A rumour broke through the thin smoke
Enwreathing abbey, tower, and palace,
The parks, the squares, the thoroughfares,
The million-peopled lanes and alleys,
An ever-muttering prisoned storm,
The heart of London beating warm.
– John Davidson – “London” (1895)
The Literary London Reading Group meets (just about) monthly at Senate House Library in London.
We explore those processes that contribute to creation and destruction of an imagined city and its fictional territories. Whether a text is situated in Pall Mall, Eel Pie Island or in an imagined dystopian future, part of the skill of writing urban experience arises from successfully ‘siting’ a narrative and capturing that elusive sense of place that grounds it in a distinctive setting.
Our thanks to everyone who showed up to our last session, ‘Dickens’s Night Walks’, which at 41 people attracted the largest crowd we’ve ever drawn — despite the cold and damp! And our especial thanks to Dr. Matthew Beaumont for his tremendous captaincy of this event.
We’re very pleased to announce that Dr. Laura Wright (Cambridge) will introduce our next session on ‘Anita Brookner’s London by Foot (and a Bit of Bus)’. This session will take place on Tuesday, 17 March from 6.00 – 7.30pm at Senate House Room G37. Please click here for a map of the location.
Anita Brookner’s London by Foot (and a Bit of Bus)
Anita Brookner is one of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’ great London writers. In her many novels, characters branch out on journeys that remind one of Dickens, although with Brookner, the walks are always in the West End / Chelsea regions, never in the East End or outer suburbs, and are usually accompanied by a certain lack of joie de vivre brought on by unrequited love. Characters perform long London walks alone when they would rather be doing something else, with somebody else. Each novel is firmly rooted in a set of streets, including 2011’s At the Hairdresser’s, where the protagonist is elderly and the plot depends on how she can get out to do her shopping in Victoria Street and Pimlico Road. The main loci that repeat over the novels are Kensington, Brompton, Chelsea, St John’s Wood, the central public art galleries, the central parks, and the department store Peter Jones. The outer suburbs do get an acknowledgement but usually as places where other people live, and there are few car journeys – none by tube or train, and no commuting.
As well as outside, Anita Brookner also maps inside. She is the author par excellence of the mansion block, where the protagonists merely have to take the lift to enter other lives – gin-drinking, bridge-playing, judgmental lives. Whilst wanting to be doing something else with somebody else provides a theme of continuity in her novels, the words on the page convey a wealth of London social and topographical detail – as well as an understated humor.
A Start in Life (1981) pg. 67: Edith Grove > river > Chelsea Old Church > Victoria > Sloane Square > King’s Road > Fulham Road > No. 31 bus
Lewis Percy (1989) pg. 103: Strand > Trafalgar Square > Mall > Victoria > Pimlico Road > Sloane Square > King’s Road > (Eel Brook) Common; pg. 156: Pembridge Crescent > Kensington High Street > Earl’s Court Road > Old Brompton Road > Redcliffe Gardens > Edith Grove > King’s Road
A Family Romance (1993) pg. 43: Battersea Park > Cheyne Walk > Pimlico Road > Sloane Square > Sloane Street > Hyde Park > Ennismore Gardens
A Private View (1994) pg. 106: Kendal Street > Connaught Street > Edgware Road > Upper Berkeley Street > Selfridges
Altered States (1996) pg. 61: Cadogan Gate > (Hyde) Park > Marble Arch > Old Quebec Street > Portman Square > Baker Street > Paddington Street
These extracts have all been assembled into one PDF document for your convenience. You can access the document here, via dropbox.
Dr. Laura Wright is Reader in English Language at the University of Cambridge. Her work is concerned principally with the history of the London dialect, including mixed-language texts written in Anglo-Norman, Medieval Latin and Middle English, as well as 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century London English. She has published on the development of Standard English, and on the fate of London English taken to North America and elsewhere, including the East India Company island of St Helena, South Atlantic. With Herbert Schendl, she has recently edited the collection Code Switching in Early English (2011).
You can find the reading, information about past events, and also details of upcoming events online at our blog. And why not follow us on Twitter? Find us @london_rg
As always, reading group sessions are free and open to the public — so please do spread the work! We’ll look forward to seeing everyone for ‘gin-drinking, bridge-playing, [and general] judgment’ in March.
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