A Radical Address in Victorian London
A fascinating 'microhistory' not just of an address, but of a whole social circle and creative period.
142 Strand was the home of the brilliant, unconventional young publisher John Chapman. All the daring and avant-garde writers and thinkers of Victorian London gathered here, among them Thomas Carlyle, Dickens, Thackeray, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley (Darwin's 'bulldog'), as well as visiting Americans like Emerson, refugees from revolutionary Europe like Mazzini, and radical feminists like Barbara Leigh Smith, later founder of Girton College, Cambridge. They contributed to Chapman's campaigning Westminster Review and attended his lively evening parties. In 1851 Chapman brought Marian Evans - the future George Eliot - to London to edit the Review. Her arrival caused rows in the household, which included Chapman's wife and also his mistress.
The Strand was packed with booksellers, magazine publishers, theatres, clubs, and quack doctors. Just behind lay the brothels of Covent Garden and the disreputable pornographers of Holywell Street, while Westminster and the Houses of Parliament were a short distance away. Chapman's circle touched all these worlds, and the vivid story of these unconventional lives and unorthodox views - marvellously told by Rosemary Ashton - takes us to the heart of Victorian culture, uncovering its surprising energy, its doubts and arguments, and, above all, its passionate reforming spirit.
“This is a portrait skilfully drawn in the round...brilliantly captured.”
Rosemary Hill, Sunday Times
“On the intellectual debates...that exercised these characters she is excellent, describing books and linking ideas with panache. There are, too, many moments when the story of 142 Strand comes very vividly to life.”
Matthew Sturgis, Sunday Telegraph
“Wonderfully researched and absorbing account.”
Philip Hoare, Observer
“Rosemary Ashton tells his story [John Chapman's] with both aplomb and scholarship. Anyone wanting to deepen their knowledge of London's intellectual life at this time will find her book indispensable.”
Simon Heffer, Spectator
“A truly marvellous evocation of a group of people living at the centre of Victorian life. She draws a picture so vivid it is like a novel; so detailed and dramatic in all its emotional twists and turns that we feel we are living through its story. ..a real page turner.”
AN Wilson, Daily Mail
“[Ashton] comes close to creating something far more original than a standard biography: not a romance, but the real-life equivalent of a Victorian multi-plot novel; a web of human connections that comes closer than any recent historical study to capturing the spirit of the age.”
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, New Statesman
AN Wilson, Observer, Books of the Year