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This Is What Dickensian London Really Looked Like

Images of the squalor and sadness of Victorian life


On June 9, 1870, after a full day's work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens complained that he was feeling ill and then fell over dead of a stroke. Bizarrely, exactly five years before, on June 9, 1865, the train he'd been riding in with his mistress and his mistress's mother had derailed, killing ten people and injuring dozens. Dickens had never fully psychologically recovered from the incident, and his typically frantic writing pace dwindled immensely; Drood was the only major project Dickens started in the five years between the accident and his death. The novel's unfinished state, coupled with Dickens's odd post-crash personality shifts, have long made Drood a source of interest for curious and investigative readers. The London of Edwin Drood's first chapter is, in many ways, a darker place—and perhaps more representative of reality—than the London of Dickens's other works. In 1869, while Dickens was working on the novel, Blanchard Jerrold and Gustave Dore joined forces to wander through London and sketch its squalor and poverty and vice. These images, though criticized at their publication as exaggerated, get close to representing the darkness and sadness that Dickens too wanted to capture. 

All images via the British Library.