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Futurism, an excitable, swaggering, largely optimistic aesthetic concerned with kinetics, size, noise etc. Above all it was about the mass rather than the individual. But time again for more attention to the individual.

London in particular was seen to embody the mechanisation of modern urban life, certainly from the viewpoint of other, smaller and gayer capitals of Europe. "Send no poets to London!" Heine warned in the middle of the nineteenth century… "there is such a bleak seriousness about everything, such as colossal uniformity, such machine like motion, such tetchiness about joy itself. This London of extremes crushes the fancy and tears at the heart."

London was scary and the crowd was the scariest thing for many writers. The new crowd was a sociological phenomenon. It was the inchoate mass out of which the individual emerged, into which the individual sank again. This relationship of individual to crowd is verbosely and inconclusively dwelt on by Poe in his story The Man of the Crowd;

"as the darkness came on, the throng momentarily increased and by the time the lights were well lighted, two dense and continuous tides of population were rushing past the door"

Our observer chooses one passer by, trailing him in order to ascertain his individuality and motivations, but resigns himself to conclude: "this old man refuses to be alone. He is the Man of the Crowd."

But by many, of course, the individual was seen as a victim of the city; the city was made up of unconnected individuals. But the idea of the individual is not, of course, always a negative one; the city was the medium in which the individual made his mark, progressed. The crowd of individuals is the medium in which the individual can make his way and out of which he can rise. From Dick Whittington to the likely lads and lasses of eighteenth century fact and fiction (Boswell, Moll Flanders) to Billy Liar and beyond this is an old familiar theme, the provincial in the city; Pip in Great Expecations, Alfredo Germont in La Traviata, Eugene de Rastignac in Pere Goriot. As Jacques Brel sings: "A dix-huit ans j'ai quitte la province"… (But not everyone gets to quit the provinces, of course: Billy Liar failed to get on that train.)


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  verybigcity: e-Book by Rodney Blakeston
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