:: Article

London Parascite

By Alex Murray*

* a version of this article was originally presented as a paper during a conference organised in conjunction with the UK Network for Modern Fiction Studies, reprinted here by kind permission.

The notion of “Gothic London” suggests a stable and coherent body of work – a London fiction – that is in some way, shape or form haunted. If we are to look at the textual morass of London fiction, as well as the growing body of work that seeks to delineate and interpret it, we see the spectral presence of, amongst other things, history, class, repressed sexuality, gender difference and a post-colonial other. The idea of London as a haunted entity can thus powerfully convey an alterity at the very heart of the city and its literature. This process, for all its loquacity and perspicacity, often seems to leave the very idea of ‘London’ literature intact, to delimit it as a spatial zone, haunted from within.

Yet if we are to fully understand the idea of a Gothic London, it is my contention that we need to explore, in far more depth, the very idea of London itself. The growth of London-based fiction in recent years has been met with an analogous rise in academic criticism that seeks to locate the city as a particular space, one whose history and character require, even demand, a dedicated analysis. Emerging from both the fictional and critical work has been a willingness to accepts, and even celebrate the specificity of London. Yet one is also struck by a paradox – that so many of these studies and works paint London as a fluid and dynamic space, yet simultaneously accept that they are indeed inhabiting a unified space.

Perhaps Peter Ackroyd is the most influential voice in the creation of a trans-historical unified space. As he famously states in “London Luminaries and Cockney visionaries”:

It [London] has presided over riots and repression. Sometimes it even seems to me that the city itself creates the condition of its own growth, that it somehow plays an active part in its own development like some complex organism slowly developing its own form. Certainly it affects the lives, the behavior, the speech, even the gestures of the people who live within it. Dan Leno … understood the spirit of London, the genius of London, and that is what I want to talk about tonight since I believe that nothing fundamental has changed.

Ackroyd’s notion of London as an organic entity, both complex and whole, singular and affective is one he carried through in the preface to London: The Biography in which he posited London as a human body: “The byways of the City resemble thin veins and its parks are like lungs. In the mist and rain of an urban autumn, the shining stones and cobbles of the older thoroughfares look like they are bleeding. … London is a labyrinth, half of stone and half of flesh” Now what if we were to take London as this living entity seriously? For its sheer size, greediness and longevity it would also be riddled with any number of parasites.

In what follows I want to follow the idea of the London parasite into one particular aspect of the city – its literary production. This will not be a survey of London-based texts dealing with corruption, as fascinating and diffuse as that would be. Instead it will look at London literature as a form of spatial and textual parasititism. The parasite, in entering the body of a ‘healthy’ host, feeds off it, living and developing in parallel with the host. While the relation has, in its modern form – in particular the idea of a human as acting like a parasite , taken on a wholly negative approach, its historical usage in biology is neutral. While the parasite may cause harm to the host, it can also live happily in co-habitation, transforming the host in subtle ways without necessarily having any deleterious effects.

The same is the case in linguistics, where a parasite is a letter, sound or element that has been added to a word. As the OED describes the linguistic parasite as “Designating a letter, sound, or element which was not originally present in a word, etc., but has been added or developed from an existing phonetic element.” Any number of words in the English language have been changed by the introduction of a parasite, both vowels and consonants. For example there was no e in Flowr. The process of parasitism, in its linguistic form, is an essential component of the diachronic view of language. In this paper I would like to suggest that at the level of textual form London is a parasitic site of literature. It constantly takes on other spatially specific forms of literature – often other cities – in a process that incorporates those literatures within its textual spaces, a continual form of esoteric citation of other sites. From the Parisian impressionism and naturalism of Arthur Symons and George Moore this paper will attempt to outline a diaspatial approach to ‘London’ literature, looking at its infection from without rather than its haunting from within.

My example that I would like to introduce today is the traffic between Paris and London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. In particular I would like to provide the pre-history to the realist novel and the symbolism, two of the most important literary forms in London during the period. Through the Parisian sojourns and later London influence of George Moore and Arthur Symons, I would like to map the development of London modernism and social realism as having its basis in Paris.

