Leading article: Written off?

Wednesday 29 December 2010 01:00

News that H G Wells wrote a spiteful letter about his home town of Bromley, which we report today, should cause the inhabitants of that London suburb no discomfort. Many writers scorned the places that nurtured them.

Somerset Maugham despised Whitstable, which pops up as dreary Blackstable in Of Human Bondage. D H Lawrence loved and loathed Eastwood. Some people count Sir John Betjeman among the home-town haters, assuming that his appeal for "friendly bombs" to rain on Slough reflected a desire to inflict revenge on the town in which he had grown up. Not so. Betjeman had no connection to Slough and later regretted the poem.

The contempt that many writers have evinced for their home towns is easy to dissect. Writers often view themselves as world citizens and as outsiders. Suburbs and small towns can appear the very essence of parochialism, mediocrity and conformity. A clash of values ensues – though not always. There was no separating the poet Stevie Smith from her beloved Palmers Green in north London and J G Ballard, an outsider if ever there was one, cherished the quiet suburb of Shepperton, where he spent most of his adult life. But he wasn't actually born there, so perhaps he doesn't count. Either way, Bromley is in good company.

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