Friday, May 04, 2012

Dingy London

As a counterbalance to the recent string of long posts, a short one today, quoting Dickens on London, which, in Our Mutual Friend is presented with more dinginess and dirt than in any other of his novels:
It was a foggy day in London, and the fog was heavy an dark. Animate London, with smarting eyes and irritated lungs, was blinking, wheezing, and choking; inanimate London was a sooty spectre, divided in purpose between being visible and invisible, and so being wholly neither. Gaslights flared in the shops with a haggard and unblest air, as knowing themselves to be night-creatures that had no business abroad under the sun; while the sun itself, when it was for a few moments dimly indicated through circling eddies of fog, showed as if it had gone out and were collapsing flat and cold. Even in the surrounding country it was a foggy day, but there the fog was great, whereas in London it was, at about the boundary line, dark yellow, and a little within it brown, then browner, and then browner, until at the heart of the City--which call Saint Mary Axe, it was rusty-black. From any point of the high ridge of land northward, it might have been discerned that the loftiest buildings made an occasional struggle to get their heads above the foggy sea, and especially that the great dome of Saint Paul's seemed to die hard; but this was not perceivable in the streets at their feet, where the whole metropolis was a heap of vapour charged with muffled sound of wheels, and enfolding a gigantic catarrh.
This one is, if anything, even more depressing:
A grey dusty withered evening in London city has not a hopeful aspect. The closed warehouses and offices have an air of death about them, and the national dread of colour has an air of mourning. The towers and steeples of the many house-encompassed churches, dark and dingy as the sky that seems descending on them, are no relief to the general gloom; a sun dial on a church wall has the look, in its useless black shade, of having failed in its business enterprise and stopped payment for ever; melancholy waifs and strays of housekeepers and porters sweep melancholy waifs and strays of papers and pins into the kennels, and other more melancholy waifs and strays explore them, searching and stooping and poking for anything to sell. The set of humanity outward from the City is a set of prisoners departing from gaol and dismal Newgate seems quite as fit a stronghold for the mighty Lord Mayor as his own state dwelling On such evening when the city grit gets into the hair
We can only hope that London presents such a welcoming face when the Olympics crawls in to strangle it this summer!

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