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Exorcising the Demons of Thatcherism: Iain Sinclair and the Critical Efficacy of a London Fiction

Alex Murray

London is a city that historically has always been both integral to the identity of Englishness, as well as a city with its own fiercely independent culture. This tension lies at the heart of the ideology that underpins British national identity. In order to stabilise national identity, London is often subsumed into larger narratives of identity. Yet in the Thatcherite period when the ideology of nationalism was being mobilised to obscure the function of divisive economic and social policy, London became the site of literary resistance. The work of Iain Sinclair used London as both the location and substance for a critique of Thatcherism. In what follows I want to explore his novel White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings as a text that uses the city as the site of opposition, as the locale for a critique of dominant ideology.

Thatcherism, Economic Rationalism and Hegemonic Nationalism

As many commentators have observed, the period of Thatcher’s rule was one in which monetarist policies of enterprise and the manipulation of the nation’s history went hand in hand. This relationship transformed a number of elements of English national identity. Gone was the post-war optimism in which Britain embraced a far more egalitarian form of social organisation.[1] As John Corner and Sylvia Harvey assert of Thatcherism: “Freedom and independence derive not from civil rights but from choices exercised in the market. The sovereignty that matters is not that of king or queen, the lord or the white man, but the sovereignty of the consumer within the marketplace.”[2] This perceived sovereignty of the consumer was marked by massive levels of personal debt and widespread unemployment. Indeed, as Raphael Samuels suggests, Thatcher’s rhetoric managed to effectively obfuscate the fact that her government’s policies led to a drastic rise in household debt, from 8 per cent at the beginning of her Prime Ministership to 14 per cent by its conclusion.[3] In 1983 close to 30 per cent of the London population were living, or in danger of living, below the poverty line.[4] The inner city areas in particular suffered from high unemployment and substandard housing amid the proliferation of the modern movement’s tower block public housing.

The economic policies of Thatcherism were regarded by many commentators as necessary to slim the bloated government running costs and spiralling national production under Labour. Yet as Perry Anderson has argued, Thatcherism’s economic record was based on luck as much as effective management. Thatcherism claimed that the Union movement was crippling British production, responsible for a down-turn in productivity. Its draconian treatment of Union’s in the miner’s strike of 1984/5 was therefore portrayed as an economic necessity. Yet as Anderson asserts: “The bottom line of Thatcherism is unequivocal. UK manufacturing firms have failed to regain any ground internationally. Their position has in fact steadily worsened … In 1983 Britain became for the first time in its history a net importer of industrial goods.”[5] The primary reason why Thatcherism survived this downturn in industrial production was the doubling of oil prices by OPEC, resulting in a massive increase in revenue from the North Sea oil supplies. As Anderson asserts: “Without this windfall, the political economy of Thatcherism would have been unsustainable.”[6]

This rather unimpressive economic record went largely unnoticed, and despite it Thatcher and the Tories were re-elected for a second term in 1983. Perhaps the greatest factor in Thatcherism’s longevity was its creation and maintenance of a hegemonic nationalist ideology. As Stuart Hall has stated of this ideology: “questions about moral conduct … about cultural and national identity … these are as central to Thatcherism’s hegemonic project as the privatisation programme of the assault on local democracy.”[7] This ideology was to a large extent based around attempting to re-establish a halcyon national past in which the problems and divisions inherent in contemporary Britain were effectively obfuscated. Even if high unemployment, racism, privatisation and inadequate public housing were detrimental to a large proportion of the population, there would still be a culture of “taffeta and icing sugar”,[8] as Iain Sinclair has termed it, in which the populace could dream of better days. While this process of manufacturing a national past was partly constituted by developing a material history industry,[9] it was the attempt to develop a lineage with “Victorian Values” and the creation of a newly invigorated militaristic nationalism that will concern me here.

Thatcher’s attempt to identify her conservative government with “Victorian Values” is often considered integral to her re-election in 1983. Eric Evans sees this as “the cultural essence of Thatcherism”, founded on two glaring errors: “First it rests on a spectacularly narrow, and atypical, perception of what Victorian values actually were. Second, it has distorted both policy and public attitudes.”[10] The purpose of such an assertion was to align Thatcherite policies with a historically validated rhetoric of improvement, embodying the Victorian ideals of morality, global dominance, nationalism and myths of progress — financial, technological, social. Thatcher certainly believed in those values, famously asserting: “I was brought up to work jolly hard. We were taught to live within our income, that cleanliness is next to godliness. We were taught self-respect. You were taught tremendous pride in your country. All those are Victorian virtues.”[11] Yet this mis-representation of the reality of Victorian England had a powerful effect in galvanising an image of the nation in which her economic rationalism was perceived as the reinvigoration of the march toward progress that had driven the Victorian empire.

