- Gin Lane & Soju-ro: Part 1 — The Preamble
- Interlude: Reading Chamiseul, and Revisiting Gin Lane
- More on the Gin Craze
Right, so I said this would be a long time in coming, but yesterday afternoon and evening — during my train ride in and out of Seoul, as well as during a couple of breaks I took when the humidity and heat and human density proved too much for me at the protest I attended — I all but inhaled Jessica Warner’s Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason, a kind of legal and cultural history of the Gin Craze that swept through the poorer classes in London in the first half of the 1700s (and, to use the term put out by Patrick Dillon, whose book I link a little further along in this post, the accompanying “Gin Panic” that flooded polite society at the same time).
This post is going to be a preamble of sorts, and explain why I think the Gin Craze is worth examining at all, let alone why I think it’s worth looking at Korea’s handling of soju in comparison.
Jeremy Tolbert had a great post up a while back about some of the things that an American writer named Clay Shirky had to say about social surplus. Go on ahead and read Tolbert’s post and follow the links he offers, like to the transcript of Shirky’s talk. Or if you can’t be bothered to click away, watch this video:
Okay. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re a little discomfited by this, because, er, isn’t he misremembering things? Isn’t it the cotton gin that would have been described by that half-remembered philosopher as the pivotal technology of the Industrial Revolution? I commented as much on the transcript linked above, but the comment never got out of moderation on Shirky’s site; perhaps, I suspect, because the number of people who have pointed this out online has made Shirky quite aware that his claim about gin being the primary social glue for London in Georgian England is a rather holey one — and while the rest of his argument is kinda interesting, that argument he made about gin keeping the Industrial Revolution going is really quite holey. Well, sort of.
But only sort of. What I’ve read suggests that gin probably didn’t help keep things going at all — but it may have kept society going through the pains and stresses of the Industrial Revolution while also, to some degree, slowing it down and draining productivity — just as I will later show soju necessarily does in Korea.
But the bigger idea, the notion that societies self-medicate en masse when faced with tense, difficult transitions — until such point as they manage to adjust and start to exploit their “social surplus” to make life easier and better (by establishing libraries, say, or a creative commons), is a fascinating one, and one that immediately brought me back to Bucheon, to Seoul, to practically every place I’ve ever been in Korea, and to the presence of fridges full of green bottles in every restaurant you pass on the street.
After all, the Gin Craze took place, as Shirky notes, in a period during which mass emigration into London was at an all-time high. What several generations — not just one, as Shirky claims — of Londoners experienced from around 1710 (or even as early as 1700) to 1750, is roughly what Koreans experienced from around 1960 to the present — a period of rapid social change, of movement from countryside to city, of rapidly shifting social values and standards, and more. And it’s undeniable that, in very interesting ways, soju has been a part of it.
Other Parallels, Like Squalor
Reading Craze, the parallels hit me harder and harder, for there are many to be made. This quote, from page 55 of the paperback edition, is a good example:
To the extent that most gin shops consisted of nothing more than a spare room, they were probably no better — and no worse — than the other run-down dwellings frequented or inhabited by the working poor. The gin shops were squalid, but so, too, was much of London itself; their clientele was unseemly and on occasion poorly behaved, but so, too, were most of the people who lived and worked in the capital.
The squalor described may well be less now than it was in, say, Bucheon in 1976, when this picture was taken by Kim Ki-chan, and appeared in the collection of his (?) photos, Lost Landscape:
Or, hell, the now well-developed Samseong-dong, only a short five years later, in 1981:
These are, indeed, “lost landscapes”, and Korea has changed a great deal since these pictures were shot, in one of the great heydays of land development in and around Seoul.
