We Belong to the Streets

  • Harriet Salisbury

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis comprises a creative element and a critical commentary. The creative part is We Belong to the Streets, a YA neo-Victorian novel that follows four friends growing up in 1880s London, a city of precarious employment, overcrowded accommodation and radical politics. The action is divided between its four focalizing characters: Mabel, an Irish-Welsh matchbox-maker with a father missing-at-sea and a mother often just missing; her cousin Fergus, who plans to be a docker and comes from a large, close-knit Irish family; Sol, a Russian Jewish immigrant with a love of drawing, a disabled leg and many questions about his past; and Rose, who was born overseas and is working to
    support her Indian mother in an unfamiliar part of the Empire. The novel is divided into three sections, each prefaced by illustrations inspired by Victorian newspapers. The closely researched Victorian settings draw on music-hall, children’s books and stories, London mythology and ballads, advertising, newspapers and magazines, and graffiti.
    The accompanying commentary elucidates six key areas of my research. I consider the potential of fiction as a tool for historical research; look at constructions of the poor promulgated in late nineteenth-century children’s literature, and at the re-emergence of similar presentations in modern YA; examine the influence of William Booth’s choropleth poverty maps; explain how my characters’ diverse cultural backgrounds led to their distinctive voices , and finally, reflect on the potential of illustration created in dialogue with the text to draw readers into a re-imagined world.
    Taken together, the practice-based research and critical elements look at whether it is possible to avoid distortion and sensationalism when telling stories about the Victorian working-classes. Offering a solution through narrative focus on issues that affected – and continue to affect – marginalised and is advantaged Londoners, this thesis makes an original and significant intervention into the theory and practice of YA neo-Victorian fiction.
    Date of Award7 Jul 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorIan Haywood (Supervisor) & Ariel Kahn (Co-Supervisor)


    • Novel
    • Matchgirls Strike
    • 19th Century
    • London
    • Collective Action
    • East End

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