Daily Archives: January 13, 2009

Dickens – Our Mutual Friend

Charles Dickens taken from Wikipedia

Kate writes:

I just wanted to let you know (in case you didn’t already) that Blackheath (and Greenwich) get a favourable write-up by Charles Dickens in ‘Our Mutual Friend‘. In fact it contains some nice ‘colour’ about various parts of south-east London, but Blackheath comes out particularly favourably compared to the dens of iniquity around Bermondsey/Deptford and Southwark!

She’s right – see for yourself in the Project Gutenberg version here:

Pa was, at first, in the stirred depths of his conscience, so far from sure of being safe yet, that he made out majestic matrons lurking in ambush among the harmless trees of Greenwich Park, and seemed to see a stately countenance tied up in a well-known pocket-handkerchief glooming down at him from a window of the Observatory, where the Familiars of the Astronomer Royal nightly outwatch the winking stars. But, the minutes passing on and no Mrs Wilfer in the flesh appearing, he became more confident, and so repaired with good heart and appetite to Mr and Mrs John Rokesmith’s cottage on Blackheath, where breakfast was ready.

A modest little cottage but a bright and a fresh, and on the snowy tablecloth the prettiest of little breakfasts. In waiting, too, like an attendant summer breeze, a fluttering young damsel, all pink and ribbons, blushing as if she had been married instead of Bella, and yet asserting the triumph of her sex over both John and Pa, in an exulting and exalted flurry: as who should say, ‘This is what you must all come to, gentlemen, when we choose to bring you to book.’ This same young damsel was Bella’s serving-maid, and unto her did deliver a bunch of keys, commanding treasures in the way of dry-saltery, groceries, jams and pickles, the investigation of which made pastime after breakfast, when Bella declared that ‘Pa must taste everything, John dear, or it will never be lucky,’ and when Pa had all sorts of things poked into his mouth, and didn’t quite know what to do with them when they were put there.

And here:

Then they, all three, out for a charming ride, and for a charming stroll among heath in bloom, and there behold the identical Gruff and Glum with his wooden legs horizontally disposed before him, apparently sitting meditating on the vicissitudes of life! To whom said Bella, in her light-hearted surprise: ‘Oh! How do you do again? What a dear old pensioner you are!’

‘And now you will naturally want to know, dearest Ma and Lavvy, how we live, and what we have got to live upon. Well! And so we live on Blackheath, in the charm—ingest of dolls’ houses, de—lightfully furnished, and we have a clever little servant who is de—cidedly pretty, and we are economical and orderly, and do everything by clockwork, and we have a hundred and fifty pounds a year, and we have all we want, and more.

If you spot any more literary references to Blackheath, please let me know… I hope to have a review of a more contemporary Blackheath-based novel in the very near future, if I can just retrieve it from my sister!


Filed under blackheath, history