I Spy with My Camera Eye…How Surveillance Functions as an Abstract Wall That Permeates Modern London

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In Iain Sinclair’s book Lights Out for the Territory, the reader is taken on a grand tour through modern London, a bustling bursting metropolis replete with geographic areas that have been re-appropriated over the years. As old sectors of London become replaced with high-tech financial and real estate-rich districts, the manner in which one travels around the city is also distinctly altered from them olden days. As writer John Evelyn notes in the story London was, but is no more, the “mythology of gates”eternalized by “Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Moorgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Newgate, Ludgate, Billingsgate, with the Tower, the Barbican and Castle Baynard,” haunts the increasingly modernized city (102). Now that the “meaning of the gates has been carted away with the brickwork,” physical constructions and re-constructions of architectural features around London have transposed post-modern symbolism onto layer upon layer of ancient landscapes (102). No longer gated, per se, London’s walls and gates remain “an enticement to the urban stalker” because place-names now signify an archaeological past that we can capture today with curiosity and a “little Japanese toy” that is the simplest camera (102, 106).

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A print from 1756 of 8 London city gates

In fact, now that meandering through London is characterized by much more camera and much less obscura, traversing the London landscape today means being accompanied by a remarkable amount of surveillance. This perpetual Big Brother-esque element of the flashy metropolis tinge movement with a disturbing sense of being imposed upon by the city itself. Evelyn’s claim that “[t]he New City is immune from threat, defended as it is by invisible gates, gates that can be shifted at a phonecall” demonstrates this replacement of physical geographic barriers with the new modern logic of technological barriers (104). However, this modern preference for “invisible gates” and “[f]orests of surveillance cameras” suggests the disturbing thought that perhaps the New City’s new threat is, in fact, the hyper-surveillance within city boundaries (104). The numerous security check points, road closures, and “barricaded bridges” exist as now-typical but important “intrusions into our freedom of passage,” thereby limiting how Londoners can move through their own city (104).

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By “[p]hotographing each of the surveillance checkpoints” at Bishopsgate, Evelyn and Marc Atkins flip the tables on the proliferation of surveillance cameras by using their own physical and metaphorical lens to try and gain a vantage point into the new London (105). However, because they could not wander through such a heavily tracked area without being photographed themselves, their failed attempts to document the city’s ubiquitous mechanisms of scanning reflect the ever-growing and increasingly unsettling nature of London’s treatment of its people. Remarking, “I didn’t see why I couldn’t photograph, without permission, a thicket of cameras that were making a feature film about my wanderings in the City,” Evelyn touches upon the disconcerting idea that London as an active agent is intentionally trying to prevent people from seeing the City freely (105). Instead, it is the people who must be constantly watched by invisible eyes that stare so intensely, it seems as though people’s travels turn into an unwanted “feature film.”

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Ultimately crafting a narrative of frustration with the impenetrability of post-modern London and it’s modern technological walls and surveillance, Evelyn depicts the struggle of living in a popular metropolis that refuses to let its people wander and experience space freely.

*song because relevant

 

Mmm, Whatcha Say? How the Breakdown of Space and Time Lead to a Breakdown in Communication in Concrete Island

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In J.G. Ballard’s novel Concrete Island, Robert Maitland tries to navigate the frightening terrain of an ancient, forgotten, ignored, and confusing island situated underneath and between London motorways following his crash. Trapped in a neglected land full of “nettles and wild grass that grew waist-high outside the windows” of his ruined Jaguar, Maitland initially seems to be incredibly unfortunate, yes, but still able to pull himself out of this troubling situation, for he successfully climbs the embankment on his first attempt and seems as though he’ll escape the predicament soon, right?

If only.

