After London, Or Wild England by Richard Jeffries

After London Or, Wild England - Richard Jefferies

Another early example of post-apocalyptic writing, albeit 60 years after Shelley's "The Last Man". Stylistically this is a lot easier to read. For a Victorian era writer, Jeffries has a distinctly clean and clear "let's get on with it" style. 

 

The book is divided into two parts, and the first relatively short part "The Fall into Barbarism" beautifully describes the destruction of England due to some unknown catastrophe, and the effects as the wilderness reclaims the land. Jeffries was a naturalist and nature writer, and this part simply sparkles. If the whole book had been like this, I might even have given it 4 or 5 stars. This first part has been widely compared to Alan Weisman's "A World Without Us", which itself is an expanded version of this article in Discover Magazine. Jeffries concludes nature would have retaken most of England a scant 90 years later, while Weisman predicts it would take a little longer, but given the relative density of settlement and durability of building materials and architecture, I think as thought experiments, they come to pretty much the same conclusions. Anyway this part is a lot of fun to read.

 

Unfortunately, the second, longer part, is just not nearly as much fun. It's still quite readable, and in fact a fast read. It's also a bit confusing. The few remaining people have formed a completely feudal society. And we have a petty tyrant prince in charge of the whole shebang, the Welsh and the Irish constantly invading and trying to wipe out the hated "Saxons" as revenge for centuries of history (I can actually believe this part - except, where are the Scots? You'd think they'd be all over it!). 

 

So our hero, a minor lord named Felix Aquila decides to rather pointlessly take off in a boat and go exploring the middle of the UK, which has now been turned into essentially a giant lake. The problem really is, Felix is a bit of a jerk and not particularly cool, and the plot is kind of pointless. And it ends in the most random way possible, to the point I went looking if there was another chapter or two that my copy was missing. There wasn't.

 

Even this second part, is not totally without redemption, particularly in the description of the society as it now remains, and the occasional wandering back into the scenery which Jeffries can't help himself with. But it's at best "it was ok" compared to the opening.

 

In summary, I think I would very much like to read more of Jeffries nature writing, but as a novelist, not for me. 

 

Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13944 among other places