Sweeney Todd and London Atlas
The String of Pearls, published in 1846, is the frightening and slightly disturbing tale of a “demon barber” who murders his customers and eventually assists in selling them as meat pies. Though the story takes place during 1785, it is just as much a fictional story as a social commentary of the 1840s. During our class periods, we discussed the connotations and denotations of characters, words, and places within the story, eventually mapping it out online (available here).
The String of Pearls represents the city as a physical space in that it uses the geography surrounding Salisbury Court to place most of the locations in the story. Salisbury Court is where The String of Pearls was written. The locations are used accurately, making the story seem frighteningly real. When one perceives this in conjunction with the author’s note at the beginning, “In answer to many inquiries…of whether there ever was such a person as Sweeney Todd in existence, we can unhesitatingly say, that there certainly was such a person” (Lloyd, preface). The space is represented differently from Dickens or Mayhew in that is far more realistic. Whereas Dickens glorified and embellished London to an extent and Mayhew made it seem as though it were a zoo, The String of Pearls is written from the perspective of people who often walk through these places, therefore more able to adequately write about them.
There are two exciting places within The String of Pearls: St. Dunstan’s Bell and Ms. Lovett’s pie shop. (Pictures below.) These are both places in which the wealthy and the poor, and the greatest and the lowest of society can convene together. St. Dunstan’s Bell is a landmark for all, providing not only a service in telling the time, but entertainment in the giant figures that strike the bell. The narrator notes at one point that “There was a small crowd collected opposite the church, for the figures were about to strike three-quarters past six…The three-quarters were struck by the figures; and then the people who had loitered to see it done, many of whom had day by day looked at the same exhibition for years past, walked away…” (Lloyd, 4). Not only is this an attraction for newcomers, but for those who have witnessed it every day for years. Ms. Lovett’s pie shop is certainly an exciting place, even an idyllic place for the ignorant characters in the story. The reader is told that many people attend Lovett’s for lunch, “[M]ostly from Lincoln’s-inn do these persons, young and old, but most certainly a majority of the former, come bustling and striving, although from the neighboring legal establishments likewise there came not a few; the Temple contributes its numbers, and from the more distant Gray’s-inn there came a goodly amount” (Lloyd, 17). The shop is idyllic for some in that Ms. Lovett seems to bestow smiles and love upon all who enter (Lloyd, 18), but the reader knows better in the end. This place is the opposite of idyllic, where people are turned into pies. This becomes quite a horrifying and unsettling place to be by the end, but perhaps the most frightening place of all is Sweeney Todd’s shop, where death could and probably will come upon one suddenly, in a place that is supposed to be safe. (Picture below.)
This is a common theme throughout The String of Pearls: opposites. One would expect that a pie shop and a barber shop would be safe places; they are the least safe in the story. One would expect a dock to be a shady place, but from these ships the most kind-hearted and honest people emerge, including Lieutenant Thornhill and Colonel Jeffreys. Thornhill talks to Hector before he goes into the shop, telling of his noble intentions to give a valuable string of pearls and news of Mark Ingestrie’s death to Johanna, Mark’s sweetheart (Lloyd, 4). Thornhill could have easily kept the string of pearls for himself with no consequence, but as his shipmates comment, he is a good man (Lloyd, 12). One would also expect places of evil to be far from those of an upstanding nature, but both the pie shop and the barber shop are in close proximity to a church and a place of law (see map here or above).
In addition to opposites in places, one can see opposites in characters as well. This can be shown in connections between the characters. The best connected characters are in two groups: Johanna, Colonel Jeffreys, and Hector; Sweeney Todd, Tobias, Ms. Lovett, and Hector. These two social networks are connected by a character who would seemingly be the least important to a casual observer: Hector. Though he is a dog and of course cannot talk, he seems to possess the intelligence and consciousness of a human being, able to think for himself and lead others to certain conclusions. After Todd kills Thornhill, Hector dashes back to the ship where the captain sees that “[T]he object of the dog is to get [Jeffreys] to follow him…” (Lloyd, 13). Hector also “[A]ppear[s] to [make] efforts to explain something…” (Lloyd, 14). Hector is just one example of many flipped roles throughout the story, showing those whom we would place trust in becoming untrustworthy and vice versa. Tobias, (Picture below.) likewise, is a simple boy of little education; the reader would not expect any clear analysis or thinking from him necessarily; yet, he shows himself to be an intelligent and level-headed individual. He consistently questions Todd, who scares him into not saying anything (Lloyd, 3, 6,16).
When you read about characters, you see everything about them—their expressions, thoughts, demeanor, and speech. However, it is hard to visualize their journeys at times, which is where the atlas comes in handy. This provides a way for the reader to see where people go and how long it might take them, and visualize the distance between locations. The feeling of people is lost through this method though. The two methods must be used in conjunction with each other, not separately.
Lastly, the monsters (Todd and Lovett) are located in close proximity to each other (see map here or above), though not right next to each other. This denotes perhaps an abundance of monsters in London, or else a heavily-infested neighborhood. This may also suggest that there is something about this particular neighborhood to make it so infested. As has been discussed, this is a place where law-practicing individuals and those of lower classes intersect. It is also a place where many tourists will come, from the port. Tourists will be easily missed, and are perfect targets for someone like Sweeney Todd that attempts to choose victims based on how many people might look for them if they are lost. In the beginning of the story, Todd surveys the courtyard at St. Dunstan’s Bell, looking for a victim, and settles on Thornhill, setting off a chain of events that brings about his doom (Lloyd, 3-4).
By typing in small passages from The String of Pearls and finding all the places mentioned in the story on a map, I was able to much better understand not only the story itself, but its context. One can see much more clearly on a map how the different locations relate to each other and interact, and visualize the relationships between everything.
The String of Pearls, or The Barber of Fleet Street: A Domestic Romance. London: Edward Lloyd, 1850. Print.