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“And I saw the Holy City”: London Prophecies in Charles Dickens and George Eliot

Elena Petrova

When he got out of the house, the air was cold and sad, the dull sky overcast, the river dark and dim, the whole scene like a lifeless desert. And wreaths of dust were spinning round and round before the morning blast, as if the desert-sand had risen far away, and the first spray of it in its advance had begun the overwhelming of the city.

Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone.[1]

This is what a character from A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, sees early one morning in the city of London. This vision is a prophecy in many ways; but first and foremost, it is a complete and condensed instance of placing London within the Christian mythological tradition of the Heavenly City. In an unmistakably biblical voice, recalling John the Baptist, it mentions the desert, or ‘wilderness’, until the way is finally prepared, in the second part of the vision, for the Celestial City of God, framed in accordance with the Book of Revelation:

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Apocalypse, 22:1-2).

The fact that the City of God suddenly breaks through a cityscape of an earthly town is beyond Dickensian invention. The basis for such comparison is laid down by the biblical exegetic tradition, as early as in St. Augustine’s The City of God:

There was indeed on earth … a symbol and foreshadowing image of [the heavenly city], which served the purpose of reminding men that such city was to be, rather than of making it present; and this image was itself called the holy city, as a symbol of the future city, though not in itself the reality.[2]

It is therefore not surprising that such vision bursts out in the midst of London, perceiving a reality yet to come. In this respect, it makes indeed a prophecy akin to St. John’s Revelation, with the difference that while the Apostle speaks of all nations, Carton’s prophecy is reduced to the metropolis. Rather more surprising is the fact that the biblical City of God reappears in nineteenth-century London of all places. Indeed, in spite of a natural mythological kinship between the Holy City and any earthly one, there is very little social evidence to allow the simile. London has a bad reputation as a negative, almost diabolical reality more easily associated with Babylon, rather than Jerusalem, for stock metaphor.

On reflection, however, the usage of the Holy City metaphor in this context is perfectly appropriate. Common distrust of the metropolis in the nineteenth century could not but strengthen the reverse process of rehabilitation, if it did not initiate it in the first place. At that moment, London had long been established as the centre of England’s social and political life; ‘it came increasingly to occupy a place central to the imagination of the country … it was also the repository of civilization, the center of culture and order’.[3] In these circumstances, serious and deliberate condemnation or rejection of the urban reality would not be socially possible. The attitude towards the city in nineteenth century was ambivalent, combining strong criticism with strong faith in the city’s potential, the two aspects mutually reinforced. The more obvious social plagues were, the more urgently a cultural need arose for counterbalancing them with the City of God paradigm. However, actual London was apparently so far removed from an ideal city, and its wrongs so obvious, that in order to redeem the horrible metropolis both morally and aesthetically, the Heavenly City had to come back with a power it did not have since the Middle Ages. Mere borrowing of biblical language would scarcely do. For this reason, the Holy City image, in Sydney Carton’s account as well as in other literary accounts, goes beyond mere citation of the Apocalypse. It is shaped by means of a complex metaphorical system that establishes a background for prophecies like Carton’s enhancing their power and value.

Characteristically, this system may be traced in the work of such different authors as Charles Dickens and George Eliot, no matter how different their objectives, literary means, and degree of involvement may be. Like most nineteenth-century novelists, Eliot treads carefully in the frightful city, and produces but one urban novel, Daniel Deronda. On the contrary, Dickens plunges with an apologist’s fervor into the city’s very depths, and his novels, of which I selected three for discussion (Bleak House, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities). Both authors, however, adopt the same symbolic structure, which leads, ultimately, to the establishment of London as an ideal earthly setting for the City of God.

The system in question is based on the city’s dual nature, and is in itself intentionally borrowed from the biblical exegesis. ‘In the earthly city’, observes St. Augustine, ‘we find two things — its own obvious presence, and its symbolic presentation of the heavenly city’.[4] The city’s obvious presence corresponds to its material, topographical or architectural aspect, while symbolic presentation, on the other hand, concerns the city’s role as a community. According to biblical hermeneutics, the City of the Apocalypse is symbolically represented on earth by the totality of the Church, that is, the faithful that have already, by their acts, entered into the Kingdom:

This race we have distributed into two parts, the one consisting of those who live according to man, the other of those who live according to God. And these we also mystically call the two cities, or the two communities of men, of which the one is predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other to suffer eternal punishment with the devil.[5]

St. Augustine unambiguously states that, in the present as in the future, the City of God is not exclusively an architectural concept, but a social one; built of human souls as other cities are built of stones and houses.[6] A thing to bear in mind is that neither the Heavenly Jerusalem nor its earthly counterpart can be considered as purely literal or purely symbolic. As with everything in the Bible, the two aspects coexist and semantically stand for each other, in general as in every single detail.