Despite his repeated attempts to flag down drivers, yelling “‘Emergency .. ! … Slow down…! … Police…!'” every car manages to be swept away by the rushed flow of modern London traffic, so much so that “it seemed to him that every vehicle in London had passed and re-passed him a dozen times, the drivers and passenger deliberately ignoring him in a vast spontaneous conspiracy” (18, 19). This frustrating episode in which help is literally inches away but manages to slip away each time is the first suggestion of how communication breaks down when someone, like Maitland, is exposed to the otherworldly nature of a derelict space (i.e. the island). Moreover, the fact that it seems to him like every car he sees has already passed him contributes to the disturbing repetitive temporality that characterizes his experience as a marooned Robinson Crusoe figure. Eventually, after his failure to secure help and safety, he must resort to speaking his plans aloud, stating “as a self-identification signal,” “‘Maitland, no one’s going to believe this'” (30). That he must rely on “self-identification” signals in this wasteland demonstrates how capable space is, especially a space where eras layer upon each other, of imposing its own identity-robbing force on people. This strange no-man’s land also has the power to sap one’s grasp on reality, as demonstrated by Maitland’s confusion when the letters he marks on concrete towards the top of the embankment, “HELP INJURED DRIVER CALL POLICE,” “had been obliterated” when he returns to search for them in the rain (62, 66). That “the letters had been reduced to black smudges, the smeared rubber running to the ground at his feet,” causing him to wonder “Had someone wiped the letters away?” emphasizes the degeneration of communication being on the island inspires (67). Moreover, this vanishing of the letters prompts Maitland to feel “[u]ncertain of himself,” demonstrating the break in communication that he has with his own sanity, for without visible proof of his attempts for help, Maitland is left questioning his own actions (67).

Maitland’s attempts to remain sane by communicating with himself are transformed when he meets Jane and Proctor, for finding other humans on what seemed to be a totally deserted island promotes Maitland’s desire to utilize manipulation to get himself to safety. In particular, it is Maitland’s relationship with and exploitation of Proctor, the mentally challenged acrobat, that illuminates the mess that lack of clarity in communication fosters. When Maitland teaches Proctor to write, the fact that Maitland twists Proctor’s desire to write his own name into a chance to save himself, writing “MAITLAND HELP” instead of Proctor’s name, reveals the frightening element of trust that goes into proper communication (152). Because Proctor doesn’t know any better, the message that Maitland delivers to him via the written word does not align with Proctor’s intention. Truth and falsehoods, although unbeknownst to Proctor, are thrown into chaos in this island, for the rules of modern London cannot apply here due to its almost suspended-from-reality nature. That Proctor goes on to write “HELP CRASH POLICE” and then “rubbed away the message with the back of his hand, spitting on the coloured concrete” also speaks to the transience of communication (153). Not only does Proctor again physically write words different from what he thinks he’s writing, but he also quickly destroys the communicative letters due to an inbred fear of how dangerous communication can be. What’s left are “straggling fragments of Maitland’s name,” echoing the “straggling fragments” of communication that Maitland has with the progressive modern London only feet above him (153).

Stranded in a land where space, time, and communication collapse into a jumble of ????, Maitland loses the orderly strands of communication that we so take for granted, ultimately drawing attention to the fragility of the structures modern society relies upon.

One HELL of a Struggle: How Womanhood and the Feminine Space Challenge Violent Misogyny in From Hell

In Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel, From Hell, the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper is portrayed as Royal Surgeon William Gull, a Masonic hitman with a taste for elaborate disembowelments of his five prostitute victims. Characterized by a marked knowledge of and dedication to history and mythology, Gull gives Netley a remarkably detailed (and very twisted, sorry not sorry, this was crazy) historical account of many of London’s architectural structures that makes up the bulk of Chapter 4. Brimming with esoteric references to ancient cultures and religions that depict the fall of woman under male tyranny, the chapter delivers a wordy and starkly visual depiction of Gull’s justification for his murders. Notably, when he and Netley pass by Christ Church, Spitalfields, Gull states, “The only populations that are constant hereabouts, untouched by passing centuries, are those perpetual multitudes of beggars, criminals…and whores” (4, 32).

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The page cited in my above quote.

Just like the Obelisk in Bunhill Fields or St. George’s Church in the east, the Christ Church is designed phallically, with a looming verticality that underscores Gull’s fascination with goddesses such as Diana succumbing “the harsh male brilliance of a Father Sun” and his underlying malice towards “whores” who never seem to be cleansed from history (4, 35). This perpetuity of prostitutes introduces the temporal element to the feminine space depicted in this graphic novel, for the majority of it seems to be dominated by a murderous male hellbent on not only killing his female victims, but mutilating their bodies and removing their uteruses. This obsession with the female reproductive system is depicted powerfully in Chapter 8 when Gull murders Liz Stride. As he finishes up his token disemboweling, he cuts out Liz’s uterus and is suddenly portrayed in a primal, triumphant stance in front of a 1980s skyscraper. Not only did this scene make me double check that I wasn’t missing any pages, but it also transported the violent and disturbing episodes of Jack the Ripper to the modern quotidian sphere in a temporal whammy that underscores the essence of continuity. With the old mapped onto the new, this unsettling parallel of a phallic architectural feature that we now take for granted–skyscrapers–with the pagan and ancient connections to vertical London structures implies the neverending presence of the violent misogyny that Jack the Ripper represents. The knife Gull is holding in this panel on page 40 further emphasizes the phallic and, therefore, male-dominated nature of his rampage, for the knife is pointed and clearly visible, unlike the uterus clenched in his left hand.

