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The Woman in White: Tracing a Ghost Story on the Map of London
The Woman in White is a Victorian mystery novel containing a "songline" of a chance slice of London.
Place means nothing without context. It needs to be sung into existence. Do this for a string of places, and you have a songline. This could be a mundane tune (the itinerary of a day's wander through the city), an epic opera (the Odyssey, the mother of all return trips), or both (James Joyce's Ulysses).
A storied city like London is of course replete with songlines, from ancient ones surviving only as the sediment on which later narratives are built. Others are barricaded against oblivion within the covers of a book.
The first edition of The Happy Reader — a magazine about the pleasures of being lost in a good book — retraces one such excursion; fictional, but described nevertheless with remarkable accuracy, in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. The novel, one of the first in the mystery/detective genre, was serialized in 1859-60 both in Charles Dickens's All the Year Round magazine and in Harper's Weekly before being published in book form.
The Woman in White uses multiple narrators to tell a tale hinging on switched identities, insanity as a means of social exclusion, and the inequality of Victorian marriage laws.
(Attention: spoilers ahead)
The story begins in Hampstead, where Walter Hartwright meets a mysterious woman who's dressed all in white. Her name is Anne Catherick, and she's escaped from an insane asylum. She also bears a striking resemblance to Laura Fairlie, a member of the Limmeridge household in Cumberland, where Walter is to teach drawing.
Walter and Laura fall in love, but Laura fulfills a promise to her father to marry Sir Percival Glyde. Walter leaves for Honduras. Heavily indebted, Percival vainly attempts to gain access to Laura's fortune. He then plots to switch her identity with the now terminally ill Anne, so he can pass off her death as Laura's, and inherit her money.
Laura is then locked up in the asylum as Anne, now with the added delusion that she is Lady Glyde. But she escapes and reunites with Walter, returned from his voyages. He eventually manages to reclaim Laura's true identity, and after they marry, their son becomes the heir to Limmeridge.
The Woman in White was immensely popular (except with "serious" critics), perhaps because it explored some of the Victorian Age's more profound anxieties: the impermanence and loss of personal identity, the inequality and insecurity of marriage laws, and the paralyzing effect of the class system.
It was adapted many times for both the stage and the silver screen, notable among them Andrew Lloyd Webber's 2004 musical, and German (Die Frau in Weiß, 1971) and Soviet (Женщина в белом, 1982) movie versions, and even as a computer game (Victorian Mysteries: Woman in White, 2010).
It's now also a London walk — an easy translation from literature to life, as the book “evoked [the walk] in beautiful, but also painstaking detail. The distances between landmarks, the weather, and even the angle and intensity of moonlight are plotted so as to be uncompromisingly true to life, precisely as they would have been on the imagined date.”
That makes it fairly easy to reconstruct Walter Hartwright's fictional, century-and-a-half-old encounter with the Woman in White. Google Street View provides further help in superimposing the Victorian Gothic tale on today's London. Following the "songline" of Wilkie Collins' novel, visitors to London experience a different aspect of the city from the all too familiar one centered on Big Ben, the Tower of London, and other landmarks in London's so-called "heritage core."
In spite of its meticulous detail, Wilkie probably didn't envision the itinerary described in The Woman in White as a tourist draw. Which makes it an excellent candidate for a guided dérive, a semi-random ramble across a chance slice of London.
Perhaps to be topped off with a visit to Kensal Green Cemetery — 2.7 miles to the west (just under an hour's walk). The cemetery is not mentioned in the book, for it is where Wilkie Collins was buried in 1889. Although the author is perhaps better remembered for The Moonstone, his epitaph mentions only his proudest literary achievement by name: Author of “The Woman in White” and other works of fiction.
Many thanks to The Happy Reader and the Wilkie Collins Society for granting their permission to republish the map and related artwork. Map of the route from Avenue Road to Kensal Green Cemetery taken from Google Maps. Picture of the Wilkie Collins gravestone by James Gracey, reproduced with kind permission (original context here, on Mr. Gracey's horror movie blog Behind the Couch).
Strange Maps #701
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.