142 Strand was the home of the brilliant, unconventional young publisher John Chapman. All the daring and avant-garde writers and thinkers of Victorian London gathered here, among them Thomas Carlyle, Dickens, Thackeray, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley (Darwin's 'bulldog'), as well as visiting Americans like Emerson, refugees from revolutionary Europe like Mazzini, and radical feminists like Barbara Leigh Smith, later founder of Girton College, Cambridge. They contributed to Chapman's campaigning Westminster Review and attended his lively evening parties. In 1851 Chapman brought Marian Evans - the future George Eliot - to London to edit the Review. Her arrival caused rows in the household, which included Chapman's wife and also his mistress.
The Strand was packed with booksellers, magazine publishers, theatres, clubs, and quack doctors. Just behind lay the brothels of Covent Garden and the disreputable pornographers of Holywell Street, while Westminster and the Houses of Parliament were a short distance away. Chapman's circle touched all these worlds, and the vivid story of these unconventional lives and unorthodox views - marvellously told by Rosemary Ashton - takes us to the heart of Victorian culture, uncovering its surprising energy, its doubts and arguments, and, above all, its passionate reforming spirit.