Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

What you have here is an old guy. In education for 30 years, started teaching elementary, ended as library and media director of community college. I've enjoyed mountain climbing, sports car rallying, was pipe major of a bagpipe band, played guitar and sang during the folk revival, walking and hiking later in life. Now fairly sedentary. Enjoy reading, esp. mysteries and fantasy, but my reading is pretty eclectic. Enjoy movies, giving Netflix a workout.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

London 1849

I’ve almost finished reading Michael Alpert’s StorLondon 1849; a Victorian Murder Story. It’s an interesting sort of social history of London during that year, the year in which Maria and Frederick Manning murdered Patrick O’Connor. They dug a hole in the basement of the house they rented, stuck poor Patrick in it and poured quicklime on the body. Unfortunately for them, they were quickly found out, although Maria did have time to take the train to Scotland. But her freedom did not last long.

What is fascinating about the book is how Alpert uses this murder, quite a sensation in London at the time, as a basis for exploring the social conditions of London. He takes a look at what people wore, how they ate, the state of medicine and health care, housing and who could afford to own their own home. He speaks about class, learning, literature and the Church of England as well as other churches, particularly the Catholic Church which had been very unpopular since the Reformation. He tell of the various forms of entertainment, from the museum and opera to the circus, street performers and organ grinders. There is a chapter on transportation and the post, from coaching and coaching inns, through horse drawn trams and of course the very new railway system. (A good mystery about the railways of the period is Edward Marston’s The Railway Detective.) He does not neglect politics. There was the Chartist movement, which was rejected by Parliament several times during the two decades. He mentions Jews who were elected but were not allowed to be seated because they would not take an oath which included references to the Christian religion.

He finishes the book properly with the conviction of the Mannings for murder and their subsequent hanging. Charles Dickens was one of the prime sources for various aspects, with quotations both from his novels and from newspaper articles which he had written. Other writers from that period are also quoted. But the reader can easily tell that Alpert has read a lot of Dickens. I happen to read a fair number of mysteries set in the period and I enjoyed learning a bit more about it.


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