Blanchard Jerrold and Gustave Doré, London: A Pilgrimage (London: Anthem Press, 2005), 223 pp.; ISBN: 1843311933
Anthem Press's reprint of Jerrold and Doré's marvellous London: A Pilgrimage puts within reach of the pockets of most academics and students a work that has long been used by lecturers to sparkle-up their talks on Victorian London. Doré's wonderful engravings of the whole range of London's cultural life provide an artist's insight into the sense and feel of the period, an imaginative rendering of the Victorian urban landscape suffused with a poetry that images from publications like the Illustrated London News simply do not convey. Many of the images are thoroughly familiar to us now: 'Bishopgates Street', the congested 'Ludgate Hill', the eerie 'Hayboats on the Thames', scenes of the docks and the bridges on the river, which seem to have fascinated the artist, and of course the depictions of the dwellings of the poor in what can only be described as "visions" such as 'Over London - By Rail', 'Hounsditch', 'Bluegate Fields', 'Dudley Street, seven Dials, 'Asleep Under the Stars', and 'Found in the Street'. Only 175 of the 180 illustrations are included in the volume, for some inexplicable reason, and a significant omission is Macaulay's New Zealander from the end of the volume (even referred to in Ackroyd's short introduction). However, for those wanting a good quality paperback, with good clear images, this is a useful purchase.
The famous illustrations are contextualised and made more interesting when viewed in the pages of the complete work. The parks, the churches, the boat races on the Thames, and the horse races on the downs all feature too: drawn with the people very much in the focus and foreground. A chapter on 'With the Beasts' which depicts wealthy ladies at the zoo is juxtaposed with chapters on 'Work-a-day London' and 'Humble Industries' and develops a theme of contracts in the book that add a dream-scape quality to several of the prints. 'The Rag Merchant's Home', for example, looks like something from a Victorian fairy story, with its long-bearded merchant, heap and hangings of liquid rags, and jumbled pile of ragged children, all surmounted by a chubby whiskered cat. What humour there is in Doré's illustrations is understated and sardonic. Although Ackroyd notes that Jerrold approached Doré with a view to a publication like Rowlandson's The Microcosm of London, what emerged was nothing like the satirical cartoons of the Regency satirist. Doré has a knack of even making innocuous leasure scenes like 'A Chiswick Fete' and 'Under the Trees - Regent's Park' look spectral and ghoulish. But that is the interest of London: A Pilgrimage. A dark portrait of an Infernal Babylon comes to symbolise a modern version of the city that illustrated the anxieties of the Victorians. Jerrold's text lacks the inventiveness of Doré's images, but is worth reading nevertheless. He repeats many of the middle-class commonplaces about the city: the proximity of the rich and poor, the 'West End Londoner' who finds himself 'in a strange land', and sprinkles his text with references to Dickens, Thackeray, Hook, Macaulay, and the major figures of the early Victorian period. he can also be conscious of the effect of his own presence on those to whom 'we were...as strange and amusing as Chinamen', and, as he acknowledges, 'we were spies upon them.'
Reprints of the illustrations from London: A Pilgrimage are available from other publishers, notably a Dover reprint from 2004, but this volume is welcome too, and it is to be hoped that more students will find their studies of the Victorian period enlivened and their curiosities intrigued by this interesting little volume.
Richard Pearson (University of Worcester)
For more details, see the Anthem Press website.