Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell’

Guest Blog – ofBooks on Books Before 30

January 8, 2014

I have long been a fan of Alice’s blog ofBooks, and have been particularly intrigued by her idea of making a list of books she must read before she reaches thirty. Perhaps this has been close to my heart, as I turned thirty at the end of last year… So, in the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, I thought you might like to hear a little about her project, and perhaps find the inspiration to make your own list of books to read before thirty, forty, or even by the end of 2014.

Alice – my recommendation for your list, other than Moon Tiger, which I’m thrilled you read last year, is something by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s so tough to choose a favourite, but perhaps I’ll settle on The Beginning of Spring. I think she’s a genius, easily one of the best writers of the last century, and I hope you find her work as funny, unnerving, perfectly observed and inspiring as I do.

Over to Alice…

*********************

When Emily got in touch and asked if I would like to write something about my endeavour Books Before 30 – a list of books I’ve made to read before I reach the end of my twenties – my initial feeling was excitement, and then as I came down from the ceiling, I thought, ‘how far have I got with that?’ My progress isn’t exactly extensive.

Reading has become such a feature in my life, a second education. Books Before 30 was designed to be my way of delving into the fiction and non-fiction to which I was failing to expose myself.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS LewisI never used to be a great reader. As a child my father read me fiction, approved by my mother: C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl. I was the earnest listener, absorbing tales that would provide my sisters and me with inspiration for the playtime adventures that kept us occupied through afternoons and weekends. At school, I was a shy child, and it was assumed my reading was underdeveloped. It meant I spent a lot of time reading about Peter and Jane. If there is anything to kill a love of literature it is Peter and Jane.

By and by, as I became too old for bedtime tales and graduated to my own bedroom, reading fell off the list of childhood pursuits. There were video games, music and the internet to discover, and I was breaking out of the shell of my Christian upbringing. Reading just didn’t feel so important.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyNow, I often wish I had studied English Literature for A-Level, but in the typical style of someone who is suddenly allowed to be different without judgement, I chose almost all my subjects based on what was (almost) never available to me at school; History, Philosophy and Film Studies. Literature didn’t reappear in my life until University, when I chose to veer in the direction of fiction and history during my degree in Cultural and Historical Studies. This reintroduced me to the Classics; Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, She, and Heart of Darkness. It also threw at me the wonders of modern fiction; books by Chinua Achebe, Seamus Dean and Deirdre Madden. You would think that would be the push I needed, but in actual fact it took a love of blogging and a GoodReads challenge to really ignite a passion for reading.

During my first year of blogging in 2012, I began to realise how much literature I had missed, especially the classics. I’d managed to arrive at a few on my own via University, BBC adaptations, and a push in the right direction from my sister, but I felt left behind. So I set myself a goal: I asked people to suggest books that I should read before I turned 30, which at the time was just over four years away. I also added some ideas of my own. They don’t have to be classics or challenging books – I’ve got Twilight on there – they just need to be books I feel I ought to have read in order to learn, expand my vocabulary, or just to have a better grounding for moaning about them!

If I hadn’t had this particular journey with reading, I would probably never have created Books Before 30. The idea isn’t my own; Simon, of Savidge Reads – a fabulous book blogger – is the creator of sorts. Back in 2012 he started discussing 40 Before 40 – where he’d list and read a selection of books he felt he should read before he reaches the end of his 30s. (Earlier this year he listed them all.) Essentially I’ve stolen Simon’s idea, modified it and am hoping that he doesn’t mind!

Since beginning this challenge I have worked my way through books I never thought I would love, such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, whose protagonist’s anxiety vibrated so intensely that I could feel it. And some I never thought I would dislike, such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which I read craving the maturity of Anne from Persuasion.

Wuthering Heights by Emily BronteWithout Books Before 30 I wouldn’t have felt a plethora of emotions or seen the world in different lights. I would never have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and decided that I preferred Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë that bit more:

I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.

