On the BBC World Service program Weekend, listen to Christine Corton discuss the origins of London’s legendary fog—and how it seeped into London’s literature:
“Engrossing and magnificently researched…Corton’s book combines meticulous social history with a wealth of eccentric detail. Thus we learn that London’s ubiquitous plane trees were chosen for their shiny, fog-resistant foliage. And since Jack the Ripper actually went out to stalk his victims on fog-free nights, filmmakers had to fake the sort of dank, smoke-wreathed London scenes audiences craved. It’s discoveries like these that make reading London Fog such an unusual, enthralling and enlightening experience.”—Miranda Seymour, New York Times Book Review
“Corton, clad in an overcoat, with a linklighter before her, takes us into the gloomier, long 19th century, where she revels in its Gothic grasp. Beautifully illustrated, London Fog delves fascinatingly into that swirling miasma.”—Philip Hoare, New Statesman
In popular imagination, London is a city of fog. The classic London fogs, the thick yellow “pea-soupers,” were born in the industrial age of the early nineteenth century. The first globally notorious instance of air pollution, they remained a constant feature of cold, windless winter days until clean air legislation in the 1960s brought about their demise. Christine L. Corton tells the story of these epic London fogs, their dangers and beauty, and their lasting effects on our culture and imagination.
As the city grew, smoke from millions of domestic fires, combined with industrial emissions and naturally occurring mists, seeped into homes, shops, and public buildings in dark yellow clouds of water droplets, soot, and sulphur dioxide. The fogs were sometimes so thick that people could not see their own feet. By the time London’s fogs lifted in the second half of the twentieth century, they had changed urban life. Fogs had created worlds of anonymity that shaped social relations, providing a cover for crime, and blurring moral and social boundaries. They had been a gift to writers, appearing famously in the works of Charles Dickens, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, and T. S. Eliot. Whistler and Monet painted London fogs with a fascination other artists reserved for the clear light of the Mediterranean.
Corton combines historical and literary sensitivity with an eye for visual drama—generously illustrated here—to reveal London fog as one of the great urban spectacles of the industrial age.