The purpose of this book is to explore the ways in which the London Underground/ Tube was ‘mapped’ by a number of writers from George Gissing to Virginia Woolf. From late Victorian London to the end of the World War II, ‘underground writing’ created an imaginative world beneath the streets of London. The real subterranean railway was therefore re-enacted in number of ways in writing, including as Dantean Underworld or hell, as gateway to a utopian future, as psychological looking- glass or as place of safety and security.
The book is a chronological study from the opening of the first underground in the 1860s to its role in WW2. Each chapter explores perspectives on the underground in a number of writers, starting with George Gissing in the 1880s, moving through the work of H. G. Wells and into the writing of the 1920s & 1930s including Virginia Woolf and George Orwell. It concludes with its portrayal in the fiction, poetry and art (including Henry Moore) of WW2.
The approach takes a broadly cultural studies perspective, crossing the boundaries of transport history, literature and London/ urban studies. It draws mainly on fiction but also uses poetry, art, journals, postcards and posters to illustrate. It links the actual underground trains, tracks and stations to the metaphorical world of ‘underground writing’ and places the writing in a social/ political context.
David Welsh is an Oral Historian working on the WW2 Home Front Veterans Project (National Pensioners Convention & TUC) and currently oral/community history at HISTORYTalk in west London. He previously spent 8 years working on London Transport (Underground) and British Rail.
Chapter One: The Kingdom of Shadows: the infernal underground of George Gissing
Chapter Two: The Utopian Underground of H. G. Wells
Chapter Three: ‘The Roar of the Underground Railway’: the making of the Tube in the interwar years
Chapter Four: The Kingdom of Individuals: safety and security on the Tube in the Second World War
Conclusion: From Beck’s Tube map to Becks on the Tube
May 4, 2010