The Wasp FactoryI wouldn’t have discovered Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory:

Often I’ve thought of myself as a state; a country or, at the very least, a city. It used to seem to me that the different ways I felt sometimes about ideas, courses of action and so on were like the differing political moods that countries go through. It has always seemed to me that people vote in a new government not because they actually agree with their politics but just because they want a change. Somehow they think that things will be better under the new lot. Well, people are stupid, but it all seems to have more to do with mood, caprice and atmosphere than carefully thought-out arguments. I can feel the same sort of thing going on in my head. Sometimes the thoughts and feelings I had didn’t really agree with each other, so I decided I must be lots of different people inside my brain.

 I would have never been able to compare Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell to current politics:

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

Parade's End by Ford Madox FordI would never have read Hemingway, or Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, the best piece of fiction I have ever encountered. Not all of these were on my Books Before 30 list, but without that list, without the push to change my reading habits and to discover new works I never would have reached for them.

I’ve got two more years until I hit 30 when this challenge will end. If you have any books you could recommend for me, I would be incredibly grateful! Or perhaps you’d like to join me in my challenge, in which case I’d love to know how you get on.

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As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

July 15, 2013

As I Walked Out One Midsummer MorningLast week, I re-read Laurie Lee’s second volume of classic memoir As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. It was up for discussion in the Walking Book Club on Sunday, so I wanted to refresh my memory.

Re-reading a book is a funny thing. Certain aspects leap out and grab you which slipped past last time, whereas other passages which one remembers as magnificent now seem barely significant. The book stays the same, of course, so I often wonder what your own shifting perspective reveals about yourself.

This particular re-reading was undertaken while suffering from a horrid summer lurgi, which gave an extra hallucinatory sheen to Lee’s passages of sunstroke:

By mid-morning I was in a state of developing madness, possessed by pounding deliriums of thirst, my brain running and reeling through all the usual obsessions that are said to accompany the man in the desert. Fantasies of water rose up and wrapped me in cool wet leaves, or pressed the thought of cucumber peel across my stinging eyes and filled my mouth with dripping moss. I began to drink monsoons and winter mists, to lick up the first fat drops of thunder, to lie down naked on deep-sea sponges and rub my lips against the scales of fish.

Let me assure you this is unnerving reading when you’re lying there sweating, drifting in and out of sleep, and your brain’s feeling far from screwed on right. Small wonder these passages seemed particularly impressive this time round! (I have to confess to still not feeling a hundred per cent, so my apologies if the post is a little feverish…)

What really surprised me in this re-reading, was how much I was struck by the book’s violence. I remembered it to be a sweeping romantic haze, whereas this time round it seemed far more sinister.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning begins when nineteen-year-old Laurie Lee bids goodbye to his Cotswold village and ‘the stopping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool’, setting off in search of adventure. The first chunk of the book is taken up with his walking to London and the year he spent there lodging in Putney and working on a building site. It reminds me of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, with his descriptions of endlessly processing tramps and acute poverty. At least Lee is rather better fed than Orwell, who survived on ‘tea-and-two-slices’. He moves into rooms above an eating-house, which has a menu offering:

Bubble. Squeak. Liver and B. Toad-in-the-Hole. Meat Pudding or Pie.

What particularly endeared this section to me was the fact that it was all set in Putney – such an unromantic, unglamorous, unliterary part of London. No offence Putney-ites, but its not quite Fitzrovia.

After a year, on a whim, Laurie Lee decides to get a boat to Spain, where he walks from Vigo in the north down to the Southern coast, as Civil War approaches. For the most part his journey is one of happy adventure, of walking and playing the fiddle and being given wine, food and shelter. Lee’s writing is lyrical, lush with imagery, beautifully crafted and so perhaps you can forgive my memory for fixing on the many passages like this one:

Green oaks like rocks lay scattered among the cornfields, with peasants chest-deep in the wheat. It was the peak of harvest, and figures of extraordinary brilliance were spread across the field like butterflies, working alone or in clusters, and dressed to the pitch of the light…

These pastoral images almost entirely eclipsed my memory of the episodes of violence which pepper Laurie Lee’s route. For instance, early on, there is a horrific moment when he returns to his inn late at night in Valladolid:

The huge front door had been ripped from its hinges and lay in splinters across the street. The three youngest children were huddled inside, half naked, moaning with fear – while the Borracho’s wife, storm centre of the scene, stood screaming at the foot of the stairs.

