‘In a London Drawing Room’ is a single stanza, free verse poem. The poem is 19 lines long and is a dark and dreary summary of what one speaker sees outside of her London drawing room. ‘In a London Drawing Room’ was written by Eliot in 1869 but it was not published until long after her death in 1959.
This speaker’s exact location is not specified, making this poem applicable to anyone living anywhere in London at the time. The poem begins with a dark description of what is outside the speaker’s home. The sky is described as “yellowed” and the houses so drab in their shape and form, as a line of fog. There is nothing in this landscape for one to marvel at or question the nature of. The speaker continues to speak of how the birds do not cast shadows as they fly through the city, the sun is unable to reach them through the thick layer of clouds, smog, and smoke that fills the air. It is like a huge canvas sheet has been placed over the top of the city keeping it in darkness. The poem concludes by relating the quick pace of those walking on the streets to the speed of the cars, carriages, and coaches passing. All appear identical and pause for nothing as they hurry along. The poem concludes by alluding to the state of the city, the lack of warmth and sun, being a punishment placed on the residents.
Analysis of In a London Drawing Room
The sky is cloudy, yellowed by the smoke.
For view there are the houses opposite
Cutting the sky with one long line of wall
Like solid fog: far as the eye can stretch
Monotony of surface & of form
Without a break to hang a guess upon.
The first section of this poem, like the remainder, focuses heavily on descriptions of the landscape from this speaker’s window, doorway, or home. The speaker is looking out upon the whole, or at least a representative whole, of London and seeing it as dark, dirty, and ragged. It is existing in shadow.
This is made clear in the first line as the speaker describes the sky as “cloudy,” and tinted yellow by the smoke of industry. During the time in which this poem was written, England entered in full force into the industrial revolution. Their unimpeded growth and unceasing production was causing a rampant uptick in the amount of pollution pumped into the city. Smoke from cars, factories, and trains was filling the streets and creating a never-ending smog over the city. In addition to the “yellowed” sky, the speaker also sees houses opposite their own. They “cut” the view of the sky, and their “monotonous” tone and shape create what is similar to a long line of “solid fog.”
This line of houses, identical in “surface” and “form,” is so uniform that there is nothing to see that one might have to guess at. There is nothing “to hang a guess upon,” no mystery to explore, or shape to question.
No bird can make a shadow as it flies,
For all is shadow, as in ways o’erhung
By thickest canvass, where the golden rays
Are clothed in hemp. No figure lingering
Pauses to feed the hunger of the eye
Or rest a little on the lap of life.
In the next section of ‘In a London Drawing Room’, additional details are given about the state of the city. When birds fly through the sky over the city they cast no shadow. This is a roundabout way of saying that they are not touched by the sun. The sun cannot penetrate through the thick layer of smoke and smog. “All is shadow” as if a huge piece of the “thickest canvas” has been hung over the city, blocking out the sun. The rays of the sun are “clothed in hemp,” (hemp being a common material in canvas) completely covered by this metaphorical sheet of fabric.
As this speaker is gazing outside their home, they are searching for some break in the monotony of what they see. Outside there are no figures “lingering” creating “pauses” in the sameness of the view. The speaker’s eye is described as hungry, they are desperately seeking out something of interest, something to make the view a little more interesting; or perhaps even give some hope to this city that has become so dark.
All hurry on & look upon the ground,
Or glance unmarking at the passers by
The wheels are hurrying too, cabs, carriages
All closed, in multiplied identity.
The world seems one huge prison-house & court
Where men are punished at the slightest cost,
With lowest rate of colour, warmth & joy.
The last section of this poem concludes the description of this dreary world. All those that walk along the streets do not pause for anything, they “hurry on” with their eyes cast “upon the ground.” They make no effort to communicate with anyone they pass, or with the speaker, something that she would most likely relish.
The cars, cabs, and carriages mimic those walking on the streets. They too hurry along, their wheels quickly spinning. The doors, windows, and roofs are all closed up, making each identical to the one that came before it. Once again there is nothing to break the monotony of the city landscape.
The poem concludes with three lines summing up the state of London. The world, it seems to the speaker, is like “one huge prison-house & court.” The men (and women) who walk through this prison world are being punished for whatever small sin they may have committed by a lack of “colour, warmth, & joy.”
These last lines make it possible that the speaker believes the residents of the city have done something to deserve this fate. Whether that something is large or small, they have been punished with monotony.
About George Eliot
Mary Ann Evans, better known as her pseudonym George Eliot, was born in November of 1819 in Warwickshire, England. Evans developed a great religious fervor while in school as a young woman but moved away from the church after becoming acquainted with more radical beliefs. After finishing school Eliot lived with her father in Coventry until his death. She moved to London where she began to contribute to ‘Westminster Review,’ a journal that focused on philosophy. She would eventually become the editor.
Through her connections in literary circles, she met and began to live with George Henry Lewes who was married to someone else. Due to the scandalous nature of their relationship, she was shunned by her friends and family. It was during this time that she began to write. Her first novel, ‘Adam Bede’ was published in 1859 to great acclaim. She chose to use a male pen name to ensure that her books were taken seriously. Her most popular novel, ‘Middlemarch’ was published in 1872.
Her writing provided an inroad back into society and she married John Cross, a friend of Lewes’ after his death. Eliot Died in December of 1880 and is buried in the famous Highgate Cemetery in London.