The second was her attempt to drastically inflate the small naval skirmish with Argentina in the Falkland Islands into a battle of world importance. First settled by English sheep farmers in 1766, this small group of islands had been in disputed control of the British government for many years as Argentina attempted to reclaim the land. In 1982, following an Argentinean invasion, British military forces engaged in an operation to restore control which lasted three weeks and resulted in the death of 250 British and 2,000 Argentinean soldiers. On the scale of both land and casualties it was a minor conflict — Borges aptly described it as “two bald men fighting over a comb”[12] — yet its ability to mobilise a dormant national spirit was dramatic. Thatcher’s speeches on the victory in the Falklands are indicative of the use and abuse of history by her government and deserve to be quoted at length:

We have ceased to be a nation in retreat. We have instead found a newfound confidence – born in the economic battles at home and tested and found true 8,000 miles away …. We rejoice that Britain has rekindled that spirit which has fired her for generations past and which has begun to burn as brightly as before. Britain found herself in the South Atlantic and will not look back from the victory she has won. When we started out there were the waverers and the faint-hearts, the people who thought we could no longer do the great things we once did, those who believed our decline was irreversible, that we could never again be what we were, that Britain was no longer the nation that had built an empire and ruled a quarter of the world. Well they were wrong.[13]

Thatcher manages to place this insignificant event within a tradition of national power and pride that includes Waterloo, Trafalgar, and the Battle of Britain and, more importantly, to utilise this symbolic power to strengthen domestic support that resulted in a sweeping Conservative victory in the 1983 elections. As Patrick Wright asserts: “The Falklands adventure made a new combination possible: this small war enabled Thatcher to draw up the legitimising traditions of the ‘nation’ around a completely unameliorated ‘modernising’ monetarist programme. This new and charismatic style of legitimation fused a valorisation of national tradition and identity with a policy and programme which is fundamentally destructive of the ways and values to which it appeals.”[14] In both the case of ‘Victorian Values’ and the Falklands campaign we see the creation of a nationalist ideology. Within this concept of the nation the division and fragmentation created by Thatcher’s policies were obscured. Yet for writers like Iain Sinclair this nationalist ideology could be critiqued through the creation of a London Literature, by separating the city from the state and utilising it not as a site of resistance, rather than empire.

Iain Sinclair and Exorcising London of Thatcherism

The city of London has traditionally been perceived as symbolic of the power of the British empire perceived by many Victorians, according to Nead, as a British Babylon: “the centre of a global commerce that was subjugating the rest of the world; it was the seat of an empire that was defining contemporary history.”[15] While that relationship had been maintained within the popular national imaginary, the structural reality in Thatcherite England was vastly different. Due to the shift in global finances the city was no longer the financial capital of a British empire, but one of the major global hubs of a denationalised, globalized finance sector. By 1990 UK banks were responsible for as little as 14 per cent of international lending in the city.[16] As Anderson asserts: “The gigantic nova of money capital now floating over London, in other words, has become denationalised in quite a new sense — no longer merely disconnected from the fortunes of domestic industry, as the City’s commercial transactions already were in the past, but estranged from any original linkage with the national economy at all.”[17] If the illusion of the capital as the engine of the nation’s economy was becoming harder to sustain, the idea of it being the centre of homogenous national culture was beginning to be undermined from within.

For writers such as Iain Sinclair Thatcherite ideology was more than just a means of clothing its inequitable social and economic policies, it amounted to a wound in the national psyche. For Sinclair London was to be the site where Thatcherism could be savagely parodied and attacked, and it was in a specifically London fiction. As he asserted in a recent interview: “London writers or visionaries of whatever stripe have to counter the main political culture. Because Thatcher introduced occultism into British political life …. She wanted to physically remake, she wanted to destroy the power of London, the mob, all of those things, which finally through the Poll Tax riots brought her down. I can’t look at it in any other way but as actual demonic possession. She opened herself up to the darkest demons of world politics, and therefore writers were obliged to counter this by equally extraordinary projects.”[18] It is this notion of exorcising Thatcherism through the act of writing that will be my focus here. Yet to take this process at the level of the occult and the other-worldly would be to ignore the function of Sinclair’s fiction as a critique of nationalist ideology. In order to explore this idea of exorcism as a critique of ideology I would like to focus on Sinclair’s most heavily ‘supernatural’ and, seemingly least political text to explore the notion of a critical London fiction.