She says that her husband has tried to rape their daughter, and then:

I found the Borracho on the landing, about half-way up, sprawled on his back, wet with blood and wine. He lay like a slaughtered bull, breathing in painful gasps and weeping to himself in the dark.

A domestic dispute, with a father’s awful desire for his daughter at its heart, explodes into the public realm as the door is ripped off its hinges, revealing the bloody screaming mess inside. This heart of violence suddenly refusing to be contained by the huge front door could almost figure as a metaphor for the coming Civil War.

Individual violent moments like this do eventually boil into Civil War. By then, Lee has settled in Almuñécar, playing the violin at a hotel and falling in with a loosely Communist crowd. Then there are the first shootings, dead bodies and the assertion of ‘that powerful minority who would rather the country first bled to death’.

Laurie Lee is rescued by a British ship. As he stands on deck looking back at Almuñécar, he notices:

The whole village had turned out to witness our departure and stood in a long dark frieze round the bay, waving and calling across the water, some of them running up and down the sands. There was also something desperate, almost sinister, in the way they packed the edge of the sea, as though in dread of the land behind them.

It’s a powerful image, not least because Lee has just traversed that land, trodden on it, slept on it and written about it so beautifully. Here the violence has triumphed over the pastoral idyll, leaving the people scared of the land, on the edge of the sea.

I wonder why I noticed this thread of violence that winds across Laurie Lee’s path so much more this time. Perhaps it was thanks to the strange emphasis a fevered brain gives to his words. Perhaps a slight impatience with Lee’s restless youthful spirit made me concentrate more on the political side of the book. In any case, it was definitely worth re-reading and has left me longing to read the final volume in the trilogy, A Moment of War, which  is about his return to Spain during the Civil War. Luckily, I am off to Andalusia to broil in the sun with some friends in a couple of months, so there will be the perfect excuse. I can’t wait!

Laurie Lee by Anthony Devas in 1944, at the NPG © Prosper Devas & Associates

A Literary A-Z

September 19, 2011

The latest installment…

M

It would appear that M is rather a popular letter for an author’s surname. There are the Mitfords, Iris Murdoch and that other I.M. – Ian McEwan. There’s Somerset Maugham, William Maxwell and Gavin Maxwell. Richard Mabey, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore. And let’s not forget Malory, Marvell and Milton. Or Japan’s Murikami and Mishima, or Scandinavia’s Mankell. Blimey.

I have to admit to feeling rather ill-equiped to judge the winner of the Ms. For, although I’ve read something by each of these writers, I’m afraid I haven’t read much by any of them. And most of them are rather prolific. How can I possibly judge Somerset Maugham, having read only The Moon and Sixpence? Ditto for Iris Murdoch, having read just two of her substantial oeuvre. I quite like the idea of Gavin Maxwell versus Richard Mabey as both The Ring of Bright Water and The Unofficial Countryside are published in elegant Little Toller editions, but again I feel reluctant to boil either author down to just one of their books.

The only way out of this indecision is to imagine being stuck on a desert island and to decide which one of these author’s books I’d like to be have for company. And, while I’m sure this makes me terribly conventional and more than a bit snotty, I have to say, without a shadow of a doubt, Milton. (He also has the advantage of being the one author from that list of whom I’ve read rather a lot, having studied him at university.)

It’s rather unfair, I think, that Milton seems so off-putting and formidable to many readers. He’s one of those names that’s so far up there in the canon, that many people assume that he’s terribly important, but also that he must be studied at length – like Shakespeare – and that he uses lots of difficult old words. And, whereas everyone has to study Shakespeare at some point, thanks to the curriculum, poor old Milton is rather less compulsory.

I wish that instead of seeming so terrifying, Milton could gain the reputation of being a poet that, really, is quite straightforward to read and understand. His poems are great long narratives, and most of them tell stories that we all know anyway. Rather than having to read a short poem, painfully slowly, scrutinising every single word, I’d argue that Milton’s longer poems can be read almost like a novel.

