Wednesday, 7 April 2010

White Lead

Finally got round to reading Jack London's People of the Abyss. A good read - the American author masquerading as a poor worker to plumb the depths of East End poverty in 1902 - but nothing that remarkable in comparison with other slum pieces from the Victorian era. I've picked out one snippet for my website on white-lead poisoning but I rather like this description of street prostitution:

But they were not the only beasts that ranged the menagerie. They were
only here and there, lurking in dark courts and passing like grey shadows
along the walls; but the women from whose rotten loins they spring were
everywhere. They whined insolently, and in maudlin tones begged me for
pennies, and worse. They held carouse in every boozing ken, slatternly,
unkempt, bleary-eyed, and towsled, leering and gibbering, overspilling
with foulness and corruption, and, gone in debauch, sprawling across
benches and bars, unspeakably repulsive, fearful to look upon.
And there were others, strange, weird faces and forms and twisted
monstrosities that shouldered me on every side, inconceivable types of
sodden ugliness, the wrecks of society, the perambulating carcasses, the
living deaths--women, blasted by disease and drink till their shame
brought not tuppence in the open mart; and men, in fantastic rags,
wrenched by hardship and exposure out of all semblance of men, their
faces in a perpetual writhe of pain, grinning idiotically, shambling like
apes, dying with every step they took and each breath they drew. And
there were young girls, of eighteen and twenty, with trim bodies and
faces yet untouched with twist and bloat, who had fetched the bottom of
the Abyss plump, in one swift fall
The book, in fact, is not generally written in this over-wrought style, and yet I'm rather drawn to it.


  1. The newsletter is generally a summary of the blog posts, these days ... will write one in the next week or two, I think.

    best wishes,