UCL English


Professor Rosemary Ashton, OBE, FRSL, FBA

Email: r.ashton@ucl.ac.uk

Rosemary Ashton

Rosemary Ashton is Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature and an Honorary Fellow of UCL.

Education and Experience

She was educated at the universities of Aberdeen, Heidelberg, and Cambridge. Her doctoral research at Cambridge was on the reception of German literature in British magazines in the early 1800s.

She was Lecturer in English at the University of Birmingham, and came to UCL in 1974.

She is a Fellow of the British Academy, of the Royal Society of Literature, and of the Royal Society of Arts, and sits on a number of editorial and literary boards, including the George Eliot Fellowship, of which she is a Vice-President, the advisory board of Carlyle Studies Annual, the advisory board of the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations at Queen Mary, University of London, and the board of the Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies.

She is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies in the School of Advanced Studies, University of London.

As Principal Investigator on the Bloomsbury Project, funded over three years by the Leverhulme Trust, she led a multidisciplinary team (from literature, history, geography, and the history of medicine) in a comprehensive study of nineteenth-century Bloomsbury, particularly the many reforming educational and medical institutions which were founded in the area between 1800 and 1904.

The Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Houses

The Bloomsbury Project website was launched by Ian McEwan in April 2011.

Research Interests

Rosemary Ashton’s areas of specialisation include Romantic and Victorian literature and culture, Anglo-German literary, philosophical, and cultural relations, and the cultural history of nineteenth-century London.

She has written critical biographies of Coleridge, Thomas and Jane Carlyle, George Eliot, and G.H. Lewes; two works of ‘group biography’, Little Germany, on German political exiles who came to Britain after the failed 1848 revolutions in Europe’, and 142 Strand, about a set of avant-garde writers who gathered at the London house of the radical publisher John Chapman.

142 Strand book cover

Two of her books, The German Idea and Little Germany, analyse Anglo-German literary and cultural relations in the nineteenth century.

Her book Victorian Bloomsbury was published by Yale University Press in 2012.  It describes in detail the activities of a group of men and women who lived and worked in Bloomsbury during the nineteenth century and by their contribution to progress in education, medicine, and culture helped to give the area its distinctive character.

Victorian Bloomsbury book cover

Her most recent book, One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858, was published by Yale University Press in July 2017. The book uses Victorian letters, newspaper articles, diaries, court records, parliamentary records, and other contemporary sources to uncover historically crucial moments in the lives of Londoners who were experiencing not only the hottest summer on record, but also the unbearable stench of the Thames, which flowed back and forth laden with the sewage of the capital's two million inhabitants. The story of how parliament finally passed the Thames Purification Act and tasked the innovative engineer Joseph Bazalgette with cleansing the Thames by taking the sewage out of London via intercepting sewers to outfalls east of the city, at the same time embanking the river, is told in depth and detail. At the same time, other far-reaching political measures are discussed, including the new Divorce Act, the Medical Act, and the act to allow the Jewish Lionel de Rothschild to take his seat in parliament without having to swear the parliamentary oath 'on the true faith of a Christian'. Summer 1858 was a crucial time for three major Victorian figures - Dickens, Darwin, and Disraeli - all of whom faced a personal and/or professional crisis. The book follows their stories through the summer months, weaving them together by uncovering hitherto unnoticed connections.

Rosemary Ashton has contributed to a number of radio programmes, notably ‘In Our Time’ on Radio 4 – discussing Romanticism, Wordsworth’s Prelude, Dickens, George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Anglo-German relations in the nineteenth century, the Faust legend – and most recently, in May 2013,  ‘Word of Mouth’ on Radio 4, on the subject of English borrowings and adaptations of German vocabulary.

Selected Publications


One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858 (Yale University Press, 2017). 

Victorian Bloomsbury (Yale University Press, 2012).

142 Strand: A Radical Address in Victorian London (Chatto & Windus, 2006, paperback Vintage, 2008).

Thomas and Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage (Chatto & Windus, 2002, paperback Pimlico, 2003). Shortlisted for the Saltire Book of the Year Award and the Duff Cooper Literary Award.

George Eliot: A Life (Hamish Hamilton, 1996, paperback Penguin, 1997). Shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Prize.

The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Critical Biography (Blackwell, 1996, paperback 1997).

G. H. Lewes: A Life (Oxford University Press, 1991, paperback Pimlico, 2000).

Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England (Oxford University Press, 1986, paperback 1989).

The German Idea: Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought 1800-1860 (Cambridge University Press, 1980, paperback Libris, 1994).


Ed. With introduction, Edward John Trelawny, Records of Shelley, Byron and the Author (Penguin, 2013).

Ed. with Introduction, George Eliot, Middlemarch (Penguin, 1994).

George Eliot, Silas Marner (Everyman, 1993).

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (Everyman, 1992).

Versatile Victorian: Selected Critical Writings of G. H. Lewes (Bristol Classical Press, 1992).

George Eliot’s Selected Critical Writings (Oxford World’s Classics, 1992).

Recent Articles and Contributions to Books

‘Barrie and Bloomsbury’, essay in Gateway to the Modern: Resituating J.M. Barrie, ed. Andrew Nash and Valentina Bold (Association of Scottish Literary Studies, 2013).

‘The Fabled Muse’, review of the collected letters of Jane Morris, Times Literary Supplement, 26 October 2012.

The Mill on the Floss and the Difficulties of Relationships’, 39th George Eliot Memorial Lecture, published in The George Eliot Review, 2011.

‘Oh So Quietly’, commissioned article on the death of Dickens’s father, Times Literary Supplement, 1 April 2011.

Peter Pan and Bloomsbury', Times Literary Supplement, 10 December 2010.

‘A Machine for Progress: Henry Brougham and Radical Reform in Nineteenth-Century London’, commissioned article, Times Literary Supplement, 23 January 2009.

‘London, Flower of Cities All’, lead review in Times Literary Supplement, 12 December 2008.

‘Thomas Mann, Thomas Carlyle, and Frederick the Great’ in The Text and its Context: Studies in Modern German Literature and Society, ed. Nigel Harris and Joanne Sayer (Peter Lang, 2008).

’Anglo-Scottish Relations: The Carlyles in London’, in Anglo-Scottish Relations from 1603 to 1900, ed. T.C. Smout (Oxford University Press, 2005).