albion

“Nead . . . marries traditional history with art history and presents a unique view of the modernization of London, some of which applies to London today. Highly recommended.”—Choice

“Splendid. . . . [Nead] brings an art historian’s fine sense of visual detail; indeed, one of the most striking features of the book is the wonderful illustrative material.”—John Marriott, History Today

“The great strength of Lynda Nead’s work is her ability to think through the dynamic connections between the material and spatial articulations of the city and the everyday social and psychic excursions of its citizenry, much of this reinforced by the adroit reading of visual texts. . . . Nead builds imaginatively and substantially on the promptings of others in a book of notable originality. . . . Nead not only provides a more accurate regendering of the historical townscape but enriches our understanding of modern urban experience."—Peter Bailey, Journal of Social History

“A hugely ambitious study of London. . . . This is a genuinely interdisciplinary study, grounded in a sophisticated understanding of critical theory. . . . It makes a major contribution to our knowledge of the lived experience of the Victorian city as it maps out with greater clarity than before the repertoire of possible roles that bourgeois women could play in Victorian London. . . . Nead’s work sets the agenda for a new generation of scholarship on the Victorian city.”—Timothy Barringer, Journal of Society of Architectural Historians

"Powerful. . . . Provocative and brilliant."—Susan P. Casteras, Nineteenth Century Studies

“Nead takes us through an intriguing study of London at the crossroads of modern history. By detailing the development of the city and its inhabitants’ reaction to newfound commodities and freedoms, Nead explores the value of a new understanding of 19th-century London, especially women’s roles in society. . . . From this well-researched and insightful tome we learn that London did not escape its past. Indeed, the city we know today was built upon its ruins.”—Rebecca Ittner, Victorian Homes










“A work of art history richly informed by historical, geographical, and textual scholarship and the concerns of gender studies. It also may provide the best measure of Benjamin’s legacy in Victorian urban studies today.”—Richard L. Stein, Victorian Studies

"Fascinating and useful."—Elizabeth Helsinger, Studies in English Literature
ISBN: 9780300107708
Publication Date: June 11, 2005
264 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
68 b/w + 15 color illus.
The Tiger in the Smoke

Art and Culture in Post-War Britain

Lynda Nead

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Bill Brandt | Henry Moore

Edited by Martina Droth and Paul Messier

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