By Accident or Design: Writing the Victorian Metropolis.
“On the banks of the Thames it is a tremendous chapter of accidents.” As Henry James surveys London in 1888, he sums up what had fascinated urban observers for a century: the random and even accidental development of this unprecedented form of human settlement, the modern metropolis. By Accident or Design takes James at his word, arguing that accident was both a powerful metaphor and material context through which the Victorians arrested the paradoxes of metropolitan modernity and reconfigured understandings of form and change. This book shows how the material conditions of urban accidents offer compelling modes of analysis for intellectual and literary history. Through archival and interdisciplinary studies of urban-industrial accidents, risk management, and civic improvements, By Accident or Design reclaims the metropolis as ground zero for some of the most important thinking about causation in the nineteenth century. Fyfe demonstrate how the interdependent concepts of design and accident are central not only to metropolitan discourse, but also to current critical discourse about the formal and circulatory dynamics of Victorian metropolitan writing. Thus, this book offers a vocabulary for the unique dimensions of producing, transmitting, and encountering texts in the modern city, including the newspaper, the illustrated periodical, the industrial novel, and urban broadsheets.