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Literary London

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London is the city in the world that has had the biggest global influence on English language and world literature. Following is a guide to Literary London.

General

One of the best places to develop and refine an appreciation of London's importance to English and world literature is the British Library [1].

  • the British Library [2], 96 Euston Rd, St Pancras in Bloomsbury. Tube King's Cross St Pancras, Euston and Euston Square. Open 9.30 am - 6 pm weekdays. Open late Tu until 8 pm. Weekend hours: Sa 9.30 am - 5 pm, Su 11 am - 5 pm. Free access to public areas and galleries.
  • the Reading Room, British Museum Great Court [3], British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury

By writer

Shakespeare

  • Shakespeare's Globe Theatre [4]
  • the Rose Theatre [5]
  • Southwark Cathedral - includes inspiring monuments to both Shakespeare and Sam Wanamaker, the American whose vision inspired the rebuilding of the nearby Globe Theatre

John Donne

The 1631 marble funeral effigy of the famous 17th century poet and Dean of St Pauls can be seen in the South Quire Aisle of St Paul's Cathedral [6], one of the few surviving relics of Old St Paul's Cathedral, destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 - scorch marks can still be seen on the base of the statue

Samuel Johnson

  • Dr Johnson's House [7], 17 Gough Square, just off Fleet Street - this fine Georgian house marks the residence in which Dr Johnson compiled his great Dictionary of the English Language.

John Keats

Charles Dickens

  • the Charles Dickens Museum [9], 48 Doughty St, Bloomsbury, tel 7405 2127, fax 7831 5175, open Mo - Sa 10 am to 5 pm (last admission 4.30 pm), Tu 10 am - 7 pm, Su 11 am - 5 pm (last admission 4.30pm), admission £5.00 (students & seniors £4.00, children £3.00, families £14.00 (2 adults & up to five children). Special group rates apply.
  • the Old Curiosity Shop, 13-14 Portsmouth St

Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • the Sherlock Holmes Museum [[10]], 221b Baker Street

the Bloomsbury Group

Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia - George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf

Writers' Burials and Monuments

  • 'Poets' Corner', Westminster Abbey [[11]]

Poets' Corner is one of the better known parts of Westminster Abbey and can be found in the South Transept. This part of the Abbey was not originally destined as a burial place for writers, playwrights and poets; the first poet to be buried here, Geoffrey Chaucer, was laid to rest here on account of his more mundane position as Clerk of Works to the Palace of Westminster - the fact that he had authored the Canterbury Tales was irrelevant at the time.

During the flowering of English literature in the 16th century over 150 years later, however, a more elaborate tomb was erected to Chaucer by Nicholas Brigham and in 1599 Edmund Spenser was laid to rest nearby. These two tombs formed the nucleus of a tradition that developed over succeeding centuries.

In addition to Chaucer and Spenser, Poets' Corner contains the later burials of poets John Dryden, Tennyson, Robert Browning and John Masefield. Writers of prose, including William Camden, Dr Samuel Johnson, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy are also buried here.

The grave of Charles Dickens attracts special devotion from many visitors interest: as a writer who drew attention to the hardships born by the socially deprived and who advocated the abolition of the slave trade, he won enduring fame and gratitude and today, more than 110 years later, a wreath is still laid on his tomb on the anniversary of his death each year.

As well as actual burials, Poets' Corner also commemorates the life of literary greats (and quite a few who have faded into obscurity) with memorials: amongst these are the poets John Milton, William Wordsworth, Thomas Gray, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Burns, William Blake, T.S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Writers such as Samuel Butler, Jane Austen, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Walter Scott, John Ruskin, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Henry James and Sir John Betjeman have also been given memorials here. Perhaps the greatest English writer, William Shakespeare, also has a memorial here: buried in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616, Shakespeare had to wait until 1740 before his monument (designed by William Kent) was placed in the transept. Another late addition was Lord Byron, whose lifestyle caused a scandal although his poetry was much admired: although he died in 1824, he was finally given a memorial only in 1969.

Not all who are buried in Poets' Corner were literary in background: the burial place of the famous composer George Frederic Handel can also be seen here, as well as the graves of David Garrick, the 18th century Shakespearean actor, and Laurence Olivier, actor of our age. A number of Abbey churchmen are also interred amongst the poets.

Oscar Wilde's monument, to the east of Trafalgar Square: "We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars" (Lady Windermere's Fan)

Literary Tours and Walks

  • London Walks [12] - very popular guided walks (£5 per person), such as: Shakespeare's London, In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes and The London of Oscar Wilde
  • London Adventure [13] - an informal literary group dedicated to public readings and specialist literary tours
  • Angel Weekend Walks [14] - literary & historical strolls (£6 per person / £5 concs) Charles Dickens and Islington, George Orwell's Islington, Islington Murder Mile also provides great detail on Joe Orton.

Additionals

Charing Cross Road, Fleet Street

Contemporary fiction: Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, The Da Vinci Code

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