Synopses & Reviews
A timeless classic of sleazy London life in the 1930s, a world of streets, full of cruelty and kindness, comedy and pathos, where people emerge from cheap lodgings in Pimlico to pour out their passions, hopes and despair in pubs and bars.
About the Author
Born in Hassocks, Sussex in 1904, Patrick Hamilton was the youngest of three children. His parents, Ellen and Bernard Hamilton were published authors -- Bernard had written historical books, Ellen two romantic novels. Hamilton was educated at Holland House School in Hove, Sussex, Colet Court in London, and Westminster School (1918-19). At the age of seventeen he began to work as an actor and assistant stage manager for Andrew Melville. He then changed his career and worked as a stenographer. He published his first novel Craven House in 1926 and within a few years established a wide readership for himself. His first theatrical success was Rope (1929) on which Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same name was based. Many novels followed, including Hangover Square, his trilogy of novels Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky and Slaves of Solitude, as well as radio dramas and plays, several of which were filmed, including Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. A celebrated 'bright young' novelist of the Twenties and Thirties, Hamilton was in tune with the times. Sadly, at the peak of his career in 1932, he was accidentally run over by a car, sustaining multiple fractures and requiring plastic surgery. The accident left him permanently disfigured and perhaps contributed to his later slide into alcoholism. Hamilton was married twice -- to Lois Martin in 1930 and then to Ursula Stewart in 1953. He died on 23 September, 1962.
Reading Group Guide
1. The three different volumes of Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
go over the same story from different points of view revealing the inner lives of the characters. Discuss this method of storytelling and how it adds to our enjoyment and understanding of each of the characters.
2. Hamilton's novels end without any redemptive vision. He refuses to allow his characters to have unrealistically happy endings. Discuss.
3. The most distinctive feature of Hamilton's fiction are the Dickensian narrative voice and dialogue. Discuss (you may wish to look at specific characters such as Bob, Ella, Jenny and Mr Eccles).
4. Hamilton's portrait of Jenny is not a sympathetic one, though it is not moralising or judgemental either. Ella, however, is an attractive character. She keeps her feet on the ground and shows herself to have moral integrity. Compare and contrast the two women and Hamilton's moral standpoint towards each.
5. 'She had never seen so many desperate buses and blocked cars, and swarming people, in all her life. In all the teeming, roaring, grinding, belching, hooting, anxious-faced world of cement and wheels around her it really seemed as though things had gone too far. It seemed as though some climax had just been reached, that civilization was riding for a fall, that these were certainly the last days of London'
The characters Hamilton portrays are lost amidst a civilization riding out of control. Look at each individual story as a quest for Ella, Bob and Jenny to attempt to find something that will give their life a sense of inner meaning and purpose against the solitude and anonymity of the increasingly industrialised city in which they live.
6. Look at Hamilton's portrayal of Bob's slide into despair and obsession. Is this a convincing depiction of someone falling in love? Could this have worked as well had Hamilton not told the story from Bob's inner viewpoint?