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Wednesday, 12 November 2003

Fruition 2: "smog in London in Edwardian times"

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Awwww. I like this one. I like the idea that my worthless bloody blog could be linked here somehow, however tangentially. (I'm going to maintain the stubborn fiction that this isn't someone's geography homework.)
I'm going to seek assistance by looking to my best source / authority on Edwardian London smog, Peter Ackroyd.
"Smog in London in the Edwardian Times" -- the redoubtable Mister Ackroyd only gives one reference to smog in his opus (London: a Biography) - although he does helpfully suggest 'fogs' as an alternative (and I know he indexes the books himself, longhand, hopefully before repairing to a pub). But there's no poetry in fog, Mr A.

That's what I had foolishly assumed, anyway. The quotation will be lengthy, I warn you. I really can't stop myself urging you to read the entire chapter 'A Foggy Day' (chapter 47"). But as ever, every word will count as gold:

"The very texture and colour of the city carried all the marks of its fog ... Heinrich Heine [described how] ... 'this overworked London defies the imagination and breaks the heart.' (1828) ... [he] observed that the streets and buildings were 'a brown olive-green colour, on account of the damp and coal smoke.' So the fog had become part of the physical texture of the city, this most unnatural of natural phenomena leaving its presence upon the stones. Perhaps in part the city defied the imagination ... because in that darkness 'which seems to belong to the day not to the night' the world itself was suspended; in the fog it became a place of concealment and of secrets, of whispers and fading footsteps."
"When Carlyle called the fog 'fluid ink' he was rehearsing the endless possibilities of describing London through the medium of the fog, as if only in the midst of the unnatural darkness could the true characteristics of the city be discerned."
"[Sherlock Holmes sees] 'a dun coloured veil hung over the housetops looking like a reflection of the mud-coloured streets beneath.' [A Study in Scarlet]"
"[In The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde:] the taste of changing identities and secret lives takes place within the medium of the city's 'shifting insubstantial mists'. In many respects the city itself is the changeling, its appearance altering when 'the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths.' Where good and evil live side by side and thrive together, the strange destiny of Dr Jekyll does not seem quite so incongruous. Then for a moment the mist melts and the curtain lifts, revealing a gin palace, an eating-house, a 'shop for the retail of penny numbers and two penny salads', all this life continuing beneath the canopy of darkness like a low murmur of almost inaudible sound. Then once again, 'the fog settled ... as brown as umber, and cut him off.' ...
This also is the condition of living in London - to be 'cut off', isolated, a single mote in the swirl of fog and smoke. To be alone among the confusion is perhaps the single most piercing emotion of any stranger in the city."
"The fog that Tacitus described in the first century AD still hovers over London."
You can buy Ackroyd's urban biography of London here.

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This page graced by sarsparilla at 1:58 AM GMT
Updated: Thursday, 13 November 2003 1:26 PM GMT
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Thursday, 13 November 2003 - 3:25 PM GMT

Name: jatb
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There's a whole foggy continent (in bits and pieces) in a novel called something by someone whose name I can't recall. Possibly Sebald. And possibly not. (I'm sure that is more than enough for you to figure out what I mean.) The descriptions of fog there are very lyrical. But fog usually is, and surprisingly romantic too for what is essentially cold vapour.

In fact its funny, given the popularity of fog, that other cold soggy substances (such as, say, semolina) aren't more in vogue.

Thursday, 13 November 2003 - 5:11 PM GMT

Name: Vanessa

Yes, I know what novel you mean - it's one of the ones I was saving to read at Christmas.

Fog is atmospheric and romantic, isn't it? Although, the other day, I drove home from work and the road I turn left onto to see Canary Wharf towering in the distance, and reminding me that I live on the decent side of the river - it was gone, totally gone in the fog. It was horrible, like an omen that I was stuck forever in South East London (ie, where a 4 bedroom house with a 60 foot garden, a patio, yard conservatory and garage costs #50K less than my poxy flat) (again, ie, where I'll probably have to live soon), never again to be a dazzling urbanite.

Semolina is disgusting.

(Thanks for putting a comment on the best entry!)

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