Not Speaking

By Norma Clarke

Not Speaking is a lively and unusual family memoir, and a slice of social history.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Literary London Conference, June 28th and 29th

The annual Literary London conference is on June 28th and 29th this year, at Senate House, University of London. I'm going to be talking about the late 19th/early 20thC London bits of my book. The Lambeth slums that social investigators like Charles Booth and Maud Pember Reeves ventured into with the best of intentions (I think) are gone now. Their reports describe 'pestilential' interiors, 'rookeries', passages swarming with vermin, heaps of children and too few beds in too little space, and a sad deficiency of kitchen equipment and the money to buy it with. One of my favourite moments in Pember Reeves's book, Round About a Pound a Week, is when she's told in no uncertain terms by one young wife and mother why she won't cook nourishing and cheap porridge for her husband. Reeves gives the final flourish verbatim:  '"An' besides, my young man 'e say, Ef you gives me that stinkin' mess, I'll throw it at yer."' What Reeves didn't get, however, was the equally pressing reason: the likelihood of burning the porridge and ruining a precious pot.

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