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Chapter 7 - Traversing the Borders of Poverty and Morality: The Intersection of Maps and Upper-Class Ethics in Anne Perry’s Neo-Victorian Series

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2024

Meghan P. Nolan
Affiliation:
Rockland Community College, New York
Rebecca Martin
Affiliation:
Pace University, New York
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Summary

Introduction

In many ways, the detective novel is about what desperation drives people to do, and this conception is amplified in and through areas where adversity abounds. As a result,

The city has long been the perfect backdrop for detective fiction, primarily because its contradictory qualities breed mysterious circumstances, particularly through an inescapable insistence upon socioeconomic separation and defined borders that is defied by a locality which does not in fact allow for such clear distinctions. (Nolan 2021, 104)

It is the very insistence upon the concreteness of neighborhood borders that fuels both the narratives and character development in (Neo-)Victorian crime writing, as they directly reflect the bourgeoisie's growing anxiety over uncertain spaces and “the ‘invisibility’ of the poor” by engineering the “socio-spatial visibility” of London's social castes in and through writing (Harputlu 2016, 41). And, in order to do this, they must build upon the actual sociopolitical cartographic efforts of the mid to late nineteenth century.

Charles Booth's Poverty Map (1889) printed as twelve sheets in the Map Descriptive of London Poverty in 1898–1899 (Figs. 1 and 3) provides the most important visual reference for the socioeconomic breakdown of Victorian

London's various districts. As Zeynep Harputlu notes in “Mapping Poverty in Late-Victorian Fiction”:

Charles Booth's comprehensive research on the condition of the poor can be conceived as a significant step in the identification and classification of the lower orders in the late-Victorian period. His thorough study remains a primary example of mapping the impoverished areas in the city and essentially focuses on scientific facts, economic behaviour and objectivity. In his works, Booth accentuated the “differences” and “deviancy” of the lower class members and contributed to the establishment of classifications and boundaries between social classes and urban spaces. (42)

Booth's meticulous detailing of the city based on economic activity further marginalizes the poor (even though that was not his aim) and thus provides a convenient backdrop for (Neo-)Victorian literature, which undoubtedly thrives at the intersection of the perceived borders of poverty and the unseen deeds of those crossing between said boundaries.

Type
Chapter
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The Crossroads of Crime Writing
Unseen Structures and Uncertain Spaces
, pp. 153 - 168
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2024

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