He often uses enjambment, instead putting the break half-way through the line. This makes it very easy to keep on reading, and really it can be quite hard to stop! Take the opening of Paradise Lost, for instance:

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

It isn’t until one reaches ‘woe’ that one can properly draw breath. And the clever thing about this structure is that the second half of each line often refers to both the first half of both that line and of the following. So, for instance, ‘and the fruit’ refers back to ‘Of man’s first disobedience’ – i.e. what comes from man’s first disobedience – and also on to ‘Of that forbidden tree – i.e. that notorious apple. It makes the poem seem twice as thick with meaning.

The other, quite geeky, thing that I love about Milton is the way that many of the words he uses have double meanings. So, for instance, when Satan tempts Eve to eat the apple, he is described as ‘the spirited sly Snake’. ‘Spirited’ here means possessed by a spirit (of Satan), but it also means ‘brisk, blithe’, and indeed the snake is described as ‘blithe’ just a few lines later. Then again, Satan doesn’t just tempt Eve, he ‘seduces’ her, tempting her, and also ‘leading her astray’, as he literally leads her to the forbidden apple. This resonance is from the Latin meaning of ‘seduce’: ‘se’ meaning ‘aside, astray’, and ‘ducere’ meaning ‘to lead’.

But above all, Paradise Lost is exciting. Satan is a surprisingly intriguing character rather than being a straightforward baddie, and there are some quite funny digressions, such as how it is, exactly, that angels have sex!

N

Rather slimmer pickings for N. I have to say straight away that I can’t bear V.S. Naipaul. And I must also ashamedly admit to never having read any Nabakov. So I’m going to make rather a surprising choice for N and go for the teen author Patrick Ness.

Patrick Ness won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize a few years ago for his astonishing novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first of the Chaos Walking trilogy.

Todd, the main character, lives in a place where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts, which swirl around them as something called ‘Noise’. This means there’s no privacy, no quiet and no secrets. But then, Todd finds a patch of silence, and everything changes suddenly and terrifyingly.

What’s so brilliant about The Knife of Never Letting Go is how it treads the line between the familiar and the alien so well. Everything is recognisable, yet also different. The idea of being able to hear people’s thoughts is at once very easy to imagine, yet also horribly strange. The language reflects this too, for instance, a question is called an ‘ask’ and a child is called a ‘pup’. Similar and understandable, yet also different.

And this really is an exciting adventure story. I could barely put it down. More exciting, even, than Milton.

O

O is another letter for which there seems to be a strange paucity of writers. I’d say it essentially comes down to Ovid versus Orwell.

I did so enjoy reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses soon after I finished school. The Greek myths were such a huge part of my childhood, and it was with utter joy that I could grow reacquainted with them in such readable and elegant verse. Here again were Orpheus and Eurydice, Daedalus and Icarus, the Minotaur, Echo and Narcissus … all these wonderful stories that could be read all over again. And there were new revelations too. I remember being stunned by the entry on Pythagoras, who was known to me only for having that theory about the squares of the sides of triangles adding up. Who knew he was vegetarian and so eloquent with it too?

But perhaps Orwell has to win. I challenge anyone not to feel overawed by either Animal Farm or 1984. One invariably reads at least one of them when one is a young teenager, when they seem completely groundbreaking. Political, satirical, funny, dreadful, shocking, dystopian, terrifying …

I read a few of his essays at university, but it wasn’t till a couple of years ago that I really re-engaged with his work, when I read Down and Out in Paris and London. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so I shall spare you a long digression, but I really did think this was a brilliant book. Certain elements will stick in my mind forever, such as the broiling heat of a Paris kitchen when he was a plongeur, and the ‘tea-and-two-slices’ which was the standard meal of every tramp in England. And the description of how one particular OAP lived on his tiny pension, eating nothing but tea-and-two-slices or even just dry bread, sleeping in doss houses but still sparing enough money to have a weekly shave, summons a great deal of respect.

O, then, surely must be for Orwell.

My Top Ten London Books … part two

February 13, 2010

On to non-fiction.