But in places like Yeokgok, where I live, there is still a fair bit of squalor to be seen. In Craze and in Patrick Dillon’s Gin: The Much Lamented Death of Madam Geneva — The Eighteenth-Century Gin Craze, the text I’m reading now, discussions of the concentration of gin houses by contemporaries repeatedly note how common the places were, how readily available the stuff was. And common they were: at one point, in some parts of town, as many as one gin shop for every five residences… though of course, one must remember that the squalor and slow urban development meant that any number of people could have been living in a single “residence.”
Surely, the squalor of eighteenth-century London is nothing like the squalor of early twenty-first-century Yeokgok… and yet, one can as easily say that the vicissitudes of eighteenth-century London were not so quickly banished as all that. H.G. Wells, writing in the 1930s of how the London he knew in his youth came be a over century before, had this to say:
So far as I can puzzle out the real history of a hundred years ago, there was a very considerable economic expansion after the Napoleonic war, years before the onset of the railways. The steam railway was a great simulus to still further expansion, its political consequences were tremendous, but it was itself a product of a general release of energy and enterprise already in progress. Under a régime of unrestricted private enterprise, this burst of vigour prodced the most remarkable and lamentable results. A system of ninety-nine year building leases was devised, which made vast fortunes for the ground landlords and rendered any subsequent reconstruction of the houses put up almost impossible until the ground lease fell in. Under these conditions private enterprise spewed a vast quantity of extremely unsuitable building all over the London area, and for four or five generations made an uncomfortable incurable stress of the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
It is only now, after a century, that the weathered and decaying lavaof this mercenary eruption isbeing slowly replaced — by new feats of private enterpreise almost as greedy and unforeseeing. Once they were erected there was no getting rid of these ugly dingy pretentious substitutes for civilized housing. They occupied the groud. There was no choice; people just had to do with them and pay the high rents demanded. From the individualistic point of view it was an admirable state of affairs. To most Londoners of my generation these rows of herry-built unalterable homes seemed to be as much in the nature of things as rain in September and it is only with the wisdom of retrospect, that I realize the complete irrational scrambling planlessness of which all of us who had to live in London were victims.
The recklessly unimaginative entrepreneurs who built these great areas of nineteenth-century London and no doubt made off to more agreeable surroundings with the income and profits accruing, seem to have thought, if they thought at all, that there was an infinite supply of prosperous middle-class people to take the houses provided… This was the London house, that bed of Procrustes to which the main masses of the accumulating population of the most swiftly growing city in the world, including thousands and thousands of industrial and technical workers and clerks, students, foreigners upon business missions, musicians, teachers, the professional and artistic rank and file, agents, minor officials, shop employees living out and everyone indeed who ranked between the prosperous householder and the slum denizen, had to fit their lives. The multiplying multitude poured into these moulds with no chance of protest or escape… It is only because the thing was spread out over a hundred years and not concentrated into a few weeks that history fails to realize what sustained disaster, how much massacre, degeneration, and disablement of lives, was due to the housing of London in the nineteenth century.
(H.G. Wells, An Experiment in Autobiography, Vol. I, Chapter 5, pgs. 274-276)1.
Wells goes on to note that this was probably not peculiar to London, but also to any other of the “swelling great cities of the nineteenth century,” but I’m afraid I cannot help but think of urban South Korea, and its sprawling acres of characterless, ugly high-rise apartment blocks — all of them the same in design, impossible to differentiate in their blandness and ugliness, save for the ridiculousness of the names painted upon them — when I read it.
Wells probably does not track the monstrosity back far enough: the squalor of the nineteenth-century certainly grew out of that of the eighteenth, just as the cold-and-deadness of Seoul, Bucheon, and most other Korean cities grows out of how Korea was urbanized throughout the twentieth century.
