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GREAT BRITISH LITERATURE PART 2: THE COCKNEY CITY

Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Coleridge and T.S. Eliot in London


Agatha Christie taught herself to read when she was five. She has done it against the will of her mother, who considered reading at an early age unhealthy! She wanted her youngest daughter to master this skill only after she turned 8. But “the damage” was done, and young Agatha entered the world of storybooks. Her love for reading and wild imagination led her eventually to a spectacular career as an author herself. Between 1920 and 1965, she produced at least one book every year!

 

Although Agatha Christie was born and raised in Devon, a significant part of her eventful life and career took place in London.  She moved around a lot and happened to live in some of the most beautiful parts of London!


When first the electric trams did run,

In all their scarlet glory,

‘Twas well, but ere the day was done,

It was another story

Agatha Christie, “An Autobiography”


The first (1h long) part of Christie’s walking tour runs through beautiful Kensington and Chelsea, and it will take you to five Christie’s places: 47 Campden Street, 58 Sheffield Terrace, 22 Cresswell Pl (Christie’s Cottage), The Cross Keys (Christie’s pub) and 35 Chelsea Manor Street.


The second part of Christie’s London walking tour runs through central London. During this 1h 20min stroll, you will see Flemings Mayfair, Brown’s and Ritz hotels, the (book) statue dedicated to Agatha Christie, St. Martin's Theatre (where you can see The Mousetrap play), Apothecaries' Hall, and fictional London residence of detective Hercule Poirot. It is a lovely walk through one of the most charming parts of central London.



AGATHA CHRISTIES’S LANDMARKS IN LONDON


1 - Ealing and the grave of real Miss Marple


Agatha Miller (Christie is a surname after her first husband) spent most of her (happy!) childhood in Devon. However, she was not a stranger to London from her early years. 

One of London's spots most frequently visited by her was the house at 99 Uxbridge Road in Ealing. At this address, for  over 30 years, lived her grand aunt Margaret Miller, a woman who was the inspiration for Christie’s iconic character, an elderly amateur detective, Miss Marple.

Margaret Miller was a prolific knitter and crocheter and shared with Miss Marple, among other things, similar “skepticism about human nature”. Agatha was very fond of her. There is not much to see in the spot where Christie’s aunt used to live - the house at 99 Uxbridge Road in the ’60s was replaced with office blocks.However, at South Ealing Cemetery, you can find a grave of Christie’s aunt - she died in 1919 at the age of 92. In the same spot are also buried the parents of Agatha Christie - Frederick and Clarissa Miller. At the beginning of the 20th century, Ealing was a posh suburb of London.

However, during the period when Christie visited her aunt there, a few murders took place locally.Back then, events like that were vividly described in newspapers. It is likely that those events triggered Agatha Christie's imagination and later pointed her in the direction of writing crime novels.


2. The place where young Agatha gained knowledge about poisons (Apothecaries Hall)


“It was while I was working in the dispensary that

I first conceived the idea of writing a detective story.”

A.Christie “An Autobiography”


During the First World War Christie served as a nurse in the Devon area. However, she also trained to become a Pharmacy Technician. In 1917 she passed the Apothecaries Hall Assistants’ Exam in London. Although she did not enjoy this job very much, the knowledge collected during her training (about toxic drugs and poisons!) came in handy during her later career as a crime writer.



3. Agatha Christie’s first home in London (5 Northwick Terrace)


In 1914 (at the beginning of the First World War), a 24-year-old Agatha married Archie

Christie. The war kept them mostly apart, but they moved together to the small apartment at 5 Northwick Terrace (not far from Regent Park) in 1918.  The Second World War that followed two decades after turned this property into ashes. Therefore today, you cannot see the exact Christie’s house. However, the neighboring properties of no 9 and 10 managed to survive the air raids, and they can give you an idea of what Christie’s first home in London looked like.


“That was just two rooms (…), and rather shabbily furnished, though pleasant, with faded chintz and a garden outside. It was in one of those biggish old-fashioned houses, and the rooms were spacious (…). It had a microscopic kitchenette and bathroom (…). But we were happy there (…) the start of my new life,

my married life.”

