London. If words be made of breath, and breath of life, then there was never another city given with more words and life than London. In the world of English literature, all roads lead to London. And now, this Anglophile bookworm’s road is leading there too! This summer my mom and I will be spending 3 or 4 magnificent days in London before winding northward to my future home away from home in St Andrews. As if I haven’t already trailed along enough of London’s streets in the footsteps of Moll Flanders, Sherlock Holmes, and Ebeneezer Scrooge, I have decided to dedicate my summer to reading as many literary masterpieces set in and steeped in the City of Dreams as I can before finally exploring the streets I have already loved for so long.
Inspired by Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City, a travel narrative of her own tour of the London she had spent a lifetime reading about, I have compiled my own reading list to lend as much literary geekery as possible to my oh so brief visit.
- Samuel Pepys’ “The Great Fire” and other excerpts from The Diary
In the 17th century, Pepys a government official and true Londoner of the day kept a personal journal which has become one of the greatest records city life during the Restoration. In his diary, he recorded the event of the Great Fire, one of the most traumatic disasters London has ever know. The Great Fire destroyed as much as 80% of 17th century city, drastically reshaping the horizon which would become what we know today. Since what Pepys witnessed had such historic significant, I have decided to re-read some short excerpts from his journal which we read in my British Literature class last semester.
- Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop (and others?)
Perhaps the most notorious of London’s immortalizers, Dickens uses it as the living backdrop of nearly all of his works. Even if his novels begin in a misty country graveyard (as in Great Expectations) or on the muddied road to Dover (as in A Tale of Two Cities) the characters are eventually drawn to London like moths to a brilliant, destructive flame. I am forming a scheme to spend one full day of our trip following in the echoing footsteps of Dickens and his whole cast of fantastic characters, including, of course, a stop at the Charles Dickens Museum at his residence at 48 Doughty St. and a bite at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese—a favorite pub of Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Oliver Goldsmith in fact and Sydney Carton (my favorite character) in fiction. Since one can never read enough Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop is firmly planted on this list, and, if I find myself in need of more to read, I will probably add more from him.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s selections from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
What would London be without Baker Street’s most famous resident? In preparation for my visit to London and The Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker St. I will be reading “The Greek Interpreter,” “The Final Problem,” “Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” “The Adventure of the Empty House.” Additionally, we may just find our way to Speedy’s Cafe and British television’s most famous doorway at Sherlock’s filming location which is not actually on Baker St.
- J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
This won’t be the only time magic appears on this list, as is only appropriate since London is filled with magical things and people, in books at least. Peter and Wendy was one of the most charming novels I have ever read, and of course I love Disney’s Peter Pan, so I am looking forward to this one!
- Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway
I am not a big fan of stream-of-consciousness novels, but I have been meaning to read something by Virginia Woolf for some time in the hope that the style will grow on me. Either way, the book promises a great peek into London. If they are available online, Woolf’s writings on The Blitz would also be perfect reading to gain insight into the history of the city and its unsurpassed resiliency.
- Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair
Set in London during WWII, this novel also presents a glimpse of London as a city under siege and the life of a young writer walking its streets, a writer very much like Greene himself. I haven’t read any Greene before, so I hope this will be a good introduction.
- J.K. Rowling’s King’s Cross scenes from Harry Potter
Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station is just moments away from our hotel! You had best believe I will be getting a commemorative photo to celebrate my departure for my own centuries old school complete with castles and academic robes. To fully appreciate the fine photo opportunity, I plan to re-read every Harry Potter King’s Cross scene.
- John Gay “Trivia: The Art of Walking the Streets of London”
- Samuel Johnson “London”
- William Blake “London”
- T.S. Elliot “The Waster-land” London Bridge, Unreal City
- William Wordsworth “Composed upon London Bridge”
- Abraham Cowley “On the Queen’s Repairing Somerset House”
- William McGonagall “Descriptive Jottings of London”
- George Eliot “In a London Drawing Room”
The countdown begins, and the flipping pages will number the days!