In Sinclair’s 1987 novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, Thatcherism is, to a large extent, apparently absent. The novel is a séance into the psyche of Victorian Britain, with a narrative that oscillates between the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 and the adventures of a group of bookdealers in Thatcherite London. The novel is an investigation of the metaphysics of place, a study of the way in which the events of the past haunt locations. The focus is on East London, and on the way in which this area of the city has a sense of history and identity that transcends historical ideas of the nation. Through the medium of the local as a site of meaning, the novel’s assault on Thatcherism, I will suggest, is three fold: an historiographical attack on the logic of dominant historical discourse, an undermining of Victorian Values, and a parody of the free-market economics of the Thatcher period.

A Historiography of Place

As explained earlier, Thatcherism constructed a large, national historical edifice upon which to mount its ideology. Sinclair’s response is to place history in the local, yet that local cannot be sites of memory, Pierre Nora’s lieux de memoire.[19] To turn to physical sites, as a writer like Peter Ackroyd often does, is to return to a mode of memorialisation that suggests history is embodied in abstract and isolated locales, that it is to be preserved, rather than to be actively explored. As Sinclair acerbically remarks in Rodinsky’s Room: “blue plaques induce guilt, forcing us to remember those who might prefer to be forgotten. But we can’t allow it. We want to hold them there, in place, to give meaning to our own temporary existence.”[20] This form of memorialisation can be aligned with the explosion of institutionalised material history under Thatcherism in which history shifted from being an active and collective social construction, to being the product of consumerised cultural enclaves, such as the non-publicly funded museums that proliferated in the period.

In order to challenge both the monolithic histories of nationalism and the macro-hermetic narrative of institutionalised and commodified material history, Sinclair developed a historiography of place. For Sinclair history is not an abstract series of events, dates and places, but something than is embodied in the urban landscape: “So it’s all there in the breath of the stones. There is a geology of time! We can take the bricks in our hands: as we grasp them, we enter it. The dead moment only exists as we live it now.”[21] History is therefore about a form of historical consciousness, of entering into the urban landscape conscious that the past surrounds you. That sense of place is part of a much larger web of historical energy that permeates the city: “Southwark holds its time, with the City, with Whitechapel, with Clarkenwell, holds the memory of what it was: it is possible to walk back into the previous, as an event, still true to this moment.”[22] As Sinclair suggested in Lud Heat, there are certain lines of influence in the city, the result of certain events and personages that have inhabited it. Yet unlike site-specific memory they cannot be tied down, with the lines of influence being constantly altered as the city is being constantly re-worked and altered by the passage of time.

In this vision London is the locale for a history that through its resistance to monolithic or hermetic meaning is able to outline a new form of historiography and historical consciousness. The central historical period and event examined in the novel, the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888, function as an example of both an instance of the failure of empirical historiography, and an instance of this alternative form of historical consciousness that Sinclair attempts to align with London. The events of the Jack the Ripper crimes function in the novel as symbolic of the failure of rationalising historical investigation. While the crimes remain unsolved, the desire for historical closure grows ever greater. Yet for Sinclair the only mode of closure is that of deliverance,[23] that can only come through an understanding of place. The central locale in the novel is the area around Whitechapel and Spitalfields, with a range of forces imbuing it with a meaning that raises the area above the reduction to economics that was so vital to Thatcherism and Victorian England. One such force, along with the Whitechapel slayings, are the Ratcliff Highway murders: “The staked heart of John Williams, the Ratcliff Highway Murderer, beats evenly at the quadrivium, at peace, from the shuntings of the work ethic, connected in a mysterious and unspoken thread to the recently scoured white stone blocks of St George in the East.”[24] Here this alternative, occult concept of history works to create networks of meaning that are fluid and ambiguous, seated in a form of urban subjectivity. As the narrator asserts: “we have got to imagine some stupendous whole wherein all that has ever come into being or will come co-exists, which, passing slowly on, leaves in this flickering consciousness of ours, limited to a narrow space and a single moment, a tumultuous record of changes and vicissitudes that are but to us.” This theory of a historical consciousness emerges in opposition to the constructed hegemonic nationalism of Thatcherite historiography, possessing the potentiality to critique Thatcherite ideology by undermining not only its histories, but the discursive structures upon which they are constructed.

