The Walker: On Losing and Finding Yourself in the Modern City by Matthew Beaumont

Many thanks to Verso Books and NetGalley for the ARC. This book is being released today, November 10 2020.

My Rating: 4 stars

I requested The Walker because I’ve done some academic work about moving through the 19th-century city. I always like learning more about subjects I’ve studied, and this book promised discussions on Poe and Dickens as well as some later authors I’m interested in. And I wasn’t disappointed. Beaumont draws on all the scholars and concepts I studied: Walter Benjamin, Baudelaire’s flâneur, Michel de Certeau, Judith Walkowitz, the panopticon, etc. I will say, this will likely be a difficult book to follow for someone who has no background in the subject.

My favorite chapters were definitely the ones on Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf. Beaumont focuses on Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, looking especially at the opening scene in which Little Nell encounters Master Humphrey out in the London streets one night. I haven’t read The Old Curiosity Shop, but Beaumont’s excellent analysis pulled me right in. In a different chapter, he looks at Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which I have read. I was particularly intrigued by his discussion of Peter Walsh’s predatory behavior while walking. It was interesting and especially relevant to the idea of walking in the modern city.

In addition to drawing on concepts I’m familiar with, Beaumont also introduces ideas that were new to me. In the first chapter, he looks at Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd” and the figure of the convalescent. In the sixth chapter, he looks at Ford Madox Ford’s Return to Yesterday and the figure of the agoraphobic. I had never throughout about either the convalescent or the agoraphobic as mobile figures in the city, so I enjoyed reading Beaumont’s views on them. I had also never heard of Ford’s work before, so I intend to check him out.

Like many academic works, this book is fairly dense and theoretical. While I did enjoy it for the most part, there were times when it became too much and things went over my head. The final chapter in particular I found difficult to get through. It refers a lot of Jacques Derrida, who I always have trouble with. There are also moments when Beaumont goes off on tangents that don’t quite seems relevant to the subject. This occurred quite often in the eighth chapter on Georges Bataille’s “Big Toe.” I had a difficult time understanding that chapter and didn’t quite see how a lot of it tied into walking in the city.

Overall, The Walker is an excellent academic read on walking in the city. It’s dense, but definitely worth it for those who are interested in the subject.

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