Following Anna’s journey in Voyage in the Dark, I have walked to different points in Bloomsbury, Kings Cross, Camden Town, Chalk Farm, Fitzrovia, Soho, Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Mayfair, Bayswater and Notting Hill. Anna’s London is one which can feel confined and yet she is on the fringes of some interesting cultural sites: its theatres, music halls, cinemas and nightclubs.
London in Voyage is often dark, gloomy, foggy and cold. When the sun shines, it is just a glare in the sky, it doesn’t seem like the real sun. That sense of unreality is everywhere, and London is contrasted strongly with the Caribbean – it lacks colour, warmth, light, smell, sound, movement. It is a migrant’s view of London, unwelcoming and difficult to navigate; and yet Anna is supposed to be returning home, to England, to the metropolitan centre. To the place she has read about all her life, in books: But I never read now, so they can’t get at me like that, anyway. I am thinking about the overwhelming sense of a lack of beauty that is Anna’s experience of England, that ideas of what is beautiful might also be heterogeneous.
Class plays an important role. Anna has no money or status in London and yet she detaches herself from the mass of the population, preferring to exist on the fringes of a more exclusive world, as a chorus girl; and then later she drifts into the life of an amateur prostitute, frequenting the clubs and nightlife of London’s West End. Indeed, Anna identifies with the real outcasts and outsiders in society, rather than accepting the restricted social status of those around her.
London feels like a closed and restrictive space, one which Anna visualises as like a high, dark wall. It is there in the surveillance of the landladies, the suspicions and hostility towards foreigners. The book shines a light on London in its era of imperial decline, its discourses of purity and respectability, along with the lingering sense of innate superiority and ethnocentrism perpetuated by the imperial project.
Points of surfacing:
- Maple Street, the Chorus Girls’ Hostel – see my post on chorus girls
- Anna’s rooms: Judd Street in Bloomsbury, Adelaide Road in Chalk Farm, Bird Street and Langham Street, both near to Oxford Street – some of which were covered in my posts on bedsits, landladies and street music
- Cohen’s in Shaftesbury Avenue – see my post about clothes
- Green Street, Mayfair
- Hyde park, Speakers’ Corner
- Bayswater – see my post on bedsits and boarding houses
- Primrose Hill
- Camden Town High Street, the cinema
- Clubs, venues and hotels/restaurants: Hoffner Hotel and Restaurant, Hanover Square, Central Hotel, Marylebone Road, Oddenino’s and Kettner’s – some of which are covered in my post on music and nightlife