Agatha Christie about her flat at 5 Northwick Terrace in her  “An Autobiography”


4. Christie Cottage - the mews house that inspired Murder in  the Mews


Shortly after her divorce from her first husband, in 1929, Christie bought the cute mews house at 22 Cresswell in Chelsea.


It is fair to say that Christie loved this property (she kept this property for the rest of her life).  Her writing room was located on the top floor! Today blue plaque on the facade of this house commemorates Christie's residency in this place. Before the cars took over London streets, horse carriages were the most common

source of transportation. The animals were kept in small properties on narrow streets (called mews), usually located at the back of more grand houses. The stables at Cresswell Place were serving the properties at beautiful Drayton Garden Street (parallel to Cresswell Place). After the collapse of the “horse transportation industry”, the stables were turned into houses.


5. Christie’s pub in London (The Cross Keys, Chelsea)


The Cross Keys is considered to be the oldest pub in Chelsea.

It was built in 1708. On the facade of this pub, you can find a blue plaque dedicated to its famous regulars.



6. St Martin's Theatre (and the wonderful story of The Mousetrap!)


Many of Christie’s stories have been adapted for the stage. The most famous one is The Mousetrap. Christie originally wrote it as a radio play for the birthday of the wife of King George V, Queen Mary.  In 1952, The Mousetrap debuted on stage (at Ambassadors Theatre).

After its (unexpected) success, Christie asked this story not to be printed as long as it was being played in the West End.  Today, it is not a problem to find a version of this performance on the Internet or in a bookstore, but in St Martin’s Theater (where is currently played), at the end of each performance, the actor playing the murderer, as part of a tradition, still asks the audience to not reveal the plot to anyone after leaving the theater!The Mousetrap is the longest-running play in the world. It has been performed for the last 70 years, with a break only during the pandemic. On the facade of St Martin's Theatre, you can find a blue plaque celebrating the unbelievable history of the play.


7. The statue of Agatha Christie


In 2012, to mark 25,000 London performances of the play The Mousetrap, a beautiful statue dedicated to Agatha Christie was unveiled to the public in the heart of West End.


 

Over the years, Christie’s plays have been produced at eight local theatres. Christie was also the first female playwright to have three plays performing simultaneously in London's theatre district.



Apart from Christie herself, the monument also includes depictions of her greatest creations, detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.



LISTENING TEST




  1. When was she born?

  2. Who was her first husband?

  3. What was she diagnosed with?

  4. Where did she work during World War I?

  5. Why was she honoured?

  6. Where did Agatha get the idea of the settings for her stories?

  7. Did she write works under a different name? If so, which one?

  8. What was the name of the book that was a best seller?


SOME OF THE MOST POPULAR BOOKS BY AGATHA CHRISTIE


Match the plot with the right book cover



Jane Marple, usually known as Miss Marple, appears in 12 of Agatha Christie's crime novels and 21 short stories. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who acts as an amateur detective and lives in the village of St. Mary Mead. She has been portrayed numerous times on screen and is one of the most famous of Christie's creations.


Hercule Poirot is Agatha Christie's first ever detective. He was Belgian and fled to England during World War I and became an inspector, only to retire and become a famous sleuth. He has got neat appearance and always wore very particular clothes and had a little mustache. He often had a top hat and used a cane for a walker. He occasionally smoked cigarettes.


WHO SAID THAT?


1 - It’s what's in yourself that makes you happy or unhappy.

2 - I am probably the greatest detective in the world

3 - Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend. You cannot mix up sentiment and reason.

4 - I think, my dear, we won't talk any more about murder during tea. Such an unpleasant subject.

5 - If the little grey cells are not exercised, they grow the rust.

6 - Old age is a terrible thing, but it doesn't actually last that long.



Growing up, Agatha Christie enjoyed reading  Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories with her sister Madge, who later challenged her to write her own detective story. What similarities and what differences are there between these two characters?

