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Attic Windows and Street Scenes: Victorian Images of the City on the Stage

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Katherine Newey
University of Wollongong


In 1843, during a decade marked by political and cultural recognition of the industrialization and urbanization of Britain, a number of plays concerned with city life and the representation of the city were produced on the popular stage in London. These plays were variously called The Bohemians of Paris, The Scamps of London, The Mysteries of Crime, The Mysteries of London or The Mysteries of Paris. Arguably the first and most influential play about the city in the nineteenth century was William Thomas Moncrieff's Tom and Jerry; or Life in London (first performed in 1821). Imitated and adapted throughout the century (Nicoll 96–97), Moncrieff's play was itself an adaptation of Pierce Egan's book, Life in London, which was illustrated by the brothers George and Robert Cruikshank. This particular combination of writers and illustrators is a powerful one, as, collectively and individually, these artists had much to do with the activity and energy of urban popular culture in the first half of the nineteenth century. George Cruikshank, especially, is important in the modernization of the popular art of this period, while William Moncrieff was a prolific dramatist and notable for his use of topical material. Not only was Moncrieff one of the first dramatists to adapt Egan's Life in London for the stage, but his interest in the theatricality of the city and its richness as theatrical source material continued in later melodramas, particularly The Heart of London and The Scamps of London. It is in the Scamps, Bohemians, and Mysteries plays that early century representations of the city assume their most powerful form, and it is William Moncrieff's version which will be my specific focus here.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1997

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