Of course, while this violence shmilence is all hell and not good, and, yes Ripperology is a thing, what struck me as subtle yet desperately in need of attention is the power of the lingering female presence that follows the Ripper’s trail and lasts beyond it as well. In the Chapter 8 panel of Gull in front of the skyscraper, although the uterus is hidden within his grasp, the fact that both the uterus and knife are held at equal lengths up above his head suggests a certain equality between the male and female spirits at play here. Moreover, although Gull murders the five target prostitutes, the large population of prostitutes that remains in London after his deed and after his death live up to his earlier claim that they are “untouched by passing centuries.” This untouchability translates into the women he sees in the modern 1980s office space in Chapter 10 when he is transported following Mary Kelly’s disembowelment to a futuristic era. While this suggests the worrisome idea that modern life is still entrenched in the pain and horror of the Ripper’s time, the prevalence of modern women working alongside male counterparts in a setting where Gull laments, “your own flesh is made meaningless to you,” demonstrates a rebellion against the convolution of female flesh into the target of misogyny (10, 22). Female flesh carries on the untouchability that Gull once snarled at. The fact that Gull even remarks to Mary’s corpse, “how times have levelled us. We are made equal,” suggests Gull undermines and contradicts his own male-centric beliefs in the face of alternatives (10, 22). In a quite stomach-churning yet illuminating action, Gull’s embrace of Kelly’s bloody corpse is a physical manifestation of a certain submission to and embracing of his need for the female space. By claiming that they are “wed” in eternity, Gull again equalizes their connection (10, 23).

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Ugh. So LonDONE with this guy (Gull hugging Mary Kelly’s body)

Gull’s final vision of a woman (presumably Mary Kelly) in Ireland in 1904/1905 as he is dying leaves a lasting impression as to the power of the female over the male threat. Gull admits, “within her eyes, that terrible ferocity. I am afraid of her” (14, 23). Gull is brought under the scrutiny of a forceful female whose 4 daughters are named after the slain women, demonstrating the propagation of the female spirit in spite of male violence. That this vision occurs in the non-urban space of the Irish countryside does suggest that perhaps such obvious stances against misogyny thrive best when not hindered by the menacing nature of a metropolis, but that it exists as an alternative at all (and, moreover, as the final alternative Gull must see before he dies), demonstrates that the feminine space can indeed utilize its untouchability to ward off misogynistic inclinations and leave a lasting mark on their temporal domain.

Time After Time (After Time, After Time, After Time, After–You Get the Drift): How Rezia Experiences the Temporal Maze of London in Mrs. Dalloway

In Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, Lucrezia has arguably the tensest experience of time and space in London out of all the featured characters, for she is the only non-English individual who has to navigate what it means to be a Londoner. Wife to a PTSD-afflicted Septimus Warren Smith, Lucrezia’s experience of London is quite restricted, for it is only filtered through the lens of an English’s soldier’s foreign wife.

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An aerial view of today’s Regent’s Park (where we first meet Rezia)

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A photo in Regent’s Park

In a heartbreaking passage that provides insight into young Rezia’s view of British space, the narrator notes how she liked that “[t]he English are so silent … She respected these Englishmen, and wanted to see London, and the English horses, and the tailor-made suits, and could remember hearing how wonderful the shops were, from an Aunt who had married and lived in Soho” (88). This innocent desire to break free of a familiar land and explore what she idealizes to be a dignified and respectable city starkly contrasts her updated opinion that Londoners are “half alive … huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots” (23). From horses, suits, and shops to chairs and ugly flowers, Rezia’s imagery of London is fragmented into mere objects whose grand symbolism devolves as her timeline evolves. The more time passes, the more Rezia connects back to her past, demonstrating the ability of London as a suffocating space to transport individuals to other places unique to them. Her lamentation that “Far was Italy and the white houses … and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud” speaks to not only the geographic distance from England, but the emotional as well (23). The Italian lifestyle where crowdedness works to bring people together and not stifle them like in London lives only in her memory. From the notable perspective of a young foreigner, London transforms from an abstract space of possibility to a depressing epicenter of banality where she is separated from others because “[t]o love makes one solitary” (23).

