City of the Mind


In several of the items that we have read for class a common theme has been change. These different, poems, or novels all depict how the city of London continues to change for better or worse. The novel City of the Mind by Penelope Lively continues that theme.    

There are several instances within the novel that nod to the change that the city continues to go through. It is even the protagonist Matthew’s job as an architect to design and create these new changes. There are subtle mentions to the ever changing city. One of these particular instances is just a passing phrase when Matthew thinks about his ex-wife Susan. On page 118 Matthew thinks about the changes to the city, “But this was all long ago, and in another country. Waterloo is still there, and the Embankment- he passed the precise spot, indeed, just the other day-but the place in which those thing happened is the country of his mind. He is elsewhere now, and must make what he can of it.” This passing thought, not only describes the countries ever changing nature, but how he himself has also changed. In a city such as London life is busy and people, and places are always changing. Matthew is able to look at his life in this moment and see how he himself has changed as well as the city.

Another instance we notice the ever changing city is when Matthew is heading to the Spittalfields. Matthew notes that the area has been occupied for centuries despite factors such as market volatility. He notes that the occupants and there choice of industry. On page 95 he observes, “Which has mopped up wave upon wave of immigration, from Huguenots to Jews to the Bengalis of today. Which has moved form silk-weaving to cotton and calico and eventually to the viscose, nets and cords offered now on the shop-front of a wholesale textile importer.” The wonderful thing about this novel is that instead of just saying that the city has changed Lively uses Matthew’s observations to illustrate to the reader how the city had changed. When you look at pictures of London there is the juxtaposition of the old and the new. You are able to walk by buildings that have been in the same location for hundreds of years, and then there are also buildings made entirely out of glass and concrete, which have only been there for a couple of years. In this image you are able to see the tower of London, and in the background is a glass high rise.

As I have been walking around the city since I have been here the idea of the interplay between the old and the new has taken even more shape in my mind. The London Scene’s walk with Katrina yesterday pointed out many of the spaces and how they have either been repurposed. How all of these ideas with the old and the new connect has a much more firm idea in my mind now that I have actually been in London a few days, and not just reading about these spaces from my room.

This is a link of just some of the building projects that are currently going on in London. This is interesting to see the plans for this place that is ever changing.



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