Sweeney Todd Blog Post
Plenty of us know the character of Sweeney Todd. Famously portrayed by Johnny Depp in the infamous Tim Burton film adaptation, this barber of both beards and blood is a macabre individual many would not like to have ‘shave their beards’. But what is not common knowledge is that Sweeney Todd itself originated back in Victorian times, published as a penny dreadful book and set around 1744. Not only that, but it wasn’t even called Sweeney Todd; instead it was titled The String of Pearls, or the Barber of Fleet Street. Among the book itself it speaks of the London streets bustling with merchants and travelers and the like, but some of these were not only real, but are still around today. In order to bring the past and the fictional in a meeting made available to the public, my Victorian Eras class undertook a project that would incorporate real maps of Victorian London and the streets and areas mentioned in the original book!
This project was undertaken amongst small groups, giving a wide variety of perspective and the ability to cover more ground on the maps we were examining. I imagine doing it alone would be quite the lonely and lengthy endeavor, and certain points are more likely to be missed. Together, Adriana, Heather and I constructed our map around an 1844 map of London. Now 1844 is the closest to when this story was published, but the actual plot of Sweeney Todd took place nearly one hundred years previously. It brought up the question of whether or not our map would have many consistencies with the setting of the story, and we went into it slightly hesitant.
However, we could see immediately in big letters the most important street of all: Fleet Street. Boosted by the familiarity we quickly scoured the rest of our map, and in regards to the actual Sweeney Todd setting we were able to uncover a list of 7 things.
1. Fleet Street
2. Lincoln Inn
3. Temple Garden
4. Grays Inn Garden
5. Bell Yard
6. Thames River
7. Temple Stairs
There was one street that spoke out that was not technically a part of the novel whatsoever, but has historical attachments to another famous person from the Victorian Era. Mary Shelley, the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley and famous writer of Frankenstein, Skinner Street is the place where her father William Godwin owned a home, and it is the location of where she met Percy for the very first time. Also, the word ‘skinner ‘ itself is a person who at the time would work with animal skins, either leatherworking or taxidermy or something related to those fields. As it placed some interest into the town outside of just Sweeney Todd it was added to the list, and we highlighted our map areas to show the public where to look for the resemblances. As a side note, although the actual story did not take place at the time it was published, the people who published it put in some influence from their present time and inserted it into the story. There is St. Dunstan’s, a clock that the village gathers around at noon to observe two statues emerging and ‘fighting’, but this was a place that suffered a fire in 1666 and was rebuilt in 1832, far after the actual plot of Sweeney Todd’s beloved Fleet Street.
It was a wonderful class experience! To bring something partially fiction and partially historical makes for not only an interesting project, but also a joy to construct. Typically mapping something consists of mere history, but to bring in the Sweeney Todd aspect made it incredibly enjoyable. Mixing fantasy and reality based on the actual appearance of the time this story was published brings a great sense of both imagination and real life!