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Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London

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Before the age of the gas lamp, the city at night was a different place, home to the lost, the vagrant and the noctiambulators. In this brilliant work of literary investigation, Matthew Beautmont shines a light on the dark perambulations of poets, novelists and thinkers from Shakespeare, the ecstatic strolls of William Blake, the feverish urges of opium addict De Quincey a Before the age of the gas lamp, the city at night was a different place, home to the lost, the vagrant and the noctiambulators. In this brilliant work of literary investigation, Matthew Beautmont shines a light on the dark perambulations of poets, novelists and thinkers from Shakespeare, the ecstatic strolls of William Blake, the feverish urges of opium addict De Quincey as well as the master night walker, Charles Dickens.


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Before the age of the gas lamp, the city at night was a different place, home to the lost, the vagrant and the noctiambulators. In this brilliant work of literary investigation, Matthew Beautmont shines a light on the dark perambulations of poets, novelists and thinkers from Shakespeare, the ecstatic strolls of William Blake, the feverish urges of opium addict De Quincey a Before the age of the gas lamp, the city at night was a different place, home to the lost, the vagrant and the noctiambulators. In this brilliant work of literary investigation, Matthew Beautmont shines a light on the dark perambulations of poets, novelists and thinkers from Shakespeare, the ecstatic strolls of William Blake, the feverish urges of opium addict De Quincey as well as the master night walker, Charles Dickens.

30 review for Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    An alternative title for this book could have been "Men walking". This is a personal and a bit rambling book, and at times very interesting, but at the same time the book is not totally clear on its focus: sometimes it is about men walking, sometimes about London (mostly the unprivileged parts), sometimes about London at night - and sometimes about walking at night in London. And all this with a heavy slant towards men of letters, when Beaumont doesn't switch to his other mode: a general descript An alternative title for this book could have been "Men walking". This is a personal and a bit rambling book, and at times very interesting, but at the same time the book is not totally clear on its focus: sometimes it is about men walking, sometimes about London (mostly the unprivileged parts), sometimes about London at night - and sometimes about walking at night in London. And all this with a heavy slant towards men of letters, when Beaumont doesn't switch to his other mode: a general description of London's social history, policing or analyzing specific words connected to walking. There is also a striking lack of women, they are mostly just hinted at, and mostly seen through the eyes of these male writers, who often have their own agendas. Since this book spends so much time on the social history of London, couldn't there have been some room for this aspect? After all, wouldn't that have been more to the point of the purpose of this book, than for example describing De Quincy walking around in Wales with a tent on his back, that he used to sleep in at night?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Goldenberg

    As an inveterate London walker (although always by day, hardly ever at night), this was a book I was keen to read. It is a hugely detailed work of literary and historical investigation which is over detailed and laborious at times but, in the end, repays the effort sometimes needed to get through it. There's a wealth of fascinating information about London at night from medieval times to the 19th century, not least the history of street lighting and curfews and the slow development of the policin As an inveterate London walker (although always by day, hardly ever at night), this was a book I was keen to read. It is a hugely detailed work of literary and historical investigation which is over detailed and laborious at times but, in the end, repays the effort sometimes needed to get through it. There's a wealth of fascinating information about London at night from medieval times to the 19th century, not least the history of street lighting and curfews and the slow development of the policing of the night-time streets. But mainly this is an analysis of the works of literary night walkers - both the famous (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth, De Quincey, Dickens) and the obscure. By the end, it's the philosophical, social and moral ambiguities of the city at night that stayed with me. The city at night as a place where good and evil meet and become interchangeable. (A warning note - don't be put off by Will Self's foreword which, as he so often does, equates cleverness and insight with unreadability.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    A mostly very enjoyable and readable account of nightwalking in London from the eleventh century to the 19th, as mediated by literature. (What? I don't always read books about cannibal chefs, you know.) I don't know if there's quite enough to the topic to support the length, and the author does fall into academic blether occasionally, but the medieval history parts and the section on Blake are tremendous, vivid and fascinating. Well chosen quotes and sources too. A really interesting perspective f A mostly very enjoyable and readable account of nightwalking in London from the eleventh century to the 19th, as mediated by literature. (What? I don't always read books about cannibal chefs, you know.) I don't know if there's quite enough to the topic to support the length, and the author does fall into academic blether occasionally, but the medieval history parts and the section on Blake are tremendous, vivid and fascinating. Well chosen quotes and sources too. A really interesting perspective for the London lit lover.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    Admittedly, I judged this book by its cover and bought it on a whim. I'm so happy that I did. It's a wonderful and rich history of walking at night (mostly in London). A thorough analysis of people who walk the night and those who safeguard against it...which is always accompanied by how we view people who've wandered the night over the centuries and of the night itself. Fascinating from start to finish. Give it a go! Admittedly, I judged this book by its cover and bought it on a whim. I'm so happy that I did. It's a wonderful and rich history of walking at night (mostly in London). A thorough analysis of people who walk the night and those who safeguard against it...which is always accompanied by how we view people who've wandered the night over the centuries and of the night itself. Fascinating from start to finish. Give it a go!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    it takes me a long time to read nonfiction. this was a great book - I was attracted to the poetic aspect of it. it was clear matthew beaumont knows a hell of a lot about literature and history. I didn't agree with all his assessments - I wouldn't say shelley is making the case that the skylark is an aesthetic construct, for example,I just think he's saying it has transcended the material realm. but I learned a lot about literature and london - didn't know marble arch was the site of tyburn tree, it takes me a long time to read nonfiction. this was a great book - I was attracted to the poetic aspect of it. it was clear matthew beaumont knows a hell of a lot about literature and history. I didn't agree with all his assessments - I wouldn't say shelley is making the case that the skylark is an aesthetic construct, for example,I just think he's saying it has transcended the material realm. but I learned a lot about literature and london - didn't know marble arch was the site of tyburn tree, a public gallows. didn't know blake was so down on druids. I also spent a lot of time feeling pissed off about how the 1% have always oppressed the 99%. and some time thinking about where I would have stood vis a vis the enlightenment and the counter-enlightenment. I'm not anti-science, but I am also a romantic. anyway, a rich book, well worth reading. and such a beautiful cover.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gisselle

