In The Waste Land (1922). T.S. Eliot, having spent time in Margate while recovering from a nervous breakdown, wrote:
“On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
In 1922 (the annus mirabilis of modernism) Margate was also referenced in another key work: P.G.Wodehouse’s The Girl on the Boat.
The novel’s hero, Sam Marlowe, is, like Eliot, experiencing a dark night of the soul, having been rejected by his girlfriend.
He had sought relief by slinking off alone to the Hotel Magnificent at Bingley-on-the Sea. It was the same spirit which has often moved other men in similar circumstances to go off to the Rockies to shoot grizzlies.
His father is scornful of this course of action:
‘Bingley-on-the Sea! Good heavens! Why Bingley-on-the Sea? Why not Margate while you were about it?’
‘Margate is too bracing. I did not wish to be braced. Bingley suited my mood. It was dark and it rained all the time, and the sea slunk in the distance like some baffled beast…’
Wodehouse describes forcefully the sheer awfulness of this ‘ozone-swept Gehenna’.
The asphalte on the Bingley esplanade is is several degrees more depressing than the asphalte on other esplanades.
Which raises the question: if Eliot had convalesced in Bingley-on-the Sea rather than Margate, would The Waste Land have been even more desolate and disillusioned?
Or would he, like Sam, have found that the sheer awfulness of the service and cooking at the Hotel Magnificent took his mind off his own problems? In which case, would he have returned to London like Sam, in a positive frame of mind, but without a modernist masterpiece in his briefcase?