Spotless suburbs: how suburbia became a dirty word 1880-1914

Barnicoat, Katrina (2011) Spotless suburbs: how suburbia became a dirty word 1880-1914. (MA(R) thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis examines the subject of dirt in both a literal and metaphorical sense in the suburbs of London between 1880 and 1914 and how this was represented in the literature of the period. The first chapter looks at the built environment of the suburbs and explores how novelists and commentators of this period described the physical realities of cheap housing, which was considered to be badly constructed, damp and unhealthy. It argues that the dirt and mess created by suburban development produced a conflict in attitudes about suburbia that was already perceived as contradictory. It was neither country nor town and neither dirty or clean. The second part of the thesis looks at how some of the literature of the period represented the inhabitants of the new suburbs and how they too became tainted with a form of social grubbiness. It explores some of the suburban stereotypes that were created in this period such as the city clerk with his inky fingers and dirty collars and how his attempts to push his way up the social ladder was sneered at by intellectual snobs. The final chapter focuses on some of the non-fiction household manuals and self-help guides of this period and how these books illustrate the difficulties encountered by the suburban housewife in dealing with the task of keeping her house clean and therefore showing herself to be respectable. It also looks at how the subjects of sanitation and aesthetics became entwined and how the suburbs were the site of many advances in living conditions and cleanliness in this period.

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