Let your feet, or your fingers, do the walking
LONDON — The city of London has played muse to many writers over the centuries. William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Henry James are just some of the literary luminaries who have found inspiration in the city's famously foggy streets.
Whether you're interested in walking those streets yourself or would just like to know a little more about London's literary past, there's plenty of information to help put you on the right road.
"A Reader's Guide to Writers' London," by Ian Cunningham (Prion Books, $35), is the perfect guidebook for armchair travelers who'd rather let their fingers do the walking.
Full of photographs and drawings of relevant people and places, the guide is organized by section of town: Central, North, East, South, and West. Cunningham is far-reaching in his chronicle of literary London, providing primary source material in addition to his narrative. When appropriate, he includes passages from novels set in London.
Cunningham's book is entertaining and informative, but - since it's issued only in hardback - it's a better coffee-table book than guidebook to London. It would be great to read before the trip, but not very practical to carry around once you get there.
"London: A Biography," by Peter Ackroyd (Anchor Books, $18.95), is an internationally acclaimed biography of a city. It will be an entertaining read for anyone interested in London's history - literary or otherwise.
"Walking Literary London: 25 Original Walks Through London's Literary Heritage," by Roger Tagholm (Passport Books, $14.95), is the book you'll want to take with you to London. It's not as pretty or informative as "A Reader's Guide," but it is more practical if you want a guide to bring along. The book contains 25 mapped walks throughout the city.
Each walk begins with a summary of what you'll see relevant to London's literary past, as well as the start and finish points of the walk, the distance you'll cover, and the time it takes the average walker to cover the highlighted ground. The book also lists admission charges and phone numbers for many of the places mentioned.
In addition, there is an index of people and places covered in the book, so if you're looking for information about, say, Doris Lessing, you can consult the index and know you won't be able to find anything. If, on the other hand, you want to visit sights relevant to Dickens, then this guide will point you to them.
You may also join an escorted walk. London Walks, www.walks.com is enjoyable and affordable. In particular, check out the Old Bloomsbury/Literary London walk that covers old haunts and favorite places of Dickens, Thackeray, Wilde, Woolf, Eliot, and others. The walking group meets at the Holborn station at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. The tour takes 2-1/2 hours and costs £5 for adults; £4 for students.
An interesting website that provides information on some of London's most celebrated writers can be found at www.stanford.edu/~evans/LitLondon.
Looking for something a little more academic? Try www.literarylondon.org, where you'll find the Literary London Journal and information about a yearly conference dedicated to the study of the same subject. (Both the journal and the conference are hosted by the English department at Liverpool Hope University College.)
Finally, if Victorian London is your interest (think Dickens), you'll find that the website www.victorianlondon.org is a gold mine, with details about notable people of the era and information about what certain streets and districts were like during the time, and much more.