Watch the video, then discuss with the rest of the class.



SIR. ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE AND SHERLOCK HOLMES’S LONDON


One summer evening in 1889, a young medical school graduate named Arthur Conan

Doyle arrived by train at London’s Victoria Station. Then living in obscurity in the coastal town of Southsea, near Portsmouth, the 30-year-old ophthalmologist was looking to advance his writing career. The magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual had recently published his novel, A Study in Scarlet, which introduced the private detective Sherlock Holmes. Now Joseph Marshall Stoddart, managing editor of Lippincott’s Monthly, a Philadelphia magazine, was in London to establish a British edition of his publication. At the suggestion of a friend, he had invited Conan Doyle to join him for dinner in the Langham Hotel’s opulent dining room.


Amid the bustle of waiters, the chink of fine silver and the hum of dozens of

conversations, Conan Doyle found Stoddart to be “an excellent fellow,” he would write years later. But he was captivated by one of the other invited guests, an Irish playwright and author named Oscar Wilde. “His conversation left an indelible impression upon my mind,” Conan Doyle remembered. “He had a curious precision of statement, a delicate flavour of humour, and a trick of small gestures to illustrate his meaning.” For both writers, the evening would prove a turning point. Wilde left with a commission to write his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which appeared in Lippincott’s June 1890 issue. And Conan Doyle agreed to produce a second novel starring his ace detective; The Sign of Four would cement his reputation. Indeed, critics have speculated that the encounter with Wilde, an exponent of a literary movement known as the Decadents, led Conan Doyle to deepen and darken Sherlock Holmes’ character: in The Sign of Four’s opening scene, Holmes is revealed to be addicted to a “seven-percent solution” of cocaine.


Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Although the author lived only a few months in the capital before moving to the suburbs, he visited the city frequently throughout his life. Victorian London takes on almost the presence of a character in the novels and stories, as fully realized—in all its fogs, back alleys and shadowy quarters—as Holmes himself. “Holmes could never have lived anywhere else but London,” says Lycett, author of the recent biography The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Any Sherlock Holmes pilgrimage should start with a visit to 221B Baker Street: The Sherlock Holmes Museum. Step inside an exact replica of Holmes’ study or get curious in Dr Watson’s bedroom where you’ll find handwritten notes sent from the detective to his trusty assistant. The Sherlock Holmes is a Victorian-themed pub in

Northumberland Street near Charing Cross railway station and Trafalgar Square which contains a large collection of memorabilia related to Mr. Holmes.


COLERIDGE AND TS ELIOT: TWO “RUINED MEN” IN LONDON


“A man may feel as if he had come to pieces, and at the same time is standing in the road  inspecting the parts, and wondering what sort of machine it wil make if he can put it together again.”


This second part is meant to be a comparison of two "ruined men”. One is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whom T. S. Eliot invoked, using the phrase cited above, for his Harvard audience on a December afternoon in 1932. The other is Eliot himself, who, unknown to the audience that heard him dissect Coleridge's character, was at the same time exploring his own failures and trying to face down personal crises uncannily like those that once faced his Romantic forbear—a man whose "sad ghost" would later be seen by Eliot as standing in the shadows of the lecture hall, off-stage but very much on Eliot's troubled mind. It is a study not so much in poetic as biographical affinity—of how one man may see himself mirrored in the actions of a predecessor and come to view the earlier man's life as a representation of his own. It seeks not to reiterate the claim, already made elsewhere, that Eliot was influenced by Coleridge as a poet, a critic, or even as a lecturer, but rather that, as his personal life threatened to overwhelm him, Eliot found the figure of Coleridge, and in particular the figure of Coleridge circa 1814-16, strangely  familiar.



Born in St Louis, Missouri, USA, in 1888,  Thomas Stearns Eliot married his first wife Vivien Haigh-Wood and settled in London in 1915. Eliot became a naturalised Briton – and an enthusiastic Anglican convert – in 1927. Best remembered for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land, Eliot is commemorated with a blue plaque at 3 Kensington Court Gardens, where he lived from 1957 until his death.


