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Gone Astray

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Autobiography; Biography; Memoirs; Obituary; Anecdotes i
Prose: Leading Article i
Subjects Children; Childhood; Pregnancy; Childbirth; Child Rearing; Adoption; Child Labor
London (England)—Description and Travel
Urbanization; Urban Life and Landscapes
Details
Index
Other Details
Printed : 13/8/1853
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume VII
Magazine : No. 177
Office Book Notes
Memo-
Columns9.75
Payment-
Views : 2798

Whether or not this essay 'literally and exactly' describes, as Dickens claims, something that actually happened to him as a little boy, his childhood fascination with the slum neighbourhood of St Giles, the notorious rookery at the southern end of Tottenham Court Road, is well documented (see Vol. I of the Dent edition of Dickens's Journalism, p. 70): '"Good Heaven!" he would exclaim, "what wild visions of prodigies of wickedness, want, and beggary, arose in my mind out of that place!" (Forster, Book I, Ch. I).


No convincing original has even been proposed for the 'Somebody' who takes little Dickens to see St Giles's Church, but there certainly was a generous godfather, a boat-rigger called Huffam, who 'lived at Lime-house in a substantial handsome sort of way, and was kind to his godchild' (Forster, Book I, Ch. I). Several of the City sights that feature in this essay had already appeared in Dickens's fiction—the Guildhall Giants in Master Humphrey's Clock, Temple Bar ('that leaden-headed old obstruction') in the opening chapter of Bleak House, the mechanical giants striking the hours at St Dunstan's, Fleet Street in both Barnaby Rudge (Ch. 40) and David Copperfield (Ch. 23), Austin Friars in Martin Chuzzlewit (Ch. 39), the India House in Dombey and Son (Ch. 4), and so on. Goodman's Fields was an area of Whitechapel in London's East End, famous for the theatre in which Garrick made his debut in 1741. This was, however, closed in 1742 so cannot have been the theatre referred to below, which may well have been the ill-fated Royalty (burned down 1826; quickly rebuilt, but the roof fell in resulting in several deaths in 1828).

Literary allusions

  • 'the glass of fashion and the mould of form': Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Sc. I;
  • 'no beanstalk': alluding to the fairy tale of Jack and the beanstalk in which the hero ends up very wealthy as a result of his adventures in the Giant's country at the top of the magic beanstalk;
  • 'Sinbad the Sailor ... the valley of the diamonds ... Roc's eggs ... the Sultan's harem': all allusions to The Arabian Nights;
  • 'one entire and perfect chrysolite': Shakespeare, Othello, Act 5, Sc. 2.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-1859, 1998.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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