City of the Mind

He sees that time is what we live in, but that it is also what we carry within us. Time is then, but it is also our own perpetual now. (9)

One of the greatest things about this book is that Penelope Lively blurs the lines of time in order to make the readers think about their own perpetual nows. In Henri Lefebvre’s article, “The Production of Space,” he talks about architecture it derived heavily by space. This is mimicked in Lively’s novel because the architecture provides context to the main character, Matthew Halland, and to the readers. As Matthew walks through the city, either by himself, or with his daughter, he is constantly noticing the changing atmospheric space of London. However, what stays the same is the architecture. The beauty of London is that there is a unique blending of old and new. Beautiful glass buildings are put up next to majestic brick ones.


A photo I took on a walking tour of “The London Scene” that depicts the two types of buildings next to each other.

This kind of marriage between old and new are exemplary characteristics of London and of what Lively is talking about in her novel. Existing along with this marriage is the idea of a heterotopic space, multiple levels of time existing in a single space. There are flashbacks of other people’s lives that have walked the same streets as Matthew and have lived in the same place as him, but there are also flashbacks of his own life. There are several different layers in existence of the same space. I’m beginning to think that London is just one enormous heterotopic space because I have mentioned this concept in these blog posts, but also in a couple journal entries for another class. And I think that’s a huge example of the Englishness on display in London. However, Jane’s accident and the accident of the little girl are related through the layers of time and space and are tethered together in a related moment. There is a unison between the two circumstances, but also a disconnect because one girl lives while the other does not. This kind of connection probably happens a lot in real life, with one occurrence potentially happening on the spot of a same occurrence. It’s all about the history of the space and the different people that have stood in the same spot throughout the years.

That particular stack of bricks occupied the same space in, maybe 1740. The same bricks, in the same place, looked at by different people. That, to me, makes a complicated nonsense of the passage of time. (8)

Another really interesting concept presented in this novel is the idea of spatiality and what it means if something happens outside of your small bubble. What I mean by this is the conversation that Jane has with her dad when she asks him, “Where are you when I’m at mum’s house?” Jane cannot physically see her father, so does he actually exist? “She turns from the window to face him. “That’s not what I mean,” she cries. She is frustrated and intent. “I mean- I can’t see you, I can only think you, so you aren’t there.”” It’s a strange concept to think about and even more so to convey, but the idea is that things do continue to happen and change even when they are outside of our own personal range.

When we walk through London, we experience the old and the new, the people that have walked here before us, and the idea that things are happening outside of our immediate bubble. It relates to this course because that idea of heterotopic spaces defining Englishness. What is brilliant about London is that it is the blending of different times, different cultures, different people. A quote from the book is “the city speaks in tongues”- this provides context to the idea that London has become a place of different cultures and different expanses- a series of heterotopias. There are always multiple layers of spatiality happening in a place. I’m aware that this isn’t McVicker’s class, but I think defining Englishness comes down to the idea that spatiality is a key concept in the overall explanation of Englishness.

This book “writes London” on that it gives us literal places that Matthew is seeing, we’ll see, and people have seen for many years. It also gives us a clue into the history and culture of a city like London.

It’s a long video, but if you have time to check it out, it’s Penelope Lively talking about how the study and appreciation of history influences the writer of fiction, which relates directly to this novel and to our entire course of study. It’s also really interesting to listen to her speak, she is such a posh British lady!

Her part is from 5:45-46:00