In Dickens and Eliot, this method of twofold interpretation begins with the narrative’s basic elements. A common metonymic device is applied to the four novels, which consists in substituting names of places in London for those of their inhabitants. Each character seems to be associated with a place in the city that stands for him or her in the text. Thus, in Great Expectations, a dinner at Mr. Jaggers’ is coded as the ‘dinner in Gerrard Street’, and ‘Little Britain’ stands for Mr. Jaggers at work. Soho Square in A Tale of Two Cities represents Lucie and Dr. Manette, while Temple Court is a trope for Sydney Carton. Likewise, Daniel Deronda on his coming to London from Europe goes straight ‘to the lodgings in that small square in Brompton'[7] and then ‘to Park Lane’, while we read respectively ‘straight to Mirah and Esra’; and ‘to talk to Sir Hugo’. Bleak House is the supreme example of the device, with streets closely duplicating their inhabitants, and with geographical reference so abundant the reader is shortly lost, unless he keeps in mind everyone’s adresses: ‘There is disquietude in Cook’s Court, Cursitor Street … for, Tom-all-Alone’s and Lincoln’s Inn Fields persist in harnessing themselves … to the chariot of Mr. Snagsby’s imagination’, which means ‘Mr. Snagsby is thinking about Joe and about Mr. Tulkinghorn’.[8] Characters leading a double life may boast of two places of reference, as shows the case of Wemmick in Great Expectations. Significantly, the difference between his office self and his home self is verbalised as a primarily geographic one: ‘”Mr Pip”, he replied with gravity, “Walworth is one place, and this office is another. … They must not be confounded together. My Walworth sentiments must be taken at Walworth; none but my official sentiments can be taken in this office”‘.[9] The system thus created is a means of bringing together the physical city and the human community, so that the city becomes a twofold entity exactly in the theological sense.

The purpose of this twofoldness consists in offering the city an aspect through which it could easily be redeemed. London as a material city has no opportunity for progress. However, its human aspect confronts situations involving moral choice, spiritual development and realization of potential. This development transcendentally affects the city’s architectural self as well, and it begins its ascension as a whole to the beatific perspective of Sydney Carton’s prophecy. There exist two ways for the city to attain redemption. The first is contemplative and consists in placing the city almost entirely into a character’s mind, so that its physical presence is there mainly to accompany the person’s spiritual development. The second way, by contrast, presupposes redemption by action and imparts to the physical city qualities of a human being participating actively in the narrative.

A Tale of Two Cities and Daniel Deronda: the Prophecy by Contemplation

Sydney Carton’s vision strikes the reader first and foremost by its imaginary, subjective nature. Arising out of a real city’s contemplation, it then becomes a picture of the character’s state of mind. One can hardly find out when the shift was made, or assert that the two entities were originally separate. The word ‘mirage’ anchors the vision in the real city of London, for there can be no mirage without desert, but the thirst for ‘honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance’ is of course the thirst of Carton’s soul.

Far from being exclusively personal, however, the prophecy is valid both for Sydney and the city. For the former, it is fulfilled in the end of the book by a self-sacrifice that no one, except in the prophecy could think him capable of; as though London kept Sydney’s best self within it. In response, and at the moment of his personal prophecy’s fulfillment, Sydney predicts its accomplishment at the city’s level as well:

If he had given any utterance to his [thoughts], and they were prophetic, they would have been these: I see … a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.[10]

The merging of the physical city with the characters’ inner lives is the hallmark of the ‘contemplative’ redemptive paradigm. Not just in the ‘prophetic’ passages, but also in many instances elsewhere, the city slides from the layer of objective observation to that of subjective interpretation. In his preface to A Tale of Two Cities, Richard Maxwell insists upon this private aspect of London: ‘In the fundamentally private city of London, people … are mysteries to themselves … in the public city of Revolutionary Paris, such mysteries are not only revealed to a wide critical gaze but prove to have drastic social and historical consequences’.[11]

