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Reviews John Marriott (General Editor), Masaie Matsumura andJudith R. Walkowitz (Consulting Editors). Unknown Undon: EarlyModernist Visionsof theMetropolis, 1815-1845, London, Pickering & Chatto, 2000, Six Volumes. This is a wide-ranging and extremely valuable collection of prose, dramatic and illustrative texts, perhaps particularly so for those of us who do not have easy access to research libraries. Given that most of these volumes top four hundred pages, it is only possible here to hint at the richness and diversity of the materials on display. The key figure around whom the collection is based is Pierce Egan, author of Ufe in Undon, which was a runaway best-seller at the beginning of the 1820s. Although this text has always had its champions, lack of accessible editions has always been a problem as far as teaching it has been concerned. Although expensive, Marriott's collection will at least allow students to consult it more easily in libraries. One of the things that Marriott finds exciting about Egan, as others have done, is the way in which a number of different texts are bouncing off each other. The plurality of metropolitan life leads to a plurality of texts. There is Egan's prose text, originally published in serial form. Then there are the famous illustrations (not in colour here for obvious reasons) produced by the Cruikshank brothers (remembered by some long after Egan's own text had faded into obscurity). Success bred imitation, both on stage by playwrights like W T Moncrieff (whose adaptation is reprinted here along with some of his later plays) as well as ones on the page. I think that Marriott is right to suggest in his short, but densely packed, introduction to the volume as a whole, that something new is going on here. Egan was drawing on earlier traditions of rogue literature, but also taking them in different directions not least because he was a storyteller who was interested in character (and occasionally the writing of the story becomes the story itself). Marriott argues, more specifically , following critics like Raymond Williams that what we might be seeing here is the stirrings of Modernist sensibility. I am not entirely convinced by this part of the argument, seeing Egan as a quintes118volume 28 number 2 Reviews sentially Regency figure. Yet the two terms are by no means mutually exclusive given that an important strand in turn-of-the-century writings (Oscar Wilde) and then in Modernism itself was a revival of interest in the Regency (but not alas in Egan). Even so, Flora Tristan seems to me to be closer to Modernism and Impression than Egan might be. Each of the texts is given a short, editorial introduction. One of the themes that Marriott usefully develops here is how writers coped with the legacy of Egan: inspiring but also somewhat mtirnidating. Initially, as indicated, a smart response for professional but often precarious writers was to imitate him and hope that some of the success would rub off on them, which it often did. Later on, writers made attempts if not to abandon altogether Egan's city of contrasts which provided a pleasure ground for young gents for rambles and sprees, frolic and fun, but to explore in more detail a more complex set of connections between high life and low life. Although street life was still important, there was also felt to be a need to document particular locations. J. Duncombe visits low lodging houses in The Densof Undon Exposed. . . (1835), and James Grant's Sketches in Undon... (1838) takes readers to lunatic asylums, prisons and workhouses. Although some of the parliamentary and courtroom sketches here are pretty turgid, there is a good opening section on the craft of writing begging letters. His work on penny theatres anticipates Henry Mayhew's visits to the gaffs. John Badcock, two of whose works are reprinted here, must have been a disappointed man. Like Egan, he was an authority on boxing, flash talk and the underworld more generally. Yet he never had anything like the same success (hence perhaps his barbed remark that Egan had to make changes to the character of Jerry Hawthorn because the original version was not working). A UvingPicture...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 118-120
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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