Littérature anglaise

Still reading through Peter Ackroyd’s London biography – how commerce and speculation have shaped the city throughout the ages

Marc Bordier by Marc Bordier /

Peter Ackroyd’s London biography is so dense and well documented that it is taking me ages to finish. However, I am enjoying it, so I will continue and read it through, no matter how long it takes. Fortunately, the Marylebone branch of Westminster Library is patient and has agreed to renew it multiple times…

   So far, what I find most interesting about this book is how it characterizes London. Indeed, Peter Ackroyd does a great job of capturing the city’s essence, the permanent traits that have formed the quintessence of London throughout the ages.  The main one is certainly the fact that it was built upon commerce and speculation, with trade and business driving the city’s expansion, shaping its physiognomy, and ultimately determining social interactions between its inhabitants. Indeed, whether we like it or not, the stark contrast between abundance and need, the omnipresent building works and the extravagant advertisements of luxury properties that we see when walking in the streets of London are not anomalies of this century. Rather, they are a distinct feature of the city’s personality, which has lasted throughout the ages.  If anything, the 21st century has but added an international dimension to this structural phenomenon, with overseas money now fuelling the city’s permanent expansion and renewal. I will meditate upon this next time I walk along Billionaires row in Kensington Palace Gardens.