Monday, July 21, 2008

Darkest Victorian London

On Monday morning, after breakfast, we walked to the London Bridge and crossed over into the Southwark (pronounced "Suth-ick") neighborhood on the South side of the River Thames (pronounced "Tems") to see where Charles Dickens lived as a boy with his family. Many of the streets in the immediate area now have names based on his life and his works: Copperfield, Marshelsea, Quilp, Doyce, etc. From there we saw a pub that he frequented later in life and where he lodged when his father was imprisoned in debtors' prison and his mother and four younger siblings went with him.

According to biographies, when Charles was living on Lant Street, renting an attic room and working in the blacking factory or boot polish factory, he was so ashamed of how wretchedly poor he was and how sorry his neighborhood was, that he was known to have lied about his address to another boy who worked with him.

Robert Fagin, for whom he later named the notorious villain in Oliver Twist, was asked to walk Charles home from the factory one day when he "took ill". As they walked across the river and the neighborhoods became sorrier and sorrier, Charles concocted a scheme. He walked up the steps at a grand house and told Robert that he lived there and that Robert didn't need to wait; he was home and would be fine. Robert is said to have been incredulous.

What would a boy from such a lovely, lavish home be doing working in a blacking factory? So he said, "No, I'll wait 'til you're in." Charles had to knock on the door to convince him, and Robert was satisfied and walked back to work. When a maid opened the door, Charles supposedly said, "Oh, parodon me, but is Mr. Robert Fagin at home?"

Of course the maid didn't know anyone of that name and said so. Charles apologized and smiled and went on his way, deciding later to memorialize Robert Fagin in writing.

1 comment:

Nini said...

Mrs. Reimer - I am thoroughly enjoying reading the blog of your trip to London. You certainly capture the atmosphere and conditions that Dickens drew from for his writing. I also like your comments on the food you are eating and the sights you are seeing in modern day London, as I have never been there. I hope to visit you blog everyday, so that I can feel like I'm in 'Foggy London' with you.