The String of Pearls

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The String of Pearls: A Romance is the title of a fictional story first published as a penny dreadful serial from 1846-47. The main antagonist of the story is the infamous Sweeney Todd, "the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," who here makes his literary debut.

Todd is a barber who murders his customers and turns their remains into meat pies, sold at the pie shop of his partner in crime: Mrs. Lovett; Todd's barber shop is situated in Fleet Street, London, next to St. Dunstan's church, and is connected to Lovett's bakers shop in nearby Bell Yard by means of an underground passage. Todd dispatches his victims by pulling a lever while they are in his barber chair, which makes them fall backward down a revolving trapdoor, generally causing them to break their necks or skulls. In the event they are alive, he goes to the basement and "polishes them off" by slitting the victim's throat with his straight razor. Todd has a young assistant named Tobias Ragg.

Synopsis[edit]

The story is set in London in the year 1785. The plot concerns the strange disappearance of a sailor named Lieutenant Thornhill, last seen entering Sweeney Todd's establishment on Fleet Street. Thornhill was bearing a gift of a string of pearls to a girl named Johanna Oakley on behalf of her missing lover, Mark Ingestrie, who is presumed lost at sea. One of Thornhill's seafaring friends, Colonel Jeffrey, is alerted to the disappearance of Thornhill by his faithful dog, Hector, and investigates his whereabouts. He is joined by Johanna, who wants to know what happened to Mark.

Johanna's suspicions of Sweeney Todd's involvement lead her to the desperate and dangerous expedient of dressing up as a boy and entering Todd's employment, after his last assistant, Tobias Ragg, has been incarcerated in a madhouse for accusing Todd of being a murderer. Eventually, the full grisly horror of Todd's activities is uncovered when the dismembered remains of hundreds of his victims are discovered in the crypt underneath St. Dunstan's church. Meanwhile, Mark, who has been imprisoned in the cellars beneath the pie shop and put to work as the cook, escapes via the lift used to bring the pies up from the cellar into the pie-shop. Here he makes the following startling announcement to the customers of that establishment:

"Ladies and gentlemen - I fear that what I am going to say will spoil your appetites; but the truth is beautiful at all times, and I have to state that Mrs. Lovett's pies are made of human flesh!"[1]

Mrs. Lovett is then poisoned by Sweeney Todd who is, himself, apprehended and hanged. Johanna marries Mark and lives happily ever after.

Literary history[edit]

The String of Pearls: A Romance was published in eighteen weekly parts, in Edward Lloyd's The People's Periodical and Family Library, issues 7-24, 21 November 1846 to 20 March 1847. It was probably written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, alternating between each part released. The story was then published in book form in 1850 as The String of Pearls, subtitled "The Barber of Fleet Street. A Domestic Romance". This expanded version of the story was 732 pages long. In later years there were many different literary, stage and eventually film adaptations which renamed, expanded and often drastically altered the original story.[2]

A scholarly, annotated edition of The String of Pearls was published in volumes in 2007 by the Oxford University Press under the title of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, edited by Robert Mack.


Themes[edit]

Penny dreadfuls were often written carelessly and contained themes of gore and violence. The String of Pearls is no different. Its style of writing makes it a perfect example of a penny dreadful, sensational, violent subject matter that plays off of the public’s real fears. The success of the stories lies in the guttural reaction people have towards it. Themes like murder and cannibalism equally scare and attract people leading to the success of the stories. The story plays on our instinctual fear of cannibalism, the eating of ones own species. Being such a taboo, the theme of cannibalism contributes to the horror tone to the story. Unknowingly being served human to eat is a common fear in popular culture, as it is so revolting to imagine. Industrialization is a theme that contributes to the unfolding of the story as the story was published in the 1840's, which was in the midst of Great Britian's Industrial Revolution."The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power, the increasing use of steam power, and the development of machine tools. It also included the change from wood and other bio-fuels to coal"[3]Sweeny Todd owns a barber shop in the middle of one of the busiest industrial centers of the growing city of London. The rise of industrialism resulted in the rise of crime rates. This rise of crime was immensely influential when it came to the String of Pearls and other Penny dreadful stories that revolved around the fearful ideas and themes of crime, fear, and gore.

