Nostalgia de la boue, indeed

What is it with the British and the perfectly revolting? One is reminded of the Fugs' doleful ditty, "Wide, Wide River" ("Flow on, flow on/River of shit/Right from my toes/On up to my nose") -- if it were describing a matinee picnic on the Avon.

First, there's Clare Clark's new novel coming out in May (discussed below), which does describe the Thames in the 18th century as "no more than a stinking brown ditch of rotting shit." This, after her debut with The Great Stink.

And now there's Emily Cockayne's Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770. Christopher Hart in The Literary Review has a merry old time with the book, managing to hold his nose, cover his ears and give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up all at once: "it's a veritable feast of filth and foulness, and I loved every minute of it. The chapter titles tell you immediately what to expect: 'Itchy,' 'Mouldy,' 'Noisy,' 'Grotty' and 'Dirty.' They sound like a South West Trains service."

A research associate at the Open University in East Midlands, Ms. Cockayne offers her readers a journey to an England past, "an England where people still drank ale instead of tea for breakfast, defecated in the streets as if it were the right of every freeborn Englishman to do so" and where Samuel Pepys wouldn't mind if a lady at the theater let fly and accidentally spat on him -- "providing the lady was pretty."

Perhaps it's the instinctive response of many British to their own posh self-marketed image. I know that whenever I see another handsome, Georgian-period London street in another Masterpiece Theatre costume drama, I try to imagine it filled with "the disagreeable Objects of bleeding Heads, Entrails of Beasts, Offals, raw Hides, and the Kennels flowing with Blood and Nastiness." At the very least, the street would be deep with horse manure (and people trying vainly to sweep it all up), while inside the homes, all those gleaming, maid-polished surfaces would be covered with gritty coal dust and perhaps a thin layer of grease from the vats of animal fat being burned at nearby slaughterhouses and pigsties.

Indeed, there's a street in northwest London named Mount Pleasant -- which, it turns out, was actually the locals' sardonic term for a huge pile of the "merdurinous" that stank there for years. Nowadays, Mr. Hart points out helpfully, "Mount Pleasant" is best known as the home of this.

April 4, 2007 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)



Makes me wanna hold my nose if I ever get to England. :)

Did you really just make a Fugs and a Nietzche reference in back to back posts? I knew I read this blog for a good reason!


Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on April 4, 2007 12:00 PM.

Everything dieth, everying blossometh forth again was the previous entry in this blog.

Not that it will matter to most book/daddy readers ... is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.