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Nights Out

Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Nights Out
    Book Description:

    London's Soho district underwent a spectacular transformation between the late Victorian era and the end of the Second World War: its fin-de-siècle buildings and dark streets infamous for sex, crime, political disloyalty, and ethnic diversity became a center of culinary and cultural tourism servicing patrons of nearby shops and theaters. Indulgences for the privileged and the upwardly mobile edged a dangerous, transgressive space imagined to be "outside" the nation.

    Treating Soho as exceptional, but also representative of London's urban transformation, Judith Walkowitz shows how the area's foreignness, liminality, and porousness were key to the explosion of culture and development of modernity in the first half of the twentieth century. She draws on a vast and unusual range of sources to stitch together a rich patchwork quilt of vivid stories and unforgettable characters, revealing how Soho became a showcase for a new cosmopolitan identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18368-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-xi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Virginia Woolf loved Soho. In the early 1920s, her favorite urban itinerary brought her to this old, foreign quarter of central London, located to the west of Bloomsbury. Her “usual round,” as she put it, involved a journey from Gordon Square, where her sister Vanessa still lived, to the bookish fringes of Soho. While rummaging through the stalls of used books along the Charing Cross Road, Woolf might encounter Roger Fry with four or five yellow French books under his arms. Woolf would then cross Cambridge Circus, walk up Shaftesbury Avenue, and turn into Gerrard Street to visit the 1917...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Cosmopolitan Soho
    (pp. 17-43)

    An early modern parish map of St. Anne, Soho appears on the front of a postcard circulated by the Soho Society, a local amenities group organized in 1972 (Plate 1). Joe’s Basement, a premier photographic shop on Wardour Street, Soho, produced the map in appealing green colors, suggestive of the pastoral origins of sixteenth-century Soho as open space and hunting ground between Westminster and the City of London. The caption of the postcard reads: “First published c.1690, this map shows the original pattern of Soho streets, still easily recognizable today.” ¹

    The Soho Society reproduced this artifact to defend the...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Battle of the Empire
    (pp. 44-63)

    In the 1890s, Leicester Square’s raffish environment made it the “best known spot in London” prior to the Second World War. Foreigner, provincial, and exiled Briton all made a “bee-line for Leicester Square,” located at the southern border of Soho, because of its “world-wide reputation for naughtiness.”¹ Advertising themselves as the greatest cosmopolitan clubs of the world, the square’s theaters of varieties, the Alhambra and the Empire, staged spectacular ballets as leg shows for a predominantly male audience. In 1894, the Empire’s cosmopolitan entertainments came under attack from feminist purity reformers, determined to reshape the metropolis and the globe according...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The “Vision of Salome”
    (pp. 64-91)

    “A new classical dancer has made her appearance in London,” declared theNew Jersey Telegraphon March 23, 1908.¹ This “artistic sensation of the hour” was Maud Allan, an interpretive dancer from North America who made her debut on Soho’s eastern border in a theatrical space that combined material luxury, sexual license, and cultural hybridity. Her dance program largely consisted of Greek-inspired classical numbers, in the mode developed by Isadora Duncan.² But it was her final dance of the evening, the orientalist “Vision of Salome,” that drew crowds to the Palace Theatre of Varieties, in Cambridge Circus, at the juncture...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Italian Restaurant
    (pp. 92-143)

    During the “Maud Allan boom”, many of the richly clad ladies and gentlemen who had attended Allan’s “nude” performance went on to dine at sumptuous West End restaurants. Or they opted for after-theater suppers at the more intimate “little places” located behind the Palace Theatre in Soho. Both theater and dining engaged Londoners in public performances of gender, imaginative expatriation, sensory stimulation, and social distinction. The bodily rituals at table depended on the supporting roles of wait staff who were themselves savvy practitioners of cosmopolitan taste. They were increasingly composed of northern Italians who had migrated to London in hopes...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Schleppers and Shoppers
    (pp. 144-181)

    “Berwick Market, Soho, on a Saturday” appears in a travel book on London in 1927 (Figure 12). Photographed from above, Berwick Street Market materializes as an extraordinarily compressed, bazaar-like space, completely dominated by commerce. Men and women, stylishly modern in their attire, are crushed together in the middle of the road, surrounded by a range of undergarments on public display. The photograph captures a kinetic, pushing, pulling multitude, but the accompanying caption works to disaggregate the crowd: it identifies the “prudent housewife” and the fashion-conscious working woman who visit the market in search of bargains. Bargain hunters such as these...

  12. CHAPTER 6 A Jewish Night Out
    (pp. 182-208)

    On their nights out, Jewish Sohoites ventured to the periphery of their neighborhood, to the cinemas, dance halls, and Lyons’ Corner Houses that ringed Soho. Here they entered a broader current of London life, yet coexisted with many of the same irregular cosmopolitan elements that gravitated to Berwick Street Market. Rather than decamping entirely from their neighbor-hood, Sohoites annexed what they imagined to be the safe urban village of Jewish Soho to the outer world of London’s commercial thoroughfares. To use the terms of critical geography, they mentally transformed the commercial West End boulevards from aspacecreated by finance...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Shady Nightclub
    (pp. 209-252)

    In May 1928, the New York Times reported that fifty members of Scotland Yard’s famous Flying Squad, “who usually devote their energies to making lightning dashes through London in pursuit of murderers, burglars, and car thieves,” donned evening dress and raided ten night clubs in the fashionable West End of London. It was the “biggest round-up in years.” TheNew York Timesand other news outlets emphasized the singularity of the raids and hinted at political intrigue: it was “the first time that the Flying Squad was detailed for such comparatively innocuous [activity],” while “two foreigners prominently associated” with nightclub...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Windmill Theatre
    (pp. 253-285)

    In July 1937, Elizabeth Bowen visited the Windmill Theatre, just “off Piccadilly,” as theater critic of the magazineNight and Day. She reported that the ninety-fourth edition of the Windmill’sRevudevillewas great fun. In this tiny theater, the revue had to be intimate, because the cast was “practically in your lap.” Providing the sex appeal were the resourceful Windmill Girls and the “pretty tableau” of nude showgirls in static, artistic poses. These acts were complemented and showcased by two ingenious and physically witty comedians. Bowen credited the Windmill management with fostering an air of domesticated Britishness, citing manager Vivian...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 286-303)

    Soho has long been a storied place. One legend credits Soho with a timeless essence and effortless capacity to sustain a traditional culture of nonconformity for over three hundred years.¹ Another version, repeated many times over many decades, declares that Soho is not what it was and is in terminal decline. This book challenges both interpretations for the fifty years prior to the Second World War. It chronicles Soho’s cosmopolitan makeover at the fin de siècle and tracks its subsequent mutations over succeeding decades. Soho was neither timeless nor unchanging; it was the outcome of mental and material processes converging...

  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 304-304)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 305-376)
  18. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 377-401)
  19. Index
    (pp. 402-414)