London has been one of the cultural centres of the Western world for centuries and was at the time of the British Empire the global epicentre of political and military power. Those days are now long gone but the city retains the signs and symbols of Empire alongside the lavish accessories of monarchy. However London’s culture stretches far beyond these symbols of authority and takes in a profound literary tradition and a thriving contemporary art and music scene which reflects the diversity of London’s cultural heritage.
London has been home to some of the most influential and widely celebrated figures in literature; the most distinguished of which is no doubt William Shakespeare, who stands at the pinnacle of the literary canon, both within the UK and worldwide. Over the years London has also been an inspiring home to such luminaries as Chaucer, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens. Dickens is the archetypal London chronicler and his works, such as Great Expectations and David Copperfield, offer a glimpse of Victorian London.
Contemporary London has also been chronicled in literature, in books such as Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, which both depict the melting pot of contemporary London’s multicultural society.
Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography dissects the unique social and architectural history of this highly organic city whilst Iain Sinclair’s ‘psychogeographic’ work, such as London Orbital, read the city as a text as a means of understanding contemporary life in London.
London has been the focus of many cinematic portrayals over the years, with Alfie and Blow Up depicting the trendy swinging London of the 1960s, and Howard’s End, adapted from the novel by E.M. Forster, depicting the city in late Victorian times.
London’s music scene is world renowned and has produced such artists as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Clash and The Sex Pistols all of which have had a significant impact on the culture of the city over the past half century.