A fascinating interview with this almost forgotten writer in Saturday's Guardian. Experiencing penury on the streets of Whitechapel before finding literary success in the company of Elias Canetti and Herbert Read – and publicly attacking TS Eliot for his anti-semitism. I stumbled across him last year when I found his long out of print (as, sadly, is all his work) but wonderful novel of the Siege of Sydney Street and the radical milieu of the pre-First World War East End, A Death Out of Season. Penguin have just reissued his memoir of Jewish East End life, Journey Through a Small Planet, with a new introduction by Patrick Wright.

Even though I shall be hungrily devouring it as soon as I can get my hands on it, I can’t help but feel ambiguous about this publishing trend. Once banished to the murky depths of self-publishing and vanity presses, there are now a plethora of histories, novels and autobiographies of East London and its residents. It's become a veritable sub-genre of literature: like the 'misery memoir' almost worthy of its own bookshop bay. A fashion triggered by the success of Iain Sinclair's psychogeographic explorations (although see John Barker's interesting critique of Sinclair's work), the East End now stands in for some idea of 'authentic' London. Painted as being at the forefront of social change it’s seen as multi-cultural, dynamic, violent.

But where are the memoirs of those who lived in Crouch End? Or Croydon? Or even (ugh) Clapham? And what of Nottingham? Sunderland? Norwich? All places that experienced the high-speed friction and transformation of modernity, but without popstars, YBAs and literary celebrities the histories of these places simply don’t exist.

Readers Comments

  1. Martyn Everett Tuesday 12 August 2008

    Rowan, There was an interesting article on the real identity of Peter the Painter in the Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library, July 2007 - based on Phil Ruff's forthcoming book.

  2. Cheers - I saw some incredible newsreel footage of the siege once. Fascinating how everyone was able to stand around watching with the troops - and Winston Churchill! And odd psychogeographic factoid: there is now an estate on Sydney Street called Blenheim Terrace. Why so odd? Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace.

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