    3.5 but rounded up to 4 for the strong finish. I thought the writer was best when speaking about the history surrounding the individuals he profiled. I appreciated the Marxist analysis of both the history and literature included in the book and I thought it contributed to his argument. I was not a fan of every writer and excerpt he included and this made the book drag at points. That said, the build up contributed to the pay off of the Dickens chapters, which knocked it out of the park. The Poe 3.5 but rounded up to 4 for the strong finish. I thought the writer was best when speaking about the history surrounding the individuals he profiled. I appreciated the Marxist analysis of both the history and literature included in the book and I thought it contributed to his argument. I was not a fan of every writer and excerpt he included and this made the book drag at points. That said, the build up contributed to the pay off of the Dickens chapters, which knocked it out of the park. The Poe chapter was well-done also, and I actually wanted more of it. I also appreciated being introduced to the works of Dekker. All in all, a niche idea that the writer fleshed out expertly.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    What a delightful book! Its exploration of London’s nightwalkers begins in Shakespeare’s walled city, in which there was no good reason for anyone but the night watch to be out; it proceeds through the bohemian period, in which the noctavagant are actively resisting the strictures of clock-watching artisans. The books concludes in Dickens’ insomniac walks to his country home, tortured as he was by some pre-Freudian psychology that would only be drawn out by the noirs and crime novels of the mid- What a delightful book! Its exploration of London’s nightwalkers begins in Shakespeare’s walled city, in which there was no good reason for anyone but the night watch to be out; it proceeds through the bohemian period, in which the noctavagant are actively resisting the strictures of clock-watching artisans. The books concludes in Dickens’ insomniac walks to his country home, tortured as he was by some pre-Freudian psychology that would only be drawn out by the noirs and crime novels of the mid-20th century (outside Beaumont’s purview). In between we get Wordsworth’s compositional walkabouts, Tennyson’s dark maidens (although no “Highwayman” and that’s puzzle), Chaucer, William Blake, and Thomas De Quincey. Beaumont’s book is an ecstatic celebration of our tendency to invest the night with all our fears, guilt, and desires. And I learned the origin of “curfew,” from “couvre feu,” the requirement to extinguish hearth fires at night.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    Nightwalking was at times a dense read, but no less enjoyable for that. It blends social and legal history with literary history and commentary in a remarkable way, drawing some fascinating conclusions. I loved the profiles of the various writers, and the way Beaumont linked their nocturnal wanderings to their writing, and to the views of the time in which they lived. Given its tone, this is probably a book more for readers used to perusing heavier, academic texts than those looking for a light Nightwalking was at times a dense read, but no less enjoyable for that. It blends social and legal history with literary history and commentary in a remarkable way, drawing some fascinating conclusions. I loved the profiles of the various writers, and the way Beaumont linked their nocturnal wanderings to their writing, and to the views of the time in which they lived. Given its tone, this is probably a book more for readers used to perusing heavier, academic texts than those looking for a light non-fiction read along the lines of Peter Ackroyd. However, if you are inclined to give it a try, it more than pays off your time and effort as it is an intriguing study.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Naz

