Professor Rosemary Ashton

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Professor Rosemary Ashton
Position/Fellowship type:
Senior Research Fellow
Fellowship term:
Institute of English Studies
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Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
English Literature, Language and Literature (German), Romanticism
England, North America
Summary of research interests and expertise:

Anglo-German literary, intellectual, and cultural relations in the 19th century; the life and works of 19th-century authors, particularly Coleridge, Carlyle, G.H. Lewes, George Eliot, and Dickens; the history of radical publishing in the 19th century; group studies of German exiles who came to Britain after the revolutions of 1848 and their integration (or not) into Victorian society, of radical or unorthodox writers who gathered in the house of the radical publisher John Chapman, at 142 Strand in the 1850s, and of individuals and groups of educational and cultural innovators who founded progressive institutions in Bloomsbury during the 19th century

Project summary relevant to Fellowship:

A study of the year 1858 to show connections, where feasible, between events both public and private which had a strong contemporary interest but also can be shown to have had long-term significance politically, socially, intellectually, or culturally. These events include the enactment of three important new laws: the Matrimonial Causes Act (extending the possibility of suing for divorce), the Medical Act, intended to regulate the medical profession and cut out quackery, and the removal of Jewish disabilities which allowed Baron Rothschild to take his seat in Parliament. Also important was the 'Great Stink' from the Thames which perdsuaded Parliament to set up sanitary arrangements including the embanking of the river; the laying of the first Atlantic cable; the expedition to Lake Tanganyika of Richard Burton; the founding of the 'English Woman's Journal' to agitate for women's education and legal rights; the joint paper by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace read out at the Linnaean Society, which presaged the publication of 'The Origin of Species' the following year; and the appearance of a new kind of 'realist' fiction, 'Scenes of Clerical Life', by George Eliot. A wide-ranging set of sources will be studied, including literary works, letters, diaries, newspaper reports, Hansard, and, where relevant, manuscript sources.

My most recent publication is One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858 (Yale University Press, July 2017), a microhistory of the four hot months of summer 1858, when the Thames became so foul-smelling that parliament was forced to legislate for its cleansing, thus setting the innovative engineer Joseph Bazalgette the task of constructing intersecting sewers to take London's sewage out of the Thames into outfalls in Essex and building handsome embankments to cover the tunnels. The book uses Victorian letters, diaries, gossip, court records, newspapers, and other contemporary sources to follow the arguments about the Thames, as well as other important and far-reaching legislation in parliament that summer, such as the Medical Act, the Oaths Act, and amendments to the new Divorce Act. It also uncovers crucial moments in the lives of three main protagonists - Dickens, Darwin, and Disraeli - weaving their personal stories with the public events of what was at the time the hottest recorded summer ever.

Publication Details

Related publications/articles:

Date Details
11-Jul-2017 One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858


 Yale University Press

16-Jun-2017 'Bats and Bedes: Solving two scholarly problems in the novels of George Eliot'


 Times Literature Supplement

24-Feb-2017 'Broken-legged: Studies of George Eliot's Mr Casaubon', review of Colin Kidd, The World of Mr Casaubon: Britain's wars of mythography 1700-1870


 Times Literature Supplement

23-Sep-2016 'The Jewish state of Dizzy', review of David Cesarani, Disraeli: The novel politician


 Times Literature Supplement

24-Jun-2016 'Proud as Punch: Correspondence from a young Victorian cartoonist to his demanding father', review of Grant E. Scott, editor, The Illustrated Letters of Richard Doyle to his Father 1842-1843


 Times Literary Supplement

07-Aug-2015 Moral Puzzles in Adam Bede


essay in Studies in Victorian and Modern Literature: A Tribute to John Sutherland, ed. William Baker, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

02-Sep-2014 TLS review of Richard Salmon, The Formation of the Victorian Literary Profession


 TLS review of Richard Salmon, The Formation of the Victorian Literary Profession (2 May 2014) 

01-May-2014 Literary Review review of Rachel Holmes, Eleanor Marx: A Life


 Literary Review review of Rachel Holmes, Eleanor Marx: A Life (May 2014) (1,239 words)

05-Mar-2014 Barrie and Bloomsbury


Essay in Gateway to the Modern: Resituating J.M. Barrie, ed. Valentina Bold and Andrew Nash

06-Dec-2013 TLS review of Part One of the Orange Tree Theatre


 TLS review of Part One of the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, adaptation of Middlemarch (6 December 2013) (1,007 words)

