False Safety Within London’s City Walls
My group’s Lo-Fi mapping assignment was focused on the London map of 1775, a map which actually predates the publication of the story by several decades. Our focus was set on the areas immediately surrounding Fleet Street and The Temple gardens. Interestingly enough, though, the area that I found most peculiar was a dense cluster of streets in the Northern to North Eastern portion of the map, which all bore names relating to animals (e.g.: Cow Lane or Chick Lane). The only relevant information I found on that area, which was from Wikipedia (so, take it with a grain of salt), revealed that the area was London’s main hub for the livestock trade – hence the area’s naming conventions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smithfield,_London). Perhaps most interestingly, though, is the area’s location: which is outside of London’s city wall. The primary – and possibly sole – purpose of a city’s wall was to provide defensive protection from potential invading forces. The location of this area outside of the wall may be indicative of several things: the rapid expansion of the urban populace at the time, as well as the marginalization of the working class and the subsequent Chartist movement. In opposition, the story (which takes place inside of the walls) is centered on an area where the main pursuit is that of the “legal profession” (String of Pearls, 17). However, because the “Penny Blood” periodicals that The String of Pearls was serialized in primarily had a working class audience, the authors may have been highlighting the areas where these professions were located. In doing so, this offered a commentary on the comparative value which society seems to place on them: the “uncivilized” professions involved in the livestock trade are apparently less valued than those of the legal professions – which are located safely within the city’s limits. Though, a major Victorian Era redevelopment of the area has since removed many of the ubiquitous agricultural trade related street names – with the exception of a few. The purging of these street names distances the area from its heritage as the epicenter of the city’s livestock trade, and through the severing of these ties also distances the city from the dying trades of the past: namely, butchery. In doing so, the city coincidentally distances itself from a different, more “specialized” butcher: Sweeney Todd.
The most frightening place in The String of Pearls is, ironically enough, nestled safely in the heart of London: well within the limits of the city’s protective wall. Mistress Lovett’s sinfully delicious pie shop is found in the Bell-yard – at the center of the city’s only legal district. The pie shop itself stands in stark contrast to its formal, lawful surroundings. As a structure, Lovett’s exterior is inseparable from surrounding buildings. However, the interior of the shop is a place which defies the norms of both the city and – especially – the area. Inside Lovett’s, gluttony, lust, gossip, and something far more ominous going on behind the scenes (hint: the pies aren’t really customer friendly) are all considered commonplace. Lovett’s is a place where “many a piece of gossiping scandal was … first circulated” and a place which stands in the way of “the success of some law-suit(s)” (The String of Pearls, 17-18). It stands as a boon of the illogical and despicable among what is considered by many to be a very virtuous profession. Mistress Lovett herself exploits her position as a worker in a profession that somewhat skirts the periphery of society in order to achieve her own goals. Beneath her feminine and seemingly innocuous exterior belies a sinister motivation, one which some members of society are willing to turn a blind eye to in preference to her superficial features.
The process of reading a character’s journey compared to following them through their journey with the work on our atlas are things that are markedly different experiences. The reading process in and of itself is a passive affair, and is something that – at times – one is able to become lost in the text, losing sight of the actions of individuals and the greater implications they hold. Actively following and mapping these events, however, allows one the ability to focus on the impact each and every event holds. This process is something that should be reserved for small excerpts of text to be completed one a time. Limiting the focus of the transcription or mapping allows individuals the opportunity to delve into the details of the text without becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the material. The process of transcription affords one a rare and intimate view into the lives of the characters themselves – a view the reader is not necessarily privy to through typical or traditional textual analysis.