NOTES ON ISSUE 3: HISTORICAL GLOSSARY
PART 2 OF 3
one of the many small streets for which the favourite undertaker (who turned a handsome sum out of the one poor ghastly pomp of the neighbourhood) kept a black ladder, in order that those who had done their daily groping up and down the narrow stairs might slide out of this working world by the windows.
Working-class lodgings were often so tightly packed against each other, and so small inside, that undertakers had to use a ladder to remove the dead. An example of such housing in Manchester appears in a photograph of old houses from Manchester As It Is (1878):
A creature so foul to look at, in her tatters, stains and splashes, but so much fouler than that in her moral infamy, that it was a shameful thing even to see her.
Dickens is here implying that not only is Stephen's wife a drunkard (in itself shameful) but that she is probably sexually immoral as well. In Victorian fiction, women who are adulterous or otherwise sexually transgressive are often described as marked by their "moral infamy."
Mrs. Sparsit netting at the fire-side…
Netting was a form of needlecraft, popular among Victorian ladies, that used linen, cotton, or silk thread to weave mesh purses as well as mesh decorations for handkerchiefs and similar articles. The "cotton stirrup" was used to hold the proper tension for making knots. Dickens surely intends us to see a sharp contrast between Mrs. Sparsit's netting as a leisure pursuit and Stephen's hard, unremitting labor of weaving at the mill. Note that Mrs. Sparsit carries on her hobby instead of taking lunch, as a sign of gentility, while Stephen must forgo his lunch during his one break simply in order to have time to speak to his employer.
These examples of finished netting are from The Young Ladies' Journal Complete Guide to the
turtle soup and venison
These were luxurious dishes available only to the wealthy. They
were often served at banquets or official functions. Mrs.
Beeton's Book of Household Management notes that "[a]s an
article of luxury, the turtle has only come into fashion within
the last 100 years, and some hundreds of tureens of turtle soup
are served annually at the lord mayor's dinner in Guildhall."
The book further discusses the cost of turtle soup:
This is the most expensive soup brought to table. It is sold by the quart,—one guinea being the standard price for that quantity. The price of live turtle ranges from 8d. to 2s. per lb., according to supply and demand. When live turtle is dear, many cooks use the tinned turtle, which is killed when caught, and preserved by being put in hermetically-sealed canisters, and so sent over to England. The cost of a tin, containing 2 quarts, or 4 lbs., is about £2, and for a small one, containing the green fat, 7s. 6d. From these about 6 quarts of good soup may be made.
In a recipe for Roast Haunch of Venison, the book notes the cost of venison as ranging from 1s. 4d. to 1s. 6d. per lb.
long and dree
"Dree" is Lancashire dialect for "tedious." Dickens uses some dialect in Stephen's speech, but unlike his contemporary Elizabeth Gaskell—who lived in Manchester and made a careful study of speech habits and dialect among the working class of the region—he did not aim for comprehensive accuracy. (Gaskell's husband, the Reverend William Gaskell, wrote Two Lectures on the Lancashire Dialect, which Dickens read during the serialization of Hard Times, but after the bulk of its composition was completed.) Dickens owned Bobbin's View of the Lancashire Dialect in an 1818 edition, and used its glossary in writing Hard Times. Dickens uses dialect speech as a clear marker of class, but in many cases he chose clarity over accuracy, aiming for a wide audience. For instance, Stephen uses "she" to refer to his wife, but the word used in Lancashire dialect—which Dickens would certainly have known—is "hoo."