Underground Writing

BookUnderground Writing

Underground Writing

The London Tube from George Gissing to Virginia Woolf


May 4th, 2010



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The purpose of this book is to explore the ways in which the London Underground/ Tube was ‘mapped’ by a number of writers from George Gissing to Virginia Woolf. From late Victorian London to the end of the World War II, ‘underground writing’ created an imaginative world beneath the streets of London. The real subterranean railway was therefore re-enacted in number of ways in writing, including as Dantean Underworld or hell, as gateway to a utopian future, as psychological looking- glass or as place of safety and security. The book is a chronological study from the opening of the first underground in the 1860s to its role in WW2. Each chapter explores perspectives on the underground in a number of writers, starting with George Gissing in the 1880s, moving through the work of H. G. Wells and into the writing of the 1920s & 1930s including Virginia Woolf and George Orwell. It concludes with its portrayal in the fiction, poetry and art (including Henry Moore) of WW2. The approach takes a broadly cultural studies perspective, crossing the boundaries of transport history, literature and London/ urban studies. It draws mainly on fiction but also uses poetry, art, journals, postcards and posters to illustrate. It links the actual underground trains, tracks and stations to the metaphorical world of ‘underground writing’ and places the writing in a social/ political context.

Welsh's is a compelling story, told with the aid of a rich variety of sources.

London Review of Books

This is a useful, dense, and perceptive book; it takes a thematic subject and successfully moves beyond listing and annotation to grapple with questions of why there were so many modes of writing about the network beneath then streets. Indeed, Underground Writing broadens beyond literature to become a cultural history of both the network, with its attendant posters, publicity campaigns, and progressively more bearable trains, and also of what was representable of the inchoate fears and desires brought to visibility, if not to the literal surface, by these railways.

Cambridge Quarterly, vol 40, no 1

David Welsh’s new book, which transports this interest below the city streets to the representation of the London Underground in fiction, is a unique and fascinating interjection into this substantial body of literature. Welsh’s fascinating discussion of modernism and Tubism should be crucial reading for anyone interested in the history and impact of modernism more widely. It certainly deserves a wide readership.

Socialist History 38

The Odd Women, I thought, was a book to be recommended to those who love literature and London transport. Now we have Underground Writing, which is a book that can be recommended to those who love reading about literature.

Virginia Woolf Bulletin No. 40


About The Author

David Welsh is an Oral Historian working on the WW2 Home Front Veterans Project (National Pensioners Convention & TUC) and currently oral/community history at HISTORYTalk in west London. He previously spent 8 years working on London Transport (Underground) and British Rail.