The Cambridge Companion series has become a fixed landmark in the academic study of literature. This is expanding and important series which surveys and impressive range of authors and topics, stimulating study by providing touchstones to current critical and academic thinking. For instance: first author in this series is Edward Albee, the last Emile Zola. The first topic is `the actress', the last topic the writing of the English Revolution. I had reason to use the volumes on WH Auden, and Ezra Pound recently, and these books are worth their weight in gold in terms of efficient and effective introductions and inclusive overviews. That said I couldn't help but think that the Literature of London was ambitious title: the literary representation of the human experience and psychological impact of living in "the flower of cities all" is a potentially limitless topic. I would say this is introduction to the study of London in literature is, by and large, successful.
The essays are outlined in the Amazon description, but are very comprehensive selection. The emergence of London from its mythic history into the realities of mediaeval period, the move from `new Troy' to the modern world, is addressed in the opening essay; the early modern stage is the next essay, with Elizabethan and Jacobean city comedy is taking a front seat. I particularly found interesting the essay on the politics and practicalities of the early modern printing in the third essay. The growth of London as a city of global importance in the 18th century signified by successive essays on poetry of the Georgian period, the London stage in the Restoration and 18th century, and a complex essay on "narration" in the 18th century. 19th-century poetry in the Victorian novel marked the emergence of London as we experience it, in the Victorian period, and there is compelling essay on London in visual culture which is well illustrated with images range from Canaletto to Gustave Dore. The essay on London in poetry since 1900 is necessarily breathless for an essay that is only 21 pages long. Expectations are high for the depiction of London in the present time, and the essay on quote immigration and post-war London literature is deftly handled. The psychogeographic boom is explored in the penultimate essay which looks at the depiction of London the 21st century, and while works of Iain Sinclair are really acknowledged, it's nice to see this essay move past him and avoids letting him dominates. The final essay on "inner London" examines the notion of London city made up of displacements.
The book would have easily been four times the length, but as it stands it is a taut, very competent, almost comprehensive, and stimulating introduction to a singular city. With London's diversity, it's impossible to have every community and their contribution fully explored in the book the size, but I must admit some disappointment in not having a more robust examination Jewish London, and the Irish experience of London. A highly enjoyable book nonetheless, expertly referenced and with a tantalising bibliography.
I was much taken with the John Buchan quotation used by Lawrence Manley on the first page of the book for he said that 'every street corner' of London was 'peopled by ghosts from literature and history' - and this very enjoyable Cambridge Companion helps to explain why. It's scope is much broader than its title might suggest - with chapters on the growth of sixteenth and seventeenth century theatre life or the development of publishing in the city, as well as the more expected essays on poetry and novels. There is therefore something for all tastes. Occasionally, the essays descend into catalogue listings of writers and tomes known by only the most expert - with little more than brief synopses to whet appetites. But it's hard to see how to avoid the problem. As a result, for this reviewer at any rate, the closer the essay to the contemporary literary scene, the more helpful and insightful.
But as an interesting (if necessarily dense) introduction to this every fascinating city, this book can surely have no rivals. Highly recommended.
Whenever a book is called a 'companion', one can expect almost anything - in this case we have a series of short essays, all by academics, moving through the centuries and looking at London from different angles. Literature is used in a very broad sense: we have chapters on London as a literary theme, as a home for booksellers, printers, authors and playwrights, to name only a few examples. Literature is extended to cover illustration, (including prints, painting and photography), theatre and film. The particular joy of the book is how much the lover of London will discover new facets of the city. There are many books about London which simply list the familiar, concealing the lack of originality with what tend to be decorations rather than illustrations. Not so here - the few pictures there are really do illustrate a point in the text and add to our knowledge and enjoyment. It is true that some of the writing is rather dense, but the brevity of each essay means that the book is by no means an effort to read - rather the reverse - especially as there is so much to stimulate the reader. The only criticism is the lack of an occasional map - those of us who know London well will have no trouble finding our bearings, but to others there will be what seems like a catalogue of unfamiliar names with no mental associations. Finally, a word about the really useful index - very thorough indeed, and designed to be of real, practical value. A splendid book for any London- (or book-) lover; a little gem.
This Cambridge Companion publication is a volume in a well-established literary series. It explores the fascinating and complex subject of how London has been depicted in, and has played a major role in forming, English literature. Each chapter is a self-contained essay and in such a slim volume there are inevitably omissions, but nevertheless the range of topics is very wide, from medieval times to the present day, and covers poetry, novels, plays and to a lesser extent even films. Each contribution is a short scholarly review with illustrations from the major works of the period, and each has a bibliography for further reading. As the chapters are by separate authors, their approaches differ, but all may be described as academic. This is reflected in the language and sentence construction of the contributions, so don't expect a gentle read. But if you are interested in the relationship of London and literature, there is much in the book to inform and delight.
This new Cambridge Companion is a really useful and comprehensive academic guide to the rich and diverse literary life of London. I used the Cambridge Companion guides when I was at university and know that they are of high quality and always interesting.
It is made up of 14 essays all focusing on various aspects of London and its literary life: from `Images of London in medieval English literature' through the Restoration theatre, London in the Victorian age and finally to 21st century writing.
Literature of London is a welcome and valuable addition to the Cambridge Companion guides and would be very useful for the university student and perhaps the casual reader who has a great interest in, not only the literature but also the history, of London.
Most definitely a non-trivial book. This academic analysis of London by reference to the literature that has been written about it provided a new way of looking at this city. Each chapter providing a different perspective and quoting from a long reading list.
I feel under qualified to give the book a rating at all (beyond, I found it fascinating) as I surmise you'd have to be an academic to truly assess it.
If you love London and want to learn even more, it's a heavyweight guide.