It has been a while since I’ve submitted a book review. So I have now decided it is finally time to address this inadequacy given my future aspirations of becoming an editor. The last book I read which is to be reviewed is titled The String of Pearls, the Wordsworth Classics edition. You might be familiar with it in the form of a musical produced by Tim Burton. I’m of course talking about Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
The story originally appeared as a penny dreadful in The People’s Periodical and Family Library which was edited by Edward Lloyd as a series and was given the epithet The String of Pearls: A Romance. Although published as long ago as 1846, the tale still feels macabre despite the present standards of desensitisation to acts of violence because it touches on a topic that still has not eluded its taboo status. It is commonly thought the tale was co-written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest.
Given electricity was yet to be invented and readers perused their reading material under flickering oil lamps, horror tales rose in popularity as a form of entertainment. The gory and violent depictions of ill-met fates in these stories led them to being called curious names like bloods and shilling shockers. Since these stories were produced en masse for a penny per copy, publishers picked up ideas from sources such as popular fiction, legends and news accounts of petty crime aiming to “ make the hackles rise, the flesh creep, and the blood curdle ” says Michael Anglo, the author of Penny Dreadfuls and Other Victorian Horrors; he adds it was difficult in that time to be sufficiently dread inspiring because hangings were commonplace.
The String of Pearls in which Sweeney Todd, “the demon barber of Fleet Street”, makes his literary debut is a tale that is as humorous as it is chilling because of the style of writing chosen. We are first introduced to this barber of shady appearance who runs his own barber and shaver shop. His misabused apprentice boy, Tobias, who is always sent away on impromptu errands when wealthy customers enter the shop notices they keep leaving some apparel behind. Tied into this story is a little romance between the pretty daughter of a spectacle maker and an errant adventurer. Connected to this rigmarole is Mrs Lovett’s pie shop selling meat pies so aromatic in fragrance and delicious in taste that people cannot help their mouths watering in expectation.
These random little details are connected in the most peculiar way, one will discover when they read the book. It is fairly easy to put two and two together about the meat pies but the mystery about Mark Ingestrie, the owner of the string of pearls, makes it worth reading.
If you would like to read the original penny dreadful, you can enjoy it here at the Victorian Dictionary compiled by Lee Jackson.