Friday, August 24, 2012

Literary London

Sir Richard Steeles Cottage, Hampstead, c. 1832
John Constable

'It was undeniable that on a fine day one enjoyed extensive views.  The green ridge from Hampstead to Highgate, with Primrose Hill and the foliage of Regent's Park in the foreground; the suburban spaces of St John's Wood, Maida Vale, Kilburn; Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, lying low by the side of the hidden river, and a glassy gleam on the far-off hills which meant the Crystal Palace; then the clouded majesty of eastern London, crowned by St Paul's dome.  These things one's friends were expected to admire.  Sunset often afforded rich effects, but they were for solitary musing.'

For my tastes there is no such thing as a book too full of the panorama of London.  In New Grub Street Gissing takes the reader on quite the evocative walking tour of the streets of London, particularly Bloomsbury.  Characters crossing paths on street corners while walking to the British Museum were so vividly described that I searched them out on Google Maps, it's all there.  Dark staircases leading up to sparsely furnished garret rooms had me putting on the kettle despite our warm temperatures this summer.  When moral fibre struggles against hunger and Edwin is faced with selling off his precious books I thought about my own bookshelves and could have cried.  Newspapers, reviews, authorship, periodicals, journal writing and the competition for readership rival anything going on in the world of media today, New Grub Street positively reeks of ink.

I'm two-thirds the way through and absolutely loving this book.  Gissing writes his female characters with plenty of smarts and backbone so I can't wait to find out how the ladies handle issues of romance, inheritances, business and scallywags.  Stay tuned...    


  1. I always look for books with strong female characters. This sound interesting. Bonnie

  2. Sounds great -- I definitely enjoyed his book The Odd Women. You have certainly read some wonderful books this year.

  3. This book sounds very good. And I agree with you, I love to read about London and descriptions of walking through the city. "Mrs. Dalloway" is filled with descriptions of London. Thanks for this recommendation, I know you're not done yet, but it sounds excellent.