I would argue that this process of cultural exchange, of altering the representation of space through the experience of place that can help us develop our understanding of this causal relationship. George Moore, born into wealthy Irish gentry, arrived in Paris in March 1873. His first impressions of the city were underwhelming to say the least:

We all know the great grey and melancholy Gare du Nord at half-past six in the morning; and the miserable carriages, and the tall, haggard city. Pale, sloppy, yellow houses; an oppressive absence of colour; a peculiar bleakness in the streets… a dreadful garcon de café, with a napkin tied round his throat, moves about some chairs, so decrepit and so solitary that it seems impossible to imagine a human being sitting there. Where are the Boulevards? Where are the Champs Elysees? I asked myself, and feeling bound to apologize for the appearance of the city, I explained to my valet that we were passing through some side streets (CYM, 12).

In this passage Moore is deliberately establishing his initial experience of the city as that of the tourist. Using the universal ‘we’, he attempts to posit this impression as one that all visitors to Paris experience: the sense of disappointment and disdain stem from the city’s inability to fulfil its own place in the cultural imaginary of the polite tourist. For a tourist Paris is constituted of sites and locations of culture, and for the pre-Parisian Moore, their absence can only be regarded as an inadequacy. His need to apologise is the need to affirm a sense of the touristic impulse to consume the foreign in pre-imagined forms, in ways that pose no threat to the national identity of the tourist.

For Moore the shift from the tourist to the intrepid traveller was one that was linked to cultural immersion, to a re-fashioning of the self at the hands of a foreign culture. The art studios in which he undertook instruction, the cafés and literary salons were to be his sites of education. As he asserted in The Confessions: “I did not go to either Oxford or Cambridge, but I went to the ‘Nouvelle Athens’” (CYM, p. 85). In this idea of an alternative pedagogy Moore was framing his time in Paris as an education, one that was to challenge many of the ideals that had been instilled in him during his privileged childhood. His description of his re-education is littered with literary references, and indeed Moore became an expert in contemporary French literature as he consumed the works of Verlaine, Baudelaire and Rimbaud. He was also to befriend a number of important French writers and artist including Zola, Degas, Renoir, Manet and Mallarme. This immersion in French poetic practice, and also in the intellectual life of bohemian Paris, had a dual effect on the way in which Moore responded to the literature of his native tongue. Firstly it made him aware of certain inadequacies. As he said of a Verlaine sonnet: “no English sonnet lingers in the ear like this one, and its beauty is as inexhaustible as a Greek marble” (CYM, p. 66). This statement represents both a denunciation of English poetic practice, but also, through the rather obsequious reference to Pater, a commentary on the lack of aesthetic autonomy amongst his own countrymen. The second central effect of Moore’s immersion in French literature was the loss of his native tongue. As Moore asserts: ‘I have heard of writing and speaking two languages equally well, but if I had remained two more years in France I should never have been able to identify my thoughts with the language I am now writing in, and I should have written it as an alien’ (CYM, p. 124). While this experience of language represents a fascinating insight into the relationship between language and national identity, I would instead like to focus on how Moore’s experience of Paris resulted in his creation of a new model of representation that was to later provide such a success de scandale when transported to England.

Moore, as always, represents experience as self-fashioning, as what Grubgeld has called the autogenic conception of the self. In this conscious self-fashioning, Moore came to develop a markedly different conceptualisation of not only himself, but his perception of the world around him. Heavily influenced by Zola and Manet, Moore used his experience of Paris to develop a scientific model of observation and representation that, through its naturalistic imperative, was to challenge the moralising narratives of Victorian literature. In The Confessions we see this shift in perspective as Moore moves from the idealistic young man who was repulsed by Paris on first arrival to the detached and critical Zolaesque observer. Describing visiting a wealthy salon he states: “just as I had watched the chorus girls and mummers, three years ago, at the Globe Theatre, now, excited by a nervous curiosity, I watched this world of Parisian adventurers and lights-o’-love. And this craving for observations of manners, this instinct for the rapid notations of gestures and words that epitomize a state of feeling, of attitudes that mirror forth the soul, declared itself a main passion” (CYM, p. 24). Here passion becomes refracted through the detached observation of Moore’s peculiar Naturalism, desire is transformed into an obsessive, descriptive gaze.

