London Reimagined: An anthology of visions of the future city, 1817–1934, selected and edited by David Haden (Stoke-on-Trent: Burslem, 2010). 220 pp. No ISBN. £9.99 + £2.99 (P&P).
<1> This anthology was sent via lulu.com, which is a print-on-demand company; consequently there is no ISBN and the price comes from the lulu website. A kindle version is available from Amazon.com, but not (at the time of writing) Amazon.co.uk.
<2> London Reimagined is an anthology of 31 diverse extracts which describe the future of the city. In some cases, these are swathed in apocalyptic imagery: London has been engulfed by a cloud of cyanide or cosmic gases, invaded by Martians, wiped out by a death ray or destroyed by plague; in other sections it has been devastated by natural disasters: volcanic eruptions and tidal waves; in others still, the dystopian vision is anti-Semitic or fears the death of democracy; and there are the adventures in the advanced civilisations and the anarcho-communist utopias.
<3> The volume contains an episode from Richard Jefferies’ After London or Wild England. Also, included are long sections from The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton; from Hartman, the Anarchist by E. Douglas Fawcett; from The Time Machine, The Modern Utopia, Anticipation, The War of the Worlds and The Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells; The Naval Treaty and The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle, the latter links nicely to the extracts from The Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel and The Last Man by Mary Shelley. There is a lengthy passage (almost 40 pages) from William Morris’s News from Nowhere.
<4> Included in the anthology are some complete short stories, ‘The Avenger of Perdonaris’ by Lord Dunsany; ‘The Doom of London’ by Robert Barr, ‘The Thames Valley Catastrophe’ by Grant Allen and the satirical ‘When the New Zealander Comes’ by the pseudonymous Prof Blyde Muddersnook.
<5> In addition, the volume contains short passages from The Enemy in our Midst by Walter Wood, Gay Hunter by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and The Violet Flame by Frederick Thomas Jane, as well as eight passages concerning the ‘New London Bridge’. The three poems are ‘Eighteen Hundred and Eleven’ by Anna Laetitia Barbauld, ‘Love’ by Ebenezer Elliott and Horace Smith’s counter-offering to Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’, listed by the first line ‘On a Stupendous Leg of Granite’.
<6> The short two-page introduction by Haden contextualises modern ‘visionary London’ literature through the contemporary writings of Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd and Michael Moorcock. He then summarises the themes of the extracts and offers suggestions for further reading. While the focus of this volume is the collection of visions of the future of London, the introduction needs to be much longer, arguing the premise for such a collection and perhaps pointing out the anxieties and aspirations of the writers who looked beyond their own time at how the future might be.
<7> The subtitle of the book suggests that the collection is from 1817-1934. Firstly, these dates seem rather arbitrary. Second, Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s poem ‘Eighteen Hundred and Eleven’ was published in 1812, making the subtitle inaccurate, while William Harrison’s Description of England was published in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicle 1577 and its inclusion is curious as it does little to advance the collection.
<8> In some, but not all cases, the passage begins with a very brief summary of the text. It would have been helpful if this was expanded to place both the text and the author in context. Other methods to make this volume more accessible would have been to collate the passages in terms of context, as the editor has done with ‘The New London Bridge’. Presently, there appears no reason why one passage follows another; they are (generally) neither arranged by subject nor in chronological order (the exception being the passages by Conan Doyle, Shiel and Shelley). Even in the New London Bridge section, some of the passages do not mention London Bridge, so their inclusion for simply for their sense of atmosphere, rather than a contribution to the overall picture. Likewise in this section, some of the passages are short, some of which are only three or four lines, and their value to the volume aside from that they mention London Bridge is limited. This is particularly seen by the quotation from Thomas Macaulay concerning “some traveller from New Zealand [who] shall … take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s”. This passage is also included in the second extract in this anthology, the short story “When the New Zealander Comes” as it provided the inspiration to this piece; however, there is no commentary placing this in context to ‘Blyde Muddersnook’, the pseudonymous Antipodean archaeologist when it appears in relation to London Bridge.
<9> As well as the few suggestions for further reading which occupies half of the introduction, it would have been useful to have included a comprehensive bibliography both of studies concerning the utopian, dystopian, ultra-modern and apocalyptic passages and future visions of London more generally. Most importantly, considering that this is an anthology of extracts, there should be citations of printed (or even online) versions of the texts, so that the reader who is inspired by them, can then easily trace the complete texts. Some of these are, after all, rather obscure, for example Grant Allen’s ‘The Thames Valley Catastrophe’ and the pseudonymous “When the New Zealander Comes” and were both published in The Strand Magazine in 1897 and 1911 (the latter re-printed in Michael Moorcock’s anthology England Invaded, which was published in 1977).
<10> In this volume, the page numbers begin at the frontspiece rather than at the introduction or the body of the collection, which is unusual. It would have been useful if the page numbers had been included on the contents page to make the texts easier to find, and likewise, the contents pages contain dates of the extracts which would have been more helpful at the beginning of the extracts themselves.
<11> One thing that distracts in this volume –- which is not necessarily a problem of the editor, as it is something I have seen in another book distributed by Lulu –- is that the text is presented in block, rather than indented, paragraphs. This can present the text as disjointed, particularly when it comes to speech, but most particularly with poetry where Horace Smith’s sonnet, for example, is spread over two pages. There are a few places where the punctuation (particularly concerning speech) is incorrect and where the paragraphing is at odds with other published versions of the text.
<12> There are a few omissions concerning the names of authors: The Story of the Amulet was written by E. Nesbit; the poem, ‘Love’ (1824) was written by Ebenezer Elliott; “The Description of England” was written by William Harrison and was included in the Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed. All of these are nit-picks, but they give an overall impression of the volume being amateur.
<13> Ultimately, this volume is an interesting compendium which has collated some popular and some obscure texts by a diverse range of authors in the same place; however, it is unclear as to which market it is aimed.
To Cite This Article:
Jon Mackley, ‘Review of David Haden (ed.), London Reimagined: An anthology of visions of the future city, 1817–1934’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 8 Number 2 (September 2010). Online at http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/september2010/mackley1.html. Accessed on [date of access].