    A well-studied, well-written book that sometimes felt like a literary roller coaster. Just when you start to think it's getting dull, it picks up pace and you don't want the ride to end. I was mostly attracted to the social history aspect but enjoyed the literary criticism as much. A well-studied, well-written book that sometimes felt like a literary roller coaster. Just when you start to think it's getting dull, it picks up pace and you don't want the ride to end. I was mostly attracted to the social history aspect but enjoyed the literary criticism as much.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mentatreader

    I cannot divine any reason praise has been given to this book. I got few if any facts about from it. It is not a history. There are no primary sources and secondary studies are badly used. A study of the 16th century is not "obviously" applicable to the nineteenth. Also imaginative works are not valid sources of history. I would not be surprised if the wonderful victory of humans, dwarves, and elves over the orcs was not given as one of the sources of night walking in Dickens time. The author is I cannot divine any reason praise has been given to this book. I got few if any facts about from it. It is not a history. There are no primary sources and secondary studies are badly used. A study of the 16th century is not "obviously" applicable to the nineteenth. Also imaginative works are not valid sources of history. I would not be surprised if the wonderful victory of humans, dwarves, and elves over the orcs was not given as one of the sources of night walking in Dickens time. The author is obviously the owner of My Big Book of Literary Criticism as the majority of the text reads as an over enthusiastic student's first essay. Fiction about fiction is not history. With it is the modern conceit of wordplay masquerading as critical thought. The author also projects modern thought patterns anachronistically onto the past without justification. The whole work is washed over with modern liberal marxist platitudes, obviously everyone out at night is a political act of the underclasses and everything bad is the middle class's fault and no criminal act is the responsibility of its doer. Everyone is a victim of capitalism, even before its invention.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Brand

    I really wanted to like this book more. In fact, I think the amount I wanted to to enjoy it is the only reason I managed to make myself finish it. The main concept is one of those that is oddly interesting: a history of London at night. But it is interesting. It’s one of those areas that you don’t realise you’ve never thought about. I mean, when did you last think about how much public street lighting must have fundamentally changed public life? Or what life in the was city like when it would li I really wanted to like this book more. In fact, I think the amount I wanted to to enjoy it is the only reason I managed to make myself finish it. The main concept is one of those that is oddly interesting: a history of London at night. But it is interesting. It’s one of those areas that you don’t realise you’ve never thought about. I mean, when did you last think about how much public street lighting must have fundamentally changed public life? Or what life in the was city like when it would literally be pitch dark at night? I didn’t know that the literal act of being outside at night was once considered a crime. Did you? And the conceit should work as well. Beaumont uses examples of literature from different periods throughout London’s history - from Shakespeare to Dickens - to show how these poets and authors - in their work and their lives - reflected these changes in society. How going outside at night without an explicit reason went from being a crime to a leisurely pastime of gentlefolk. But unfortunately Beaumont took this in completely the wrong direction. Rather than a history shown through the lens of literature, he makes this a literary critique that simply uses history as a loose excuse to show off his own knowledge. His writing is overly literary and self important - seeing the Forward was written by Will Self was fair warning, I suppose - making large chunks of the book almost unreadable. The topics should be interesting, and most often start off that way, but then Beaumont will slip into deep literary analysis that makes it impossible to stay engaged. Essentially, this could easily lose around half its word-count. It’s not a thin book so wouldn’t look anaemic, and it would be a much better read. Unfortunately Beaumont appears to be part of that literary scene who believe that part of a good book is making it as hard to read as possible. It’s not the subject he’s writing about that he wants us to be impressed with, but his own intelligence. This is not a book the writer intended to be enjoyed. I’m half convinced that Beaumont may have just published his PHD thesis. It wasn’t so bad that I gave up on it. There was enough in there to chip through and enjoy. But it’s not a good sign when your reaction on finishing a book is relief.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dylan