It was this passion that Moore brought back to London in 1880 as he tried to re- invent himself as a novelist and man of letters. The passion was also to manifest itself in an altering representation of the city, as the imaginative manifestation of reality in Dickens gave way to an immoral science of writing, one that was to reduce London to no more than the site of a series of desire, both sexual and social. Moore’s notorious 1883 novel, A Modern Lover, encapsulates this transformation of the city through representation. For a writer such as Moore, modern life wasn’t constituted by omniscient and timeless values, but by transitory and irrational human desire. This form of desire is one that Moore attempts to dramatise in his autobiographical writings, as desire to create oneself overshadows any notion of qualities. As he states in the opening page of Confessions: “I may say that I am free from original qualities, defects, tastes, etc … I came into this world apparently with a nature like a smooth sheet of wax, bearing no impress, but capable of receiving any” (CYM, p. 1). This notion of being a parasitic individual with nothing as stable as an essence suggests that identity is constituted of nothing more than manifold experiences, amounting to little more than the detached wonder at the transience of identity. Indeed for Moore, the act of writing is one that is designed to both create and obliterate, construct and deconstruct the self. This process is analogous to what Paul de Man describes as the ‘de-facement’ of the autobiographical: “Death is a displaced name for a linguistic predicament, and the restoration of mortality by autobiography (the prosopopeia of the voice and the name) deprives and disfigures to the precise extent it restores. Autobiography veils a de-facement of the mind which it is itself the cause” This sense of writing as deconstructive imbues both Moore’s numerous autobiographical texts, as well as his novels. In both works character is consistently reworked to the point where it is a sheet of wax, or to use de Man’s terminology the thinnest veil on the surface of the non-self.

In A Modern Lover, a sense of detached wonder is presented through the narrative perspective which attempts to challenge and undermine any sense that the city is the site of imaginative response. In fact for the ‘Harding’ the ‘modern’ novelist in A Modern Lover rejects imagination and transformation in favour of a modern realism or naturalism:

“We do not always choose what you call unpleasant subjects, but we try to go to the root of things, and, the basis of life being material and not spiritual, the analyst inevitably finds himself, sooner or later, handling what this sentimental age calls coarse. But, like Thompson (the ‘modern’ in the novel), I am sick of the discussion. If your stomach will not stand the crudities of the moral dissecting room, read verse; but don’t try to distort an art into something it is not, and cannot be. The novel, if it be anything, is contemporary history, an exact and complete reproduction of social surroundings of the place we live in. The poem on the other hand is an idealisation, and bears the same relation to the novel as the roast beef does to the rich, ripe fruit you savour when your hunger is satisfied.”

This manifesto for a realism or a naturalism in opposition to sentinmentality links Moore’s novel to the French literary forms that he had encountered in Paris. This is confirmed by Moore himself who stated that A Modern Lover “was the book of a young man who, in a moment of inspiration, hit upon an excellent anecdote, and being without the literary skill to unfold it, devised a strange text out of his memories of Balzac, Zola and Goncourt.” While Moore’s novel remains now long forgotten and unread, it is still an important, some would argue foundational text in the development of the twentieth-century British novel. As Chaikin stated in 1955: “It was the first published English novel directly affected by the traditions of French realism. It marked the beginning of the fashion in England towards the last century (and particularly in the 1890s) of looking to France for inspiration and guidance in the writing of narrative. It was the first considered departure from Victorian modes of fiction and the starting point for the transformation that has taken place in the English novel in the last sixty or seventy years.”

Yet I would like to suggest that the change can also be seen in the way in which the Victorian London of Dickens was transformed into the harsh modern metropolis of Gissing and Arthur Morrison. The central character, Lewis, a destitute Bohemian artist wanders the city in search of experience. In the opening chapter he emerges into The Strand as a crowd streams out of a theatre. He then proceeds to describe a scene, but in describing the scene he seems to describe himself out of existence: “Lewis listened, and soon losing sight of his own personality, saw the scene as an independent observer, and dreamed of a picture to be called ‘suicide.’” As the role of observation destroys subjectivity, so does Moore’s clinical narrative tone, as it sets about to destroy the illusion of London as anything more than a site which the imagination seeks to obfuscate. Lewis’ experience is always represented as one that seeks to project his own turmoil onto the blank slate of the city. Take for instance Lewis gazing upon the Thames after leaving the overwhelming colour and movement of The Strand:

All was fantastically unreal, all seemed symbolical of something that was not. Along the embankment, turning in a half circle, the electric lights beamed like great silver moons, behind which, scattered in inextricable confusion, the thousand gaslights burned softly like night-lights in some gigantic dormitory.…The mystery of the dark wandering waters suggested peace, and in the solemn silence he longed for the beatitude that death can only give, as in the glitter and turmoil of the Strand he had yearned for the pleasures of living.