In order to create the private dimension, the metaphorical system of the novel on the one hand exchanges architectural elements for human emotion and vice versa; and on the other hand, views the city’s role in terms of encouraging or generating private metaphysical reflection. For instance, in A Tale of Two Cities and Daniel Deronda human beings are not only associated with places, but also with architectural features: ‘The Meyricks had their little oddities, streaks of eccentricity from the mother’s blood as well as the father’s, their minds being like mediaeval houses with unexpected recesses and openings from this into that, flights of steps and sudden outlooks’.[12] Houses as metaphors for human beings appear in a more subtle way in the famous passage from A Tale of Two Cities, symbolizing purely human reserve and isolation:

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret …[13]

Furthermore, London houses symbolize their inhabitants’ moods and condition. An example of such spiritual resemblance is the Soho dwelling of Manettes’ in A Tale of Two Cities, where ‘the corner was in shadow, though not in shadow so remote but that you could see beyond it into a glare of brightness. It was a cool spot, staid but cheerful’.[14] The place reflects at the same time both of its inhabitants: its cheerful and bright aspect corresponds to Lucie while the staidness and the shadow remind us of her old father’s past sufferings.

As for the city itself, it appears to lose its realness to the benefit of characters’ feelings and functions primarily as a setting for reflection. In Daniel Deronda, all Daniel’s important soliloquies are confined to London, and he often makes choices during his London walks. Daniel and Mordecai, the two protagonists, visit specific places in London in order to experience religious feeling:

He chose a spot in the bend of the river just opposite Kew Gardens, where he had a great breadth of water before him reflecting the glory of the sky, while he himself was in shadow … He was forgetting anything else in a half-speculative, half-involuntary identification of himself with the objects he was looking at, thinking how far it might be possible habitually to shift his centre till his own personality would be no less outside him than the landscape.[15]

Daniel Deronda is a novel about spiritual realization, and Daniel’s progress is an inner, private one. The city participates in this journey to a great extent, perhaps more than any of the other characters. During his purposeless walks in the city, Daniel first runs into Mirah, then into Mordecai, the two people who motivate him to retrace and accept his Jewish identity. The city turns out to be a place of private encounters, a fantastic place in which personal desires are suddenly materialized.

All these aspects merge in the main prophecy of the novel, Mordecai’s dream. Mordecai takes London for a place of mystical contemplation, during which, as it was the case with Sydney Carton, the city of London and Mordecai’s personality become one:

Leaning on the parapet of Blackfriars Bridge, and gazing meditatively, the breadth and calm of the river, with its long vista half hazy, half luminous, the grand dim masses of tall forms of buildings which were the signs of world-commerce, the oncoming of boats and barges from the still distance into sound and colour, entered into his mood and blent themselves indistinguishably with his thinking, as a fine symphony to which we can hardly be said to listen makes a medium that bears up our spiritual wings. [16]

Mordecai wants to meet a kindred spirit, a person who would inherit his ideas and realize his ambitions. The portrait of this ideal person is created for him by the city:

Thus, for a long while, he habitually thought of the Being answering to his need as one distantly approaching or turning his back towards him, darkly painted against a golden sky. The reason of the golden sky lay in one of Mordecai’s habits. He was keenly alive to some poetic aspects of London: and a favourite resort of his, when strength and leisure allowed, was to some one of the bridge, especially about sunrise or sunset. … Thus it happened that the figure representative of Mordecai’s longing was mentally seen darkened by the excess of light in the aerial background.

And the city actually brings Daniel to him exactly in the way Mordecai expected – by river in a boat against the background of the setting sun. The city’s promise comes true in a setting that bears strong imprint of the Heavenly City: a golden sky characteristic for medieval and Renaissance painting, a luminous river, a sensation of religious glory:

… the grey day was dying gloriously, its western cloud all broken into narrowing purple strata before a wide-spreading saffron clearness, which in the sky had a monumental calm, but on the river, with its changing objects, was reflected as a luminous movement, the alternate flash of ripples of currents, the sudden glow of the brown sail, the passage of laden barges from blackness into colour, making an active response to that brooding glory.[17]

In spite of a realistic dimension not to be disputed, London can have an extremely powerful privatized form in which it appears at the very core of the characters’ spiritual aspirations. The visions of London reflecting the glory of the Heavenly Jerusalem coincide in this case with the instances of the characters’ greatest spiritual condition.

