One Hot Summer

One Hot Summer

Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858

Book - 2017
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"A unique, in-depth view of Victorian London during the record-breaking summer of 1858, when residents both famous and now-forgotten endured 'The Great Stink' together. While 1858 in London may have been noteworthy for its broiling summer months and the related stench of the sewage-filled Thames River, the year is otherwise little remembered. And yet, historian Rosemary Ashton reveals in this compelling microhistory, 1858 was marked by significant, if unrecognized, turning points. For ordinary people, and also for the rich, famous, and powerful, the months from May to August turned out to be a summer of consequence. Ashton mines Victorian letters and gossip, diaries, court records, newspapers, and other contemporary sources to uncover historically crucial moments in the lives of three protagonists--Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Disraeli. She also introduces others who gained renown in the headlines of the day, among them George Eliot, Karl Marx, William Thackeray, and Edward Bulwer Lytton. Ashton reveals invisible threads of connection among Londoners at every social level in 1858, bringing the celebrated city and its citizens vibrantly to life"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New Haven : Yale University Press, 2017
ISBN: 9780300227260
0300227264
Branch Call Number: History 942.108 Ash

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susanchyn
Oct 09, 2017

Fastidious research in the field of microhistory

But the micro pieces are presented through cumbersome syntax and a rather fractal structure, which to my eye, seem perversely unhelpful... The three "main characters" (Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli) are so fascinating and so important, it is surprising that the underlying microhistorical context(s) can end up seeming so boring.

Plus, there are gazillion other individuals mentioned in passing, no doubt each important in his or her own way; yet these lords and ladies and random Londoners require a deft hand to make their import come to life. It can't be easy to present both micro pieces and the "big picture" in a coherent and interesting way.

In short: Great concept, great research, weak execution

(Simon Schama once commented that microhistory "amounts to a neo-pointilliste heresy of immense positivist vulgarity. " That's pretty harsh. On the other hand, few can deny that Schama's richly painted histories make for enjoyable and illuminating reads.)

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