Sunday, November 02, 2014

Jemmy Downes's Irish wife

Alton Locke continues his journey from the Dean's castle, probably in Lincoln or Peterborough to Covent Garden where we are introduced to another character, a villain. An Irish lady trying to convince him to re-join a 'sweater's den'. I would really wonder how many other 19th Century novels would include an Irish character. I don't really mind that she is trying to trick Locke. Kingsley is very clever to give her a complete sympathetic overview.

She recognises Locke as a tailor according to his gait. I'm not sure about this but I am fairly sure tailors worked cross-legged. She then gives a marvellous speech to him to convince him to join her:

“Och then, it's I can show ye the flower o' work, I can. Bedad, there's a shop I know of where ye'll earn – bedad, if ye're the ninth part of a man, let alone a handy young fellow like the looks of you – och, ye'll earn thirty shillings the week, in the very least – an' beautiful lodgings; - och thin, just come and see 'em – as chape as mother's milk! Come along thin – och, it's the beauty ye are – just the nate figure for a tailor.”

Jemmy Downes worked with Locke until the owner died and the owner's son decides to close the shop and let all the workers work from home. He then opens up competition so that only the worker who promises the lowest price will get the work. Unfortunately his wife was pregnant and he had no choice but to open up his own sweat shop – and a dire dungeon it turns out to be. If anyone is the villain it is Jemmy, not his wife. As a Belfastman myself I can still hear the Irish lilt in her voice but 'bedad' is a complete unknown to me, this would obviously be a gem of a book for a linguistic detective.

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