Re-Evaluating the Victorians

One of the most powerful means of this questioning of historiographical assumptions is the novel’s treatment of Victorian England. Through focussing upon such figures as William Withey Gull, James Hinton and John Meyrick, it attempts to explore the relationship between the religious and social structures of Victorian England, and their potentially damaging effect on individuals. This notion that structures produce their own negation or inversion has become a salient feature in psychoanalytically inflected theories of national identity. For Slavoj Zizek the recent tortures at Abu Ghraib reveal the obscene excess that lies beneath celebrated national values: “Abu Ghraib was not simply a case of American arrogance towards a Third World People: in being submitted to the humiliating tortures, the Iraqi prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture, they got the taste of its obscene underside which forms the necessary supplement to the public values of personal dignity, democracy and freedom.”[25] Analogously, sexual depravity, irrational fundamentalism and inhumane spectacles were the obscene underside to late Victorian culture characterised outwardly by moral dignity, rationality and progress.

The key figure in Sinclair’s attempt to expose the underside of Victorian Culture was the Queen’s surgeon General Sir William Withey Gull. Gull, seemingly the epitome of Victorian values is, according to Sinclair’s account, along with those of other historians, Jack the Ripper. Sinclair, instead of reconstructing the events of Autumn 1888, attempts to plot Gull’s childhood development and its subsequent relationship to the later crimes. According to Sinclair’s novel it was Gull’s intensely religious upbringing that later lead to the ferocity of the murders, and this religious insemination is depicted through images of corporeality and violence that pre-empt their apotheosis in the ritualised slaughter of the prostititutes: “John Gull, Senior … attended to his breakfast with a severe and methodical concentration … even the flesh of swine could be divided in moral symmetry.”[26] Such descriptions of ritualised violence are repeatedly associated with Gull’s childhood, along with repeated references to a religious sense of duty: “We are the only people in the world, thought William. We are the first ones, the chosen. This is our Ark. The world is water. But we shall be sent out over all the great wide fields of the ocean: we shall look upon God’s face. We are his Gull.”[27] Such religious fervour is again invoked at Gull’s interrogation by the Masonic council as he exclaims: “I have done what was required of me. I say again that I have redeemed my time … I have hacked out an infected womb that would have bred monsters.”[28] Gull, as the man of science and medicine, with all its links to technology and progress, should be the antithesis of this form of religious fervour. Yet it is precisely this depravity and irrationality that lies at the heart of Victorian culture, and through examining its illogical logic Sinclair begins to undermine the claims to tradition that were so effective to Thatcherism.

Along with the figure of Gull, Sinclair investigates James Hinton, a rather obscure Victorian writer who endured a lifelong obsession with the prostitutes of Whitechapel. The early experience of living in Whitechapel and observing the life of prostitutes had deeply affected him, according to a biographer, coming “crashing down on his young heart with a most cruel force, and the degradation of women possessed him with divine despair.”[29] Gull and Hinton were extremely close companions from the 1850s until Hinton’s death in 1875. They would regularly take their morning walks together, often visiting the seedier areas of East London. Sinclair’s fictional account of their relationship can be seen as a parodic critique of Victorian masculinity and sexuality. Hinton, for Sinclair, embodies the inevitable dualism between outward morality and private sexuality that, since the release of Steven Marcus’s study The Other Victorians,[30] has, within academic contexts, altered our understanding of Victorian England: “either I had a second self, who transacted business in my likeness, or else my body was at times possessed by a spirit over which it had no control, and of whose actions my soul was wholly unconscious.”[31] By exposing the salacious and repressive underbelly of Victorian culture, Sinclair is able to shatter the mythology of Victorian values that had been built up by Thatcher in the 1980s, undermining an ideology that attempted to generalise and homogenise the past.

