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Literary Travel – Imagined London by Anna Quindlen


Pulitzer prize winning writer and anglophile, Anna Quindlen, visited London after a lifetime of walking its streets in her imagination. Always a voracious reader, Quindlen has written a bookish portrait of the city in Imagined London: a tour of the world’s greatest fictional city. She contrasts the city she came to know through the works of Dickens, Trollope, Woolf, Waugh and others with the reality of the modern city which has been as much the benefactor/victim of globalization as the rest of the world. Quindlen has some trepidation in embarking on this trip for fear of shattering her imagined London. For her, literary ghosts lurked around every corner. She saw Waugh’s Bright Young Things dancing from party to party and Dicken’s Little Dorrit in Marshalsea prison.

This slim volume is as much about Anna Quindlen, the reader, as about London. It testifies to the fact that reading is such a personal experience. Quindlen felt London to be her own, going as far as taking great pride in the fact that she spoke English English rather than American English. Readers of nineteenth and twentieth century British novels will understand the connection she felt with London.

Imagined London is a part of the National Geographic Directions series, a collection of literary travel narratives featuring such titles as:

Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks;

Among Flowers: a walk in the Himalaya
by Jamaica Kincaid;

Barcelona: the great enchantress by Robert Hughes.

Also in the series, and of local interest, is My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia sojourns, diaries and preoccupations by Howard Norman. From the publisher: “An evocative portrait of the landscape and eccentric characters who have shaped his literary work by the critically acclaimed author of The Bird Artist and The Northern Lights captures the world of Nova Scotia in a collection of folklore, poetry, reflections, anecdotes, stories, and essays.”

Imagined London, in its fondness, brings to mind The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff. Hanff is best known for her 84 Charing Cross Road which chronicles the long-distance relationship between a bibliophile and a London bookseller. In The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Hanff finally makes it to London and is charmed and bemused by everything she finds and everyone she meets.

For many readers, nothing says England more distinctly than Jane Austen. Lori Smith ventures through Austen’s world in A Walk With Jane Austen: a journey into adventure, love and faith. From the publisher: “At thirty-three, dealing with a difficult job and a creeping depression, Lori Smith embarked on a life-changing journey following the life and lore of Jane Austen through England. With humor and spirit, Lori leads readers through landscapes Jane knew and loved – from Bath and Lyme, to London and the Hampshire countryside–and through emotional landscapes in which grace and hope take the place of stagnation and despair. Along the way, Lori explores the small things, both meanness and goodness in relationships, to discover what Austen herself knew: the worth of an ordinary life.”

And closer to home consider Canada’s literary heritage in Noah Richler’s This Is My Country, What’s Yours?: a literary atlas of Canada

Storied Streets: Montreal in the literary imagination
by Bryan Demchinsky

Green Gables: Lucy Maud Montgomery’s favourite places by Deirdre Kessler.


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