Wednesday 3 September 2008

Lights and Shadows of London Life


After much delay (novel-writing), I can devote a smidgen of time to The first effort is a digitisation of Lights and Shadows of London Life, a collection of London journalism of the writer James Payn (1830-98) engagingly described by one of his contemporaries as 'tall, thin, and rather angular, he had a sharp high voice, ... a kindly twinkle behind his spectacles ... a brilliant and amusing raconteur'. As with all 'London' writers of the period, he was published by Dickens, befriended by the great man, and the writing reflects a debt to Dickens's non-fiction accounts of the city. The first section of the book, however, is a spoof - a returning Australian is introduced to the entertainments and amusements of 1860s London by dissolute young rakes. But, for all its humour, even this includes fascinating accounts of how people viewed Frith's The Railway Station and a visit to Cremorne Gardens (unnamed, but it can be nowhere else). In fact, Payn's eye for detail is where he triumphs. Even though he tackles some conventional stock subjects (eg. inconveniences of travelling by bus), he includes information, for the modern reader at least, that isn't found elsewhere. The account of an 1860s hanging is notable; and I was fascinated to discover him decrying ostentation in funeral ceremonies - I hadn't realised the Victorians were turning their backs on such things as early as the 1860s ... anyway, enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Public hangings as a great spectacle seems to have ended in the 1830s and 1840s. Perhaps the sentencing reforms of the period which severely reduced the number of hanging offences had something to do with it. In any case public hanging ended in, I think, in 1867 with hardly a protest.