The fact that by the end of the novel we know nothing of Rezia’s fate other than her newfound status as a soldier’s widow contributes to the mystique of London as a dynamic force that sweeps individual timelines into layers of temporalities. As she falls under the effects of Dr. Holmes’s sleeping potion, a strange medley of final images are strewn together as “[t]he clock was striking–one, two, three: how sensible the sound was … She was falling asleep. But the clock went on striking, four, five, six” (150). This suddenly linear and illogically rushed progression of time acts as a final meditation on Rezia’s relationship to London. Her storyline appears to rush to an abrupt ending and gives way to scenes from Clarissa’s party, but it is this leap through hours that reflects how Rezia is now another Londoner who occupies both ancient and future time. Even in regards to space, in her drowsiness, “[s]he put on her hat, and ran through cornfields–where could it have been?–on to some hill, somewhere near the sea … In London too, there they sat … strewn she felt, like flying flowers over some tomb” (150). Like Septimus, Rezia occupies multiple spaces in her half-conscious state, for she presumably recalls both scenes from her youth in Italy and from her marriage to Septimus. She herself is “strewn” across identities for the entire novel, but now her ubiquity extends to the ghosts of London. As flowers spread over her husband’s tomb, Rezia experiences the haunted nature of London as a land of past, present, and future individualities that are embedded in the city’s memories.

Although we don’t know exactly what becomes of her, the novel leaves her in a shroud of ambiguity that leaves us to surmise perhaps she is a Londoner now more than ever…

The Sign of Four or The Sign of Foreign? How Colonialism Divides “Us vs. Them” on a Global Scale

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Today’s Sherlock stars (because I love these two so much, ugh, my little fandom heart)

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson embark on a quest to locate a treasure in the clutches of a British officer gone rogue and an Andaman native. While it seems as though Sherlock and Watson are indeed only facing these two foes, what’s consistently lurking in the subtext of this mystery-adventure is the grander (suggested) antagonist of Britishness as they knew it: the threat of the uncultured foreigner, in this tale best represented in the character of Tonga.

Indigenous to the “Andaman Islands, situated 340 miles to the north of Sumatra, in the Bay of Bengal,” Tonga belongs to “a fierce, morose, and intractable people” who are “naturally hideous, according to the gazetteer Sherlock consults (141-142). At the time, the Andamans themselves were under control of the British Empire and housed convict barracks that allowed British criminals to mingle with what were believed to be savage natives (savage being a perspective held by British colonialists).

Out of curiosity, I Googled the Andaman Islands and found that even in 1850, the aborigines of these islands were divided into five major groups, each quite distinct. However, there is no such detail given in the gazetteer that Sherlock uses. Moreover, Tonga was itself at the time a geographic location, as it was a series of Polynesian islands conducted as a kingdom (after missionaries arrived there, it was a constitutional monarchy). For Tonga the character to be named after another foreign land that experienced British influence is rather unsettling and revealing, for it demonstrates how Tonga the character seems to be merely an insubstantial tool utilized only to emphasize the menace that is the foreigner.

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The Andaman Islands

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A modern member of the Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands

Of course, the story is not without contradictions and colonial ambiguities. Unlike with the Andaman aborigines where, according to Sherlock’s gazetteer, “all the efforts of the British officials have failed to win them over in any degree,” the British-foreigner dynamic appears to exist non-threateningly with Thaddeus Sholto and his “Hindoo servant” and Major Sholto and his servant Lal Chowdar (107). While there is no description of the relationship between Thaddeus and his servant, Major Sholto’s account to his son describes how Lal Chowdar so willingly helped his master dispose of a dead body, demonstrating a British-foreigner relation in which the foreign is an asset, not a danger. This stark contrast between the faithful foreign servant and the devilish Tonga suggests the fragmentation within British colonial strategies. The fact that peaceful, albeit hierarchical, relationships can be forged with some colonial subjects but not with the physically deformed and irrevocably wild natives like Tonga demonstrate a failure in colonialism–that of the inability to convert and civilize non-British peoples.

