ABOUT THIS BOOK
Peter Ackroyd’s writing is obsessed with the defining heterogeneity of London—its rich diversity of human experience, mood, and emotion, of actions and events, and of the tools through which all of this heterogeneity is represented and reenacted. But for Ackroyd, one of the foremost of the so-called “London writers,” this energizing heterogeneity also has a sinister side, largely originating outside social norms and mainstream pathways of cultural production. Touching on everything from occult practices to the plotting of radical groups, crime and fraud, dubious scientific experiments, and popular, dramatic forms of ritual and entertainment, Ackroyd contends that these forces both contest prescribed cultural modes and supply the city with its characteristic dynamism and capacity for spiritual renewal.
This idiosyncratic London construct is particularly prominent in Ackroyd’s novels, in which his ideas about the city’s nature and his connection to English literary sensibilities combine to create a distinct chronotope with its own spatial and temporal properties. A Horror and a Beauty explores this world through six defining aspects of the city as Ackroyd identifies them: the relationship between London’s past and present, its uncanny manifestations, its felonious tendencies, its inhabitants’ psychogeographic and antiquarian strategies, its theatricality, and its inherently literary character.