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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 16, issue 2; includes forum "Modernity and Mobility: Victorian Women Traveling" (January 2018) :
Railway Crossings
Intersectional Railway Safety Advocacy in Charlotte Riddell’s City and Suburb
Kathryn W. Powell
Rubric A: Literature and Science
Rubric B: Women Writers



Though the literary figure of engineer-inventor George Stephenson epitomized Samuel Smiles’s “self-help” ideal of the “manly” liberal subject enabled by laissez-faire policies, Stephenson himself advocated for parliamentary intervention during the heated Railway Regulation debates of the 1840s. This essay deals with women writers’ engagement in those debates and their recognition that improved safety standards for railway travel depended on the inventor and vice versa. In City and Suburb (1861), Charlotte Riddell stylizes passages to mimic the dramatic cross-examinations of the Railway Regulation debates, effectively putting anti-regulation on trial. I argue that Riddell reworked Smiles’s Stephenson narrative in her fiction to promote thoughtful regulation that would enable rather than hamper innovation. Because women themselves sought recognition as part of the larger network of central decision-making, women writers such as Riddell saw the advantage of regarding the inventor not as an isolated hyper-masculine figure but rather as part of the integrated network of contingencies that defined Victorian modernity.

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