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Distributed for Karolinum Press, Charles University

A Horror and a Beauty

The World of Peter Ackroyd’s London Novels

Distributed for Karolinum Press, Charles University

A Horror and a Beauty

The World of Peter Ackroyd’s London Novels

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.

302 pages | 6 x 8 | © 2016

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


“A fine job indeed. Not only are Chalupský’s analyses apt and insightful but also the overall structure of the book does justice to Ackroyd’s multilayered fictional world. It is a book that deserves serious attention and should not be omitted in future discussions on Peter Ackroyd’s fiction.”

Ladislav Nagy, University of South Bohemia | Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies

Table of Contents


Introduction – Power, Majesty, Darkness, Shadows

Chapter 1 – Ackroyd’s London, Past and Present

            London and the English Literary Sensibility
            Ackroyd, History and the Historical Novel
            Ackroyd’s London Chronotope

Chapter 2 – Uncanny London
London the Obscure
            Wandering and Wondering in Eternity – Mythical Time
            Where Suffering Seems to Linger – Genius Loci
Variety, Energy and Darkness – Cockney Visionaries
            Poets of Power and Darkness – Ackroyd’s Occultists
            The Divine Spark that never Dies, or Making the Dead Speak – the Magic of the   Imagination

Chapter 3 – Felonious London
            Serial Killings and the London Gothic Psychothriller
            Crime Re-written
            Assuming a Story – the Narrative of Detection
            London Confined
            Vivifying Crimes, Vivifying the City

Chapter 4 – Psychogeographic and Antiquarian London
            Ackroyd’s Psychogeographic Antiquarianism
            Two Related Concepts
            London of the Mind
            Ackroyd’s Lonely Londoners
            Ackroyd’s Walkers

Chapter 5 – Theatrical London
            “Where pathos and pantomime meet”
            London as a Stage and the Stage as London in Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem
            The Might and Glory of the City Celebrated – The Clerkenwell Tales
            The Horrific, the Spectacular and the Sublime

Chapter 6 – Literary London
            The Necessity of Imitation – the Counterfeiting and Metafictional London of Chatterton
            When William Met Mary: London as a Palimpsest in The Lambs of London
            Towards Autobiographic Self-referencing: Literary London in Three Brothers

Conclusion – Longing and Belonging



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