That Conan Doyle acknowledges the flaws within colonialism is notable, but the fact that Tonga dies at the hands of two British men (who themselves have ties to foreign sort-of-threats–Watson with his former army life and Sherlock with his Oriental cocaine usage) demonstrates an innate belief in and desire for British triumph. Watson writes, “[e]ven as we looked he plucked out from under his covering a short, round piece of wood, like a school-ruler, and clapped it to his lips. Our pistols rang out together. He whirled round, threw up his arms” and fell into the Thames a dead man (155). In such a brief account of Tonga’s death, Conan Doyle imbues it with multiple images of Englishness and victory. That Tonga’s poison dart weaponry is compared to a very scholastic “school-ruler” echoes the formal education that proper British children do but native islanders such as Tonga do not. Moreover, that Tonga “threw up his arms” as he fell is a final gesture of surrender–that is, the foreign surrender to British power. Not only do Sherlock and Watson kill Tonga, but they do so with pistols, a modern form of mechanized weaponry that starkly contrasts the primitive poison darts kept by an aborigine. For the “little black man” to be lost to the “white swirl of the waters” reveals the token white vs. black binary that no longer automatically referred to the “black” slum-goers of London, but to the “black” figure of non-British lands (155-156).

Although Tonga dies in the end of this tale, the fact that he lies buried in the Thames underscores the one of the disconcerting elements of British colonialism. Despite the immense hold the British Empire enjoyed over foreign lands, the eternal presence of one within the waters of a quintessentially British staple that is the Thames suggests the diminishing authority of the colonizers. The so-called foreign threat penetrated British boundaries and permeated the English culture in such a way that metaphorical enemy lines shifted from the us vs. them of proper vs. uncivilized Englishfolk to the us vs. them of British vs. non-British, and is this metaphorical enemy that shaped British history for decades to come.

There’s Always a TWIST: How Nancy Challenges the Archetype of the London Prostitute in Oliver Twist

In the slums of 1830s London, coming across the token scavengers, costermongers, pickpockets, street Arabs, and prostitutes was part and parcel of living in a metropolis so densely populated and increasingly divided. Thanks to ethnographies such as Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, racialization and hasty dismissal of the lowly slum-goers became the norm, as these unsettled and physically demarcated “wanderers” floated around their cramped abodes showcasing vice rather than virtue.

A lovely image, right?

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However, characters such as Nancy in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist throw a bloody important wrench in this societal set-up of us vs. them. A prostitute (who, by the by, is never actually called a “prostitute” in the novel, we’re just left to conclude that she is via description and living conditions) who falls in line with Sikes’s and Fagin’s gang of miscreants, Nancy emerges as the tragic heroine whose ill-fated bravery saves Oliver from a life of squalor.

Once she learns of Monks’s evils plans for young Oliver, an alarmed Nancy devised the plan to drug Sikes with laudanum and make her way over to Rose and Mrs. Maylie in order to reveal the truth behind Oliver’s return to Fagin. Although “[t]he girl’s life had been squandered in the streets, and the most noisome of the stews and dens of London,” she still had “something of the woman’s original nature left in her still … [and] one feeble gleam of the womanly feeling which she thought a weakness, but which alone connected her with that humanity, of which her wasting life obliterated all outward traces when a very child” (332-333). Keeping with the Victorian ideal of woman as a gentle domestic angel, this insight into Nancy’s sensitive nature interrogates the detached Mayhew-ian categorization of destitute Londoners. Nancy, fueled by a desire to seek justice for Oliver, takes the initiative to leave the rookery of Spitalfields “towards the West-End of London,” despite the threat to her safety if Sikes were to discover her actions (330).

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A zoomed-in map of Spitalfields