Great Expextations and Bleak House: the militant prophecy

The second way of bringing London closer to the Holy City does not deal with inner progress of a particular character, but with the city’s actual participation in the story. The ‘human’ dimension serves in this case to give to the city a personality and to enable it to act independently.

A city’s personality is a common mythological phenomenon according to which the ‘character of a place is shaped, in the course of time, by events and the acts of people who lived there. In Dickens traces of this tradition are especially discernable in the way in which houses echo their masters’ personalities. But at a certain point, the city’s personality becomes so strong and self-sufficient, that it finally seems to achieve its own identity. Such independence gives to London the opportunity to fight for the heavenly ideal of its own, an effective solution in cases when the humans do not realize their spiritual potential within the limits of the narrative. Under such conditions, and not to be overcome by its Babylon-like aspect, the city has to strive for its heavenly image beyond the minds of the characters.

For this purpose, an overall metaphor renders the city as a living creature, with human-like appearance and personality, instead of putting it into a particular person’s mind. Such are cases of Tom-all-Alone in Bleak House, and of Barnard’s Inn in Great Expectations: ‘A frouzy morning of soot and smoke attired this forlorn creature of Barnard, and it had strewed ashes on its head, and was undergoing penance and humiliation as a mere dust-hole’.[18] Dickens goes as far as to suggest that the houses were once alive, but turned into stone: ‘It is a dull street, under the best conditions; where the two long rows of houses stare as each other with that severity, that half a dozen of its greatest mansions seem to have been slowly stared into stone, rather than originally built in that material’.[19]

Apart from anthropomorphic appearance, the city shows signs of emotions confirming its independent personality: inasmuch as the city ‘feels’ something, it cannot be confounded with someone else. For instance, Tom-all-Alone propagating infection and contagion is said to do so out of revenge, or else Esther observes in her narrative: ‘The houses frowned at us, the dust rose at us, the smoke swooped at us, nothing made any compromise about itself, or wore a softened aspect’.[20] London’s emotions, like those of a living person, are explained or provoked by events very precisely; the city suffers from the same challenges as the other characters, that is, from misery, poverty and indifference of those in power. Hence, the ‘penance’ and ‘humiliation of Barnard’s Inn, as well as the repeatedly used adjective ‘dismal’, signifying depression. Even Tom-all-Alone’s revenge by pollution results from the ill treatment by Toodles and Coodles in Parliament who allow the district to ‘go to perdition’. London seems to be in conflict with itself, and suffer from its own ugliness. This confrontation is in itself a link to the concept of redemption.

Indeed, St. Augustine discusses two races and two cities: one subject to destruction at the end of time, and the other transformed into the Heavenly Jerusalem. On earth, the heavenly city can be only visible against its dark nemesis; there can be no Jerusalem without Babylon. As Goldsmith observes, Babylon is ‘the immediately pre-apocalyptic condition’; the stronger is its presence, the closer the city of the blessed comes to its ultimate accomplishment.[21] It is therefore important that London has an inner conflict so that it has an antithesis to resist.

In Bleak House we find a prophecy both symbolizing and emphasizing the gap and the struggle between the actual London and its heavenly ideal:

And there he sits, munching and gnawing, and looking up at the great cross on the summit of St. Paul’s Cathedral, glittering above a red-and-violet-tinted cloud of smoke. From the boy’s face one might suppose that sacred emblem to be, in his eyes, the crowning confusion of the great, confused city — so golden, so high up, so far out of his reach. There he sits, the sun going down, the river running fast, the crowd flowing by him in two streams — everything moving on to some purpose and to one end–until he is stirred up and told to “move on” too.[22]

The main image in this passage is the sacred emblem of the cross looking down from above at the city’s smoke and fog, for it creates the contrast between Joe’s earthly, horizontal ‘moving on’ and the static, extemporal and vertical axe of the cross itself.

