Learning About the Past Through Researching: Sweeney Todd’s London Atlas
Prior to reading this tale, I rarely had a full grasp of what the setting looked like in texts read for class. Most was left to imagination and I had minimal knowledge on how to gain a better understanding. I did little research on where novels actually took place or how the original work actually appeared. I t seemed like a thing that only professors did. It was a rarely suggested task and took many hours outside of class to find valuable information. Through the exploration of The String of Pearls, with the coding of the text and the dissection of maps of the time, it is clear to see that investigation of texts is vital to the reader gaining a clearer understanding of each work.
Each text has their own individual history and setting, all of which are ones worth researching. The String of Pearls is no exception to this. The String of Pearls was written around 1846 to 1847, yet it takes place in 1785. This leaves the readers of the time with nearly sixty years for differences to be made to London itself. This is best exemplified through our exploration of the many different maps of London. Using the map from 1844, my small group was able to find many of the places mentioned in the work. This gave a greater idea of how the writers would have viewed the city during their writing of the piece. However, this is not what Sweeney Todd, if he were real, would have seen during the time of his treacherous deeds. This leaves us to wonder, what of the work’s setting is correct and what is fictionalized? This daunting question further leads the reader on a hunt for more answers. How close were all these things mentioned as setting? Were they easy to find and was the way characters interacted with the setting logical?
As seen on the map provided, much of the distinct locations take place rather close together. The red line at the bottom of the image marks the Thames River upon which Thornhill arrives on and he parks his ship by the Temple Stairs, thus giving him a clear path to walk through the Temple Gardens and arrive on Fleet Street. It is also at the corner of Fleet Street and Bell Yard that most of this story takes place. All of which are very close to all the lawyer inns and important buildings of the time. Through further examination, I have found that what I imagined to be a great walk was no more than a block. It is also far easier to grasp how close Lovett’s bakers shop was to all these important buildings. It now makes perfect sense that the lawyers and states men would come to her shop to eat their lunches. The passage to connect Lovett’s bakers shop and Sweeney Todd’s barber shop seemed very long and near impossible when reading the tale, however, through the map it is clear that the tunnel would have been rather short.
This map gives current readers an idea of the world the original readers would be living. Also, to understand the readers further, we read a copy of the work that was scanned from the original. This gave us a fuller understanding of what exactly the piece looked like as it was first being read, mistakes and all. Upon first reading it, I hardly noticed the errors in the grammar and spelling. It was not until attempting to code a small paragraph of the writing that I noticed the trend.
Through later discussions, it was brought to my attention that this sort of newspaper, penny dreadful serials, were written and printed quickly. It was all about getting the reader following and trying to draw them in to buying the following week’s edition. It was printed quickly and on poor paper so that even the poorest could afford a copy. Grammar and spelling mattered little due to the fact that these works were originally meant for those who could not afford things such as Keepsakes. Logically, they would probably be of lower social standing and not have a decent education. Their readership was not the kind to write in about spelling mistakes in their weekly post. They probably didn’t even notice them. This also gave those of the lower class a slight chance of furthering themselves through reading. It was a slow and small way of educating society’s lower class.
It is through the study of things like the maps and the original texts that we can gain a fuller knowledge of the time period and the importance it has to the work. The reader also can better understand the readers who originally made the piece popular. Who were they? What was their level of education? How did their social status change the face of writing and publishing? All these answers can be found through researching the time in which it was written and exploring the original texts. Thus, the Sweeney Todd Atlas Suit made for a perfect exploratory project and taught this student to research topics she may know little about.
THE STRING OF PEARLS (London: Edward Lloyd.1850)