In any case, to my eye, the parallels abound. I’m leery, like anyone whose brain is worth his or her body’s sodium content, of the idea that there are teleologies built into things like development. But that the same time, the appearance of parallels doesn’t surprise me, and in fact, I figure they are to be expected when one society is consciously, explicitly following the lead of another — the way urbanization, modernization, and industrialization in Korea were modeled on foreign models. Perhaps not London, but we can expect — given the intersection of money, land development, rapid mass urbanization, and the founding of an industrialized economy — a lot of mistakes to have been repeated here. After all, London in Wells’ day, and certainly in the era of the Gin Craze, was what I’ve just discovered (thanks to this interesting post by James, whom I should also thank for suggesting the hopefully catchy series title “Gin Lane & Soju-ro”) is termed a “primate city” — that is, a city that far and away dominates the nation in terms of concentration of people, money, industry, and power.
So anyway, it was this parallel — a high rate of migration of people into relatively unprepared (and undeveloped) cities, a massive destabilization of what had previously constituted human communities as rural people understood them, and a high rate of consumption of hard alcohol — that got me wondering what other parallels exist between the Gin Craze and Korea’s handling of soju.
It is those parallels — and the stunning, fascinating divergences that also exist in this area — that I will be exploring in later posts in this series. At present, I plan to touch on the following:
- Premodern Attitudes and Uses of Alcohol: What Came Before Gin and Soju
- Soju and Gin At Work and “At Play”
- No Control: The Differing Responses to Alcohol and Legislation in Georgian England and Modern Korea, and their Economic and Social Consequences
- Soju, Yangju, Beer, Brandy, Punch, and Class-Stratified Tastes
- Miss Lee and Madam Geneva Ride the Rising Tide of Capitalism: Gendered Consumption, Marketing, and Conception of Soju and Gin
- She’s Hot: Gin and the Origins of The Urban Legend of Spontaneous Human Combustion
- Conjurations & Summonings of the Lost Village Life: How the Soju Drinking Ritual Make the Impossible Possible
I will be interspersing my discussion of Gin Lane & Soju-ro with posts about Korean SF movies as I work my way through the paper I’m writing — and that will be my priority for the next month or so, in terms of posts here — but I will revisit this subject from time to time, as it’s somewhat captured my imagination, and the more I read, the more interesting the parallels and divergences alike become. But before I am quite ready to end this post, there’s a wholly different parallel that is quite interesting, and which is worth noting, though I’m not sure I’ll make a whole post out of it.
The Gin Panic and the U.S. Beef Panic
One of the most interesting parallels between the unfolding of the Gin Craze and events in Korea is an inverted parallel, and that is, between the “Gin Panic” and the ongoing protests that, in their inception, were about — and to some people still are about — the government’s handling of U.S. Beef importation into Korea.
What’s interesting is that in both cases, decisions were made about a popular food/consumable product on the basis of national economics — King William III, that is, William of Orange, chose after declaring war on France to ban the importation of French brandy, and to create an environment that would promote the domestic distillation of spirits from “corn” — that is, wheat, barley, rye, and oats — which was achieved by the passage of an act in 1690. The result was, essentially, the creation of a whole new domestic industry of distilled “corn” spirits.2.
Comparably, it is for economic reasons — presumably to ensure the passage of the KOR-US FTA, the Lee Administration decided to drastically alter South Korean legislation with regards to the importation of beef into Korea from the US.
What happened in England, over the next few decades, was that the working poor enthusiastically embraced gin as a conumer product, and it became part of the general culture; but at the same time, polite society was horrified. The etchings of William Hogarth that are most often displayed in relation to these fears and this horror are those below:
… and it’s obvious that there’s a propagandistic element to Hogarth’s art here — the sensual virility, industry and activity that abound on Beer Street are replaced by depredation, horror, death, and monstrosity on Gin Lane.
But there’s another dimension less visible in those depictions that is more apparent in this print, included along with the above in Warner’s Craze, and that is this one:
What’s clear here is a horror at the masses themselves, a class-based digust at the common people and their doings. The “musician” is the fellow in the wig with the violin bow, angrily looking down from his upper window, and not the clarionetist, the hornblower, the little child banging upon a drum: they are not musicians, they are the unwashed masses, of a piece with howling dogs, ladies holding mewling babies, peddlers shouting out to anyone who might be interested in their wares.
