Tag Archives: edwardian london

Review: G.K.Chesterton, London and Modernity


Matthew Beaumont and Matthew Ingleby, eds. G.K. Chesterton, London and Modernity, London: Bloomsbury 2013 [ISBN:9781780937069]

This lively and varied collection of essays on G. K. Chesterton’s complicated relationship with modernity, and his intricate rendering of London in his writing, does more than offer a corrective to the previous dearth of critical work on Chesterton’s attitudes to the modern city. Through careful examination of Chesterton’s contradictory opinions and light-hearted prose, a broader view emerges of what “modernism”, and indeed London, meant to the Edwardians. Chesterton is an enigmatic writer whose elastic prose is characterised by an unlikely combination of paradox, punning and moments of profound insight; as Lynne Hapgood comments early on in the collection, “Even Chesterton’s stylistic flamboyance in this novel, veering between the absurdist, the heroic and a kind of anticipatory surrealism, was par for the course in an Edwardian period when the novel was charactertized by its sheer generic diversity.”[1] His writings helped to curb the pessimistic strain of “high” cultural responses to urban life in the re-creation of a comic London, offering an alternative to the gritty city slums and intensely private spaces portrayed in many naturalist modern urban writing. Yet, as several of the essays attest, jest is often a conduit for unexpected wisdom or sharp political comment. Continue reading

In the Words of Arnold Bennett (8): London and Paris

Niels Moeller Lund 'The Heart of the Empire', 1904

Niels Moeller Lund ‘The Heart of the Empire’, 1904

‘Annunciata was very English. It had been vouchsafed to her that the English race was the master-stroke of the eternal powers. The very defects of the English were good qualities. All other races were inferior; the thing was obvious. And if there was one other race that Annunciata in especial contemned, that race was the French. The French were not serious; they were not moral; they were frivolous. You could not rely on them. Their women were dolls; their men were wicked, besides being paltry and grotesque to the eye. Germany had humiliated them – catch Germany trying to humiliate England! – and there they were enjoying themselves and “going on” as though nothing had happened. She had read that Parisian theatres were often crowded during the siege of Paris. That settled the French, so far as Annunciata was concerned.’

‘Lawrence did not greatly love London. It appealed to his imagination, but in a sinister way. To him it was the city of vast and restless melancholy. And though there was nothing of the sentimental in his composition, and he despised the facile trick of fancy which attributes to cities, heroically, the joys and griefs of the unheroic individuals composing them, London did nevertheless impress him painfully as an environment peculiarly favourable to the intensification of sorrow. Whenever he went to London it seemed to him to be the home of a race sad, hurried, and preoccupied; the streets were filled with people who had not a moment to spare, and whose thoughts were turned inwards upon their own anxious solicitudes, people who inevitably die before they begun to live, and to whom the possession of their souls in contemplation would always be an impossibility. The unique and poetic grandeur of the theatre which the character of this race had created for the scene of woes, only added to the situation the poignancy of visual beauty. Instead of lightening it increased the burden.’
(Whom God Hath Joined, 1906)

This quotation is the eighth part of a series dedicated to the work of the great Edwardian writer Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), on whom we will be co-hosting a symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’) at Keele University on 17th-18th October. More details here.