London, 1858. Noteworthy for its broiling summer months and the related stench of the sewage-filled Thames River, the year is otherwise little remembered. Ashton reveals that thanks to significant, if unrecognized, turning points the months from May to August turned out to be a summer of consequence. She mines Victorian letters and gossip, diaries, court records, newspapers, and other contemporary sources to uncover historically crucial moments in the lives of three protagonists: Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Disraeli. Invisible threads of connection among Londoners at every social level in 1858 bring the celebrated city and its citizens vibrantly to life.
Prologue -- 1858 in history. Moments of consequence ; The rise of Disraeli ; Medicine and marriage ; Literature and art -- May 1858. Dickens in distress ; Derby Day ; Marriage mischief -- June 1858, part I. Darwin and the pursuit of science ; Dickens dissolves his marriage ; Midsummer madness ; Meltdown in Clubland -- June 1858, part II. The silver Thames ; Queen Victoria, Cruiser, and the Great Eastern ; Crinolineomania ; More marriage troubles ; Darwin's dilemma -- July 1858. Darwin in distress ; "Mad" wives and vengeful husbands ; Disraeli tames the Thames ; Rothschild enters the Commons at last -- July-August 1858. Hot heads at the Garrick Club ; Dickens on tour ; The exploits of Dickens's Mr Stryver ; Disraeli's whitebait dinner -- The aftermath of the hot summer. The fallout from the Garrick Club affair ; Success and embarrassment for Dickens ; The end of the Robinson case ; Darwin triumphant -- Epilogue. The year in pantomime ; One hot summer's consequences
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