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Mad Bulls and Dead Meat: Smithfield Market as Reality and Symbol

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Abstract:

This essay examines the richly symbolic space of Smithfield Market, and the related issue of the “mad bulls” that escaped from the drovers who were headed into and out of the market. Located at the very “heart” of London, Smithfield and its livestock represented a major obstruction in the way of arterial flow, the movement of traffic and goods through the streets, which signaled a healthy and well-functioning modern city. Its centrality—the fact that it was located very near the Bank of England and Lombard Street, as well as St. Bartholomew's Hospital, Newgate Prison, Christ's Hospital, and much else—also literalized a different metaphor, one of infection. The market was thought to produce tainted air and unwholesome meat, which was believed to cause a number of diseases, including cholera. As used by Dickens, Smithfield Market functions as a liminal space, and signals a transition into unfamiliar territory. The cacophony and confusion of Smithfield—brought to visibility by the problem of the mad bulls—also underscored its irredeemably public nature, and remind us that this was very much an unrestrained and pre-modern world, a world of beasts and human brutes.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7756/dsa.041.002.25-44

Publication date: June 1, 2010

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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