With the Olympics upon us, quite a lot is being written about London and its distinctive personality. In this context, here is the passage I've just reached in Becoming Dickens by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst:
"Where Dickens differed from ... other writers was in recognising that London was not only a celebration of sociability. It was also a place that magnified loneliness. Although many people feel isolated from time to time, London seemed especially adept at transforming such moods into a way of life, like that of the pinched man Boz observes walking mechanically up and down in St. James's Park, 'unheeding and unheeded; his spare, pale face looking as if it were incapable of bearing the expression of curiosity or interest' ('Thoughts about People'). This was not a new concern: as early as The Prelude (1805), Wordsworth had been 'baffled' by the thought of 'how men lived/Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still/Strangers, and knowing not each other's names.' Nor was it solved by a growing population. William Booth arrived in London from Nottingham in 1849, and when he came to write his autobiography the notes he made under the heading 'London' amounted to a solitary word: 'Loneliness!' 'There is no place,' James Grant observed in 1836, 'in which the injunction, "Mind your own business," is so scrupulously attended to as in London.' More optimistically, there is nobody who more scrupulously ignores this injunction than Dickens. Whether he is describing in The Old Curiosity Shop those 'who live solitarily in great cities as in the bucket of a human well,' or showing in Bleak House how Charley Neckett 'melted into the city's strife and sound, like a dewdrop in an ocean,' his writing repeatedly zooms in on isolated individuals and keeps them company on the page."
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