The noise in the street expressed in this picture is of a piece with the presence of gin in the poorer districts of London. And Hogarth’s art, indeed, served upper-class purposes well: Beer Street and Gin Lane were part of a wave of propaganda against the gin industry — indeed, the last major wave of anti-gin propaganda. It was the last because the popularity of gin was, for various reasons related to income, tempreance movements, and other factors, in decline. But this only came after several decades of sustained efforts to pass laws against the gin industry, and it was several decades of Gin Panic that fueled these constant efforts.
Had gin rendered London a seething, scabrous mess like what we see in Hogarth’s Gin Lane? Probably not, although it probably did mess up many people’s lives. Many parallels have been drawn between the Gin Panic and the Drug Wars, indeed: the way that irrationally exaggerated (and often gendered) depictions of the horrors of a drug popular among a minority or lower-class group allowed legislation to pass that might, in other circumstances, have been unthinkable. (The criminalization of marijuana, a Mexican drug, has been possible; the criminalization of sale of gin, the drink of the poorer classes, was ㅑimaginable; the criminalization of Glenfiddich or of alcoholic punch is utterly unthinkable.)
What’s interesting is that in both cases, the means that was used in in order to mobilize opposing support response was the manufacturing of a panic in which a belief was manufactured that a consumable product could or would lead to widespread depravity, death, or sickness. But in London, from 1720-1750, the fact was that the public wanted their gin, while in Seoul right now, the mobilized portion of the public simply doesn’t want American beef.3.
The results in London were mass riots, as well as rather surprisingly (to me) creative demonstrations that, even if they were, like the current anti-2MB demonstrations4., organized in part by those with an economic interest — gin-distillers paid for the mock wakes that were held and funeral processions that marched through the streets mourning “the passing of Madame Geneva,” as Gin was commonly known — involved rather large numbers of people whose opinions, as the working poor, realistically were not of interest to the British government, much as many young Koreans seem to feel in relation to the Lee Administration.
(The Londoners, most of whom were utterly denied a voice in British politics then, were obviously more disempowered than any Korean citizen has a right to claim to be, but the perception even many who voted for Lee seems to be that the administration’s attitude has been, generally, dismissive of public opinion.)
In any case, there’s room for more discussion of this, especially in the area of iconography and the gendering of protests and protesters, but for now, I’m going to leave off on this topic. Updates will be occasionally, but I’ll make sure to be quite careful to link things together so even if you miss an update, you’ll be easily able to catch up.
1. I first encountered a portion of this long quote in the text Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction by Brian W. Aldiss, although, in my 1974 Shocken paperback edition, Aldiss omits a great hunk in the middle (with no ellipsis to indicate any omission), and mis-cites it to Chapter 6 of Wells’ Experiment in Autobiography. Fortunately, I have a copy of the original Wells, and located the passage, after some searching, in Chapter 5.
2. This is discussed in both of the books I’ve mentioned, Craze and Gin, but is handled in a little more depth in Chapter 1 of the latter.
3. Though I (and other commentators) have repeatedly pointed out that the current demonstrations have come to be about much more than just beef, it is undeniable that a number of protesters still are focused on the US beef issue, and that in any case it was the overt issue that brought people out in large numbers in the first place. If you talk to protesters, some will tell you that the protests aren’t really about beef anymore, while others will insist it is, or speak in such a way that it’s obvious they think so. It’s complicated.
4. For those who don’t already know, 2MB is the mocking nickname that netizens — long before the protests began, it’s my impression — gave Lee Myung Bak. The “L” on Lee is an anglicism — in Korean, the name sounds like the letter “E”, and this clan name is synonymous with the number 2. Substituting 2MB for LMB is an obvious jape at his intelligence, implying that he has only 2 MegaBytes of processing capacity in his head. The joke would not have made sense a decade or two ago, but in our current era of gigabytes of storage and RAM, it is cleverly, and technofetishistically, cutting. One wonders whether members of older generations even get the joke, however.