There are several important elements in this passage. Firstly, the location of this passage is far from arbitrary. The passage, which takes place on Waterloo Bridge, mirrors Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lines composed upon Westminster Bridge’. In this poem the great Romantic poet transforms the city he was later to critique so stridently in The Prelude into an imaginative reflection of his youthful enthusiasm upon journeying to France. In response, Moore’s Lewis attempts to highlight the transitory and insincere nature of imaginative projection. The fantastical unreality is transported into prose as language struggles to represent this experience. The projected imagination of the artistic visionary doesn’t transform the scene; instead that is left to the electrified lights as Lewis becomes aware that his attempts to imbue the city with a metaphoric gravity fail. This undermining of the position of the artist then opens up the realism of the novel to greater effect. The observations of human activity aren’t to be compromised by an imaginative conceptualisation of the city that would give it some sort of Dickensian quality as a paradigmatic force in the life of its characters. Nor is it to be drenched in a sentiment and archetype. It is from this point onwards that London can become transformed by taking on the modernity of a Parisian naturalism.

Razing Paris: Impressionism and the Negation of Space

Moore’s experience is paralleled by that of Arthur Symons who, in 1890, accompanied by Havelock Ellis, left London to spend three months in the French capital. Here the two young men indulged in the culture of the capital, attending the theatre, Easter services at Notre Dame, a lecture by Moore’s mentor Catulle Mendes, as well as meeting Odilon Redon. Yet for Symons this touristic immersion in culture gave way to something far more profound. On the 25th of May he wrote to J. Dykes Campbell, exclaiming:

I am by this time getting so Parisian that the thought of London fills me with horror. I am contemplating permanent residence here; have forgotten most of my English (though I can still write it fairly well) and have begun to write in French for the ‘public prints’.

This loss of identity through the loss of language mirrors that of Moore twenty years earlier. Paris had begun to overwhelm Symons’ imagination, and in losing language he could, conceivably be losing a central element of his national identity. Indeed this sense of Paris, and of Parisian culture as being antithetical to an English was to be the focus of his discussion of the city some 14 years later. In the indicatively entitled Colour Studies in Paris, Symons attempts to re-create the city in the evocative style of French impressionism. A collection of essays, poems and impressions written between 1890 and 1907, the collection moves from Verlaine to Dancing, The gingerbread fair at Vincennzes to Victor Hugo, neatly encapsulating Symons’ dual obsessions: the high-cultural space of avant-garde literature, and the popular cultural spaces of the music hall and the street. In an early poem featured in the collection entitled ‘Paris’, originally penned in 1894, we see the ways in which Symons attempts to evoke the city via impression, rather than identifying physical sites, or cultural manifestations:

My Paris is a land where twilight days
Merge into violent nights of black and gold;
Where, it may be, the flower of dawn is cold:
Ah, but the gold nights and the scented ways!

Eyelids of women, little curls of hair,
A little red nose curved softly, like a shell,
A red mouth like a wound, a mocking veil:
Phantoms, before the dawn, how phantom-fair!

And every woman with beseeching eyes,
Or with enticing eyes, or amorous,
Offers herself, a rose, and craves of us
A rose’s place among our memories.

Here we see that the proper place name of Paris is already negated by the possessive, subjective voice of the poet, ‘My’, that singular, fluid and unstable signifier that will dictate the rest of the poem. Indeed ‘my’ works to undo Paris, as the rest of the poem presents us with a series of ambivalent experiences and sensations that could be experienced in any number of places. In fact, as I will suggest a little later, they could even occur in London, and for Symons the importance here is not the place, but the poetic experience. Indeed the poem consists of a series of symbols – the rose, the red mouth, curls of hair, amorous eyes – that are designed to give the impression of female sexuality, inferring that sexual freedom can be found in Paris, but certainly not to conjure up the city itself.

If the locale of the poem is to be of little importance for its content, that we can begin to see that what the experience of Paris has done is not simply to create an obsession with French culture, but to transform the model of representation into one that denies the confluence between space and identity. This is made clearer in Symons’ essay “Montmartre and the Latin Quarter”, in which Symons describes these locales as “the two parts of Paris which are unique, the equivalent of which you will search for in vain elsewhere.” The singularity of these sites may seem antithetical to the arguments I have made for the experience of Paris of both Moore and Symons thus far, and indeed the essay here seems to suggest that it is because these sites and spaces are so antithetical to London that they are so singular to Paris: “There will never be a Boul’ Mich’ in London. It is as impossible as Marcelle and Suzanne. The Boul’ Mich’ is simply the effervescence of irrepressible youth; and youth in London is never everevesences.” Yet this rather simple opposition between the two cities is certainly not at the heart of Symons essay. Indeed I would argue that the essay sets up this binary, only to then place upon Paris the ambivalent and fleeting impressionism that will subvert any spatial landscape in the city as being ‘essential’.

