Victorian Popular Fictions 1.2 article 1

“A strange enough region wherein to wander and muse”: 

Mapping Clerkenwell in Victorian Popular Fictions

 Minna Vuohelainen

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Drawing on the work of Bertrand Westphal, this essay attempts to perform a geocritical reading of the London district of Clerkenwell. After discussing the spatial turn in the Humanities and introducing a range of spatial critical approaches, the essay “maps” literary Clerkenwell from the perspectives of genre hybridity and intertextuality, spatially articulate cartography, multifocal and historically aware public perception and potentially transgressive connection to outside areas. Clerkenwell is seen to have stimulated a range of genre fiction, including Newgate, realist, penny and slum fiction, and social exploration journalism. In much of this writing, the district was defined by its negative associations with crime, poverty, incarceration and slaughter. Such negative imageability, the essay suggests, was self-perpetuating, since authors would be influenced by their reading to create literary worlds repeating existing tropes; these literary representations, in turn, influenced readers’ perceptions of the area. Intertextual, multi-layered and polysensorial geocritical readings, the essay concludes, can produce powerful and nuanced pictures of literary places but also face a formidable challenge in defining an adequate geocentric corpus.

Key words

spatial turn; spatial literary studies; cartography; mapping; geocriticism; imageability; genre; Clerkenwell; Victorian popular fiction.

Date of Acceptance: 23 December 2019

Date of Publication: 31 December 2019

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:Vuohelainen, Minna. 2019. “Introduction: Mapping Victorian Popular Fictions: ‘A strange enough region wherein to wander and muse’: Mapping Literary Clerkenwell.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 1.2: 3-32. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

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