London Fog: The Politics and Culture of Air Pollution in 19th- and 20th-century Britain
The thick, yellow ‘pea-souper’ fogs associated with London from the early 19th century to the mid-20th began as sulphur emissions from coal fires and factories mingled with naturally occurring mists as London started to expand in the course of the industrial revolution. Novelists such as Dickens, Conrad, Stephenson, James, Conan Doyle, and, later on, Eliot and Selvon used it to great effect in their work. Artists including Whistler and Monet came to London to capture its atmospheric effects on canvas. As the effects of this air pollution on health became clear, the need to limit it became more urgent until the Clean Air Acts finally eliminated it in the 1950s.
In this lecture, Christine L Corton explores the cultural processing of London fog and explains why it took so long to bring it under control.
Dr Corton is a cultural historian of modern Britain. She is a Senior Member of Wolfson College, Cambridge and the founder of the Cambridge branch of the Dickens Fellowship. She has spoken at literary festivals across the world, from Hay to Jaipur. Her book, London Fog: The Biography, was published in 2015 by Harvard University Press to widespread acclaim and has recently been translated into Chinese. She is currently writing a cultural history of divorce in modern Britain.