While Nancy experiences an internal shift from passive to morally active heroine, she also undertakes a physical movement from the East to the West of London (a.k.a. slums to very-not-slums). The narrator notes, “[w]hen she reached the more wealthy quarter of the town, the streets were comparatively deserted, and here her headlong progress seemed to excite a greater curiosity in the stragglers whom she hurried past” (330). This quick yet poignant remark on how the streets are considerably less congested the more west you travel underscores the shift in anonymity that Nancy undergoes. While still rushing through the East-End streets, she had to navigate through “the narrow pavement, elbowing passengers from side to side and darting almost under the horses’ heads, crossed crowded streets, where clusters of persons” were found. While just another young unindividuated prostitute in the polluted streets of the Spitalfields area, Nancy emerges as noticeably distinct figure when she traverses the road less travelled by by those among her kind. However, this ability of hers to stand out in such an area is tainted by her lowly status, for the “curiosity” shown by wealthier Londoners manifests itself into “chaste wrath” seen “in the bosoms of four housemaids, who remarked with great fervour that the creature was a disgrace to her sex, and strongly advocated her being thrown ruthlessly into the kennel” (331). Although not affluent themselves, the housemaids waiting on the Maylies at “a family hotel in a quiet but handsome street near Hyde Park” still demonstrate a critical view of anyone who resides in the *gasp* slums. The fact that the animalistic image of throwing Nancy into a “kennel,” for she is a disgraceful “creature,” also augments the view of slum-goers as distasteful mongrels. That Nancy herself neglects to give her name but instead calls herself a “creature” when speaking to Rose emphasizes how belittled and inhumane Nancy’s lifestyle has made her feel. What’s also important to note here is that Nancy in now located near Hyde Park when these phrases are uttered, a wealthy area embedded well into the City. The “quiet but handsome street” on which the Maylies are staying is certainly nowhere to be found in the grimy Spitalfields that Nancy temporarily leaves behind.

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A modern-day Google map of London showing a general direction from Spitalfields to Hyde Park (East to West, which, circa Oliver Twist, was a no-no direction for individuals to go)

In addition to the spatial transitions that Nancy makes from East to West, the temporal stasis that marks her movements further reveals how trapped Nancy is in the world of the fallen woman. By day, she continues with the charade of loyal Sikes-Fagin gang member (granted, her facade cracks almost enough for her to blow her cover), but by night, Nancy turns into the active heroine who abandons her comfort zone for Oliver’s sake. That Nancy undertakes this endeavor of justice under cover of nightfall echoes the expected activity of the prostitute as an evening streetwalker, but does so in a contrasting way: Nancy is not navigating the streets at night in an effort to continue her life of vice, but rather utilizes night as a tool to do good. Her awareness that her presence in the West-End during the day would be downright unacceptable (and considerably more difficult to achieve under Sikes’s eye) instead of merely surprising reflects the caution with which Nancy develops her strategy. Moreover, that she tells Rose “[e]very Sunday night, from eleven until the clock strikes twelve … I will walk on London Bridge if I am alive” further speaks to the usage of time as an asset (337). She has chosen a “settled period” for her presence to be made, challenging the Mayhewian idea of settled vs. non-settled as belonging to us vs. them (337). Nancy, a member of “them” uses London Bridge to literally bridge the gap between the two sectors of London, thereby demonstrating a sort of rebellion against the crude division. London Bridge itself connects North London to South (from Middlesex to Surrey), connecting a non-slum to a land to which more and more of “them” were being relocated as an effort to purge the North and West of London.

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London Bridge in the 1830s

Although Nancy ultimately returns to Sikes and meets a tragic demise, her ability to breach geographic and social divides demonstrates the complexity of her character and the subversion of crass Londoner stereotypes.

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Ann-onimity: How Space and Time Create and Erase Identity in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

In Thomas De Quincey’s autobiographical musings, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, the itinerant wandering of a young De Quincey allows him to meet the “noble-minded Ann,” a London prostitute (28). As one of the “female peripatetics who are technically called street-walkers,” Ann also falls into the category of one of the “poor, houseless wanderers” who cannot benefit from the “stream of London charity” (28-29).

Now, to our 2017 sensibilities, the term “walker” may very conjure up the image of this lovely figure:

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Thanks a lot, The Walking Dead. Thanks.

And then “wanderer,” may inspire a thankfully more mundane image of:

(So much better than the first one, no?)

But, alas, in 1820s England (the era in which De Quincey was writing this piece), neither image correctly aligns with “walker” and “wanderer.” In fact, the term “wanderer” was criminalized. Wanderers were the “poor, houseless” individuals who had no steady work and suffered in slums like St. Giles. The narrow streets peppering the numerous slums of London saw the presence of some of most deplorable figures of society: prostitutes. Trapped in an echelon of society where the only movement accomplished is the wandering of streets, Ann is part of a group of Londoners who are left behind as London accelerates into a more modern, Western city. Ann, therefore, cannot benefit from the “stream of London charity” because streams naturally undertake a unidirectional flow–a flow whose linearity takes no mercy on the wanderer who is actually enmeshed in a grid of circularity. No matter what street Ann wanders up or down, she will not escape the status of being stuck. That De Quincey requests her company to walk “up and down Oxford Street” is a testament to this inability to make progress, for up and down are indeed linear, only constitute a repeated path that ensnares Ann in a back and (limited) forth trajectory (29).

