In April 1888, Friedrich Engels wrote a letter to the English novelist and journalist Margaret Harkness, expressing his appreciation for her first novel, A City Girl: A Realistic Story, calling it “a small work of art.” A City Girl was one of many slum novels set in the East End of London in the 1880s. It tells the story of a young East Ender, Nelly Ambrose, who is seduced and abandoned by a middle-class bureaucrat. After the birth of her child and betrayal by her family, Nelly is rescued by two outside forces: the Salvation Army and a sympathetic local man, George, who wants to marry her despite her “fallen” status. While Nelly’s relative passivity and social ignorance distinguish her from contemporary New Woman heroines, Harkness’s sympathy for Nelly’s position and refusal to judge her morally make A City Girl a fascinating and original novel.
This Broadview Edition includes contemporary reviews of A City Girl along with historical documents on London’s East End, fallen women in late-Victorian fiction, and reform organizations for East End women.
“A surprising Broadview decision to publish the slum novella A City Girl, by the socially aware Margaret Harkness, has produced an important edition, brilliantly edited by Tabitha Sparks. The story is filled with clichés, yet contains unique descriptions of grim, for-profit tenements, written in an intimate, non-partisan tone. What rivets attention is the volume as a whole, not only the expected but wonderful contemporary reviews but also pieces by Friedrich Engels—a fascinating response written to Harkness herself—Eleanor Marx, Jack London, Beatrice Potter, and others. Taken together, A City Girl, Broadview edition, offers much more than supplements to Harkness’s competent story; with satisfying richness, it opens a teeming vista onto the impoverished world of the story. This is a book not only for students but also for all nineteenth-century buffs interested in darkest London, the title of a later Harkness fiction.” —Adrienne Munich, Stony Brook University, Co-Editor, Victorian Literature and Culture