11 thoughts on “Gin Lane & Soju-ro: Part 1 — The Preamble”
At first blush, and having lived in those concrete monstrosities myself for the bettter part of four years in Japan and South Korea, the design aesthetic and accompanying philosophy of the apartment buildings in that region owes more to Le Corbusier and assorted fascists and socialists (ah, the joys of central planning and bureaucracy) than it does to notions of Anglo-American laissez-faire entrepeneurship. Granted, an extended family of 10 or 15 living in one of those old brownstone apartments or townhouses might be a little cramped, but for a young couple or a small family just starting out, it can be a comfy arrangement so long as the neighborhood is starting to gentrify.
Hmm. Well, this is slightly tangential to the point I was trying to make, but I’ll agree that the ugly designs probably do link back to Le Corbusier, but why do you think that caught on? It’s because copy-and-paste designs with no heart are the most economic route, the easiest route… it’s a form of mass-production for profit, resulting in some of the ugliest cities in Asia.
I heartily disagree with the attempt to decouple this phenomenon from the economics of land development. Land development in Korean cities is different from land development in London in the nineteenth-century, but not so significantly that Wells’ point doesn’t adhere: there’s a lot of land-grabby, heavy-profit-pursuit, and a great paucity of choice among tenants.
Frankly, it long ago spiraled out of control, and nobody seems able to stop it. There’s a reason that some of modern Korean literature finest work is about working people and families being shunted out to slums and suburbs of Seoul, struggling for housing. A couple of texts you could check out are translations of The Dwarf by Cho Se-Hui and A Distant and Beautiful Place by Yang Kwi-Ja both of which I’m currently partway through, and both of which constantly turn to this issue.
Not for nothing: cramped train rides into Seoul have reminded me constantly how far away some people are willing to commute from — Incheon, even! — daily in order to live in a home they can afford but work in Seoul.
As for comfort, the bit I cut from the Wells would probably disabuse you of the notion of comfort in those houses he’s describing: it’s been a long time since 1890. Here’s what I omitted, with bits from before and after so you can locate it in the original context.
Doesn’t sound so comfortable to me, and certainly looks like it was based on a way of life that, if not by that time, then soon after was about to become wholly unfeasible. In any case, I get the impression you’re talking about “old brownstones” dating from a later period, or perhaps (in rare cases) which have been overhauled rather thoroughly.
Indeed, in London and Seoul alike, it’s probably the innovation of self-contained housing units where toilet plumbing was added that changed the whole landscape, and made high-rise buildings feasible. (And indoor facilities was unarguable improvement in quality of life here, as it was in Saskatchewan when the evils of Socialist central planning under Tommy Douglas brought indoor toilets to many farmers’ homes.)
But the plumbing, in Korean buildings dating back even to the early 90s, remains relatively primitive — indeed, almost as if designed explicitily to aid in the introduction of vermin into the home, in my experience. And in the experience of some friends of mine, shoddy even in a building built in the last few years: it took weeks for someone to do something about the fact that somehow the sewage piping was venting fecal gas straight up into the air vent that opened onto their bedroom.
And this was all in relatively nice and new buildings — they looked shoddy and old, but relatively speaking, they weren’t: the whole area had been rice fields only a decade before, and families (sometimes with a few kids and a grandma in tow, in which case it was clear they were the working poor) were even so paying the equivalent of $30-50,000 for the privilege of living in a cramped one-room apartment so small that it would drive most couples nuts.
