Railway Imaginary in the 1830s: Finding Form

Nicola Kirkby

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines terminology, speculative journalism, and early engagement with railways in fiction to demonstrate how writing across genres extended the emergent “railway imaginary” well beyond the scope of its built referent. Creative journalists tackled public unfamiliarity with the system, coupling accessible pre-steam imagery with far-reaching future projections. Yet gaps in spatial and temporal perception opened up by the railways posed a challenge to those plotting long-form fiction which relied on a sense of momentum towards a definitive ending.

While selected works, including the Mechanics’ Magazine, Railroadiana, and The Pickwick Papers, stop short of representing railways as an inhabited system closely entangled with the familiar rhythms of 1830s life, they do take seriously the task of establishing a dynamic relationship between railway and narrative form that matched technological and literary ambition alike.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNineteenth-Century Literature in Transition: 1830s
EditorsJohn Gardner, David Stewart
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages10
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

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