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The story of Jack Shepphard, as told by Christopher Hibbert, is incredibly sad. I'm nearing the end of it now and I don't really want to keep reading.

By my standards, he was a young kid. Okay, a young adult. But he had no chance in that world, public notoriety before his inevitable death was the only good thing he could get from life.

This was a society that hung children for petty theft, that had people starve to death in its prisons. Where child prostitution didn't exist only because there were no children: "women" awaiting execution could get a reprieve if they were with child - but this could only happen if they were old enough to conceive. Hibbert points out that people could, and did, make honest livings, but also that failure to do so was horribly easy, and rehabilation was impossible if you weren't wealthy.

Death by cheap and nasty alcohol. Death by violence. Death by disease, malnutrition. Death by government order.

He had more smarts than his contemporaries, but when he legged it to the country, he only ever stayed a few days because the world was only as big as the town of London, and that town was not yet big enough for him to find another safe space within it.

So in a few pages he will die. He could survive by naming an accomplice but he won't - loyalty being something worth dying for. The crowd of London are singing songs about him, and the injustice and corruption of their society isn't lost on the balladeers, but what can they do except sing?


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 28th, 2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
Call me cynical, but this "people could, and did, make honest livings, but it's also the case that failure to do so was horribly easy, and rehabilitation was impossible if you weren't wealthy" sounds a lot like the US today.
Oct. 29th, 2012 06:57 am (UTC)
You are not being cynical. There's a reason social history is so valuable (yes, this is a fictional account, but peppered with facts about daily life in C18 London).

It helps end snobbery. It's so easy to dehumanise others. Yet when I read this I have to face the fact that a chunk of my ancestors almost certainly experienced this - on both sides of the economic divide. I am who I am because things got better. They got better because of social reformers - and the radicals standing in the shadows should they fail.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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