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Dust Piles and Damp Pavements Excrement, Repression, and the Victorian City in Photography and Literature
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Dust Piles and Damp Pavements
Excrement, Repression, and the Victorian City in previous hit Photography next hit and Literature

Ellen Handy

As both liquid and solid waste accumulated at a remarkable rate in Victorian cities and posed urgent problems of disposal, anxieties about (and fascinations with) excrement took various forms of expression in both life and art. The excretory process and its products were as unmentionable in most social contexts as they were inescapable. How then could they be figured in a novel or in a series of photographs? In both its naming and visual imagery, prose adopts strategies for evading and transforming waste different from those available to previous hit photography next hit, which possesses a directly indexical relation to the world it represents. How are previous hit photography's next hit and fiction's evasions of—and preoccupations with—excreta and urban sanitation both imaged and concealed? And how do the antithetical categories of wet and dry operate in these representations?

Lytton Strachey, in his memoir of the childhood home he first knew in 1884 (69 Lancaster Gate, London), described its late-Victorian sanitary facilities:

The one and only bathroom was . . . perched, with its lavatory, in an impossible location between the drawing room and the lowest bedroom floors—a kind of crow's nest—to reach which, one had to run the gauntlet of stairs innumerable, and whose noises of rushing water were all too audible from the drawing room just below.[1]

The eminently Victorian position of this lavatory was all too proximate to the drawing room, but unspeakable to anyone lacking the naughty desire to reject convention that actuated Strachey and his Bloomsbury cronies. This passage serves well to locate the social position of the very


topic of excrement in polite society, yet a great distance lies between the bourgeois Stracheys' lavatory and the squalid arrangements of the urban poor. The historian F. B. Smith, writing of the outskirts of early-nineteenth-century London, noted that

one of the great divisions between the respectable and the unrespectable was where and how one relieved oneself. . . . Only the very respectable had an earth-closet or a midden. The rest just relieved themselves in the fields, while "the back streets, courts and other eligible places are constantly found strewed with human excrements."[2]

Although to the Victorian social crusader such behavior was mentionable, it was not so to the novelist or photographer. Both Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend and Thomas Annan's Photographs of Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow brought imagery of human waste dangerously near to the drawing room, but only by employing evasive strategies. Much recent work in Victorian social history reminds us how omnipresent this subject matter must sometimes have seemed. Anthony Wohl has written pungently that "by mid-century Victorian England was in danger of becoming submerged in a huge dung heap of its own making. . . . To stand close to a defective sewer today is to recapture the essence of early- and mid-Victorian towns."[3]

These "towns" were all characterized by growing slum areas, which, like lavatories in middle- and upper-class consciousness, were not always acknowledged or apparent but were always threatening to obtrude themselves upon public or polite notice. Engels noted in The Condition of the Working Class in England that

Every great town has one or more slum areas into which the working classes are packed. Sometimes, of course, poverty is to be found hidden away in alleys close to the stately homes of the wealthy. Generally, however, the workers are segregated in separate districts where they struggle through life as best they can out of sight of the more fortunate classes of society. The slums of the English towns have much in common. . . . [The streets] are filthy and strewn with animal and vegetable refuse. Since they have neither gutters nor drains the refuse accumulates in stagnant, stinking puddles.[4]

Edwin Chadwick's Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain confirmed, with a plethora of description, that the filthy culs-de-sac of British slums greatly resembled each other in their overcrowding and proliferation of infectious diseases.[5] But the stinking puddles and animal refuse of those slums were seldom, if ever, apparent in literary or visual artistic representations.

Freud, writing on repression in 1915 and employing an image redo-


lent of the compost heap, noted that desire develops "in a more unchecked and luxuriant fashion if it is withdrawn by repression from conscious influence. It ramifies like a fungus, so to speak, in the dark and takes on extreme forms of expression."[6] John Kucich has argued that Dickens's notoriously divided sensibilities evidence, not repression and unresolved conflicts, but "a coherent strategy of representation," a deliberate employment of the fungal ramification Freud mentions.[7] Kucich's theme is Dickens's repression of violence, not of excretory functions, but his presentation of repression as other than a silencing of proscribed desire is valuable in addressing different and larger questions, including the functions of repression in visual representation. Pictorial and narrative strategies necessarily differ, but there are important parallels between Dickens's and Annan's treatments of the presence of excrement in the city.