6. Journey Through a Small Planet, Emmanuel Litvinoff

I came across Litvinoff in Ian Sinclair’s book, Hackney, That Rose-red Empire, where he was mentioned, alongside Pinter and other ‘East-End’ writers. The name stuck in my head and a few weeks later, when walking past a bookshop window, Journey Through a Small Planet caught my eye, in its glorious Penguin Modern Classics livery.

In Journey Through a Small Planet, Litvinoff revisits his Whitechapel childhood at the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘the salty vigorous Yiddish tongue filled the streets’ and  Brick Lane was the haunt of ‘herring-women … plunging their chapped and swollen fingers into the open barrels of pickled fish.’ In what must be the ultimate Jewish East-End book, Litvinoff brings the area pungently back to life, with women chattering to each other in the tenements, telling tales from the ‘old country’, and the community’s excitement when the Yiddish theatre troupe arrives. But Litvinoff manages to avoid the trap of saccharine nostalgia. Poverty is ever-present, such as when he scavenges for unwanted vegetables from Spitalfields Market, and he emphasises how important it was to study hard, how much he wanted to escape the drudgery of sweat-shop and factory, the ghettoed existence.

And there is no doubt that it was a ghetto, ‘people spoke of Warsaw, Kishinev, Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa as if they were neighbouring suburbs’. Litvinoff suggests it was more akin to the shtetls of Poland and Russia than London, Britain’s cosmopolitan capital. The Jewishness of the East End, of Litvinoff himself, cannot stray far from the foreground of Journey Through a Small Planet, but Litvinoff does not have a straightforward relationship with his religion. Patrick Wright (author of A Journey Through Ruins among other excellent books) looks at this complicated relationship in his engaging introduction. In A Jew in England (also included in this Penguin edition), Litvinoff finds the Jewish names on shops ‘grotesque and provocative; the Kosher signs and Yiddish lettering were embarrassing advertisements of alienation’, but yet he stood up at the ICA, in front of an audience which included T.S. Eliot, to read out his poem, ‘To T.S. Eliot’, accusing Eliot of anti-semitism:

I am not one accepted in your parish.

Bleistein is my relative and I share

the protozoic slime of Shylock …

… So shall I say it is not eminence chills

but the snigger from behind the covers of history,

the sly words and the cold heart

and footprints made with blood upon a continent?

Let your words

tread lightly on this earth of Europe

lest my people’s bones protest.

T.S. Eliot, the rest of London’s literati, and, indeed, even London’s Jewish community, were not amused. The poem was slated and Litvinoff’s reputation sunk.

In the years of the Second World War, as Hitler attempted to exterminate the Jewish race, so the bombing of London destroyed the Jewish East End. Reading Journey through a Small Planet makes me feel that this decimation was indeed a mini-holocaust, given the exuberant life in that community, held in its buildings and the Yiddish chattering of neighbours in its tenements. Litvinoff, such a skilled resuscitator, has perfectly recreated that lost world, warts and all.

7. Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell

Towards the end of Journey through a Small Planet, Litvinoff writes about a time when he was crushingly poor, with nothing to eat, no work, sleeping in dosshouses. The ‘down and out’ existence was one shared by Orwell, chronicled in his autobiographical work, Down and Out in Paris and London.

A great deal of the book is set in Paris, where Orwell’s penniless existence begins after a short spell as a plongeur in a restaurant. But it is London it that matters for this list, ‘the land of the tea urn and the Labour Exchange’. And, like Paris, it is described in brilliant, illuminating detail.

Orwell discovers ‘tea-and-two-slices’, the miserable sustenance of all tramps in cafes across the capital. He becomes friendly with an Irish tramp, who gets all his tobacco from fag-ends dropped on the street. He describes the clusters of tramps who go to tiny church services in order to be given a cup of tea and a bun, and the OAPs who are forced into a tramp-like existence by their miserly pension of ten shillings a week (he is impressed by one managing to eke enough out of it to afford a weekly shave, when consuming nothing but bread and tea). It is an overlooked community, in which stories are told while waiting for the ‘spike’ to open, keeping them going for the miles they have to walk to reach the next spike.