One of the other key figures in the novel’s exploration of Victorian England is Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man. Merrick appears in the novel as a skeleton and cast in the London Hospital Medical College Museum. Merrick was the prize specimen of Sir Frederick Treves, who, ostensibly, took Merrick in and supported him in an act driven by medical advancement and philanthropy. Yet for Sinclair this story is untenable: “Treve’s act of charity had to be explained. Fiction was its truth. There were errors in the account he gave: the names of streets faltered, time flowing always in the direction of decay, improving upon a clumsy excess of detail. The truth can only be made out of lies. What horror! A life struck out of pure invention.”[32] The invented fiction of the Elephant Man is one that Sinclair suggests must be understood as our obscene need to objectify and isolate that which we refuse to accept as human.[33] Merrick becomes a part of Treves, underlining the dual nature of Victorian identity: “Merrick was destroyed by his deliverance … he became a footnote in the myth of Treves. He was the animal part. His own energy withdrawn and stripped.”[34] Merrick is then the ‘other’ that Victorian England chose to deny, to silence and exhibit, rather than to understand. For Sinclair the role of the historian now is to face up to that past and see in it the failures of the present: “As we approach the skeleton cabinet, we approach our darker selves. Joblard’s meat outline is imposed upon the twisted bone armature. My face stares out from the skull cast … The glass is a mirror. So the circuit is completed: the eyes of the audience are brought back to this place to look into themselves, to look out, from the painted shadows of what man was, to the three dark shapes crossing the floor to join with him in one unbroken moment.”[35] Our turn toward the Victorian period should constitute not the false idealism of Thatcherism, but a critical gaze that seeks to see through and beyond the veneer of ideology that clouds our image of the past, to shatter the illusory mirror constructed by Thatcherism in one critical ‘unbroken moment’.

Spinning in the web of Thatcherite Economics

Along with challenging the illusion of Victorian Values, Sinclair’s novel also explores the ways in which the free-market logic of Thatcherite economics affected certain areas of the country. The novel’s contemporary plot, of three book dealers in search of rare books can be read as a parody of Thatcherism. As Sinclair has said in a recent interview: “The book dealers represent the period we’ve just been talking about, this period of spinning around in a mad Thatcherite economy.”[36] They represent the distorted mirror image of free-market capitalism. Instead of dealing stocks and bonds inside London’s banks and investment houses, the deals are done in the laneways and streets of the capital, as the relics of the past and the economic imperatives of Thatcherism are united in an image of dilapidated consumption. The site of this trade is the bookstalls of Farringdon Road. As Sinclair asserts: “Everything in the end floats to Farringdon Road, deaths and libraries, sacks and tea-chests, confessions, testaments…. The old men zone in on the tables. They are fierce and muted. They are driven back, abused, by the stallholder … the supplicants are forced against the wall, rubbing their coats on the brickwork, so that when the signal is given they will be propelled with greater velocity towards the naked rubble of books”.[37] In this passage the ferocity demanded by Thatcher’s enterprise culture creates a barbaric tendency in those who are left at its margins. In a desperate bid for the golden book that will alleviate the poverty induced by the conditions of Thatcherism, the crowds turn into a pack of animals. The effects of Thatcherism are thus parodied at the most micro-level, in the inner-city book fair. The rise of the yuppie and the image of a prosperous Britain under Thatcherism are exploded through a parodic exploration of the true logic of Thatcherite economics.

This pursuit for the golden book is played out in the novel through the attempts of the three bookdealers, Nicholas Lane (Martin Stone), Dryfeld (Driffield) and the narrator (Sinclair), to find the original Beaton’s annual edition of Conan-Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet. The three figures inhabit this “tremulous and corrupt, but essentially trivial, sub-continent of bookselling,”[38] an absurd inverse of the competing bond-traders. Dryf and Stone are the “two best scalpers of their generation”, with Stone’s obsession so intense that he lives in an eternal present, “gone deep into cellular time: so vividly living the present moment that he erases history, yesterday’s books, parcels, deals no longer exist.”[39] In Stone, Sinclair is able to anatomise how the logic of Thatcherite economics can contribute to the reduction of historical consciousness to which Thatcher’s abuse of history contributed. The constant necessity to trade, to search for the next big hit denies both future idealism or active engagement with the past. This lifestyle is characterised by amphetamines, with the imperative to trade distorting the temporal necessities of everyday life.

