This essay will seek to explore how far literature of the time subscribes to the view in The Beggar’s Opera – ‘O London is a Fine Town’. In order to do this, the essay will examine ‘London’ by William Blake, ‘Tintern Abbey’ and ‘Composed upon Westmisnster bridge by Wordsworth and Oliver Twist by Dickens.
The Beggar’s Opera was written in 1728 and is considered to be ‘the most complete statement of Gay’s attitude toward the town and its evils.’ The play begins with the introduction to the character of the Beggar as he announces to his audience: ‘I own myself of the Company of the Beggars; and I make one at their weekly festivals at St Giles.’ The character makes it clear he belongs to a group of beggars who reside in the area of St Giles, London. By opening the play with the discussion of poverty, Gay is able to manifest the idea of London being a disturbing place within 18th century England. Sven M. Armens has argued that ‘in The Beggar’s Opera, much of this gloom can be traced to a sense that a severe economic injustice is being perpetrated against the poor man, both as artist and beggar.’ Gay ardently presents the 18th century London streets as riddled with poverty and divided into class distinctions. By placing this idea at the start of the play, Gay is able to give his audience a sense of what to expect in the play as well as from the 18th century city.
‘London’, by William Blake was published in 1794 against the backdrop of the French Revolution, which swept upon the shores of Britain a feeling of social anxiety. The poem is written in first person narrative and gives an account of observations made by the speaker from his time in London.
Blake illustrates an image of the city as corrupt with poverty, illness and sin - allowing both contemporary and modern readers of the poem to create an image of a sombre and shady city. Heather Glen suggested that ‘the world of London debate and dissent, of real controversy and real suffering, of real passing people on the streets.’ This argument which Glen proposes is heavily supported in the poem, especially within Stanza Four: ‘How the youthful harlot’s curse blasts the new-born infant’s tear, and blights with plagues the marriage hearse.’ it is evident that Blake aspires to create images of prostitution and adultery as somewhat, normal occurrences on the streets of London. Not only does he provide his reader with an idea of the streets being a haven for sinful activity and crime but he also states that this has a powerful and evil effect on children. Through this, Blake has the ability to demonstrate how 18th century London has the ability to disturb a child’s innocence and destroy the holy sacrament that is marriage.
Blake paints a vivid picture of the city as a place of loneliness and isolation, a feature not unbeknown to the writers of London. He is able to achieve this by using literary techniques, such as repetition, to reinforce the feeling of alienation. Blake places his speaker in the...