"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
click HERE and access his website
Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 3 May 2010

Gillian Tindall: A Microhistorian in Paris

Having recently read Gillian Tindall's The Fields Beneath about the rural  roots of Kentish Town I was glad to receive as a birthday present her latest, about the Latin Quarter of Paris, the changes to it over two centuries since an ancestor of hers, Arthur Jacob, arrived there in 1814, and her own family history: Footprints in Paris.  It's an attractive, slowly-unfolding book, that gets under the skin of a place where she lived as a young woman in the 1950s and reveals her skill at teasing out the history of place that is so strikingly done in The Fields Beneath. In the throes myself of writing a book about Bloomsbury, I am fascinated by this kind of "microhistory" as it has been called, that reads the urban landscape with minute attention.  Quieter in tone than the more hyped "psychogeographers" of London, I found this a very moving book about how one tries to imagine other lives and their passage through history.  I was struck particularly by her observation that the Latin Quarter has slowly been emptied of its working class or ordinary population as gentrification, the surest of urban trends, removes the cheap "hotels" or long-term lodging houses, places where people without lots of money (students, workers, artists, writers, recent migrants) could once live.  Their future is to be shipped out to the suburbs and tower blocks with their "social problems" (which really amount to a rupture from real living communities and the difficulty of re-inventing them in concrete jungles).  Public housing at affordable rents once enabled a range of social classes to live in the heart of London.  This is not about sentimental nostalgia; it's about the idea that communities are just that: organic patterns of multi-cultural, multi-class, living where change is of course part of that organic life but also variety, social mix, and even a bit of scruffiness.

6 comments:

Andrew Kenneally said...

Wasn't there that quote from Margaret Thatcher: "there is no such thing as society" . . . - when the very head of 'society' declares its non-existence, then that society - illusory or not- is surrendered to the logic of money, and so the squeezing out of the less economically real to those outer peripheries. One might say this is in turn organic growth of the city, or a modern variation on the organic development of community, but it seems much more to me the unfolding of an abstraction, i.e. the logic of capital, rather than the natural development of lived life which had to be the case far more so before - where if for example lots of people worked on the docks, then they had to live near the docks, and so on.

Also there is no logic to capital, it's an insentient entity, and - if this isn't going on a bit - if we behave as though there were an intrinsic logic to be devoutly believed in, then all this can amount to is that like a game of poker, if the game of capitalism continues long enough all the money will find its way into fewer and fewer hands. So rather than organic development, what we have here is the in- or un-human scrapings & scarrings of applied mathematics.

Back to the psychogeography, I've only read of that ilk P Ackroyd's 'London' - which I'm presuming is of that ilk . . . - do you like it or or do you feel it too much under the filtering vision of the author? - singularly or the genre as a whole...

Nicholas Murray said...

I think my reservations about the psychogeography of, say Iain Sinclair, is that it can be rather long-winded and self-important. I like the personal angle but I also want to learn something about the external world and I like Tindall's relative self-effacement. Perhaps it's just a matter of degree.

Andrew Kenneally said...

Yes, beware an aesthetic with art - in creation or appreciation.

dominique said...

Bonjour ! je suis d' autant plus interessee que c' est le quartier de ma famille depuis le debut du 20 eme siecle .J' y ai passe mon enfance moi-meme . Le lirai avec interet et attend vos livres(guerre de 1914 et Bloomsbury) avec impatience . Amities .D .

Nicholas Murray said...

Bonjour! Le manuscrit "Real Bloomsbury" s'achève cette semaine. Aujourd'hui commence le "Bloomsbury Group" en 4-5000 mots! Un défi...

dominique bukspan said...

Bonsoir ! je commence Footprints in Paris, cela a l' air prometteur . Merci de me tenir au courant de vos travaux ! Amities, D .