Powered Modernity, Contested Space: Literary modernism and the London tram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


A literary history of London’s tramways spans the period between late-Victorian and High Modernism, encompassing naturalist fiction, reportage, creative non-fiction, modernist poetry, and the psychological novel. The same timespan saw the horse tram give way to the electric tram, which itself faced replacement by motor buses and trolleybuses during the 1930s. This essay intersects these two narratives, of literary history and of transport history, as a contribution to mobility humanities focused on the city. Trams and tramways had a peculiarly in-between identity as vehicles and environments emerging from powered modernity but associated with the proletariat, as well as the urban districts where they lived. Reading literary texts by Arthur Morrison, Ford Madox Ford, and Virginia Woolf, spotlighted here as part of a broader corpus extending from the 1880s to the 1980s, brings the tramways’ interstitiality to life. Trams, the literary readings demonstrate, were a contact zone that threatened to overturn separations of class and gender, as well as presaging an expanded future in which the city would be built around the industrial working class. The curtailment of tram operations in 1930s London meant that such a future never came to pass, but literary texts are windows onto its possibility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-308
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of English Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2024
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • tram
  • modernism
  • London in literature


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