cover image London Fog: The Biography

London Fog: The Biography

Christine L. Corton. Harvard/Belknap, $35 (390p) ISBN 978-0-674-08835-1

Corton, a senior member of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, undertakes a definitive study of London’s “pea-souper” fogs, deftly tracing the history of a weather condition that became a defining feature of the city in the world’s imagination. As Corton shows, the fog, which first appeared early in the 19th century, proved a ready metaphor for an array of Victorian anxieties, from Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror to a perceived decline in public morals. She perceptively examines the literary manifestations of these fears in chapters covering a number of famous authors, including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and T.S. Eliot. Readers may be surprised that the history of London fog requires a detour through the politics of the day as much as through literature; however, Corton proves a sensible guide through the labyrinthine parliamentary measures arising from public outrage over the “great killer fog” and bureaucratic inaction in service of the manufacturers that were largely responsible for the pollution. Though the “London particular” was finally legislated out of existence in the 1960s, Corton asserts convincingly that the fog will remain enshrined in cultural memory, a romantic if no longer accurate symbol of a great city. 28 color illus., 63 halftones. [em](Nov.) [/em]