The conclusion of Symons’ essay coincides with the end of an omnibus journey near the top of Montmartre. As the omnibus makes its way from the Odeon to the North, Symons describes in fleeting detail passing certain sites and spaces: the Louvre, the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Saint Sulpice and the rue des Rivoli. This cataloguing of places and spaces would seem to give to Paris a concrete certainty, an equivocal link between space and the experience of the city. Yet upon climbing Montmartre Symons seeks to call into question the sense of the city as a knowable series of spaces:

Under a wild sky, as I like to see it, the city floats away endlessly, a vague, immense vision of forests of houses, softened by fringes of actual forest; here and there a dome, a tower, brings suddenly before the eyes a definite locality; but for the most part it is but a succession of light and shade, here tall white houses coming up out of a but of shadow, there an unintelligible mass of darkness, sheared through by the inexplicable arrow of light. Right down below, one looks straight into the lighted windows, distinguishing the outline of the lamp on the table, of the figure which moves about the room, while in the far distance there is nothing but a faint, reddish haze, rising dubiously into the night, as if the lusts of Paris smoked to the skies.

The view from Montmartre is famously the clearest and most iconic view of the city as a whole, yet tellingly Symons celebrated the negation of the city, reducing it to the impression of light and dark, inside and outside, metaphorically raising the city in an impressionistic conflagration. To reduce the city to poetic impression is, necessarily, to shift and alter its relationship to the hegemonic forms of power and culture, to celebrate it instead as an indistinct and fluid zone of experience. Paris is not a series of spaces but the by-word for a particular form of impressionism.

Mapping the Decadent Capital: Towards a Disappearing London

In what follows I will suggest the ways in which Symons’ impressionistic articulation of urban life reveals the influence of European travel in the representations of that most British of spaces. Upon returning from Paris in 1891, Symons brought back with him the aesthetic of Verlaine, Huysmans and Mallarme. Symons found Verlaine’s poetry “as lyrical as Shelley’s as fluid, as magical – though the magic is a new one. It is a twilight art, full of reticence, of perfumed shadows, of hushed melodies. It suggests, it gives impressions, with a subtle avoidance of any too definite or precise effect of line or colour.” It is this attempt to capture the transient and subtle nature of the impression that marks Symons poetry of the 1890s, along with an attempt at capturing the recherché of the musical hall and London prostitution. His 1892 volume of poetry Silhouettes, and 1895 volume London Nights attempt to emulate this form of evocative and impressionistic French verse. For Symons it was the ability of impressionism to record the experience of the city that made it the only form of truly modern poetry. As he stated in his essay ‘Modernity in Verse’, “I think that might be the test of poetry which professes to be modern: its capacity for dealing with London, with what one sees or might see there, indoors or out.” This idea of a prose that could capture London was one that shifts the experience of the city from archetype to impression, at the same time representing a London that began to lose its specificity.

London Nights and Silhouettes are littered with this attempt to capture London anew. One indicative example is the poem ‘In Fountain Court’:

The fountain murmuring of sleep,
A drowsy tune;
The flickering green of leaves that keep
The light of June;
Peace, through a stumbling afternoon,
The peace of June

A waiting ghost, in the blue sky,
The white curved moon;
June hushed and breathless, waits, and I
Wait too, with June;
Come through the lingering afternoon,
Soon love, come soon.

The title of the poem refers to Symons’ lodgings in the period he wrote this poem, the well-known Fountain Court near the Strand. Yet the specificity of the title is absent from the poem. Here Fountain Court cannot be represented by its proximity to Temple Bar, or the architecture of the surrounding buildings, or the thriving intellectual community that resided there in the 1890s. Instead it is the impression of a June afternoon, the murmuring fountain, the play of light that has replaced urban space. The personal recollection, the play of memory as a series of impressions overwhelms the poem’s site-specific object. Like a great deal of Symons’ poetry even the content begins to fade away as the lilting repetition of sounds forms its own impression, with the locality of the poem becoming twice removed. It was this absence of a tangible London that so frustrated Symons’ contemporary, the Decadent Catholic poet Lionel Johnson. As Yeats recalls: “Arthur Symons’ poetry made him angry, because it would substitute for that achievement [of the intellect] Parisian impressionism, ‘a London fog, the blurred tawny lamplight, the red omnibus, the dreary rain, the depressing mud, the glaring gin-shop, the slatternly shivering women, three dexterous stanzas telling you that and nothing more.’” As Johnson correctly identifies, this is a poetic form that is distinctly foreign to the city, and, as such, I would argue partially responsible for changing the artistic representation of the city.

