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My Research

Doctoral Thesis:

Near London & Brighton: Suburbs in Fiction, 1780s-1820s

My thesis explores the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century incarnations of today's ubiquitous Anglo-American suburbs as represented in fiction from the 1780s to the 1830s. In the Romantic period, growth in London’s environs accelerated. The advent of the omnibus (in 1829), the train (in the 1830s), the underground (in the 1860s), and eventually the car allowed for massive, and well documented, expansion of London’s suburbs. I will demonstrate that this story has a longer history by shifting focus to the pre-omnibus and pre-railway age when a suburban home and garden were already the dream and reality for many.

Romantic-period suburban spaces are characterized by hybridity, fluidity, multiplicity, and diversity. They encompasse a range of socio-economic backgrounds, including people from the country and the city, from the middling ranks, the gentry, and the aristocracy. These people live in a range of building types including villas (or ‘boxes’), townhouses, country houses, and ornamental cottages that were found in a variety of planned and unplanned configurations—terraces, estates, expanding villages, and ribbon development. Suburban homes are located all around London in the West End, Islington, Highgate, Hampstead, Clapham, Richmond, Ealing, and the fictional Highbury. The uses of these houses are diverse, including rural idyll and retreat, family home, and fashionable venue of both sociability and dissipation. The length of time spent in these houses also varies from temporary lodgings to permanent residence.

Each of my chapters focuses on one novel to investigate a particular geographical location and material form of Romantic-period suburban space.

Chapter Outline:


Chapter 1:

Women’s Sense of (Suburban) Space in Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline

Text: Charlotte Smith, Emmeline (1788)


Chapter 2:

The “pleasures of rational retirement”:

Amusements and the Alderman’s Modern Suburban Villa

Text: Medora Gordon Byron, The Alderman and the Peer; or, The Ancient Castle and Modern Villa (1810)


Chapter 3:

A “peaceful retreat for calm and social converse”: A Country Estate in London’s West End

Text: Elizabeth Helme, Modern Times (1814)


Chapter 4: From Village to Suburb: Mr. Knightley’s Management of Highbury

Text: Jane Austen, Emma (1815)


Chapter 5: Suburbs and the Resort Town: Journeys through London and Brighton

Text: Elizabeth Sandham, Sketches of Young People; or, a Journey to Brighton (1822)


Professor Jackie Labbe

Contact Details

J dot M dot Labbe at warwick dot ac dot uk


Dr. Emma Francis

E dot J dot Francis at warwick dot ac dot uk


Warwick Postgraduate Research Scholarship (WPRS).

My profile of a successful scholarship winner is on the Graduate School website.