PRELUDES (1910/1911)


In this quartet of short Eliot poems there seems to be little escape from the everyday urban life of drudgery: you get up, you go to work, you come home, you sleep (or try to), you do it all again the next day. This picture of urban life makes ‘Preludes’ an important precursor – indeed, prelude – to T. S. Eliot’s later poem The Waste Land.




I


The winter evening settles down

With smell of steaks in passageways.

Six o’clock.

The burnt-out ends of smoky days.

And now a gusty shower wraps

The grimy scraps

Of withered leaves about your feet

And newspapers from vacant lots;

The showers beat

On broken blinds and chimney-pots,

And at the corner of the street

A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.


And then the lighting of the lamps.

I


La sera invernale si posa

sull'odore di bistecca nei vicoli.

Le sei.

I mozziconi consumati di giorni fumosi.

E ora una pioggia ventosa avvolge

i lerci resti

di foglie secche attorno ai tuoi piedi

e di giornali dagli spazi vuoti;

le pioggie battono

sulle persiane rotte e i comignoli,

e all'angolo della strada

un solitario cavallo di carrozza fuma e scalpita.


E poi l'accensione delle lampade.


II


The morning comes to consciousness

Of faint stale smells of beer

From the sawdust-trampled street

With all its muddy feet that press

To early coffee-stands.


With the other masquerades

That time resumes,

One thinks of all the hands

That are raising dingy shades

In a thousand furnished rooms.


III


You tossed a blanket from the bed,

You lay upon your back, and waited;

You dozed, and watched the night revealing

The thousand sordid images

Of which your soul was constituted;

They flickered against the ceiling.

And when all the world came back

And the light crept up between the shutters

And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,

You had such a vision of the street

As the street hardly understands;

Sitting along the bed’s edge, where

You curled the papers from your hair,

Or clasped the yellow soles of feet

In the palms of both soiled hands.


IV


His soul stretched tight across the skies

That fade behind a city block,

Or trampled by insistent feet

At four and five and six o’clock;

And short square fingers stuffing pipes,

And evening newspapers, and eyes

Assured of certain certainties,

The conscience of a blackened street

Impatient to assume the world.


I am moved by fancies that are curled

Around these images, and cling:

The notion of some infinitely gentle

Infinitely suffering thing.


Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;

The worlds revolve like ancient women

Gathering fuel in vacant lots.


II


La mattina arriva alla coscienza

con il lieve odore stantio di birra

dalla strada pesta di segatura

con tutti i suoi piedi infangati che premono

ai bar mattutini.


Con le altre mascherate

che il tempo resuscita,

uno pensa a tutte le mani

che proiettano ombre nerastre

in mille camere ammobiliate.


III


Hai gettato la coperta dal letto,

ti sei sdraiata e hai aspettato;

hai sonnecchiato e osservato la notte rivelare

le mille sordide immagini

che costituivano la tua anima;

guizzavano contro il soffitto.

E quando il mondo intero ritornò

e la luce s'insinuò tra le imposte

e sentisti i passeri nelle grondaie,

hai avuto una tale visione della strada

che la strada a malapena capisce;

seduta sul bordo del letto, dove

hai srotolato la carta dai capelli

o hai stretto le piante gialle dei piedi

nei palmi delle mani macchiate.


IV


La sua anima si estendeva per i cieli

che sbiadiscono dietro un isolato

o era calpestata da piedi insistenti

alle quattro e alle cinque e alle sei;

e corte dita quadrate che riempiono pipe

e giornali della sera, e occhi

sicuri di certe certezze;

la coscienza di una strada annerita

impaziente di arrogarsi il mondo.


Sono commosso da fantasie che sono arricciate

intorno a queste immagini e si aggrappano:

l'idea di una qualche cosa infinitamente tenera

infinitamente sofferente.


Strofina la tua mano sulla bocca e ridi;

il mondo ruota come antiche donne

che raccolgono combustibile in spazi vuoti.


