Moments of Big Smokiness

It is difficult, in a year, to come anywhere close to comprehension of a city like London.  At best you perhaps start to understand why it has enthralled so many before you.  London is a city built on narrative and meta-narrative.  I suppose the same could be said about British society.  That narrative was the cornerstone of their colonialism, and if I can remove myself from the weight of that empire for a second, I have to say that they are pretty good at it.  So in that spirit, now ten days removed from the Big Smoke, I’ll be adding some thoughts on particular moments in London.



  1. Came across this blog from Ultrabrown. Have read posts before but first time commenting. The London narrative – cosmopolitanism, diversity, worldliness, etc. – was not, I don’t think, the narrative of colonialism. The narrative of colonialism was British provinicialism, trying to recreate the stifling stuffiness of British country life in the overseas territories by small town men, and younger sons of lesser aristocracy, people who longed for but were never allowed into the intimate network of privilege that was British aristocratic life. And so instead of recreating London, they tried to recreate the archaic world of county seats, celebrating not London diversity but homogeneity and the blue blood that they could not be part of.


  2. I wasn’t clear in my post about what I meant by “narrative”. I was referring to the way in which the UK seems to make its history, its royalty, its people writ large a sort of core story. It’s a complex issue, and includes the fact of English as a, if not THE, dominant language, and the continuing centrality of the British monarchy in terms of popularity worldwide. And the little things, including the quaint, blue plaques on every other building that proclaim which “important” person lived, or ate, or was born on that site. In that sense, it seems to me that globally people know Britain’s story better than that of other nations. And in doing so, also know and mimic British cultural and social institutions.


  3. I think the idea that Britain was the center of the world changed unalterably after the Second World War. These days, it is only dedicated anglophiles who follow the British story closely. In India, where I grew up, only people of a certain age (55 and older) even remember the British. For my generation, those who graduated from college in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the west meant only one country – the United States. Vilayet was that strange, fuddy-duddy land that our parents spoke about, full of strange foods like Marmite and Toad-in-the-Hole and Spotted Dick. As for British royalty, if I hadn’t studied history in college and grad school, I probably wouldn’t have known or cared who King Edward and Wallis Simpson were. I am interested in mid-century British literature, but it is more of an academic interest combined with a horrified fascination (Good Lord, could such repressed and devious people have ever existed?!). My less academically-inclined friends didn’t even bother with that – they were too busy watching Cyndi Lauper and Madonna videos and worrying about their Wharton applications to care about the Brits. And it is a telling indicator of how the world has changed, that those of us who live outside India, choose to live in either the United States or in Singapore and Hong Kong. But London? No, there’s no action there. I am looking forward to your posts to see how you trace these British narratives you find so compelling.


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