Discover London

image“Some people have human muses – mine is a city.”  – Will Self.

Will Self is in good company. Many writers have been inspired by the city. Charles Dickens’  dark, atmospheric story “Our mutual friend” opens on the Victorian Thames;  the  verse-novel by  Bernardine Evaristo, “The Emperor’s Babe” features the feisty Zuleika, a Black Roman woman, in 211AD Londinium. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway by and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones are separated by time and social standing, but both share the distinction of living in London.  So do Benjamin Zephaniah’s “Refugee boy,” and the  lawyer, “Old Filth,” in the novel by Jane Gardam.

Fiction provides myriad views of life in the capital, ranging from a South London boyhood in David Lodge’s “Therapy” to Esther Freud’s council home in “Peerless flats,” or from the experiences of the “Mapmaker’s of Spitalfields” by Syed Manzoorul Islam to the heroine of Lynn Reid Banks’ “L shaped room.”  In the  surreal “Neverwhere”  by Neil Gaiman,a man is lost in an alternate dimension of London, called London Below, or the Underground. Geoff Ryman’s “253; the print remix” began on the web, and introduces 252 passengers and one driver on the London Underground. Each character is allowed one page.

Our non-fiction about London also has some fascinating stories. “The Italian Boy” tells a horrific tale of 19th century body-snatchers, while the experiences of some newcomers to the city are described in “Yoruba in diaspora.” The impact of the 2012 Olympics is discussed in “Securing and sustaining the Olympic City,” while some of the folklore of the capital is given in “London Lore.” George Orwell described his life while “Down and Out in Paris and London,” and “Violent London” introduces you to a darker side of the city, and 2000 years of riots, rebels, and revolts.

For those who are interested in exploring London, the Library has some guides, such as “Secret London,” and “London Under: the secret history beneath the streets.”

The Nexis database, available through the electronic library, gives access to newspaper articles about the capital. Some of our other databases also enable you to trace information about London. Summon allows you to find items about the city, such as how Dickens wrote about London,  the way in which we use the remains of Victorian London for leisure, or advice on exploring legal London.

Some of the databases allow you to use digitised primary sources. Nineteenth Century British Pamphlets contains over 26,000 pamphlets dealing with the controversial issues of the Victorian era. Nineteenth Century Newspapers holds full runs of 48 national and regional newspapers. The John Johnson Collection includes ephemera for the 18th, 19th and the early 20th centuries.  Rob Banham has written an article about one item, a ticket to the Royal Vauxhall gardens in 1831.

Another website, “Old Bailey Online,” allows you to read accounts of crime and punishment in the past, such as the Newgate trial of two highwaymen who attacked travellers in 1677, “3 miles outside Uxbridge.”

The Library  has an incomplete set of the 19th century “Illustrated London News,”  and also holds “The Nineteenth century and after : a monthly review.”  They are shelved in Special Collections, together with “All the year round,” 1869 -1879, a journal edited by Charles Dickens.

The module EN1703, “Learning London,” studies the way in which the city is represented in literature. A reading list for this course  is available here.

A Pinterest Board is available giving details off books about London, and a display of books is currently available on the ground floor. So visit us, and discover a great city through the Library.

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