BASED ON YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE POEM, COMPLETE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS:


  • In the evening the city streets are filled with the ____________________________

  • The rain in the evening makes the atmosphere ____________________________

  • The showers beat on ____________________________

  • The horse is steaming and stamping because ____________________________

  • The morning air is filled with ____________________________

  • The dirty walls in thousand rooms are filled with ____________________________


ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:


  • What season of the year is suggested in the first stanza?

  • What is the evening compared to?

  • What surrounds the feet of the passerby?

  • How are the shoes of the men going to coffee-stands?

  • Why does Eliot compare the evening with “the burnt out ends of smoky days”?

  • How does Eliot portray city life as monotonous and meaningless in this poem?


DISCUSS THE DEMERITS OF INDUSTRIALIZATION ON HUMAN SPIRIT AND SOCIETY. YOU MAY NOTE THE FOLLOWING POINTS:


  • People have become money-minded

  • It has resulted in a wider gap between the poor and the rich

  • Impact on environment


WORK WITHOUT HOPE (1825)


Work without Hope’ is a non-traditional sonnet, write-in fourteen lines, divided into two stanzas. The sonnet does not follow in particular, popular, rhyme scheme but instead follows the pattern of ABABBB CCDDCCEE. Additionally, rather than one half of the sonnet answering or explaining the other, the entire narrative is laid out in the first twelve lines and summarized in the final two.


All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—

The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—

And Winter slumbering in the open air,

Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,

Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.


Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,

Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.

Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,

For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!

With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:

And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,

And Hope without an object cannot live.

La Natura pare tutta all’opera. Lasciano la tanai lumaconi, le api fremono, battono l’alagli uccelli e all’aria aperta l’Inverno assonnato reca lieto in volto un sogno di primavera! Solo io sono un essere inerte e non facciomiele, né canto, m’accoppio o costruisco.


Eppure conosco le rive degli amaranti in fiore,e le fonti da cui il loro nettare scorre.Fiorite, amaranti! Fiorite per chi potete,ma non per me! Scorrete via, gonfi ruscelli!Con labbra smorte e privo di allori incedo.Sai che incantesimo mi ottunde l’anima?Senza speranza, il lavoro butta nettare nel setaccioe la speranza non vive senza un oggetto.


Answer the following questions, in complete sentences, and use evidence from the poem where possible.

What is the poem's theme or central idea?



How does the author use of figurative language or other poetic devices?


highlights the idea that nature gives spiritual pleasure and enjoyment


What effect does the use of figurative language have on the poem?


How would you describe the tone of the poem?


On a pillar in Poets' Corner Westminster Abbey is a bust in memory of Samuel Taylor

Coleridge. The inscription reads: S. T. Coleridge. Born Oct 21. 1772. Died July 25. 1834. The bust was unveiled on 7th May 1885 by the United States Minister in London James Russell Lowell. The bust is set high on the pillar above William Wordsworth's statue.

Coleridge was born at Ottery St Mary in Devon. After the sudden death of his father he was sent to Christ's Hospital in London, a school for orphans. He was appointed by the school to Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1794 he met Robert Southey (whose memorial is near to that of Coleridge) and he later formed a close friendship with William Wordsworth and his sister and lived near them in Somerset and later in the Lake District. He married Sara Fricker and they had three children. His well-known works include 'Kubla Khan' and 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. He is buried at Highgate cemetery in London.


COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG: POPULAR PHRASES

SPEAK LIKE A REAL LONDONER!




IT'S YOUR TURN!

TURN THE FOLLOWING SENTENCES INTO "COCKNEY ENGLISH"!

Puoi prendere la carne dal congelatore?

Ho lasciato le chiavi dell’auto al lavoro

Stasera ne parlerò con mia moglie

Prendiamo un caffè insieme dopo pranzo?

Non credo abbia molti soldi con sé

Credi a quello che ha detto il giudice?

Preferisci una tazza di te con o senza zucchero?

Mi puoi prestare 10 sterline?

Non mangiare quella mela! Non vedi che è marcia?

Riccardo Zambon, 10th February 2024

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