The notion of this world as a sub-economy is confirmed in the figure of Dr Suk, “mysterious man of business, lecturer, pornographer” who “liked to employ poets. He was a one man Arts Council.”[40] Here we see the parody of the Thatcherite cut to Arts funding as this mysterious plagiarist of ancient Japanese Erotica keeps a host of dis-enfranchised poets including “a former Newdigate Prize Winner” employed removing labels from fine art library books, or forging John Fowles signature. It is indicative that writers are forced to occupy the subterranean regions of the field of cultural production, employed through acquiescing into the role of their antithesis (the high-profile, popular author such as John Forbes or Peter Ackroyd), or in trading in the dead words of others. This image of Thatcherite cultural production is also an autobiographical one for Sinclair who became a bookdealer through necessity as he failed to earn an income as a writer or small-press publisher.

This conflation of the economic and cultural logics of capitalism is marked by this attempt to move beyond, to escape through the golden book. The golden book topos was traditionally associated with that book that altered one’s perception of the world through exposing the reader to new ideals, new visions. In late Victorian England, the golden book was the radical aesthetic object that had the potential to shatter the life-less world-view of a disenfranchised generation. As Linda Dowling noted the golden book was one of the central topis of the Decadent movement, with ‘the Conclusion’ to Walter Pater’s The Renaissance becoming the intoxicating object for such writers as Wilde, Symons, Moore, Johnson and Dowson.[41] Yet once literature has been reduced to the logic of the market place the golden book is merely the golden commodity. The aesthetic object’s value can only be understood by its monetary value, by the illogical fetishism attached to it as a commodity. As such a golden commodity A Study in Scarlet, ‘the big one,’ is endowed with the ability to move the beholder beyond the necessity of incessant trade. Yet as Sinclair shows this belief in itself, that trade can produce its own negation, is one of its most phantasmagoric properties.

For Sinclair instead this particular book, as a material artefact, has an occult, or historical value, that has the potential to deliver historical understanding. This is underlined at the point of the book’s destruction: “They took the pamphlet out of Leper-Klamm’s hands and tore it to shreds. If any other collector had been holding a copy it would, at that instant, have doubled in value. Nobody else was. That tunnel into time was sealed.”[42] The book, for Sinclair, is imbued with an historical value that raises it above the sub-economic value that it is endowed with as a golden book. Yet its position within a world that can only commodify, without any recourse to temporal value, must remain precarious. The fate of A Study in Scarlet reveals the necessity of an active and oppositional history. But as the economic imperative has highlighted in the figure of Nicholas Lane, history, as an active and oppositional force, is untenable in a Thatcherite political and cultural economy.

Through the locale of London, and the development of a site specific literature, Iain Sinclair demonstrates the potentiality of London fiction. The critique of Thatcherism at play in White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings is complex and obscure, forcing the reader to search beneath the linguistic and narrative experimentalism. Underneath this complexity of representation is the utilisation of a site specific literature, the literature of London, as the foundation for a critique of Thatcherite ideology. Through the development of an historiography of place, an investigation of the obscene underside of ‘Victorian Values’, and a parody of economic rationalism, Sinclair is able to develop a critical aesthetic that undermines Thatcherite cultural hegemony. In the novel the act of reading becomes that critical ‘unbroken moment’ that works to shatter the illusion of Thatcherite ideology in the 1980s.


[1] The Daily Mirror reported soon after the 1945 election: “A whole world has died … It was a world in which private interests were allowed to lord it over the community, a world in which Britain’s position was steadfastedly undermined by tolerance of industrial efficiency and moral decline.” As quoted in Steven Fielding ‘”To Make Men and Women Better Than They Are’: Labour and The Building of Socialism.” Culture and Society in Labour Britain, 1945-51. (Ed.) Jim Fyrth. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1995p. 17-18.

[2] John Corner and Sylvia Harvey “Introduction: Great Britain Limited” in Enterprise and Heritage: Crosscurrents of National Culture. John Corner and Sylvia Harvey (eds.). London: Routledge, 1991: p. 11.

[3] Raphael Samuels, “Mrs Thatcher and Victorian Values” Theatres of Memory, Volume II Island Stories: Unravelling Britain. Verso: London, 1998: pp. 341-3.

[4] Jerry White, London in the Twentieth Century: A City and its People, London, Penguin, 2002. p. 222.

[5] Perry Anderson, “The Figures of Descent” English Questions. London: Verso, 1992, p. 184.

[6] loc.cit.

[7] Stuart Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London: Verso, 1988: p. 8.

[8] Iain Sinclair, Radon Daughters. London: Jonathan Cape, 1994: p. 126.

