Friday, 15 August 2008

Noir and the North Kent Marshes

The references to Kent in Riddley Walker reminded me of another website I visited recently, Literature and Place. This is the website of a joint project (between the School of English, University of Kent, and the Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale, Dunkirk) to develop a database of literature relating to the Transmanche region - as the map interface shows, Kent and Nord Pas-de-Calais. Although it could be developed further (for instance, Hoban's Riddley Walker isn't there, and a lot more could be said about locations in Russell Thorndike's Dr Syn saga - see The Life and Times of the Rev. Doctor Christopher Syn, Parson, Smuggler, and Sometime Pirate) it's surprising how many authors have connections in this area.

The prime example is probably Charles Dickens, who spent part of his childhood in Chatham and knew the Hoo Peninsula well (he spent his honeymoon at Chalk and later lived at Gadshill): Cooling Churchyard was the prime inspiration for the churchyard with the graves of Pip's siblings where Pip first meets Magwitch in Great Expectations amid the generally desolate background of the North Kent Marshes. This area, due to nature conservancy initiatives, still retains a deal of its characteristic landscape.

Dickens, one could imagine, might well have liked the 1952 film The Long Memory (based on Howard Clewes' 1951 novel of the same name). It contains a number of Dickensian melodramatic elements: false imprisonment, obsessed and wronged hero, interesting mix of characters (both respectable and low-life, with good and bad found among both), and settings that would have been familiar to Dickens. See it if you can; the overall critical view these days is that it's a much under-rated classic of the narrow genre of English film noir, with particular acclaim for its "exceptional use of landscape", moving between the North Kent Marshes and a distinctly Dickensian post-WW2 London (the now-Yuppified Shad Thames - adjacent in Dickens' time to the Jacob's Island of Oliver Twist - and long-gone seedy streets in Northfleet - see Reel Streets - whose limeworks Dickens mentions in Our Mutual Friend). See the critique in British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration (Ian Duncan MacKillop, Neil Sinyard, Manchester University Press, 2003, ISBN 0719064899) and the review at Ferdy on Films.

Peter Brown, by the way, is co-editor of Literature and Place, 1800-2000 (Peter Brown, Michael Irwin, Peter Lang Publishing, Incorporated, 2006, ISBN 0820450782) which looks rather interesting: "Ten original essays examine the transactions between real places and the literary imagination, including the reinvention of real places in literary form, from 1800 to the present day". Check out, similarly, the Bookpaths blog, that explores such connections worldwide.
- Ray

Some Dickens bits and pieces. What the Dickens do they think they're doing? - The Telegraph's Max Davidson on the DickensWorld theme park. The Dickens Project at the University of California: lots of material here, such as Charles Dickens' involvement in the Staplehurst Disaster. And Mr Timothy (Louis Bayard, John Murray, 2005, ISBN 0719567025) - a very good sequel to A Christmas Carol featuring the grown-up Tiny Tim; see Tiny Tim Sings a New Christmas Carol and Towering Timothy for reviews. Ever wonder what happened to Scrooge? So have these authors, an article on A Christmas Carol sequels, by Matt McHugh, who has himself written Scrooge & Cratchit, in which we find Scrooge's new benevolence is not without its downside.

Addendum 2
I've expanded the brief account of The Long Memory into a review of both the film and the Howard Clewes novel; see The Long Memory.

- Ray

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