Apart from being a lovely place for a stroll, Kensington Gardens used to be the private gardens of Kensington Palace where Princes William and Harry now live. Go to the gardens to see a statue of Peter Pan, erected in 1919 after the phenomenal success of J. M. Barrie’s 1906 novel. The gardens were a huge inspiration for the novelist whose tale has been immortalised in the hearts of millions by Disney.
Kensington’s Blue Plaques
T. S. Eliot
There are few names in literature who carry as much weight as T. S. Eliot. Time spent on almost any topic yields a pithy quote, damning response or insightful adage from the poet whose most famous poem, The Wasteland, laments urban decay and the modern urban condition. Eliot moved to Kensington well after he had put pen to paper on his modernist classic, staying from 1957 until his death in 1965.
Another Anglo-American writer to follow Eliot, Henry James’s heyday came slightly before his contemporary. He lived in De Vere Gardens between 1886 to 1898, during which time he would have been working on The Ambassadors – a novel split between America and Paris –, and the haunting The Turn of the Screw. He moved to Kensington from a flat in the then dingy Mayfair, however surprising that may seem to modern day Londoners. He stayed for over a decade before uprooting to leafy Sussex.
As if indicating a real trend of the era, Ezra Pound is the thirdly highly influential Anglo-American on the list. A poet, critic and confidante of many of the greats, one thing Pound is less well-known for is the role he played in James Joyce’s Ulysses, a book he frequently corresponded with Joyce about during its seven year genesis. Living in Kensington from 1909 to 1914, Pound was able to use this London base as a way to accelerate his literary industry, it being here where he established his ‘imagism’ movement.
William Makepeace Thackeray
It was while living in Young Street that William Thackeray – whose middle name ‘Makepeace’ is perhaps one of the most original – published his iconic London novel, Vanity Fair. The novel depicts the lives of Becky Sharp and Emmy Sedley in London during the Napoleonic Wars, using the intriguing subtitle ‘A novel without a hero’. As was customary for the time, the novel was published in installments between 1848 and 1849, keeping Londoners on their toes each month.
Having dropped the name ‘Percy’ for want of something less establishment, Wyndham Lewis forged a literary career that mostly went against the grain. He founded the Vorticist movement in art, inspired by Cubism, and his novels included Tarr (1918) and The Apes of God (1930). He has been criticised widely for his extreme social and political views, yet simultaneously heralded as a transformative power for English portraiture. He certainly wasn’t dull.
G. K. Chesterton
Seen as the successor to the heyday of Victorian authors such as Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin, G. K. Chesterton has ultimately been regarded as a great all-round literary mind rather than a central member of the canon. Born in Kensington, his work is equally interesting for the connections and debates with other authors, as it is on its own terms. He wrote around 80 books, hundreds of short stories, and thousands of essays.
Pater is not widely remembered in public consciousness outside of literary circles but British literature owes him a lot. With the roots of Aestheticism often traced back to him, Pater’s theoretical writing had a huge influence on the early literary Modernists like Proust, Yeats, Joyce, Pound and Eliot, several of whom lived only a stone’s throw from this, his Kensington residence.