    A beautifully written elegiac trip through a city’s other history. Into that thick tobacco-breath night of the 16th century. We walk with the vagabonds and the mysterious, the suspicious and the terrible. Night watchmen calling out the hours, disturbing the slumbers and invading our dreams. Grub Street poets watching the dark and stepping through the centuries. Johnson’s poet hero Savage tried for murder. Returning soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars now destitute; unloved, unheralded and unseen. A beautifully written elegiac trip through a city’s other history. Into that thick tobacco-breath night of the 16th century. We walk with the vagabonds and the mysterious, the suspicious and the terrible. Night watchmen calling out the hours, disturbing the slumbers and invading our dreams. Grub Street poets watching the dark and stepping through the centuries. Johnson’s poet hero Savage tried for murder. Returning soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars now destitute; unloved, unheralded and unseen. De Quincey’s wandering troublepoet and Blake’s dream imagination a study in midnight blue. The long walk to the hangman’s noose at Tyburn Gate. And Dickens; anyone who has ever wandered lonely down by the Thames at Southwark after hours will know the threat and menace of his best worst villains. Some sleepless nights I take the dog out, into the 3am city stillness and hope to see an old spirit avoiding eye contact under his hat coming the other way. All the best things happen after dark. And nightwalking still feels like a small rebellion.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Adam Thomas

    Beaumont has written a rambling exploration of people rambling in London at night, and particularly those who have written about rambling people in the past. In a sense, my low rating is not Beaumont's fault. I read this as a historian, Beaumont writes as a literary critic. He is at his most interesting when discussing changing societal attitudes and lexicographical developments (did you know "pedestrian" was used in its "metaphorical" sense before its "literal" one?). But a lot of this long boo Beaumont has written a rambling exploration of people rambling in London at night, and particularly those who have written about rambling people in the past. In a sense, my low rating is not Beaumont's fault. I read this as a historian, Beaumont writes as a literary critic. He is at his most interesting when discussing changing societal attitudes and lexicographical developments (did you know "pedestrian" was used in its "metaphorical" sense before its "literal" one?). But a lot of this long book is discussing particular writings in depth (Shakespeare, Johnson, Blake etc.), which is of less interest. Do you like books about books? Then, read this book. Do you like books about walking? Read a map. Do you like books about the social history of London? Probably best to borrow this from a library, read a few chapters, and then move on.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Rich in imagery and idea, this is the kind of book that makes readers ask questions and explore further. Readers walk with Savage, Johnson, De Quincey, Dickens, Poe (and their characters) and others, getting to know these artists, their texts, London at night (chartered and unchartered), and the human condition in new and thought-provoking ways. I will read it again, and I'll long for books that study women writers and dark London and other writers and noctambulations in other cities. Rich in imagery and idea, this is the kind of book that makes readers ask questions and explore further. Readers walk with Savage, Johnson, De Quincey, Dickens, Poe (and their characters) and others, getting to know these artists, their texts, London at night (chartered and unchartered), and the human condition in new and thought-provoking ways. I will read it again, and I'll long for books that study women writers and dark London and other writers and noctambulations in other cities.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian Yatman

    We moved recently and this book is currently boxed up in our garage. I'll get back to it (eventually) We moved recently and this book is currently boxed up in our garage. I'll get back to it (eventually)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    This book's title is pretty accurate description of it: a sociological, anthropological, and literary history of walking at night in the City of London. On the whole, the book was fascinating (and enlightening, since walking and photographing at night is a favorite pastime of mine). The author does an outstanding job of tracing how the simple act of walking after sunset has been viewed as morally suspect. And in the process, he provides some context around the modern-day criminalization of homele This book's title is pretty accurate description of it: a sociological, anthropological, and literary history of walking at night in the City of London. On the whole, the book was fascinating (and enlightening, since walking and photographing at night is a favorite pastime of mine). The author does an outstanding job of tracing how the simple act of walking after sunset has been viewed as morally suspect. And in the process, he provides some context around the modern-day criminalization of homelessness. This is a dense book; but consider that it's packed with facts and excerpts from historical records and various literary works. The writing is too pretentious for my tastes at times, but that's a very minor complaint.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Cole

    Original approach to night walking in literature, covering both authors and their creations. Beautifully written, and displaying a wide and detailed knowledge of writers famous and obscure (at least to me), Beaumont exposes the underbelly of literature (chiefly) about London. In some ways reminiscent of Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider' (which studied a range of individuals, including Nijinsky, Henri Barbusse, Albert Camus and Dennis Wheatley), Nightwalkers made me want re-read The Old Curiosity Sho Original approach to night walking in literature, covering both authors and their creations. Beautifully written, and displaying a wide and detailed knowledge of writers famous and obscure (at least to me), Beaumont exposes the underbelly of literature (chiefly) about London. In some ways reminiscent of Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider' (which studied a range of individuals, including Nijinsky, Henri Barbusse, Albert Camus and Dennis Wheatley), Nightwalkers made me want re-read The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge, a number of Shakespeare's plays, and Engels' 'The Condition of the English Working Class in 1844', as well as to read Joyce's 'Ulysses', and Edgar Allan Poe.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shoshi