From 1868 to about 1871 Thomas Annan (1829–1887) photographed in the slums of Glasgow, which was then the most overcrowded city in Europe, and consequently renowned for its epidemics and the appalling state of its slums. Chadwick, among other observers, noted that the conditions in Glasgow were "the worst of any . . . in . . . Great Britain."[8] Irish and other immigrant workers lived in elaborately subdivided tenements, most dating from the seventeenth century, packed together in the heart of old Glasgow in the parish of St. Mary Tron. An 1843 article in the Artizan described the area

south of the Triangle and west of the Saltmarket, as well as in the Calton, off the High-Street, etc.—endless labyrinths of narrow lanes or wynds, into which at almost every step debouche courts or closes formed by old, ill-ventilated, towering houses crumbling to decay, destitute of water and crowded with inhabitants, comprising three or four families (perhaps twenty persons) on each flat, and sometimes each flat let out in lodgings that confine—we dare not say accommodate—from fifteen to twenty persons in a single room.[9]

These dangerous and insalubrious slums were to be torn down by authority of the Glasgow City Improvement Act of 1866, which provided for demolitions in the old city to make way for new "dwelling houses for the mechanics, labourers, and other persons of the working and lower classes"—the first municipal renewal project in Great Britain.[10] The work was initiated by John Blackie, lord provost of Glasgow, and demolitions began in 1868, despite Blackie's removal from office by a newly enfranchised electorate disappointed by the heavy tax burden this ameliorative project entailed.[11] This slum clearance had various motivations. The frequency of cholera epidemics was to be reduced by eliminating


the overcrowding that breeds contagion, and a pure water supply was piped from Loch Katrine to the area. But there were commercial as well as public health concerns, such as the building of large metropolitan railway terminals, which necessitated the incursion of the train lines into the center city.[12]

Annan was commissioned by the city officers responsible for implementing these improvements to document the slums before their destruction. A successful commercial photographer specializing in architecture, he had begun his career as a copperplate engraver, took up calotype previous hit photography next hit in 1855, soon switched to the glass negative technique, and subsequently made a point of learning new processes as they were developed. The cumbersome glass plates he used as negatives for most of his photographic work had to be processed immediately on location, and he converted a hansom cab to serve as his portable darkroom when he photographed country houses, church windows, or the closes. Annan's glass negatives required as much light as possible and long exposures by today's standards. He was unable to photograph indoors, and practical flash lighting for previous hit photography next hit had not yet been invented.

Parallels exist between Annan's work and that of Charles Marville (1816–1879), who photographed for more than twenty years in Paris under the jurisdiction of the Baron Haussmann, who was systematically transforming Paris into a modern city of uninterrupted mobility for both military maneuvers and civilian traffic. A whole constellation of grand Imperial projects was documented by official photographers to create imperial propaganda as well as a historical record of this period. Marville photographed before, during, and after the razing of insalubrious slums and the building of broad new boulevards in their stead. Maria Morris Hambourg has written that Marville was "very much Haussmann's man, quite in sympathy with the rigorous, relentless logic of the prefect's plan."[13] But whose "man" was Annan, what was being documented by his photographs, and by whom were they meant to be seen?

Although a public civic commission, Annan's work was seen by a relatively limited audience. Unlike Dickens, whose fictions had a genuine mass audience, Annan worked for the record rather than for a public. In 1871 an edition of perhaps fourteen copies of Annan's suite of photographs was privately published, and in 1877 each trustee of the Glasgow City Improvement Acts received a personal copy of the pictures they had commissioned. Other copies were distributed to libraries and civic bodies in Glasgow and elsewhere. Final editions appeared in 1900, with the addition of historical text. The high cost of photographic


publishing made these albums (in which each plate is an original photographic print) more suitable for institutional collections than for the parlor tables of middle-class homes. And though the buildings being destroyed were judged architecturally distinguished enough to merit recording before their disappearance, it is unlikely that public interest in their pictorial record would have been widespread. The British archives were much less comprehensive than those of the French, and these pictures were exhibited to the public only once, at the Kelvingrove Park Museum.[14]

Much that was observed by the reformers who visited these slums with pen in hand eluded Annan's camera. His pictures repeatedly depict the approaches to the closes, or interior courtyards of tenements, eloquently conveying the sodden dankness of the wretched area. Close, No. 61 Saltmarket (Fig. 42) is one of the starkest of Annan's photographs. In it, a dead-end alley culminates in an ominous rectangle of darkest black that offers no real escape from the narrow space whose walls rise up abruptly out of the frame. The very bricks of these walls seem permeated by unwholesome moisture, and puddled liquid is prominent in the foreground. Chadwick quoted a local source's description of passages like these:

We entered a dirty low passage like a house door, which led from the street through the first house to a square court immediately behind, which court, with the exception of a narrow path around it leading to another long passage through a second house, was occupied entirely as a dung receptacle of the most disgusting kind. Beyond this court the second passage led to a second square court, occupied in the same way by its dunghill; and from this court there was yet a third passage leading to a third court and a third dungheap. There were no privies or drains there, and the dungheap received all the filth which the swarm of wretched inhabitants could give; and we learned that a considerable part of the rent of the houses was paid by the produce of the dungheaps. Thus, worse off than wild animals, many of which withdraw to a distance and conceal their ordure, the dwellers in these courts had converted their shame into a kind of money by which their lodging was to be paid.[15]

Closes, Nos. 97 and 103 Saltmarket (Fig. 43) depicts one of the courtyards between buildings secluded from the streets that are described in the quotation. But the dung heap is emphatically absent. In Close, No. 31 Saltmarket (Fig. 44), a more typical image, a man leans against a wall as it curves toward a hidden vanishing point. One of Engels's "stinking, stagnant puddles" is just behind him.

In selecting subjects for photographs, Annan invariably evaded the


contagion-breeding muckheaps. His images normally emphasize the narrow, recessive, and distinctly uninviting passages (called wynds) leading to the closes rather than those courts themselves. The resulting compositional formula was visually striking, but insufficiently so to explain the frequency of its occurrence in Annan's oeuvre. The closes themselves were the more characteristic architectural elements, and in their broader spaces the light necessary for photographic exposure would have been more plentiful. Their absence from the photographic series suggests deliberate evasion. It is difficult to draw conclusions without knowing the specific instructions Annan received from the trustees of the City Improvement Acts. While the courts and dung heaps were the main preoccupation of the makers of the written records of Old Glasgow, Annan may have considered that his own medium would render excrement too vividly for decorum. previous hit Photography next hit, in its short history, had not yet developed its own hierarchy of pictorial subjects and values, but those of Academic painting were freely appropriated and applied by photographers. previous hit Photography next hit was already being skillfully used as a medium of propaganda and selective concealment rather than as an instrument of purest objectivity, as the carefully edited photographic record of the Crimean War demonstrates. Like any medium of representation, previous hit photography next hit could deny circumstance and bowdlerize unpleasant reality; indeed, its inherent accuracy and detail of rendering provided even more motive for so doing.

Historians of previous hit photography next hit have argued whether Annan's pictures are artistic productions or the precursors of the socially engaged documentary previous hit photography next hit practiced by Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, and others in the United States from the 1890s to the 1920S. Margaret Harker, trying to establish Annan as an appealing auteur, wrote of his work that "Individual prints, when carefully matted, are very attractive indeed, especially of those subjects which have a natural pictorial quality, and where the human wretchedness is not so obvious."[16] Presumably she prefers the drier views. A more astute reader of these photographs, Julie Lawson, described Annan as struggling with an ethical dilemma as he photographed the closes, seeking "a way of seeing in which morality did not become enmeshed with accusation, and formalism was not the threshold to indifference."[17] Surely, however, these words describe the earnest struggles of late-twentieth-century viewers to assimilate the photographs to history rather than the issues confronting Annan in the slums as he worked.

In preference to the dung heaps, Annan's photographs emphasize details like the primitive outdoor sinks (mandated by an earlier sanitary


reform) attached to many of the buildings for rudimentary washing, especially of clothing. Such a sink is visible affixed to the wall at the right in Close, No. 80 High Street (Fig. 45).[18] Recently laundered garments of varying kinds are strung on what look like flagpoles above the narrow alley. Lawson suggests that the inclusion of laundry in many of Annan's photographs is meant to redeem the reputation of the poor, who were often stigmatized as dirty,[19] and she may be right. But the spatterings of wetness in the gutter and the foreground is as likely to have come from urine poured into the sink to drain into the gutter as from futile attempts at cleanliness. As one account grimly noted:

In our opinion, the privy (a public facility in the back yard) is in no case a sufficient provision for flatted tenements. It is never used, and the result is that every sink is practically a water closet, and the stairs and the courts and roofs of outhouses are littered with deposits of filth from windows.[20]

