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Sketches by Boz
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Sketches by Boz > Scenes, 22: Gin-shops

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Tristram Shandy The next Sketch, published in the Evening Chronicle on 7 February 1835, is dedicated to „Gin Shops“, which are, as far as I know, no longer in existence. I felt reminded of one of Emile Zola’s novels, L’Assommoir, here. Apparently, gin was one of the cheapest – and therefore lowest – spirits that could be got at that time, and many of the poor who sought solace from their daily troubles, consumed gin in high quantities, thereby only increasing their distress. This somehow brought Homer Simpson to my mind, who once gave a toast to alcohol with the following memorable words: “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!”

I did not really understand the beginning of Scenes 22, where Dickens talks about all sorts of shops being pulled down and rebuilt, as a sort of madness and even throws in dogs and elephants. Maybe his contemporaries would have known better what to make of these allusions. He finally comes to his topic, gin shops, mentioning that unlike their squalid vicinities, these shops are often oases of splendour and apparent prosperity. Dickens then gives us some of the high-sounding names of different brands of gin, and these seem to echo the pretentiousness of these places:

”Then, ingenuity is exhausted in devising attractive titles for the different descriptions of gin; and the dram-drinking portion of the community as they gaze upon the gigantic black and white announcements, which are only to be equalled in size by the figures beneath them, are left in a state of pleasing hesitation between ‘The Cream of the Valley,’ ‘The Out and Out,’ ‘The No Mistake,’ ‘The Good for Mixing,’ ‘The real Knock-me-down,’ ‘The celebrated Butter Gin,’ ‘The regular Flare-up,’ and a dozen other, equally inviting and wholesome liqueurs. Although places of this description are to be met with in every second street, they are invariably numerous and splendid in precise proportion to the dirt and poverty of the surrounding neighbourhood.”

The tone of the Sketch is light-hearted at first, even when some of the customers are described – such as the bantering youth who wants to chat up the young girl behind the counter, but then the tone suddenly changes, and we get an idea of the destructive impact of gin – in that it makes the conditions in which the poor live even worse by distorting their souls and throwing whole families into disharmony and despair. We witness a brawl between several gin-drinkers, and then we get the following haunting remark:

”Some of the party are borne off to the station-house, and the remainder slink home to beat their wives for complaining, and kick the children for daring to be hungry.”

So, all of a sudden, we are reminded of the misery that alcoholism – and there must have been a large number of alcoholics in Victorian London – caused, especially among the so-called low orders. Nevertheless, Dickens also has it in for those bigots who turn up their nose at these drunkards, hinting that the abuse of alcohol is partly due to social problems which should be solved if one wants to fight alcoholism:

”Well-disposed gentlemen, and charitable ladies, would alike turn with coldness and disgust from a description of the drunken besotted men, and wretched broken-down miserable women, who form no inconsiderable portion of the frequenters of these haunts; forgetting, in the pleasant consciousness of their own rectitude, the poverty of the one, and the temptation of the other. Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance which, divided among his family, would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendour. If Temperance Societies would suggest an antidote against hunger, filth, and foul air, or could establish dispensaries for the gratuitous distribution of bottles of Lethe-water, gin-palaces would be numbered among the things that were.”


message 2: by Peter (new)

Peter I am not a gin drinker, but this sketch was a fine tipple to read anyway. As a drink, gin was the most popular of the hard alcohols in England in the 18C. There is a series of famous illustrations by Hogarth that compare the evils of gin to the evils of beer. Gin is the devil of drinks as the illustrations portray. Gin was, and this is hard to believe, once consumed more than beer by the English.

It was imported from the continent. When you look at the labels on gin bottles (for research purposes only) it is remarkable how many brands bear English names.

The garish, bright, brassy, woody palaces of glass that were the gin shops of the 19C seem contradictory to perceptions of the Victorians, and yet gin shops were as popular as one's "local."


message 3: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Tristram wrote: "The next Sketch, published in the Evening Chronicle on 7 February 1835, is dedicated to „Gin Shops“, which are, as far as I know, no longer in existence. I felt reminded of one of Emile Zola’s novels, L’Assommoir..."

I loved that book and just seeing you mention it made me want to go get it and start reading it all over again, however, it happens to be a hill in the living room village right now so it will have to wait until sometime in January. :-)


message 4: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Here's our illustration:



"The Gin Shop"

George Cruikshank


message 5: by Peter (new)

Peter Kim wrote: "Here's our illustration:

"The Gin Shop"

George Cruikshank"


It appears to be quite a friendly and lively place for one and all. The child in the front right of the picture is an interesting touch.


message 6: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim When we were still reading Bleak House and I'd be getting the illustrations, quite often I would find this about Browne's illustration of Tom-all-Alone's:

"there is evidence pointing to its owing a good deal in conception to Hogarth's Gin Lane, probably by way of the novelist's own knowledge of that engraving."

So I would often see Hogarth's Gin Lane and didn't see this strong link between the two, but it does seem to fit in here, so here it is:



"Gin Lane"

William Hogarth 1751

The second "half" of this illustration or illustrations I guess is Beer Street:



These two illustrations were supposed to be displayed side and side and you would get this:



Together or separate there are too many people in this illustration to remind me of Tom-all-Alone's


message 7: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Oh, here's a Fred Barnard illustration for this sketch:



A Gin Shop

Fred Barnard


Tristram Shandy Kim wrote: "I loved that book and just seeing you mention it made me want to go get it and start reading it all over again, however, it happens to be a hill in the living room village right now so it will have to wait until sometime in January. :-)"

Kim,

you made my day ;-)


Tristram Shandy Kim wrote: "Here's our illustration:

"The Gin Shop"

George Cruikshank"


Probably the little child is buying alcohol for his parents. Just remember that David Copperfield, as a small boy, also had the chance to buy beer and consume it, which he didn't because the waiter drank it up for him.