20-Sep-2013 TLS brief review (in section ‘Fiction in Brief’) of Kristina Carlson


 TLS brief review (in section ‘Fiction in Brief’) of Kristina Carlson, Mr Darwin’s Gardener (20 September 2013) 

01-Aug-2013 Introduction and notes to new edition of Edward John Trelawny, Records of Shelley, Byron and the Author

Edited Book

 Introduction and notes to new edition of Edward John Trelawny, Records of Shelley, Byron and the Author (Penguin, August 2013) (Introduction 2,269 words; endnotes 7,967 words)

01-Jan-2012 Victorian Bloomsbury


New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

A study of the physical growth of Bloomsbury between 1800 and 1900 and the founding in the area of a number of progressive educational, cultural, scientific, and medical institutions on principles of widening access to knowledge for disadvantaged groups - non-Anglicans (the founding of the University of London - later University College London -  University College Hospital, and University College School), women (the Ladies' College in Bedford Square, the London School of Medicine for Women near Brunswick Square), working people (the Working Men's and Women's Colleges in Great Ormond Street and Queen Square respectively), and poor children needing after-school and vacation facilities (the Passmore Edwards Setttlement, latr Mary Ward House, on Tavistock Place).  

01-Jan-2010 Peter Pan and Bloomsbury


Times Literary Supplement, 10 December 2010

01-Jan-2008 Thomas Mann, Thomas Carlyle, and Frederick the Great


Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008

Chapter in 'The Text and its Context: Studies in Modern German Literature and Society, ed. Nigel Harris and Joanne Sayner, pp. 11-20

01-Jan-2006 142 Strand: A Radical Address in Victorian London


London: Chatto & Windus, 2006


A study of the life and career of the radical publsiher John Chapman, his publishing house at 142 Strand, and the circle of unorthodox writers who published with him, lodged on the upper floors of the large house on the Strand, and attended soirees and meetings there.  These include George Eliot, G.H. Lewes, T.H. Huxley, Dickens, Thackeray, Henry Crabb Robinson, Harriet Martineau, Eliza Lynn Linton, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lodged in 142 Strand on his visits to England.

01-Jan-2002 Thomas and Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage


London: Chatto & Windus, 2002


A critical and cultural biography of the two Carlyes, following their difficult marriage and studying their intellectual and social life as the most famous couple in London from the 1840s, after a slow early start in obscurity on a Scottish moor, and in particular analysing Carlyle's extraordinary publications and the fame he acquired as a result.  The extensive correspondence of both Carlyles makes them, even more than Dickens, 'special correspondents for posterity', since their letters touch vividly on topical events both small and large.

01-Jan-1996 The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Critical Biography


Oxford: Blackwell, 1996


A critical biography of Coleridge, giving full attention to his extraordinary life and his wide range of literary, philosophical, and psychological writings, from poetry to lectures, to translations from teh German, to extensive  notebooks

01-Jan-1996 George Eliot: A Life


London: Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 1996


A critical biography of George Eliot, paying attention to her unusual life, her partnership with G.H. Lewes (using unpublished letters and diaries), and her writings, from early journalism and translations from German to her novels

01-Jan-1994 Middlemarch

Edited Book

London: Penguin, 1994

01-Jan-1992 George Eliot's Selected Critical Writings

Edited Book

Oxford: World's Classics, 1992

01-Jan-1991 G.H. Lewes: A Life


Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991


A critical biography of the writer G.H. Lewes, life partner to George Eliot, but also a writer of note in many fields: biography, fiction, drama, critical  works on German, French, and Spanish literature, history of philosophy, physiology, and psychology

01-Jan-1986 Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England


Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986


A study of a heterogenous group of German political exiles who setteld in Britain after the 1848 revolutions in Europe, with particular interest in whether/how they integrated into British society, and how they viewed Victorian Britain culturally and politically.  Marx and Engels are at the heart of the study, but it brings from relative obscurity a number of other exiles, including the art history professor Gottfried Kinkel and his musician wife Johanna, the republican Karl Blind, and  men and women who became tutors and governesses to English families.

01-Jan-1980 The German Idea: Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought 1800-1860


Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980


A study of the reception of German literature and philosophy, particularly the works of Goethe and Kant, in Britain in the first half of the 19th century, concnetrating on teh contribution to Anglo-Germanism of four major writers: Coleridge, Carlyle, G.H. Lewes, and George Eliot

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