Orwell writes about tramps with great sympathy, urging us to stop believing in a falsely-imagined ‘tramp-monster’ – ‘they are ordinary human beings, and that if they are worse than other people it is the result and not the cause of their way of life’. But his true feat is in keeping his sense of humour, including details that occasionally cause a smile, rather than a patronising look of sorrow. In the ultimate mark of respect for the tramps and their tough way of life, Orwell never indulges in an ounce of sentimentality.

8. Derelict London, Paul Talling

From tramps, often-overlooked, to derelict buildings, also often-overlooked. This collection of photographs of disused, crumbling, forgotten London buildings, many of which appear on the website derelictlondon.com. It’s a poignant book, showing how the city has changed and the casualties that occured along the way. The Seven Stars, for instance, Brick Lane’s last pub; Poplar Baths, originally opened back in 1852, following the Baths and Wash Houses Act; the Stockwell bomb shelter from the Second World War; Hackney Marshes and Pudding Mill river – victims to the upcoming Olympics; plus a few forlorn images of those dying but quintessentially British symbols: an estranged milk float and a row of red post boxes. This review from the New Statesman really gets to the heart of it.

Yes, most of the photos can be seen on the website, but the book is a sweet pocket-sized companion, and has interesting facts and stories alongside. The pictures are neatly arranged by type, from ‘working – houses and flats to ‘resting – cemeteries and chapels of rest’. It is definitely not your average book of London photography.

9. Lost London, Philip Davies

And neither is this. Lost London brings together a host of stunning black-and-white images of the capital from 1870–1945. The places have all vanished now, as the photos came into being when the LCC decided to create a historical record of buildings that were going to be demolished. The book combines miserable poverty, as it tours the destitution of slums before the clearances from the East End to Westminster (via Bermondsey and Holborn, with a sense of excitement, as change is brought to the city. It is marvellous to see Tower Bridge, for instance, in construction, its bundles of girders stretching out over the Thames.

Published only last year, we sold vast numbers of Lost London at the bookshop in the run-up to Christmas. So many, in fact, that we had completely sold out by early December. The publishers had, rather short-sightedly, only printed relatively few copies, and, as the printing is done in the Far East, we’re still waiting to get more in stock. The legend of the book lives on, however: at least two or three times a week somebody asks about it. All I can advise is to order one – it’s the most magnificent book, and if you don’t get one of the precious copies to be delivered later this month, you’ll have another few months to wait until the next batch is shipped over.

10. The Secret History of Georgian London, Dan Cruickshank

Dan Cruickshank is a bit of a hero. The New Georgian who campaigned to save Spitalfields from destruction, who presents television programmes waving his hands enthusiastically in the air, who knows everything there is to know about Georgian architecture. But, and here’s the best bit, he’s written a book which isn’t really about architecture. It’s a book about the sex industry.

Cruickshank shows through meticulously detailed research that prostitution was huge in Georgian London. He works out that in London, one in six women were prostitutes and he points out quite how unusual this was, quoting from letters and accounts by various astonished contemporary foreign visitors.

He details the wages of prostitutes, where they lived, where they worked – illustrated by a charmingly titled map of ‘the sexual highway’. He looks at different types of prostitutes, high-class, low-class, and not forgetting ‘molly-houses’ (centres for gay prostitution). But The Secret History of Georgian London is much more than just a documentary about prostitutes. Cruickshank’s real skill lies in showing how this huge industry was intertwined with the art of the day. He goes into eye-opening detail with Hogarth’s drawings, and tells the stories of the prostitutes in Reynolds’ stunning paintings. And, being Dan Cruickshank, he doesn’t forget the buildings. He gives a grand architectural tour of London’s sordid side, from Covent Garden’s ‘bagnios’ (or bath houses) and coffee-houses, to the Foundling Hospital – where mothers would deposit unwanted babies, and Whitechapel’s Magdalen House for penitent prostitutes.

Cruickshank makes the point that prostitution was vital to the Georgian economy, key to the development of London and the flourishing of its art and architecture. It’s a unique angle to take, and one that makes Georgian art and architecture glitter in a fascinating, albeit somewhat seedy, new light.