William Boyd on London’s Parks

From Sunday, June 21, 2009 The Guardian | Culture | Books | Fiction, Boyd “takes an A-Z literary tour of London’s Parks” in his article “‘Its all too Beautiful'”. Brilliant method of organizing a stream-of-conscious essay!

Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, in the pantheon of English literature, perhaps best illustrate the split between the “town” writer as opposed to the “country” one. It is a very 19th-century juxtaposition, made particularly acute and particularly obvious as the industrial revolution took its remorseless grip on the nation. The widespread development of the city park, in turn, was largely a 19th-century phenomenon. The filth and foetor of the Victorian metropolis made the green spaces all the more important. I have a history of London composed solely by its maps, and one can see the exponential growth of the city over the centuries reflected by the steady appearance of its parks, like green islands in the burgeoning, cross-hatched grid of London’s streets – not so much the city’s “lungs” as the city’s verdant archipelago in its dark and grimy sea.

Definition of a park. It’s time to establish precisely what we mean by a “park”. I’m thinking principally of London, but I feel this definition will fit all parks in all cities of the world. There are certain determining characteristics, necessary conditions, for park status. First, there must be tall, mature trees, the older and taller the better. Second, the majority of the trees in the park must give the impression of random planting…Read more

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