Saturday, May 14, 2011

O, London!

As readers know, I am an ambivalent but devoted Anglophile. So I truly savored "A Symposium on London" in the Spring 2011 issue of The Threepenny Review (a periodical that I posted about on 3/14/10). In the "symposia" frequently published in that quarterly, various authors are asked to write about a given topic, and the contributions are varied, original, and often surprising; it is always a pleasure to read them. The current symposium is no exception...what a trove of riches! James Lasdun writes of coming home from boarding school to his family's house in Notting Hill Gate, just as the "flowering hippie culture" blossomed. Robert Pinsky tells the story of his year in London in the early 1970s, which was, "for a young American of my living in the past...the houses seemed like survivals from nineteenth-century fiction." Anne Wagner, living in London now, mourns what she perceives as the homogenization of London, and concludes that she is "going to have to settle for an imaginary London, artificially built up" out of bits and pieces of current and former aspects of the city. James Campbell, a Scot, writes about how he gradually came to identify himself as a Londoner, partly through his exciting discovery that Robert Louis Stevenson had lived in the same neighborhood that Campbell did. Wendy Steiner fondly remembers her three years in London in the 1980s as "a time of continual, uncanny exhilaration...." For her, "All those literary palaces and parks and seedy alleys that filled my imagination -- Baker Street, Kensington Gardens, Whitehall, the Strand -- now filled the literal fog of afternoon walks....The nightingales we heard on Hampstead Heath were Keats's nightingales, and the gathering shadows on the Heath took on a touch of the sublime as we recited Blake's 'Tyger'...." And Dee Shulman concludes her piece as follows: "I still wake up every morning and giggle with delight at the sheer bloody deliciousness of our fabulous, filthy, noisy, beautiful, scary, wildly exuberant London."

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