Canals in Nineteenth-Century Literary History

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In a rare novelistic foray to the north, Charles Dickens described the great industrial ‘Coketown’ in Hard Times (1854), based partly on Preston. While trains as a means of conveying passengers to and from Coketown steam through the narrative, the railway is largely distant from, rather than integral to, the town’s industry. Those travelling by express at night see the great factories illuminated ‘like Fairy palaces’ rather than experiencing the noise and smoke. Mrs Sparsit’s journey sees her ‘borne along the arches spanning the land of coal-pits past and present, as if she had been caught up in a cloud and whirled away’. Deep within the ‘town of machinery and tall chimneys’, however, is its ‘black canal’, a blackness implicated in the town’s name and polluted existence. The canal is one of the attributes ‘inseparable from the work by which [Coketown] was sustained’. The products ‘which found their way all over the world’ to consumers who cannot bear the thought of Coketown itself and its role in their luxury are transported around Britain and to ports for trans-shipment via that very canal. 1 Dickens’s responses to the railway are often discussed, but his allusions to canals are rarely, if ever, mentioned. 2
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransport and its Place in History
Subtitle of host publicationMaking the Connections
EditorsDavid Turner
Place of PublicationAbingdon & New York
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781351186636
ISBN (Print)9780815394174, 0815394179
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2020

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Modern British History


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