Historical Background[edit]

While there is no clear author of The Nineteenth Century String of Pearls in the original Penny Dreadful, there are many theories surrounding its influences. In the Victorian time, when this story was first written, a semi-common trade was what was called a barber-surgeon. Barber-surgeons cropped up around this time as trained medical practitioners, not through school but through apprenticeship and they were illiterate. The story goes that in front of a barber-surgeons workplace there would be a red and white pole (much like in front of Sweeney Todd’s shop), symbolizing the blood and napkins used during the bloodletting. In 1745, surgery became an established and well regarded profession of its own and the two were officially separated by King George II.[4]

Speculated Influences[edit]

Le Theatre des Antiquites de Paris[edit]

''Le Theatre des Antiquites de Paris'' by Jacques du Breuil contains a section, titled, ''De la maison des Marmousets'' that talks of a "murderous pastry cook" and incorporates the meat of a man he murdered in his pie due to dietary benefits over eating other animals.[5]

Real Life Sweeney Todd or Urban Legend?[edit]

It is speculated that, “Joseph Fouche, who served as Minister of Police in Paris from 1799 to 1815, had records in the archives of police that explored murders committed in the 1800s by a Parisian barber". Fouche made mention that the barber was in league with “a neighboring pastry cook, who made pies out of the victims and sold them for human consumption”. There is question about the authenticity of this account, “yet the tale was republished in 1824 under the headline "A Terrific Story of the Rue de Le Harpe, Paris" in The Tell Tale, a London magazine. Perhaps Thomas Prest, scouring publications for ideas, read about the Paris case and stored it away for later use.”[6]

Sweeney Todd's story also appears in the “Newgate Calendar, originally a bulletin of executions produced by the keeper of Newgate prison, the title of which was appropriated by chapbooks, popular pamphlets full of entertaining, often violent criminal activities.” Despite this mention there is no word of Todd's surely trial or execution in official records, and thus no real evidence that he ever existed.[7]

No public records prove existence of a London barber by the name of Sweeney in the 18th century or of a barber shop located on Fleet Street. However, there was enough word-of-mouth, true crime and horror stories traveling around at the time, reported in "The Old Bailey" section of the London Times, as well as other daily newspapers. Since news commonly traveled by word of mouth from majority of the population still being illiterate, news of crime passed from person to person, creating the possibility of embellishment, but were considered to be factual during the time because there was no way of proving otherwise at the time.[8]

Charles Dickens[edit]

In Charles Dickens' ''Pickwick Papers'' (1836–37), a character, Sam Weller, states that a pieman used cats "for beefsteak, veal and kidney, 'cording to the demand", and recommends that people should buy pies only "when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain't kitten."[9] Dickens expanded on the idea of using non-traditional sources for meat pie in ''Martin Chuzzlewit'' (1843–44), this was released two years before The String of Pearls (1846–47) and included a character by the name of, Tom Pinch, who feels lucky that his own "evil genius did not lead him into the dens of any of those preparers of cannibalic pastry, who are represented in many country legends as doing a lively retail business in the metropolis" and worries that John Westlock will "begin to be afraid that I have strayed into one of those streets where the countrymen are murdered; and that I have been made into meat pies, or some such horrible thing."[10][11] Haining suggests that Dickens was inspired by knowledge of the "real" Sweeney Todd, but that he forbore to mention him lest some of his victims' relatives were still alive.

Adaptations[edit]

Live Theater[edit]

The first recorded live theater performance influenced by "The String of Pearls" was ''Mrs. Lovett'' by Miss Hamilton performed at the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, on March 1, 1847, the same year the penny dreadful story was published.[12] This adaptation reflects the popularity of the penny dreadful story since it was performed so quickly after the story's original publication. The second trace we find of "The String of Pearls" influence in the theater is in 1847, when multiple productions revolving around Todd's story are performed: "Sweeney Todd, the Barber of Fleet Street" by Mark Howard, "Tobias Ragg, Sweeney Todd's Apprentice-boy" by Miss Burrows, and "Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd's Accomplice in Guilt" by Mrs.Atkinson at the Britannia Theatre.[13] George Dibdin Pitt is largely remembered for writing a full length play revolving around Sweeney Todd. "Not published until 1883 in Dick's Standard Plays (as Sweeney Todd: The Barber of Fleet Street), the printed play differs significantly from Dibdin Pitt's original, which was initially performed in 1847 as The String of Pearls, or The Fiend of Fleet Street. Yet the text from the original manuscript (archived in the Lord Chamberlain's Plays at the British Library) has never before been published and has received very little scholarly attention. Scholars who rely on the 1883 Sweeney Todd to discuss the 1847 melodrama are in many respects talking about a different play. "[14]