    I let myself sleep on this one. This book had some interesting points to make, but seemed either to get bogged down in the quantity of sources (after ~1650) or the quotes themselves. The author should have given a special mention in the acknowledgments to Walter Benjamin as he seemed to crib so much of his work esp on Baudelaire. It was odd that Baudeliere himself got so little mention. One could argue the book meandered like a nightwalker through a big city, but that seems overgenerous. Special e I let myself sleep on this one. This book had some interesting points to make, but seemed either to get bogged down in the quantity of sources (after ~1650) or the quotes themselves. The author should have given a special mention in the acknowledgments to Walter Benjamin as he seemed to crib so much of his work esp on Baudelaire. It was odd that Baudeliere himself got so little mention. One could argue the book meandered like a nightwalker through a big city, but that seems overgenerous. Special eyerolls for the Michel Foucault bits. I first read him in college and he still comes off as self important, obnoxious and pretentious. The ending on the book was saved by Will Self's Afterward.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    Maybe call this a DNF? A KOR (Kind of Read)? SQO (Skimmed Quite Often)? Did not come into this expecting a literary history. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised when a book doesn't give me what I thought I was getting into, so I pressed on. The fore and afterword and "regular" history bits were quite interesting but I found myself flagging hard during the more literary analyses. Much skimming was done. My apologies. Maybe call this a DNF? A KOR (Kind of Read)? SQO (Skimmed Quite Often)? Did not come into this expecting a literary history. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised when a book doesn't give me what I thought I was getting into, so I pressed on. The fore and afterword and "regular" history bits were quite interesting but I found myself flagging hard during the more literary analyses. Much skimming was done. My apologies.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marisa

    Listen, there is no median between two and three stars. I didn't dislike this book; if anything, I think I may have had too high hopes. The subject matter is fascinating to me, but it's quite dry. I never quite shook the feeling that I was being lectured to. Still, if you like Londoniana, you will find something of great odd value in this tome. Listen, there is no median between two and three stars. I didn't dislike this book; if anything, I think I may have had too high hopes. The subject matter is fascinating to me, but it's quite dry. I never quite shook the feeling that I was being lectured to. Still, if you like Londoniana, you will find something of great odd value in this tome.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rosiemay

    This has been on my "to read" shelf for an awfully long time. It didn't quite live up to my expectations, it could quite easily have been half the length. Some of the content was very tenuously related to London or night walking, or, for that matter, night or walking. I was quite glad to finish as by the end I had lost a bit of interest. However, the afterword by Will Self is a charm. This has been on my "to read" shelf for an awfully long time. It didn't quite live up to my expectations, it could quite easily have been half the length. Some of the content was very tenuously related to London or night walking, or, for that matter, night or walking. I was quite glad to finish as by the end I had lost a bit of interest. However, the afterword by Will Self is a charm.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Schopflin

    I abandoned this book although there are good things in it. It is essentially a literary anthology with a bit of social background and history. It's fine for what it is but not what I expected and not my cup of tea. It means, as others have commented, that it is pretty much a male history - the women who occupied London's streets at night not generally producing much poetry and prose. I abandoned this book although there are good things in it. It is essentially a literary anthology with a bit of social background and history. It's fine for what it is but not what I expected and not my cup of tea. It means, as others have commented, that it is pretty much a male history - the women who occupied London's streets at night not generally producing much poetry and prose.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James

    Didn’t finish. Got about 90 pages in and stopped. Liked the history of London opening but once the literary criticism started felt like he was trying too hard to show off. And basing a book around every time someone wrote the words “night” or “nightwalker” throughout history became very repetitive. The Will Self foreword should have been a hint of what was to come. Disappointing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tayylor

    The introduction holds so much potential for a riveting read, and yes, there are the occasional paragraphs of interesting material, but this is not the book I wanted. It is bloated, repetitive and rambling, and there is a lot less history in there than is implied. I've attempted this book twice now and just can't make it past 70 or so pages. The introduction holds so much potential for a riveting read, and yes, there are the occasional paragraphs of interesting material, but this is not the book I wanted. It is bloated, repetitive and rambling, and there is a lot less history in there than is implied. I've attempted this book twice now and just can't make it past 70 or so pages.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Eve

