One Hot Sum­mer: Dick­ens, Dar­win, Dis­raeli and the Great Stink of 1858 by Rose­mary Ash­ton

BBC History Magazine - - Books / Paperbacks -

Yale, 352 pages, £10.99

The Great Stink of 1858, when the foul-smelling Thames ac­com­mo­dated the cap­i­tal’s sewage, has be­come a land­mark of Vic­to­ria’s reign. This in­fa­mous year has been re­lated by Rose­mary Ash­ton to the lives of three of the era’s most prom­i­nent fig­ures: Dick­ens, Dar­win and Dis­raeli. The al­lit­er­a­tion of their names is a nice con­ceit but their con­nec­tion with the Great Stink is strained and di­rectly ap­plies only to Dis­raeli, by whose ini­tia­tive in par­lia­ment Sir Joseph Bazal­gette was given au­thor­ity to clean up the river. Dar­win, safe from the stench in Kent, was a year from pub­lish­ing On the Ori­gin of Species, and Dick­ens was too busy con­ceal­ing his af­fair with Nelly Ter­nan to write much.

Nev­er­the­less, the book is a fine por­trayal of life in Lon­don at a dif­fi­cult time, with a cast of fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters in­clud­ing Fara­day, Thack­eray, Brunel, Bul­wer-Lyt­ton and, par­tic­u­larly, Bul­w­erLyt­ton’s trou­ble­some wife. Ex­cel­lent value.

Stephen Hal­l­i­day is the au­thor of The Great Stink of Lon­don: Sir Joseph Bazal­gette and the Cleans­ing of the Vic­to­rian Me­trop­o­lis, (His­tory Press, 2001)

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