London’s inner conflict finally manifests itself in the city’s moral choices. Indeed, apart from acting as a living creature, London seems to have moral values.[23] They appear in the way the city helps, teaches or punishes its dwellers. An example of London’s didactic role can be found in Great Expectations. After coming to London, Pip confronts his two great temptations: money and contempt for old friends. London gives Pip the possibility to see his moral deficiencies. Once shown his hidden demons, London condemns them: ‘Yet in the London streets, so crowded with people and so brilliantly lighted in the dusk of evening, there were depressing hints of reproaches for that I had put the poor old kitchen at home so far away’.[24] Anything Pip learns, he learns from the city,[25] which, like a good teacher, destroys Pip’s trivial great expectations but seems to support him when in difficulty: ‘The crisp air, the sunlight, the movement on the river, and the moving river itself — the road that ran with us, seeming to sympathize with us, animate us, and encourage us on — freshened me with new hope’.[26] In doing so, the city unsurprisingly takes the form of Heavenly Jerusalem, with its landscape and meaning clear: ‘As I looked along the clustered roofs, with church towers and spires shooting into the unusually clean air, the sun rose up, and a veil seemed to be drawn from the river, and millions of sparkles burst out upon its waters. From me, too, a veil seemed to be drawn, and I felt strong and well’.[27]

With respect to this feature, two similar situations can be compared. Another in Great Expectations features Pip on his way home (where he conceals that his benefactor is a convict) stopped at Whitefriars gate. The city leads Pip to Whitefriars in the first place: ‘It was past midnight when I crossed London Bridge. Pursuing the narrow intricates of the streets which at that time tended westward near the Middlesex shore of the river, my readiest access to the Temple was close by the river-side, through Whitefriars’.[28] A note from Wemmick awaits him with a warning not to go home since the hideout has been discovered. The city thus sends Pip away from danger. Wemmick himself confirms afterwards having trusted the city with Pip’s life: ‘I left a note for you at each of the Temple gates, on the chance’.[29]

In Bleak House a similar situation marks the death of Mr. Tulkinghorn’s. While his murderess awaits him at home, he passes through the streets and walks on:

… under the shadow of the lofty houses, many of whose mysteries … are treasured up within his old black satin waistcoat. He is in confidence of the very bricks and mortar. The high chimney-stacks telegraph family secrets to him. Yet there is not a voice in a mile of them to whisper ‘Don’t go home!.[30]

In this case, the city does not prevent the murder from happening. The reason for this is easily explained. As the book’s villain, the wretched lawyer does not belong to the community chosen to inherit the Heavenly City; after having tolerated his crimes for a while, London finally rejects him. It is significant that in this moment of London’s judgment the text bursts into a prophecy again:

Its steeples and towers, and its great dome, grow more ethereal; its smoky house-tops lose their grossness, in the pale effulgence; the noises that arise from the streets are fewer and are softened, and the footsteps on the pavement pass more tranquilly away … every noise is merged, this moonlight night, into a distant ringing hum, as if the city was a vast glass, vibrating.[31]

The city, ignoring Tulkinghorn on his way to death seems to be in its most beautiful, crystal, heavenly self; instead of being filled with soot and fog, it is full of light and music.

In the first case Pip acts out of charity and compassion although outside the law, and the city is helpful and hopeful. Tulkinghorn is a lawyer, but destroys people, and the city condemns him. Unlike society in which, as Dickens and Eliot justly observe, good people are always mistreated in favor of villains, London behaves towards them as they deserve. It obeys the divine law, not the earthly one, and in this makes use of its heavenly connotation to claim the right of judgement. Its prophecies are not passive, but militant, punishing evildoers and giving powerful blessings to the good.

The biblical twofold code, chosen by Dickens and Eliot to govern the urban metaphor, offers to the city a way of salvation, by contemplation as by action, in the form of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Both versions can be read at the level of social significance. The personal city of Daniel Deronda and A Tale of Two Cities reinforces the link between places and persons; in so doing, it makes man’s spiritual world both urban and physical. Literary tradition has been comparing human life to natural phenomena since the time of primitive mythology; for defining man in terms of his environment had originally been the way of establishing his metaphysical identity. Describing the human mind without apprehension in relation with to the city’s elements means accepting change of environment as well. The city becomes, in fact, the world that man can truly belong to. The city is transformed from a place of residence into a place of being, sometimes even more suitable for existence than nature itself. In this respect, the authority of the Biblical myth promoting the urban model as early as in the Old Testament, secures the concept, and helps the characters fit into their new condition without the alienation so common to new environments.