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An 1859 map of London. Note the linear stretch that is Oxford Street.

Notably, De Quincey’s realization that he either never asked Ann her surname or simply forgot it reflects the sheer anonymity that was so prevalent among the masses of London’s lowest class. We get to know her virtuous aspects through De Quincey and, therefore, we know of her existence as Ann, De Quincey’s beloved. But once they go their separate ways, she ceases to exist in the same way. She dissolves into the confusing London geography, for De Quincey is never able to locate her again, resulting in “a separation for eternity” (47). Her own timeline of past, present, and future collapses into an “eternity” of anonymity among the London space. Her timeline, moreover, is transformed into an “eternity” that is no longer defined by the “mighty labyrinths of London,” but rather a no-man’s-land of ambiguity and possibility (47).

Because she is left to reside in a spatio-temporal limbo, Ann represents a fascinating loophole of time: As a figure conjured up via memory, Ann exists only in the realm of nostalgia, thereby escaping the progressive and linear time of an accelerating London. As London urbanizes more and more, demolishing the slower, clogged streets that the lowest classes populate, Ann the memory is no longer subject to the dangers of displacement. Although anonymity for a pick-pocket and swindler like James Hardy Vaux allows him to succeed in a more obvious way at passing through social classes, anonymity for Ann could actually be a more subtle version of success as well. Unlikely that she was going to experience any social mobility and find a way out of a life of prostitution, her status as deceased in the present (in De Quincey’s mind) and lovely and untouched in memory’s past detach her from the increasingly dramatic separation between the “us” and “them” that was befalling English society (especially in the 1830s and 50s oh boy).

Even if dead, Ann ultimately still lives on in memory–in De Quincey’s, in ours, and in the chaos that is London’s.

Drury Duty: How Hogarth and Boswell Depict Scenes from Drury Lane

Once upon a midnight DRURY…

In his two separate series of a vulnerable youth in decline, William Hogarth features Drury Lane as one of the chosen settings of sin. Beginning with A Harlot’s Progress, Hogarth introduces his fallen damsel to the dark Drury Lane scene in Plate 3. 16003

Amidst the fine details cluttering the busy scene are the pewter jugs on the right hand side of the picture on which is written the label “James Deacon, Drury Lane.” The subtle yet powerful implication that the jugs were obtained from the local pub demonstrates just how deeply Mary Hackabout sinks into the life of harlotry that lends the series its name. From an innocent country girl to Drury Lane resident, the deterioration that befalls Mary is meant to be understood by Hogarth’s audience as typical for the unfortunate souls who come to populate London’s dingiest areas.

In his second series following the convoluted “progress” of a misdirected victim of vice, A Rake’s Progress, Hogarth again returns to Drury Lane in, again, Plate 3 (something about the number 3, eh?)

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The parallel between the Drury Lane of the two engravings is not only in the plate number in which they appear, but also in the shenanigans displayed in the scene. Even more chaotic than in the Harlot plate, this plate takes place in Rose Tavern. Unlike Harlot, this scene is a public place of disarray and vice rather than a domestic one. However, both plates share the element of SO MUCH GOING ON. Clothes not entirely on, walls marked by portraits of unsavory characters (did you notice that Macheath made a sweet cameo in Harlot?), lust going uncontrolled, both plates attest to the sheer volume of naughtiness that characterizes Drury Lane. By blending together such an aggregation of subtle indicators of uh-oh, Hogarth demonstrates a certain moral judgment of his memorable main characters and on the areas they inhabit.

As an amusing and notable contrast to Hogarth’s artfully critical representation of the squalor and temptations in Drury Lane, James Boswell merely peppers the location onto his complex smorgasbord of London-based meandering in his London Journal. Because Boswell’s entries lack the moral geography that would restrict him and, thereby, his readers, from venturing into the underbelly of London life, we join him on his ride through the abyss. One stop on this roller coaster of locales? The notorious Drury Lane gallery, where he and Donaldson saw an underwhelming rendition of Macbeth. Not only is Drury Lane found in one of the most disreputable sectors of 18th century London, St. Giles, but it itself was considered the seediest street within it.

Why so shady?

Here’s a clue:

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Not during this era, sweetie.

