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Response to Review of The Demographic Imagination and the Nineteenth Century City. Paris, London, New York

I am delighted that Martin Hewitt found The Demographic Imagination to be ‘a book to enjoy’, and ‘rich and rewarding’, even if it was not the volume he wanted it to be. I would reiterate that the book is a series of case studies rather than a more programmatic attempt to survey how population change was imagined in 19th-century literature, drama, and the visual arts; such a survey would be beyond me as a writer, and possibly beyond the endurance of most readers. There was little to be gained, I felt, by reinventing the wheel by describing the shifting representation of crowds, something done very well by, for instance John Plotz’s The Crowd.(1a) Instead I wanted to see if I could trace the ways in which the population surge could be read in a constellation of cultural forms that did not always deal with it directly, including volcano novels, plays and paintings; crime dramas; urban ghost stories; urban genre paintings; and writing on fashion. Readers can judge the persuasiveness of my readings of these artifacts for themselves, but since the review seems to have had some difficulty with one such reading, I would note that my coupling of J. S. Le Fanu’s fiction to the railways is not quite as arbitrary as it is suggested. As I show in some detail, his brother and creditor, William, was a major figure in the construction of Ireland’s railway network in this period, and he roped in J. S. to do some boosting of the new transport system. Nor, finally, do I assume the demographic imagination to be something that is unproblematically ‘there’: it is, I hope, a useful interpretive lens to bring to these and other cultural forms.


  1. John Plotz, The Crowd: British Literature and Public Politics (Oakland, CA, 2000).Back to (1a)