As a counter-example, I know a couple consisting of a Korean and a Canadian, and they live in an apartment that, to me, seems downright palatial: but then, the Canadian wife’s income is a good bit more than I make and several multiples of what your average young Korean starting out makes. When you factor in her husband’s income, it obviously puts them in a class rather different from the average. So comfort is to be hand… but for a price, and even so, they’re considering moving since the rent/key-money on their apartment is probably going up at some point in the future. And will continue to go up. If even people in that socioeconomic class are reduced to moving every few years in the wake of rising housing costs, how do you think the average Korean does?
The answer is none too comforting at all.
I think my point, though slightly tangential isn’t totally offbase – I just think you are looking in the wrong place for the roots of the squalor. I was under the impression, given my relative lack of understanding of the language, that most of the apartments were owned by huge corporations, or the municipality, and were in some/most cases a form of subsidized housing for employeees and civil servants.
I’ve no doubt that living in a cramped brownstone would have been uncomfortable. Still, I’m impressed with how well they are made, and I’ll give the heartless Anglo-capitalists points for that. There are people living in townhouses here that are at least as old as what Wells described, if not older. I’ve just always been impressed with how well the buildings age, and how (relatively easily) they can be retrofitted. Those big concrete monstrosities so beloved by Le Corbusier and other visionaries, they don’t age so very well, and any building made in the last 50 or so years is rarely able to be converted to different uses.
Yeah, not entirely offbase — I did link squalor and housing with squalor and rapid urbanization, and rapid construction, and ugly construction. Just tangential to the whole soju & gin thing. But not offbase, and it’s worth sorting all that out, I guess.
There is subsidized housing of a sort in some parts of Seoul — one of the people involved in SeoulPodcast lives in subsidized housing, if I remember right from a recent podcast there; sort of like a kinder, friendlier sort of housing project, really — and the government does offer loans to those who don’t look like investment risks to cover the ridiculous amount of “key money” needed for most apartments — but my impression is generally that apartments are bought outright, or rented out by owners. I’m not exactly sure where the companies come in: in an apartment block called “Samsung apartments” or “Lotte Castle,” I’m not sure what role Lotte or Samsung actually play once construction is finished. But I do know that apartments are bought and owned, sold, rented out, and so on.
Certainly, high-rise apartments seem — from what many have told me — to be the height of personal convenience, and are much preferred to the privacy and relative isolation of a house. Poorer or monied bohemian types live in houses or junky apartments, while those of means live in nice apartments. And the limits to what is considered livable are sometimes pretty horrifying. I know one woman who lived in an apartment slated for demolition, but her employers took their time finding her a flat. I heard there was fungus growing in the walls, and sometimes, after going away for holidays, it could be found even growing upon certain walls! Ugh!
I don’t know enough about American construction to compare to British — it could be that 19th-century British construction is worse, I don’t know. I have heard from many friends who’ve spent time in London that many an old apartment has crap heating, crap insulation, and is frigid and humid in the winter. Never having visited the UK since early childhood (or Washington, ever, for that matter), I’ve no idea how they compare.
But I’m with you on hating the “pour concrete on everything” school of architecture, and on how badly buildings since the 60s age. Personally, I find much of the architecture in South Korea rather depressing. The exception is the neo-trad houses like the one the House Concert series is held in. I quite like that house, and could happily live in such a place, even if it is a bit on the small side by my standards. But it’s also in a pricey part of town!
Keep in mind I’m not taking issue with the political orientation of localities or regions, but with the personal philosophies of the builders themselves. Ontario and Quebec have two radically different political cultures, however, both Montreal and Toronto “work” and are desirable places to live in a way that a city like Winnipeg doesn’t, and I think a lot of that can be traced back to design.
Hm. This is why I drew the parallel, though. The chapter subsection in the Wells book from which that quote comes is “Socialism (without a Competent Receiver) and World Change” and Wells explicitly blames blind pursuit of profit… which seems to me — to whatever degree Wells can be trusted — to have been very much in evidence in London construction in the 19th century, and without a doubt is very much in evidence in Seoul and much of Korea today.