Today the best known adaptation is the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber on Fleet Street. In 1979 Stephen Sondheim adapted the String of Pearls into a musical. The musical tells the tale of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett and how they come to be in business with one and another. The show opened on March 1, 1979, in the Uris Theater and had a total of 557 shows until it closed on June 29, 1980.[15] One of the early reviews called the show “one giant step towards vegetarianism”.[16] Then next run of the show started September 14, 1989 and had a run of 188 shows at the Circle in the Square Theater, and then it ran again at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre for 349 shows beginning on November 3, 2005.[17]

Literature[edit]

Todd's story made it's way to America when it was pirated by 'Captain Merry', other wise known as Harry Hazel in the 1850s.[18] In London, another version was published under the title of "A Thrilling Story of the Old City of London. Founded on Fact" by one A. Ritchie in 1892.[19]

In 1929 Sweeney Todd's story was adapted for Pearson Press.[20]

In his 2012 novel Dodger, Terry Pratchett portrays Sweeney Todd as a tragic figure, having lost his mind after being exposed to the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars as a barber surgeon.[21]

Movie[edit]

The musical went on to become a successful musical film in 2007, directed by Tim Burton. The film stars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Jayne Wisener.[22] The movie won an Oscar and several other awards. In the box office this movie made $52,898,073 in the US and $99,625,091 worldwide.[23] The story is about Mr. Sweeney Todd being done an injustice by a judge in London, who ships him off to prison, and then Mr. Todd comes back to London to get revenge on the Judge. He finds out that his wife committed suicide, and the judge has raised his daughter, all which makes him hate this judge more and want more revenge.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street edited by Robert L. Mack (2007). Oxford University Press: 280
  2. ^ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street edited by Robert L. Mack (2007). Oxford University Press: 280
  3. ^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution
  4. ^ "Science Museum. Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine." Barber-surgeons. Web.
  5. ^ Mack, Robert L. The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend. London: Continuum, 2007. Print.
  6. ^ http://www.pbs.org/kqed/demonbarber/penny/truecriminals.html#
  7. ^ Welsh, Louise. "On A Knife Edge." the Guardian. Guardian News, 19 Jan. 2008. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jan/19/classics.film>.
  8. ^ Suer, Kinsley. "PCS Blog - The Real Sweeney Todd? From Penny Dreadful to Broadway Musical." Portland Center Stage. N.p., 4 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://www.pcs.org/blog/item/the-real-sweeney-todd-from-penny-dreadful-to-broadway-musical/>.
  9. ^ Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. Oxford: Oxford Classics. pp. 278, 335
  10. ^ Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, ed. Margaret Cardwell (1982). Oxford, Clarendon Press: 495
  11. ^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd
  12. ^ Mack, Robert L. The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend. London: Continuum, 2007. Print.
  13. ^ Mack, Robert L. The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend. London: Continuum, 2007. Print.
  14. ^ Weltman, and Sharon Aronofsky. "Introduction: George Dibdin Pitt's 1847 Sweeney Todd." Nineteenth Century Theatre & Film 38.1 (2011): 1. EBSCO Host. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/literary-criticism/78362063/introduction-george-dibdin-pitts-1847-sweeney-todd>.
  15. ^ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) - IMDb.Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  16. ^ Everett, William A. "Sondheim, Stephen (1930—)." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000. 454-456. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
  17. ^ "Sweeney Todd." IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information.Web. 27 Nov. 2014. <http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=3925>.
  18. ^ Mack, Robert L. The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend. London: Continuum, 2007. Print.
  19. ^ Mack, Robert L. The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend. London: Continuum, 2007. Print.
  20. ^ Mack, Robert L. The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend. London: Continuum, 2007. Print.
  21. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd#In_literature
  22. ^ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) - IMDb. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  23. ^ "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)." Box Office Mojo. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=main&id=sweeneytodd.htm>.

External links[edit]