The Drowned World by JG Ballard
It’s a funny old world…….whilst California’s Drought Could Be the Worst in 500 Years a relentless Atlantic weather system deposits ever more rainfall into a totally saturated UK hydrological system – encroaching ever nearer to her Maj herself ensconced in her castle of darkness ….hence a sudden burst of army & navy personnel with sandbags near Windsor as the river level swells over the banks…. Flooding nearby: Swans swim in sight of Windsor Castle where the river Thames has burst its banks in an area known as The Brocas in Eton, Berkshire
…and also effecting nearby Shepperton……
From above: Aerial view showing flooding covering Shepperton, Surrey. The Thames has hit record levels causing extensive flooding to parts of the South-East
Set in the year 2145 in a post-apocalyptic and unrecognisable London, ‘The Drowned World’ is a setting of tropical temperatures, flooding and accelerated evolution. Ballard’s story follows the biologist Dr Robert Kerans and his struggles against the devolutionary impulses of the environment.
Will Self on JG Ballard’s ‘The Drowned World’JG Ballard’s recently reissued masterpiece, ‘The Drowned World’, shows him to be the most important British writer of the late 20th century, says Will Self.By Will Self / 7:00AM BST 31 Aug 2013London has been flooded many times. Until the late 19th century, and the construction of the Thames embankments as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s grand sewerage works, the high-water mark of the tidal river was an arbitrary dividing line between liquid and solid. All along the river’s banks there was a fretwork of jetties and inlets, and when the waters rose too high they would inundate the streets.Even after the embanking, in 1928, a flood breached the parapets in Westminster and surged into the impoverished streets around Millbank, drowning 14 people. During the great North Sea floods of 1953, London was relatively unscathed – although in the East End, Canning Town went under the waters, while still further downriver Canvey Island was entirely inundated, with the loss of 58 lives. This event led directly to the construction of the present Thames Barrier, the centrepiece of which is a series of silver-cowled sluice gates ranging across the river between Silvertown and Charlton; structures that resemble – for all their obvious utility – sections of the Sydney Opera House, disarticulated and marooned on the riverbed.
The barrier was completed in the early Eighties, and since then has been employed with greater and greater frequency as combinations of storm surges and high equinoctial tides have threatened the city. Many believe these historically high water levels are a result of global warming, a climatologic phenomenon widely thought to be caused by human activity, specifically the release of so-called greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. But whatever the new, physical threat to London, the city has felt itself to be psychically vulnerable for centuries.
In his Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, published in 1841, Charles Mackay recounted the great panic of 1524. This followed the prophecies of numerous soothsayers and astrologers in the previous year, who all concurred that “on the first day of February… the waters of the Thames would swell to such a height as to overflow the whole city of London, and wash away ten thousand houses”.
According to Mackay the panic was both widespread and no respecter of class: “By the middle of January at least 20,000 persons had quitted the doomed city, leaving nothing but the bare walls of their homes to be swept away by the impending floods.” Among them was the prior of St Bartholomew’s, who “erected, at a very great expense, a sort of fortress at Harrow-on-the-Hill which he stocked with provisions for two months”.
In the event, of course, the deluge failed to materialise, and the shamefaced Londoners returned to the city, their anxiety converted into a rage that they would have vented on the erring Cassandras, were it not that “they asserted that, by an error (a very slight one) of a little figure, they had fixed the date of this awful inundation a whole century too early”. The inaccurate foretelling of the great flood was surely only a correlate of popular fears about the growth of the city itself: since the medieval period, London’s burgeoning size has been a cause of anxiety, uneasiness reflected in its purulent sobriquet “The Great Wen”.
The biblical root of this desire to sluice the streets of their infective inhabitants and so purify the city is obvious. In fiction, the inclination to flood London has remained perennial, reaching its modern apogee during the upsurge of scientific romances published in the last decades of the 19th century.
Richard Jefferies’s After London (1885) is a post-apocalyptic novel that foresees an England returned to a medieval level of social organisation and technological sophistication. The centre of the country is covered by a great lake, and the novel’s wayward protagonist, Felix, ventures over these waters and then into the miasmic swamps which now cover London. “During his advance into this region in the canoe he had in fact become slowly stupefied by the poisonous vapour he had inhaled. His mind was partly in abeyance; it acted, but only after some time had elapsed. He now at last began to realise his position; the finding of the heap of blackened money touched a chord of memory. These skeletons were the miserable relics of men who had ventured, in search of ancient treasures, into the deadly marshes over the sight of the mightiest city of former days. The deserted and utterly extinct city of London was under his feet.” ..cont…
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