Beer was less strong than it is today, in those days, though. I know that in the Middle Ages, when water bore the risk of being full of germs, beer was the everyday drink of men, women, and children. People would always have been slightly inebriated.

Be that as it may, I confess to beer being my favourite drink - but still you should drink it with moderation, and with relish. And if you look carefully, you will find that Hogarth's gin drinkers are a more hopeless, and hopless, lot than the beerdrinkers. They are emaciated and misery-stricken, whereas the others look, at worst, dull and fat ;-)


message 10: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Tristram wrote: "Be that as it may, I confess to beer being my favourite drink -"

Yuk.


message 11: by Peter (new)

Peter Kim

Thank you for posting the Hogarth Beer - Gin illustrations. I confess that I have no idea how to do it.

The reason I mentioned them is that I am taking a course in Victorian History at the University of Victoria this year (oh, how I love retirement) and the prof devoted a lecture to drinking in the Victorian times. Sadly, there are no field trips. ;-(


message 12: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Peter wrote: "Kim

Thank you for posting the Hogarth Beer - Gin illustrations. I confess that I have no idea how to do it.

The reason I mentioned them is that I am taking a course in Victorian History at the U..."


I have found since I posted the illustrations that Hogarth actually made two Beer Street illustrations.

The first one featured the blacksmith lifting a Frenchman with one hand. The 1759 reissue replaced him with a joint of meat and added the pavior and housemaid. Here are both illustrations:






message 13: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim As for "Gin Lane" here are some of the gloomy things that other people see in the illustration that I totally missed, along with real stories of what people do or did for gin.

"Set in the parish of St Giles—a notorious slum district that Hogarth depicted in several works around this time—Gin Lane depicts the squalor and despair of a community raised on gin. Desperation, death and decay pervade the scene. The only businesses that flourish serve the gin industry: gin sellers; distillers (the aptly named Kilman); the pawnbroker where the avaricious Mr. Gripe greedily takes the vital possessions (the carpenter offers his saw and the housewife her cooking utensils) of the alcoholic residents of the street in return for a few pennies to feed their habit; and the undertaker, for whom Hogarth implies at least a handful of new customers from this scene alone. Most shockingly, the focus of the picture is a woman in the foreground, who, addled by gin and driven to prostitution by her habit—as evidenced by the syphilitic sores on her legs—lets her baby slip unheeded from her arms and plunge to its death in the stairwell of the gin cellar below. Half-naked, she has no concern for anything other than a pinch of snuff. This mother was not such an exaggeration as she might appear: in 1734, Judith Dufour reclaimed her two-year-old child from the workhouse where it had been given a new set of clothes; she then strangled it and left the infant's body in a ditch so that she could sell the clothes (for 1s. 4d.) to buy gin. In another case, an elderly woman, Mary Estwick, let a toddler burn to death while she slept in a gin-induced stupor. Such cases provided a focus for anti-gin campaigners such as the indefatigable Thomas Wilson and the image of the neglectful and/or abusive mother became increasingly central to anti-gin propaganda. Sir John Gonson, whom Hogarth featured in his earlier "A Harlot's Progress", turned his attention from prostitution to gin and began prosecuting gin-related crimes with severity."

I was also supposed to notice but didn't:

"Behind the parapet a boy competes with a dog to gnaw on a bone. The cadaverous ballad-singer slumped in the foreground is in a woeful state of ill health. His black dog symbolizes despair. Meanwhile, in the background, actual corpses are visible – including the hanged barber in the upper story of a partially ruined house."

This next part I still don't see:

"one lunatic clutching a pair of bellows to his head even dances a jig while waving a spike upon which a baby has been impaled – a figment from a nightmare."

Now I'm going to look for "A Harlot's Progress" and also to find out if that woman really did strangle her baby for it's clothes.


message 14: by Tristram (last edited Nov 24, 2015 08:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tristram Shandy Peter wrote: "The reason I mentioned them is that I am taking a course in Victorian History at the University of Victoria this year (oh, how I love retirement) and the prof devoted a lecture to drinking in the Victorian times. Sadly, there are no field trips. ;-( "

When I was trained to be a teacher, my history tutor would always invite us teachers-to-be for lengthy excursions in our area. Very often we would visit a church or a graveyard, and he would give a very good lecture on the place - he was full of local knowledge - and then afterwards we would go to the nearest pub for a glass of beer. After that there would be another church, then another pub, then another church, then another pub (now two beers per person), another church, another pub ... well, you get the idea. I never knew that visiting churches and graveyards could be so refreshing. The evening was usually ended with a barbecue at his home.


message 15: by Peter (new)

Peter Tristram wrote: "Peter wrote: "The reason I mentioned them is that I am taking a course in Victorian History at the University of Victoria this year (oh, how I love retirement) and the prof devoted a lecture to dri..."

Sounds like a class that would enjoy full attendance all the time. Alas, no field trips for me.


Tristram Shandy Peter wrote: "Sounds like a class that would enjoy full attendance all the time. Alas, no field trips for me."

Those were the good old days ;-)


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