(And, for that matter, in Saskatoon, where the mayor recently declared that enough is enough, and it’s time to stop converting every damned apartment into a condo, else students and young couples will have nowhere but dingy basements to live in. Which, if you ask me, might do some good if it drives people out of the province, collapsing the housing market and sending some of the greedy sons of bitches into bankruptcy. There’s no bloody reason it should be harder to get an apartment in Saskatoon than in Toronto, or more expensive.)
I don’t know much about Winnipeg — though my sister seemed to like it, bike paths and all — but I know from experience Montreal is more livable than Seoul in part because of design. Having a fast subway and long, fast commuter trains helps, too.
This has me thinking it’d be interesting to look at the historical development of Seoul, and of London as well. Though I think Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling would be more qualified, and has done a lot of work on Seoul already, anyway.
But all that is somewhat beyond the ken. For whatever reason — but probably, both in London and Seoul, because of the rapid development that went on in the relevant periods — squalor certainly was (and arguably still is) a feature of the experience of migration into both primate cities (or, for many. to the more affordable satellite cities).
It’ll become clear how that matters a little bit later on in this series, when I talk about village sociality, social networks, and the drinking ritual here.
I think at the most basic level, the “cut-throat” developers were trying to build homes that people actually wanted to live in (even at their most stripped down and basic, you’ll see more ornamentation and flourishes on those older brownstones than on something made in the last fifty years)whereas Le Corbusier and Co. were actually trying to dictate how people were going to live through the way they designed their buildings. Squalor was the order of the day in the nineteenth century – as Mencken pointed out, everybody froze, everybody suffered from the heat, used outdoor toilets, had fallen arches and was eaten alive by mosquitos and black flies in the summer. In some respects, as middle class people now, we’re living much more comfortable lives than Thomas Jefferson did out on Monticello.
I haven’t replied for a while — I got busy — but I think once you see the rest of my discussion, you’ll see my point is more about a different kind of “squalour” than you’re talking about. More later…
My bad that the thread got a little muddled. However, I still think your analogy is faulty. The Anglo-capitalists might have been cut throat, but it had no effect on the quality of the buildings they made, as older, traditional notions of craftsmanship would have survived in architecture and construction building well into the early 1940’s. The designers of those functional skyscrapers deliberately brought mass production techniques into the construction industry, and whether intentional or not, destroyed the craftsmanship associated with earlier forms of architecture.
Or more simply, the townhouses were squalid because of the uses they were put to, not by actual design, while the concrete tenements end up squalid because of the design, no matter what the intentions of the designer are.
Well, I think Wells is arguing that a crude form of mass-production actually entered into the process in the 19th century, with long-ranging effects. I have no resources to confirm or disconfirm that, but given the choice of taking his word or yours, well, he was in London in the late 19th century, and saw it for himself. He may come off as a snob to you, but from what I know of him, pedantic though he sometimes was, he was also someone who had great concern for the circumstances in which people had to live. Wells saw what he described as “squalour.”
But anyway, as I wrote: “Wells probably does not track the monstrosity back far enough.” Remember, the series in general is about Gin Lane, an early-18th century phenomenon, when massive migration into London resulted in what I think we would all agree as squalor — inadequate housing, many people packed into rooms at night, mass poverty, scrambling for work. London consumed people like, well, like Godzilla. But people kept coming, seeking work. This created a situation where what Wells describes could even emerge, though Ihe himself didn’t note that. And that is a parallel with Korea. Remember, as The Korean points out, that Korea was so poor 40 years ago that Sub-Saharan Africa was kicking its ass. However nicely refurbishable those townhouses proved to be later on, the mass migrations into the city in Korea during its hyper-accelerated period of industrialization absolutely exhibit parallels in the period in English history I’m discussing… which is the point of this whole series.
But as I say, later posts in this series will show that I’m (mostly) talking about a far different kind of “squalor” anyway, and it won’t make sense if I try to summarize it here, so, if you’re patient, all shall be revealed in time.