What we begin to see as we investigate Symons’ model of representing the city is the substitution of locality for not just the fleeting impression, but its inclusion as linguistic signifier with no reference to any tangible reality. This notion of locality being excluded through its inclusion as object is captured perfectly in the poem ‘Impression.’ Here London is evoked not to locate the action of the poem, which is not existent, but London is used as a word with its syllabic tone included for the sake of a rhythmic impression:

Outside, the dreary church bell tolled,
The London Sunday faded slow;
Ah what is this? What wings unfold
In this miraculous rose of gold?

The staccato rhythm of this second line is used to give further effect to the rhetorical flourish that closes the poem, to leave the language all the more urgent and pressing. This use of language for rhythmic purposes is a key feature of the Decadent desire to display that autonomous nature of language by fracturing signifiers from referents. Here London is not a place, a metropolis, a site of Empire, a paragon of civilization but nothing more than a word that can help to produce the rhythmical life of language that would free it from the onerous imperative for meaning.

If London was invoked in Silhouettes in order to fracture it from representation, in London Nights, the city is paradoxically absent. Here Symons uses the city in the title to precisely undermine the notion that a city is constituted of anything more than the manifold impressions and thoughts of those who live there. London is simply a space in which the properly universal accumulation of symbols and impressions can take place. London here loses its own identity, subsumed into Symon’s own idiosyncratic experience of the city. Take one of Symon’s most famous poems, ‘Nora on the Pavement.’ It is a brief yet complex composition that attempts to represent the freedom of urban life through the consonant and dissonant nature of rhythm.

As Nora on the pavement
Dances, and she entrances the grey hour
Into the laughing circle of her power,
The magic circle of her glances,
As Nora dances on the midnight pavement;

Petulant and bewildered,
Thronging desires and longing looks recur
And memorably re-incarnate her,
As I remember that old longing,
A footlight fancy, petulant and bewildered;

Here the poem uses a rather forced and jarring rhythm, with an excess of syllables to create the effect of claustrophobia. This rhythm could be said to evoke that of the industrialised automated impression of life in the city, in which the ceaseless rhythm constrains and contorts poetic control. This is contrasted to the final lines of the poem in which Nora and the rhythm are set free:

Herself at last, leaps free the very Nora

It is the soul of Nora,
Living at last, and giving forth to the night,
Bird-like, the burden of its own delight,
All its desire, and all the joy of living,
In that blithe madness of the soul of Nora.

Here Nora’s freedom is encapsulated with a far more lilting cadence, suggesting that Symons poetic practice both takes its rhythm from the transcendent soul of Nora and creates the representation that frees Nora. Here the poetic rhythm, in transcending the constricting rhythms of modern life, is portrayed as the antidote to London, with Symons’ poetic practice superimposing the imaginary of the poet over the reality of the city. This effect of imposing a model of representation over the city in order to alter what was perceived as constituting its reality lead one critic to assert that Symons was “the first English poet who was able to write about London with something like Baudelaire’s mythographic sense, to make the city a convincing milieu of spiritual adventures”.

If we reflect on the massive influence that Symons had on those poets of the modernist city, such as Eliot and Pound, his writing, in moving the city from paradigmatic force to the site of manifold impressions has had a lasting legacy in representations of the city. Similarly Moore’s attempt to shatter both the Romantic process of subjectivisation and the archetypal model of the city as dramatic entity is one that became common in twentieth century representations of the city. Yet to give either of these writers a paradigmatic position in the shifting representations of London in literature would be misleading. Instead I would argue that we can see these writers as demonstrative of a host of influences that have shaped the city and its representation. For Symons and Moore it was the experience of Paris that proved dramatic in their perception of the city. Their attempt to map London was one whose cultural cartography has its foundations, paradoxically, in the streets of Paris. Here the immersion in French culture – and in particular the decadent literature emerging from the French capital – was transported to London, transforming the city in the process.


Dr Alex Murray is lecturer in 20th century literature at the University of Exeter Department of English. His research interests and recent activities can be found at his departmental profile.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, April 3rd, 2008.