'London fog' and the symbolism of empire: nineteenth-century artistic representations of atmosphere in London and other imperial sites

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[Truncated abstract] The relationship between the London fog and nineteenth-century London can be understood as both actual and symbolic. Both types of understanding inform, play between, and are embedded in popular and scholarly knowledge. As such, London fog can be acknowledged as a defining characteristic, indeed, a symbol of nineteenth-century London. What is not often acknowledged, and has until now gone relatively unexamined in art historical scholarship, is the presence of empire in this actual and symbolic relationship. The intention of this thesis, then, is to identify, explore, analyse, and define the actual and symbolic connections between the idea and practice of empire and the foggy atmosphere of nineteenth-century London in order to extend the parameters of art historical scholarly discussion in this field. This is undertaken through a thematic focus on a range of imperial symbolism conveyed by the London fog (and other related atmospheric conditions such as mist, smoke, steam and smog) as it appears in a selection of nineteenth-century artworks, mostly of imperial London, as well as other sites of empire.
Fog, in any of its various guises or associated modes, is a capricious entity, difficult to understand, describe, predict, or control. Such material, behavioural and conceptual slipperiness affords fog a supple and generous capacity for symbolic meaning and practice. In this thesis, capricious fog is identified as an accommodating, wide-ranging symbol of nineteenth-century empire, and revealed as operating on a variety of levels in the art works examined. For example, I propose that in some works, smoke, a man-made variety of fog which billowed out of nineteenth-century British factory chimneys, sometimes functions as a simple sign of imperial production. In other works, I contend that in the form of the complex, engulfing London fog, which colonised space, spreading ever outwards from the imperial heart, fog works on a higher symbolic level as a convincing metaphor for the expansion of empire. Fog’s various characteristics and behaviours—especially its ability to concentrate and expand, to explore and colonise, to conceal and reveal, to homogenise and transform, to transgress and transcend, and to build, blight and beautify—exhibit degrees of correspondence with the characteristics and behaviours of an, at times, equally capricious empire. Such correspondence strengthens fog’s efficacy as an apposite symbol of empire.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2012


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