That’s right. Drury Lane’s association with the theater was its tramp stamp. No issue for Boswell of course, he galavants where he darn well pleases. And because he floats so easily, the dreaded Drury Lane doesn’t need to be dwelled upon, as evidenced by the fact that Boswell only dedicates a couple of lines to it. There’s no judgment offered about the location itself, only the actor playing Macbeth.

Drury Lane is rich with immoral goings on and ill-regarded figures of society, but it is this cheeky reputation that makes it so fascinating to pick apart and so popular among writers of the era.

 

What’s In a Name: The Quirky Monikers in The Beggar’s Opera

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Picture it: It’s opera night. You’re a nice upper class personage prepared for a fancy schmancy evening of the most en vogue theatrical masterpiece. If you’re a woman, you’ve got your fiercest frills and tightest corset on. If you’re a man, you’ve got on your new skinny breeches. (If you’re a non-binary individual, I’m sorry, you just don’t exist for another few centuries).

Anyways, you’re seated and ready for the visual artwork that’s about to unfold. And you get: The Beggar’s Opera?

That’s right, my friend, you get this delectable dish of sandwiched echelons and snide social commentaries. Prepare your best uncomfortable laugh.

If there’s one standout feature of this clever operatic parody (there are actually like hundreds), it’s the memorable stream of satirical names that Gay graces us with.

Peachum (noun): Leader of a crime syndicate; contrary to possible popular belief, does NOT indicate affinity for peaches, but rather the tendency to impeach lackey criminals in exchange for sweet sweet pounds

Peach (verb): Play on the action “to impeach”; in modern terms, to rat out a criminal even if you yourself are a criminal in order to obtain dat young money; rampant in 18th century London

Lockit (noun): Turnkey of Newgate Prison (hence, LOCK) also a crime syndicate leader in cahoots with Peachum; name originally made me think “pop it, lock it, polka dot it” (I’m shameless)

Macheath (noun): Evokes soooo many images i.e., Heath Bar, Heath Ledger R.I.P., Macbeth, MacheathBookPro, etc.; based on heroic highwayman Jack Sheppard; name itself is rather heroic, no? Not one of a devious criminal at all; perhaps a sort of celebration of his honest criminality (we’re all about oxymorons here); contrast with Peach and Lockit, both of which are humorous yet mocking monikers of troublesome hooligans

Robin of Bagshot (noun): A member of Macheath’s criminal crew; a minor character, yet notable for the name “Robin”; evokes image of Robin Hood, renowned noble thief known for stealing from the rich to give to the poor; as a highwayman, stealing from the rich is exactly what Robin and gang do (granted, they don’t exactly give to the poor, they play for keepsies, but still); Bagshot itself is a village in Surrey situated on today’s A30, which provides a path from London to Southampton (the perfect road for coaches to traverse and, therefore, highwaymen to thrive)

*not a character, but St. Giles (noun): the location of our opera; known in this era for being the dingy criminal sector of London, the locale collapses the pure image of its saintly namesake with the socially unacceptable figures of felons and the deplorable; this contradictory element contributes to the satire of the piece

There are many more examples of double-meaning names throughout the rich list of Dramatis Personae, but I’ll leave it here.

Needless to say, I’m sure John had a GAY ol’ time penning these colorful identities.

And you thought there wouldn’t be a pun included.

Teehee.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend Me Your Ea–Erm, Eyes

As my local vegan restaurant’s quirky cashier would say, “Hello, fellow earthlings, how are you today?”

Welcome to my blog. Yes, I’m a Millenial with a blog talking about literature and stuff. How…NOVEL (yep, pun intended). This blog is starting off as a class assignment, but we have been very generously allowed lots of freedom with this thingamajig, so expect to read more eloquent words of wisdom like thingamajig and who knows what else. I’ll have to evoke the Muses to help me out.

Stay tuned.

The class focuses on one little place you maaaaaay have heard of: London. It’s intricate, it’s aristocratic, it’s shabby, it’s shiny, it’s a geographic and cultural powerhouse, it’s basically a smoothie concoction of deliciously rich concepts that we scholars (ugh, such a pretentious youth) love to analyze.

So sit back, scroll at your leisure, and enjoy the ride as we travel (via Tube and/or double-decker bus) through the centuries of London and all it has to offer. It may not always seem so lovely, but

Disclaimer: Beauty is in the (London) Eye of the beholder.

Cheerio, mate.

xoxo,

Marisella