London in Books Part 1

Picture of pile of books

“Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be”.

(Jane Austen, Emma)

Of course the city has featured in thousands of books. Here are three of my personal favourites – more will follow in future posts:

George Orwell

Down and Out in Paris and London is a semi-autobiographical study of poverty in Paris and London. To quote one excellent footnote in chapter 25 It is a curious but well-known fact that bugs are much commoner in south than north London. For some reason they have not yet crossed the river in any great numbers. London is apparently … cleaner and quieter and drearier than Paris and the faces comelier and milder and more alike.

Winston Smith lives in a ruined London, an area of Airstrip One within the superstate Oceania in 1984, published in 1949 (only a year before Orwell’s death.) As we all know Big Brother is alive and well as foretold and is indeed watching George Orwell’s former home in Canonbury Square, Islington according to this news article

Aldous Huxley

The classic dystopian novel Brave New World, set in the year of our ford 632 in a London housing the Charing T Tower (named after the resident deity Henry Ford’s Model T Ford) and the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre in Bloomsbury. Bureaux of Propaganda and the College of Emotional Engineering can be found in Fleet Street and produce the three London newspapers the Hourly Radio (for the upper-castes), Gamma Gazette, and The Delta Mirror – written in words of one syllable for the lowest caste. The Bureaux of Propaganda by Television, by Feeling Picture and by Synthetic Voice and Music is also to be found in this building. The television corporation factory in Brentford is the size of a small town.

John Wyndham

The Day of the Triffids, a London-based post-apocalyptic novel written in 1951 featured 3-legged carnivorous plants and a blinding meteor shower. Adaptations include a 1962 film starring Howard Keel and a 1981 BBC serial (much superior and well worth checking out). Piccadilly, Hampstead and other parts of north west London feature. Wyndham apparently wrote this after seeing the branches of a blackberry hedge moving sinisterly back and forth in the wind. He later remarked to his wife, Joan:

“By Jove, if those things could walk and think, they’d be dangerous.”

(Quoted by Clive Banks, The Science Fiction and Telefantasy Databanks)

This book is an example of ‘cosy catastrophe’ as coined by Brian Aldiss in his history of science fiction “Billion Year Spree.” He was referring to the type of story where the human race is affected by something catastrophic and must rebuild civilisation following this catastrophe.


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