In its turn the city, with the help of the Heavenly Jerusalem paradigm, acts as an entity of historical authority, old enough and standing for the multitudes that have inhabited it since the age of the Roman Conquest. In acting for or against its citizens, it transposes their choices onto a larger scale than that of private opinion. While the metropolis encounters strong resistance as an unbearable and perilous world, the city novels of Dickens and Eliot participate in the process of its aesthetic remaking. For both writers, the city’s prophetic aspect turns the unacceptable realities of nineteenth-century London into promise, a millenarian ideal, a sublimated image of immense aesthetic and spiritual concentration.


[1] Dickens, C. A Tale of Two Cities. 2000. London: Penguin Classics. p. 95.

[2] The City of God. Bk. XV, Ch. 2. St. Augustine is quoted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1 (vol. 2), edited by Philip Schaff and part of the Early Church Fathers Collection (38 vols.) that was originally published in 1885 by Christian Literature Publishing Company. I used the electronic version of the collection offered by

[3] Schulz, Max F. 1985. Paradise Preserved. Recreations of Eden in XVIIIth and XIXth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., p 234.

[4] The City of God. Bk. XV, Ch. 2

[5] ibid, Bk XV, Ch.1.

[6] Architectural metaphor in the Bible is a key one: thus, the 12 gates of the City of God represent, according to biblical hermeneutics, the 12 apostles; elswhere, Jesus Christ is called the cornerstone of the Church etc.

[7] George Eliot, Daniel Deronda. 1964. London: Everyman’s Library. Vol 2. p 652.

[8] Charles Dickens. Bleak House. 1996. London: Penguin Classics, p. 406.

[9] Charles Dickens. Great Expectations. 1994. London: Penguin Popular Classics, p. 267.

[10] A Tale of Two Cities, p.389. Sydney’s prophecy is addressed to Paris, but can certainly be extended to London, the two cities of the novel representing each a side of the same coin which is the Revolution (to see the parallel better, see Chapter One, The Period).

[11] Ibid, p.xiii.

[12] Daniel Deronda, p. 146

[13] A Tale of Two Cities, pp 14-15.

[14] Ibid, p.96.

[15] Daniel Deronda, p. 140.

[16] Ibid, p 356.

[17] Daniel Deronda, p.370.

[18] Great Expectations, p. 159

[19] Bleak House, p. 738

[20] Ibid, p. 783. Frequently, to bring forward the city’s own personality so that the reader could tell it from emotions conferred on it by a character Dickens resorts to similes so purely mythical and fantastic they look close to hallucinations: ‘Unfortunately, the morning was drizzly, and an angel could not have concealed the fact that Barnard was shedding sooty tears outside the window, like some weak giant of a Sweep’. (Great Expectations, p. 201). These grotesque instances destroy ruthlessly the city’s domesticated image established by the industrial revolution and bring back its mythological value of a living thing.

[21] Steven Goldsmith, 1993. Unbuilding Jerusalem: Apocalypse and Romantic Representation. London: Cornell University Press, p. 140

[22] Bleak House, 271

[23] Considering the city’s mythological nature, it is not surprising. In mythology, a blind, indifferent environment corresponds to chaos, a thing unsuitable for living; any social existence needs order, structural as well as moral.

[24] Great Expectations, p. 171.

[25] The city as symbol of action, motion, and development has been operating since XVIIIth c., as described in Schwarzbach’s Dickens and the City. 1979. London: the Athlone Press.: ‘Dr. Johnson’s famous remark – that a man tired of London was tired of life – more closely captures the spirit of the age. The metropolis was more than ever before the cultural, political and economic center of the nation…’ (p.20). Dickens himself observed quite a real influence that London was exerting on his creative powers: ‘I can write prodigiously in a retired place…and a day in London sets me up again and starts me. But the toil and labour of writing without that magic lantern is IMMENSE’ (Letter on the 30th August 1846 from Switzerland).

[26] Great Expectations, p. 397.

[27] Ibid, 395-6.

[28] Ibid, p.333.

[29] Ibid, p. 336

[30] Bleak House, p. 747.

[31] Ibid, p. 749.

To Cite This Article:

Elena Petrova, ‘”And I saw the Holy City”: London Prophecies in Charles Dickens and George Eliot’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 2 Number 2 (September 2004). Online at Accessed on [date of access]