London Fog: Background information when reading Smoke

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


by Dan Vyleta

Smoke by Dan Vyleta X
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2016, 448 pages
    Jun 2017, 448 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
Buy This Book

About this Book

London Fog

This article relates to Smoke

Print Review

Vyleta's Smoke draws inspiration from the very real issue of smog in Victorian London, the result of fog off the Thames river mixing with smoke from early industrialization and coal-burning fires in homes. This is hinted at when the novel's young protagonists are briefly hidden in a coal mine before making their way into the city. Making the connection even more explicit, the book's cover features Monet's atmospheric painting, Houses of Parliament: Effect of Sunlight in the Fog.

Monet's Houses of Parliament: Effect of Sunlight in the Fog Historically, London fogs can be dated all the way back to the 13th century. Legislative attempts by authorities over the years to curtail — or even entirely ban — the burning of coal were ignored due to lack of any effective alternative. As population increased and industrialization began in earnest, the problem spiraled out of control. The results were cataclysmic, centuries of death from bronchitis and other respiratory ailments as well as countless coach accidents, drownings, and violent acts facilitated by the low visibility of the foggy atmosphere. The conditions were described evocatively in an 1849 article from The Illustrated London News:

It is something like being imbedded (sic) in a dilation of yellow peas-pudding, just thick enough to get through it without being wholly choked or completely suffocated...You fancy that all the smoke which had ascended for years from the thousands of London chimneys, had fallen down all at once, after having rotted somewhere above the clouds.

The foggy ambiance was frequently employed as a literary device by Victorian era authors, a tradition Vyleta evokes with his descriptions of London polluted by sinful smoke. In The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson uses fog to create an atmosphere of mystery and as a metaphor for the blurring of identities that occurs in the novel. Arthur Conan Doyle similarly used fog as a cloak of obscurity in the Sherlock stories, as did Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dickens employed fog most notably in Bleak House as a symbol of the city's (and by extension, the government's) corruption:

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

The poet Percy Shelley wrote that "Hell is a city much like London -/ A populous and a smoky city," associating London with sin, as Vyleta does. From a pop-cultural perspective, representations of Victorian-era murderer Jack the Ripper in film and television are generally infused with fog, most notably Hitchcock's The Lodger.

While the ill effects of smog were long commented upon, change was not enacted until the Clean Air Act of 1956, which among other measures, banned the emission of smoke from chimneys, trains and industrial furnaces. The legislation was largely a result of the "Great Fog" (or "Big Smoke") of 1952, an event where higher levels of coal-burning due to cold combined with a high pressure weather system resulted in a heavy and toxic cloud that killed an estimated 4,000 people.

Picture of Monet's painting from Brooklyn Museum

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Lisa Butts

This "beyond the book article" relates to Smoke. It originally ran in June 2016 and has been updated for the June 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Crossroads
    by Jonathan Franzen
    Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads transports readers to the early 1970s, introducing us to a family on ...
  • Book Jacket: Chasing Me to My Grave
    Chasing Me to My Grave
    by Winfred Rembert
    Chasing Me to My Grave might be the most authentic, vulnerable autobiography you'll ever read. ...
  • Book Jacket: My Monticello
    My Monticello
    by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
    In the incendiary opening story of My Monticello, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's debut collection, a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Wrong End of the Telescope
    The Wrong End of the Telescope
    by Rabih Alameddine
    Rabih Alameddine's The Wrong End of the Telescope follows Mina, a Lebanese American doctor who ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky
by Margaret Verble
A deliciously strange and daringly original novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Flesh & Blood
    by N. West Moss

    This beautifully written memoir offers insight, understanding, and joy.

Who Said...

When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

Y A B Up T W T

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.