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School of Geography

School research seminar - Locating London slum fiction 1815-1965: possibilities for a literary geography

4 February 2014

Time: 12:15 - 1:15pm
Venue: FB 2.07 City Centre seminar room

Dr Jason Finch, Department of English Language and Literature, Abo Akademi University, Finland

Chair: Alastair Owens

Literary geographies have traditionally been explored far less thoroughly than literary histories. But efforts to produce a literary geography have become more numerous since the 1990s. They range from the iconoclastic use of maps by Franco Moretti ([1997]; 2006; 2013) among the tools for a new, distant reading, through the continued popularity of notions of constructed and produced space derived ultimately from Lefebvre and Foucault (e.g. Tally 2013; Westphal [2007]), to the apparent hard-nosed empiricism of work on the construction of a literary GIS (e.g. Cooper and Gregory 2011). With these alternatives in mind, my current project on the discursive construction of the ‘London slum’ as both imagined and real place in the modern era uses varied empirical disciplines to gain insights into the topographical specifics of London, which in literary accounts of space has like other large cities most often been treated as a symbol or abstraction (Finch 2014). My paper introduces this project with the objective of learning more about how the interface between literary researchers and geographers could be mutually beneficial. I will offer suggestions about how the relationship between the two disciplines could develop in the immediate future, following on from the era of not only literary scholars’ interest in geographies, but human geographers’ increasingly varied and sophisticated accounts of the both real and unreal nature of place. Examples, to be drawn from my project, may include writers such as Margaret Harkness, George Gissing, Arthur Morrison, Arnold Bennett, William Plomer, Simon Blumenfeld, Alexander Baron and Lynne Reid Banks, and numerous inner-London districts: Bethnal Green, Tottenham Court Road, Lambeth, Wapping, Clerkenwell, Bayswater, Whitechapel, Hackney and Fulham.


  • Cooper, David and Ian N. Gregory. 2011. ‘Mapping the English Lake District: A Literary GIS’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. NS 36: 89-108.
  • Finch, Jason. 2014 [forthcoming]. Deep Locational Criticism: Imaginative Place in Literary Research and Teaching. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Moretti, Franco [1997]. 1999. Atlas of the European Novel: 1800-1900. London and New York: Verso.
  • Moretti, Franco. 2005. Graphs Maps Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London: Verso.
  • Moretti, Franco. 2013. Distant Reading. London: Verso.
  • Tally Jr, Robert T. 2013. Spatiality [‘The New Critical Idiom’]. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
  • Westphal, Bertrand [2007]. 2011. Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces. Translated from French by Robert T. Tally Jr. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
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