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