Richard Jefferies’ ‘After London’

 In 1885 a book called After London or Wild England was published. It depicts a post-apocalyptic world when London is flooded.  Gasp!  It is written by Richard Jefferies who was a very fine nature writer. His power of observation and turn of phrase were stunning.  His writings are said to have inspired Edward Thomas, Arthur Ransome and Henry Williamson, among many others.  Is this strange and important book perhaps one of the first science fictions? (I suppose that this must have been a very real fear before the Embankment was completed but looking it up I see that was in the 1860’s…hmm, strange)

 In case you are interested, here is an excerpt …

‘Thus, too, the sites of many villages and towns that anciently existed along the rivers, or on the lower lands adjoining, were concealed by the water and the mud it brought with it. The sedges and reeds that arose completed the work and left nothing visible, so that the mighty buildings of olden days were by these means utterly buried. And, as has been proved by those who have dug for treasures, in our time the very foundations are deep beneath the earth, and not to be got at for the water that oozes into the shafts that they have tried to sink through the sand and mud banks.

From an elevation, therefore, there was nothing visible but endless forest and marsh. On the level ground and plains the view was limited to a short distance, because of the thickets and the saplings which had now become young trees. The downs only were still partially open, yet it was not convenient to walk upon them except in the tracks of animals, because of the long grass which, being no more regularly grazed upon by sheep, as was once the case, grew thick and tangled. Furze, too, and heath covered the slopes, and in places vast quantities of fern. There had always been copses of fir and beech and nut-tree covers, and these increased and spread, while bramble, briar, and hawthorn extended around them.

By degrees the trees of the vale seemed as it were to invade and march up the hills, and, as we see in our time, in many places the downs are hidden altogether with a stunted kind of forest. But all the above happened in the time of the first generation. Besides these things a great physical change took place; but before I speak of that, it will be best to relate what effects were produced upon animals and men. In the first years after the fields were left to themselves, the fallen and over-ripe corn crops became the resort of innumerable mice. They swarmed to an incredible degree, not only devouring the grain upon the straw that had never been cut, but clearing out every single ear in the wheat-ricks that were standing about the country. Nothing remained in these ricks but straw, pierced with tunnels and runs, the home and breeding-place of mice, which thence poured forth into the fields. Such grain as had been left in barns and granaries, in mills, and in warehouses of the deserted towns, disappeared in the same manner……..   .’
 

this is a free e- book

 

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About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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11 Responses to Richard Jefferies’ ‘After London’

  1. mavisgulliver says:

    He was one of my favourite writers when I was a child, but I never read this one. Thanks for drawing attention to it, Becky, chilling reading though it is.

    • Hi, yes, Thank you, Mavis, …. Richard Jefferies is a v interesting writer and I intend to go to his museum in Wiltshire even though it seems to be open only once a month!!! Some of his lovely countryside seems to have been built on which he seemed to have foreseen.

    • Hi, Mavis, thanks. Glad to hear you liked his work. I intend to go to his museum in Wiltshire which seems to be open only once a month ….,but maybe when the weather isn’t so grim.

    • He was such a varied writer though we think of him as “just” a nature writer but have been perusing yet more hefty social comment. Nice to hear from you up there. Hope you are all right on your island.

  2. E.E. Nobbs says:

    I enjoyed the excerpt very much. Chilling indeed. Makes me think of some of Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic worlds! The description of the mice prompted me to find an article that a PEI naturalist wrote some years ago about plagues of mice. Very dramatic! http://vre2.upei.ca/islandmagazine/fedora/repository/vre:islemag-batch2-277/OBJ/06_Plagues_of_mice_p_15-18.pdf

    • Those darned mice were v pesky. I dont fancy them even if one or two look q sweet. It makes you think, doesnt it… being totally reliant on what you grow or catch and it really wasn’t so long ago after all?

  3. AnnaB says:

    wow – bit llike how whole bronze age wooden henges buried in the waves, revealed at super-low tides. Sea level rise …

  4. Thanks, Mavis, Elly and Anna. I happened to chance on this because I was interested in RJ for nature reasons. he wrote a lot of political stuff about society and farming and food. I am determined to get to his museum in Wilts now if they haven’t built a housing estate there by now and if I can be sure it is open on the one day a month I am told that it should be!!! Thanks for that strange mouse plague link, Elly.

  5. I came cross this a couple of years ago and like you, wondered if it was considered to be one of the first science fiction novels. I can’t imagine there were many people predicting ecological disaster on this scale in 1885! The passages I remember most are about the swamplands and the lakes with their poisonous fumes, so toxic that they sometimes spontaneously burst into flames, fire on the water. Very eerie. Thanks for bringing this up. An un-trumpeted classic!

    • Robin, thank you for your enthusiasm. I agree with your phrase “an un-trumpeted classic”….and so prescient. (I suppose they too were concerned about floods in London, hence the construction of the Embankment, but perhaps no one expected the waters to come from inland but from the North Sea.) Like John Clare, Jefferies was deeply concerned about the changes to the countryside and boy, would he be turning in his grave!

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