Enjoyed The Fog? Now Read The Book
Christine Corton's history of London fog is perfectly timed. Not only is it released on 5 November — traditional date of all things smoky — it also appears just days after the thickest fog seen in the capital for some time.
You might think that something as nebulous as fog would offer slim pickings for the 'biographer'. Not so. The fruits of Corton's research run to well over 300 pages. She begins in an Ackroydian tone ('London has always been susceptible to mist and murk.'), before explaining the origins of the thick fogs that characterised Victorian and Edwardian London.
Londoners had mixed feelings about their fogs. Some, such as Turner and Whistler found them inspirational to their art. Others foresaw the city's doom in miasma. Many people decried the detrimental effects on transport, business and, above all, public health. Others romanticised the fogs and their potential for amorous encounters.
Legislators long realised that 'something had to be done', yet it took over 100 years to introduce clean air acts. The public blamed the smoke-belching factories, while industrialists pointed fingers at the millions of domestic hearths: a choky, smoky stalemate. It took the Great Smog of 1952, in which up to 12,000 people lost their lives, to turn things around.
This is an unexpectedly riveting book, scholarly, thorough yet eminently readable. Like Matthew Beaumont's recent exploration of the London night, however, Corton's book lingers long on literary accounts, to the possible detriment of other filters. There's little here, for example, on the science or medical affects of the fog, nor do we learn if other big cities suffered similar visitations (and if not, why not?). But every good book should leave you asking more questions. And this is a very good book.
London Fog: The Biography by Christine L Corton is out now from Harvard University Press.
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Last Updated 05 November 2015