DIckens's London: The origins of a literary territory

Lee Jackson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the origins of ‘Dickens’s London’ as a destination for literary tourists. British literary tourism has its roots in late eighteenth-century Romanticism, when domestic tourists began to explore the imaginative and affective possibilities of visiting the birthplaces, homes and graves of celebrated authors, a practice which soon extended to fictive locations. The charting of ‘Dickens’s London’ by late nineteenth-century literary topographers continued and extended this tradition. I argue, however, that touristic ‘Dickens’s London’ was also the product of three inter-related cultural phenomena which shaped how the Victorians conceptualised the metropolis: tourist-antiquarianism (imaginative engagement with historic place), the city-as-spectacle, and heritagization. I consider how Dickens’s own work was in dialogue with these emerging ways of framing/understanding the city, and discuss the influence of Dickens’s fascination with antiquity upon his literary topographers. I pay particular attention to how the rise of touristic ‘Dickens’s London’ was imbricated with the rise of ‘Old London’, where older parts of the city were seen through a heritage lens, i.e. as picturesque, preservation-worthy, historic spectacle. Indeed, the subject of my case study, ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ of Portsmouth Street, exemplifies the inter-relationship between ‘Old London’ and ‘Dickens’s London’. The shop was a literary shrine whose complex visual appeal and genuine antiquity established it as the Dickens tourist site in London, even though it lacked any substantive association with Dickens. I argue that the shop’s constructed authenticity demonstrates the formative influence of tourist-antiquarianism, spectacle and heritagization on Dickens’s literary territory. Dickens himself expresses scepticism concerning the merits of guidebook-driven mass tourism and, moreover, implies that his own use of historic buildings and localities transcends mere picturesque display. We might speculate, therefore, that the quaint, confected literary shrine of ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, had it been established during his lifetime, would have been disavowed by the author. Nonetheless, I propose that there is a connection between Dickens’s own imaginative use of ancient buildings and localities, tourist-antiquarianism and the literary topographers’ ‘Dickens’s London’: a belief in the power of ancient/historic place to stimulate memory and imagination.

Chapter 1, ‘Before Dickens’s London’, sketches the history of literary tourism and considers Dickens’s own attitude towards mass tourism.

Chapter 2, ‘Dickens and tourist-antiquarianism’, argues that a connection can be made between the Victorians’ tourist-antiquarian interest in the ‘historic’ capital, Dickens’s own use of antiquity, and the work of his literary topographers.

Chapter 3, ‘The city as spectacle’, proposes that the panorama as an evolving form of urban spectacle, culminating in recreated ‘old streets’ at exhibitions and bazaars, was an influence on Dickens tourism. I also suggest that visits to fictive literary locations are themselves in the panoramic mode.

Chapter 4, ‘Dickens’s London and the heritage city’, demonstrates how touristic ‘Dickens’s London’ formed part of a heritage vision of ‘Old London’, created by a variety of interested parties, from the antiquarian Society for Photographing Relics of Old London to the London County Council.

Finally, Chapter 5, ‘Case study: The Old Curiosity Shop’, examines how tourist-antiquarianism, heritage and spectacle all played their part in the creation of London’s principal Dickens-related tourist attraction (prior to the creation of the Dickens Museum in 1925).
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • John, Juliet, Supervisor, External person
  • Hamlett, Jane, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2021


  • Dickens London
  • Dickensland
  • Literary Tourism
  • Charles Dickens
  • Dickens and heritage
  • Dickens and the Panorama
  • Old Curiosity Shop

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