Sunday, December 15, 2013

Many of the lamps were already extinguished

It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses.

From Oliver Twist, Chapter XXI, "The Expedition." This is in the midst of a description of daybreak in a small village north of London, the world slowly awakening for commerce. Men are everywhere scrabbling to do their dirty jobs. Oliver, meanwhile, is en route with Mister William Sikes to the scene of their own dirty job to be done. The image of a helpless, dirty animal trapped in a cage prefigures the big scene that comes a few pages after. Very good stuff, Mr Dickens.


  1. I think my favorite awakening-to-life scene may be Twain's Mississippi village waking up to the arrival of the steamboat, but Dickens is full of wondrous bustle...

    Came by to say thanks for that spam tip. Much appreciated! I set it on two weeks, but may shorten it, as I see you set yours on a week...

  2. You are welcome for the spam tip!

    Dickens wrote brilliantly about urban settings in every book of his that I've read. He was a close observer of the machinery of civilization, if you know what I mean.

    This is one of my favorite sorts of scenes, the awakening of the world. I've noticed that in my own books there's frequently a scene that begins just before dawn breaks. Which is ironic, because I prefer to sleep through that part of the day whenever I can.

  3. Yes, I like awakenings as well.

    And as for the dawn, remember HDT saying that "Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me."

  4. Henry had plenty of good stuff about sleep and waking, didn't he? I like this one: "We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep." Which is entirely tangential to what we're talking about, but it's still pretty swell.

  5. Yes, I still love Walden; it's full of the most marvelous beauties, and I don't care if he picked Emerson's pocket!

    I suppose there's so much dawn because he dreamed that human beings could be more awake and alive than they commonly are...