    Studies of walking, in particular in its nocturnal form, are pretty thin on the ground and Beaumont has built a fantastic foundation for future academics to build upon. Thoroughly researched and readable, this book is an accomplished work.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Matthew Beaumont’s exhaustive nocturnal history of Britain’s capital leads readers to some previously inaccessible places –perhaps even to some dark passages in their own heads. Since the late 19th Century, fear of violence and crime has tended to dissuade those who might otherwise wander our cities at night. In earlier times it was more likely to have been a fear of being arrested as a criminal, someone untrustworthy or merely for being a “nightwalker”. This realisation is one of the strongest i Matthew Beaumont’s exhaustive nocturnal history of Britain’s capital leads readers to some previously inaccessible places –perhaps even to some dark passages in their own heads. Since the late 19th Century, fear of violence and crime has tended to dissuade those who might otherwise wander our cities at night. In earlier times it was more likely to have been a fear of being arrested as a criminal, someone untrustworthy or merely for being a “nightwalker”. This realisation is one of the strongest impressions this thoroughly researched if occasionally opaque book leaves. Because “the unemployed who flouted the capitalist ethic by sleeping in the day and resorting to the streets at night” were never the only species of nightwalker, Beaumont catalogues the other variants at length. In so doing he introduces us to two useful nouns: noctivagants, criminals or those who nightwalk as part of their job; and noctambulants, who walk at night seeking pleasure. Darkmans, meaning the night; Romeville, for London (both from Thomas Dekker’s work); and footpad, a highwayman operating on foot, are only three of the other discoveries in its pages. Beaumont’s history runs (more accurately, it walks) from the Middle Ages to the Victorian era, from Chaucer via Blake to Dickens. “Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night,” he quotes from Rupert Brooke’s Letters from America in his introduction. But if it’s revelations you yearn for, read the introduction once you’ve read the rest. Prior to the 1660s, those out after the curfew were required “to give a good account of themselves”, and there’s no doubt that must have seemed unattainable to the underprivileged. The curfew came to be ignored rather than abolished and a different manner of nightwalker evolved: one who, as poet John Gay had it, wished to “securely stray”. ‘Grub Street At Night’ will be resonant to journalists and authors but the most memorable and evocative sections are on William Blake and the Tyburn Tree executions. Part Three also broadens Beaumont’s horizons, incorporating Wordsworth’s walks in Snowdonia and Lakeland in defiance of his book’s subtitle; a pastoral interlude, if you will. But his sights are on the nightwalker in literature rather than the author as nightwalker. The entire first half of Nightwalking concentrates on the conditions that made nightwalkers a societal subclass without telling us much about their walking experiences. A noctuary in the manner of Samuel Johnson (or anthology of them) might have been more satisfying. Beaumont is a senior lecturer in the Department of English at University College London, and it shows; this is a book with a theoretical rather than a narrative slant. Although Will Self’s foreword will have many readers reaching for their dictionaries (not that there’s anything wrong with that), his afterword is refreshing – and it isn’t often one can claim that to reveal details of the afterword would spoil things. Within a couple of pages he succeeds in articulating the distortion of time that frequently accompanies night walks through sleeping cities, and the rest of the book comes alive. Read Nightwalking at your risk: it may result in an urge to explore a city after dark. In any case, you’ll never need another book about walking at night.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    I bought this for research purposes and it was helpful in that respect but it was also very informative and interesting. Beaumont did a lovely job of following the act of nightwalking through the centuries, and he did it brilliantly.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve Charles

    Very interesting book about an usual subject. Very good sections on several writers including Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth and Blake. Also contains extensive notes and references to other texts that sound worth reading.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Brilliant! Thoroughly enjoyable study of a city, authors, their texts and characters. It can't be called a "page turner" because there's simply too much to digest on each page. A rich read. A great read! Brilliant! Thoroughly enjoyable study of a city, authors, their texts and characters. It can't be called a "page turner" because there's simply too much to digest on each page. A rich read. A great read!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Thomas

    Great and surprising book. A lot of information on the birth of capitalism (this is a book published by Verso after all) and it's connection to penal colonies. It's so long ago now that I read it but I stopped short of the end as I did start to get board as the narrative lost steam. Great and surprising book. A lot of information on the birth of capitalism (this is a book published by Verso after all) and it's connection to penal colonies. It's so long ago now that I read it but I stopped short of the end as I did start to get board as the narrative lost steam.

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