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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


"Rebellious 'Malignants' to the Last": Disease, Revolution, and Moral Reform in St. Giles


Over the course of this paper, I analyze the ways in which bourgeois British social reformers utilized metaphors of disease in depictions of the St. Giles Rookery during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I examine manifestations of this technique from a variety of angles—including, but not restricted to, the epidemiological, political, socioeconomic, and moral upper viewpoint of the upper classes on the Rookery. While I have divided my discussion roughly into three sections (epidemiological/economic, political, and moral), my overarching goal is to illuminate the ways in which these dialogues are highly interconnected. In the epidemiological section, I discuss the influences of contemporary academic medical discourse surrounding anticontagionism and contagionism on social reform depictions of the Rookery. I then analyze the ways in which conservative politicians and reformers associated political radicalism with disease, and the implications of this connection with respect to St. Giles. Lastly, I investigate bourgeois conceptions of the Rookery as morally diseased and discuss social reformers’ proposed solutions by social reformers through an examination of institutionalized charity. By examining St. Giles from these economic, epidemiological, political, and moral perspectives, I hope to elucidate the larger ideological motivations behind bourgeois society’s contempt and disgust for the neighborhood and examine the extent to which public health transformations in early Victorian London catalyzed the proliferation of this viewpoint.

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