1. While London was undergoing arguably the period of greatest growth and change in its history, the London perpetuated in literature barely changed:
Even as physical London expanded madly, fictional London stayed small, contained within the historic city center and the wealthy West End… The rest of London—where most of the growth was actually taking place—never really mattered. In the course of the nineteenth century, real London radically changed—and fictional London hardly at all.
2. We all have some concept of London as a snowy winter wonderland because Charles Dickens grew up in an Ice Age:
There happened to be snow every Christmas of the first eight years of Charles Dickens’ life, which probably explains why white Christmases are a consistent feature of his stories. His snowy childhood has its origins in the colder climate of the period 1550-1850 when Britain was in the grip of a ‘Little Ice Age’. Winters were particularly persistent and severe – 1813-14 was the last winter that a ‘frost fair’ was held on the frozen River Thames in London. Before the change of calendar in 1752, which effectively brought Christmas day back by 12 days, snow was even more likely as Christmas comes at the beginning of the season for snow. Wintry weather is more likely in January.
And two observations:
- If writers only write what they’re familiar with, and readers only read what they’re comfortable with, the blinkers stay on.
- The stories we read (or see or hear) don’t always tell the whole story. Nobody’s life is as beautiful as their Instagram account, and it’s probably unwise to get all your news from Twitter. (Man, I swear I was writing cautionary Media Law essays about this a decade ago, and yet here we are.)
Anyway, to my main point: Read something you wouldn’t usually read today. It doesn’t have to be long, although more than 140 characters is a good idea.
- Don’t much go for finance? Pick a story on Bloomberg.
- A sucker for political analysis? Get some poetry in you.
- Head-in-the-clouds fiction lover? Take a moment for something sober.
- Filling your days with serious work and serious learning and serious thoughts? Take a break for something silly.
- Don’t really read anything much (except this blog, it seems)? Read anything!
Don’t be like 1800s literary London. Expand your horizons. Realise there are perspectives other than your own. Open your mind and pop something new in there. Knowledge is a known antidote for fear of the unknown.
PS. I wasn’t expecting to get from Dickens to Instagram, but in 2017 that’s somehow not so surprising.