Representation of London in Victorian Period


Charles Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist” and Guy Ritchie’s film “Sherlock Holmes” are two important works that describe the state of London during the early periods. These literary works are focused on the Victorian period, presenting the lifestyle of people who lived during this age. Each author presented London in a way they understood best, but in relation to the activities that were taking place during the period. Essentially, during the Victorian period, London was very unique compared to the current situation in the city. Lifestyle was completely different from the contemporary scenario in the city. Therefore, this essay contrasts the representation of Victorian London in Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist” and Ritchie’s film “Sherlock Holmes”.

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According to Ritchie’s film “Sherlock Holmes”, the presentation of London in the Victorian period was a demonstration of lifestyle of people during the time of Queen Victoria. During this period, everything was done in the Victorian-style; for example, the widespread use of animal skin, storage of objects of art dominated that era (Ritchie 2010, p. 7). It is during this period that one of the characters in the film, Holmes, described life and crime as ordinary, hence the world was ordinary (Ritchie 2010, p. 7). Since he wanted to live an extra-ordinary life, he could not fit in that society, called Victorian. On the other hand, Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist” presented Victorian London in a different way. For instance, the novelist gave an account of his life in London, referring to it as a great place (Dickens 1999, p. 51). Twist demonstrated the complexity of London during this period, arguing that it was very difficult to find a person in the city. Perhaps, he viewed the place as complex because he had not been to that city during his childhood. His life in the city was rather interesting, but a challenging one because he did not have his family with him.

Several cultural episodes and practices characterised London during the Victorian period. For instance, Ritchie’s film “Sherlock Holmes” indicated that there were several ritual murders that were taking place in London. This was a shocking revelation in London, but Holmes did not find it very unique were it not for the intervention of the authority. In this regard, London was not in any way different from other areas where cultural killings were taking place. The killings were targeting people of certain races and social class. This means that the author portrayed the area as if it was not civilised (Lyall 2009, p. 102). Charles Dickens also represented London as a place that was not highly civilised as one would conceptualise. The author demonstrated that people living in the area were not concerned about personal welfare of others, but their own. This made it difficult for less fortunate people to find joy in this area. Dickens argued that London was a place where the rich enjoyed being extravagant while the poor suffered immensely.

During the Victorian period, London was still growing and depicted most of the traditional practices of the people. However, class differentiation was very common during this period. More people were moving from lower social status to middle and high class, depending on family, nature of occupation and social lifestyle (Lyall 2009, p. 106). Consequently, people with higher economic power disintegrated from the rest and joined emerging merchants in the area. This marked the beginning or economic development of London. As Lyall (2009) postulated, the social segregation depicted in the novel and film portrayed London as a place where social class actually defined a person.

According to Dickens, London in the Victorian period was a place for people who did not have homes. The place was very difficult to understand, especially for people from the rural areas, who were visiting the place for the fist time. The author described London, during the Victorian period, as a place where vulnerable children found solace and help from people who cared about them (Dickens 1999, p. 51). Ritchie also presented a unique scenario of London during the Victorian period by arguing that a number of expensive and discrete Hotels attracted people of higher social status (Ritchie 2010, p. 49).

As evidenced above, there is a clear distinction between the authors’ points of view about London in the Victorian era. Ritchie approached the issue from a higher social status, in which class defined his characterisation and perception of London. He presented the lifestyle and activities of people from a higher class. These people segregate from the rest of the public in terms of where they stay, their workplace, where thy shop, and the people they interact with. On the contrary, Dickens presented London during this period from a low background perspective. In this regard, his views about London were those of a first time visitor in the city, without parents, home or something to do (Lyall 2009, p. 122). It means that life, according to Dickens, was bleak to such persons and depended on assistance from well wishers. This clearly shows that they did not have a common position about London in the Victorian period.

Dickens also portrayed London as a place where strangers could not enter after nightfall because it was difficult to determine once’ intention (Dickens 1999, p. 77). He further argued that making new friends and getting appropriate assistance even during sickness was not easy. This means that London was an area where each person was on his/her own, like any other urban centre today. Perhaps, one would argue that life in London at that time was simpler than today, but that does not seem to be the case based on the information that the author presented. During this period, the author argued that life was equally expensive for low-income and vulnerable people the way it is today. Ritchie had a different representation of the place during the Victorian period. For instance, he claimed that this was the period of Victorian engineering where engineers erected leaf and suspension bridges (Ritchie 2010, p. 85). The area was represented as an emerging industrial place with massive engineering works with huge concrete fillings.

He also argued that mechanisation was on the rise in London, with a lot of construction cranes (Ritchie 2010, p. 85). From this information, the author represented the area in an informed manner, and he seemed to have adequate information about London, perhaps had stayed in this area for a longer time. In addition, it was during this period that the Tower Bridge of London was constructed to facilitate movement of people and goods. This period marked the beginning of construction of modern facilities in London. The growth of London during this period was rapid due to enhanced industrialisation and trade with other parts of the region. Ritchie also indicated that global trade also focused on London as a potential business area during the Victorian period.

There was another unique representation of London according to Dickens. He believed that this was a place where people could go and find fortune during that period, and many people were eager to visit the place (Dickens 1999, p. 120). With a lot of enthusiasm that characterises every young person when he/she thinks of an urban centre, the author represented London as a preferred destination for rural folks. This is because the area was depicted as a very attractive zone for various kinds of people. In fact, the author argued that even the sufferings that some people underwent in London did not deter others from moving there at the time. The reason was that the amenities that London presented to many people went beyond the expectations. On the other hand, Ritchie presented London during the Victorian era as a place where class interests and business enterprises development took the central stage (Ritchie 2010, p. 85). In this regard, someone could argue that London was becoming a business hub in the area, thereby attracted several entrepreneurs form business empires to serve the area. In his film, Ritchie wanted to demonstrate the impact of business growth in the area and the potential future in the place.

There was also a very significant aspect of London that Charles Dickens demonstrated. His expeditions of the area and further interest in the urban centre led to the belief that London was fast growing and had several potentials or opportunities in terms of industrialisation (Lyall 2009, p. 127). This means that the period showed more wealthy people emerging in the area and initiated several business strategies that promoted economic development.


In conclude, the representation of London in the Victorian period in Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist” and Ritchie’s film “Sherlock Holmes” was different and depended on individual perception of the area. Since London was emerging during this period, each person viewed it differently, based on his or her economic and social status. As depicted in the novel and film respectively, the authors were expressing their views about the area as they experienced it. This means that each category of people in London during the Victorian period went through challenges as the city was industrialising.

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