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Sarah Bilston, The Promise of the Suburbs: A Victorian History in Literature and Culture

The Promise of the Suburbs

A Victorian History in Literature and Culture

Sarah Bilston

A study of the fast-growing Victorian suburbs as places of connection, creativity, and professional advance, especially for women.

Literature has, from the start of the nineteenth century, cast the suburbs as dull, vulgar, and unimaginative margins where, by definition, nothing important takes place. Sarah Bilston argues that such attitudes were forged to undermine the cultural authority of the emerging middle class and to reinforce patriarchy by trivializing women’s work. Resisting these stereotypes, Bilston reveals that suburban life offered ambitious women, especially writers, access to supportive communities and opportunities for literary and artistic experimentation as well as professional advancement. Bilston interprets both familiar figures (sensation novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon) and less well-known writers (including interior design journalist Jane Ellen Panton and garden writer Jane Loudon) to reveal how women and society at large navigated a fast-growing, rapidly changing landscape. Far from being a cultural dead end, the new suburbs promised women access to the exciting opportunities of modernity.

Sarah Bilston is professor of literature at Trinity College. She is the author of The Awkward Age in Women’s Popular Fiction, 1850-1900 and two novels, Bed Rest and Sleepless Nights.

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