cover image The Walker: On Losing and Finding Yourself in the Modern City

The Walker: On Losing and Finding Yourself in the Modern City

Matthew Beaumont. Verso, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-78873-891-0

Beaumont (Nightwalking), lecturer in English Literature at University College London, explores literary depictions of walking in this fascinating, sometimes frustrating book. Drawing on Marxist theorist Raymond Williams’s claim that literary depictions of the modern city have hinged on a “man walking, as if alone, in its streets,” Beaumont discusses how numerous fiction writers have dealt with this “dominant metropolitan archetype.” They include Edgar Allan Poe, with his short story “The Man of the Crowd”; G.K. Chesterton, who favored the “wandering champions” of medieval romance; and Ray Bradbury via his brief SF story “The Pedestrian.” Beaumont also cites such thinkers as Slavoj Žižek on the architecture of the city and Sigmund Freud with his notion of the uncanny. The density of erudition keeps the book intriguing and provocative, but Beaumont wanders down some strange avenues, such as an essay arguing that “as a bipedal species, the human being begins with the big toe.” Readers may also find that Williams’s specifically male formulation of the walker isn’t sufficiently challenged. Still, those interested in how literature has explored urban modernity are sure to find ample food for thought. (Nov.)