[9] There are several important studies of the relationship between Thatcherism and material history, for instance Patrick Wright, On Living in an Old Country: the National Past in Contemporary Britain. London: Verso, 1985; Robert Hewison, The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline. London: Metheun, 1987. I have also explored these issues in relationship to representations of contemporary London. See “Reading London Stone: The Paradox of Material History in Representations of Contemporary London” Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London 2.1, March 2004

[10] Eric Evans, Thatcher and Thatcherism. London: Routledge, 1997: p. 122.

[11] Margaret Thatcher, as quoted in James Walvin, Victorian Values: A Companion to the Grenada Television Series, London, Andre Deautsch, 1987.

[12] Jorg-Louis Borges, as quoted in the introduction to Hanif Kureishi, London Kills Me: Three Screenplays and Four Essays. London: Penguin, 1992: p. viii.

[13] Margaret Thatcher, as quoted in Eric J. Evans, Thatcher and Thatcherism. London: Routledge, 1997: p. 96.

[14] Patrick Wright, On Living, p. 186.

[15] Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000: p. 1.

[16] Jerry White, London in the Twentieth Century. London: Penguin, 2002: p. 215.

[17] Perry Anderson, “Figures”, p. 182.

[18] Iain Sinclair in conversation with Kevin Jackson, The Verbals. London: Worple Press, 2003.

[19] Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory, vol. 1. Arthur Goldhammer, trans. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

[20] Iain Sinclair, Rodinsky’s Room. London: Granta, 1997: p. 6.

[21] Iain Sinclair, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings. London: Paladin, 1988, p. 112

[22] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 63.

[23] I have elaborated on this idea of deliverance at length in “Jack the Ripper, The Dialectic of Enlightenment and the Search for Spiritual Deliverance in White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings” Critical Survey 16.1, 2004.

[24] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 44

[25] Slavoj Zizek, “The Obscene Excess of Power” antiTHESIS 15 (2005), p. 247

[26] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 27.

[27] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 28.

[28] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 193.

[29] Ellice Hopkins, as quoted in Stephen Knight, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. London: Book Club Associates, 1976: p. 208.

[30] Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth century England. London: Corgi Books, 1970. Marcus’ study investigated figures such as Henry Spencer Ashbee and William Acton, uncovering the widespread popularity of pornography throughout the period. It, along with Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality. Volume I: The Will to Knowledge. London: Penguin: 1977 were instrumental in challenging notions regarding the Victorian period as one in which sexuality was a taboo topic.

[31] Sinclair, White Chappell p. 112.

[32] Sinclair, White Chappell p. 107

[33] An interesting anology to this confusion between man and animal in the figure of Merrick can be seen in Giorgio Agamben’s The Open: Man and Animal. Trans Kevin Attell. Stanford: SUP, 2004. For Agamben Western thought and society has been dominated by an anthropological machine that has attempted to place the greatest gulf between man and animal. The Victorian’s need to distance themselves from the image of man as animal (Merrick), constitutes the need to cover up the political creation of bare life that constituted Victorian imperialism.

[34] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 109.

[35] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 111.

[36] Sinclair, The Verbals, p. 115.

[37] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 103-4.

[38] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 68.

[39] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 69, 70-1.

[40] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 72.

[41] One of the most well known uses of the Golden Book topos is Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray, New York: Modern Library Paperback, 1992. Dorian’s corruption, while largely the influence of Lord Henry, is also attributed to a novel: “Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book” (Wilde, p. 165). The book is now regarded as Huysmans seminal Decadent text Against Nature, “a poisonous book” (Wilde, p. 142) that has an enormous effect on Dorian: “Things that he had dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he had never dreamed were gradually revealed” (Wilde, p. 141). For an account of the golden book see Linda Dowling, Language and Decadence in The Victorian Fin de Siecle. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989. pp. 169-174. It could be argued that Dowling’s treatment of the ‘Fatal Book’ in her study is tied to closely to philology and decay to be useful for a broader cultural analysis. It seems that, to some extent, her account reproduces the Victorian aversion to decadent cultural production, without looking at it as a means of effective and affirmative critique.

[42] Sinclair, White Chappell, p. 102.

To Cite This Article:

Alex Murray, ‘Exorcising the Demons of Thatcherism: Iain Sinclair and the Critical Efficacy of a London Fiction’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 3 Number 2 (September 2005). Online at Accessed on [date of access]