Contagion and filth are thus evoked through liquid waste rather than the omnipresent but unacknowledged solid wastes. Annan must have taken great pains to avoid including the dunghills in some of his compositions; I imagine him doing so by actually standing against one, turning his back to it, perhaps with the legs of his large camera's tripod balanced on its lower slopes. How else could he have photographed in those narrow confines without showing the dung heaps? This hypothetical scene is an emblem of the repression operating in both Annan's and Dickens's work: the unmentionable, undepictable subject is inescapable at close quarters. A report of 1839 (quoted by Engels) said of the dung heaps in the closes of Glasgow that "No one seems to have taken the trouble to clean out these Augean stables, this pandemonium, this nucleus of crime, filth and pestilence in the second city of the empire."[21] It is unlikely that such a Herculean cleansing was undertaken solely for the sake of Annan's photographic activity. It is just possible, however, that his photographing was timed to occur immediately before the demolition began, and that the owners of the mountainous dung heaps had evacuated them beforehand. Such literal means were necessary to shape camera images of the closes, while the novelist had relatively more flexibility in representing unacceptable subjects.

An unwholesome seeping moisture of unspecific origins is prevalent in Annan's pictures, a kind of surrogate for what is not shown. In Close, No. 128 Saltmarket (Fig. 46) the moisture gleams about halfway back into the represented space, just beyond the rickety exterior staircase descending at the right. The liquid streams through the gutter along the righthand side of the picture, advancing toward the foreground and con-


trasting with the rigid and static architectural forms that close and govern the composition. Although Dickens portrayed London as awash in a flood of filth and miasmic exhalations, his rendering of excrement differed from Annan's by denying the dampness of the substance. No insinuating trickles moisten Dickens's towering piles of dry mounded "dust."

Charles Dickens published Our Mutual Friend in parts between May 1864 and November 1865, only a few years before Annan's photographic work in the closes of Glasgow. The novel's scope encompasses many quarters of London as well as the Thames-side and northern slums and waste grounds, while Annan's study was restricted to a single district. Dickens sketched the degrading effects of wealth in different guises; prominent among his motifs is that of the dustheaps (and, even more grotesque, the corpses of the drowned) as a source of prosperity. Dickens represents the entire city as a functioning organism; in the hidden, dangerous world of the closes Annan suggests a cancer within that organism. Catherine Gallagher has described how in Victorian society "the body came to occupy the center of a social discourse obsessed with sanitation, with minimizing bodily contact and preventing the now alarmingly traversable boundaries of individual bodies as either valuable or problematic."[22] The emergence of excrement from bodies; its concealment in chamber pots, privies, and sewers; and its possible failure to remain suppressed—all were the sources of anxiety and fascination pertaining to the social, urban body as much as to an individual one.

For Annan, waste (like darkness) was an attribute of poverty while for Dickens, whose ironic, less literal, vision preferred symbols to simple exemplars, waste was equated with money. In each case, evil was presumed; Dickens's plot works to establish the corrupting potential of wealth, whereas Annan's photographs depict the unhygienic degradation of poverty. Yet neither referred directly to the principal elements of the waste Dickens so euphemistically called "dust," that is, the human and animal excrement that threatened to overwhelm the densely populated cities where the poor lived close packed like animals in slaughter yards, and where armies of horses provided transportation while contributing to the filth in the streets. By around 1850 those horses deposited approximately twenty thousand tons of manure in the streets of London per annum.[23] Indeed, it is estimated that six hundred horses were employed in the dust- and night-soil-collection business alone![24] Jane Jacobs, in her classic study The Death and Life of Great American Cities, quotes from an essay by H. B. Cresswell, an architect, that recalled London in 1890:


But the mud! And the noise! And the smell! All these blemishes were [the] mark of [the] horse. . . . The whole of London's crowded wheeled traffic—which in parts of the City was at times dense beyond movement—was dependent on the horse: lorry, wagon, bus, hansom and "growler," and coaches and carriages and private vehicles of all kinds, were appendages to horses. Meredith refers to the "anticipatory stench of its cabstands" on railway approach to London: but the characteristic aroma—for the nose recognized London with gay excitement—was of stables, which were commonly of three or more storeys with inclined ways zigzagging up the faces of them [their] middens kept the cast iron filigree chandeliers, that glorified the reception rooms of upper and lower middle class homes throughout London, encrusted with dead flies and, in late summer, veiled with jiving clouds of them.[25]

Like the flies around the filigree chandeliers linking horse manure to fashionable receptions, the nuisance of equine by-products in the streets is amusingly insinuated by Dickens into an absurd dinner table conversation in the novel. Mr. Podsnap inquires whether an uncomprehending French visitor has perceived any public evidence of the effects of the British constitution:

"I Was Inquiring . . . Whether You Have Observed in our Streets as We should say, Upon our Pavvy as You would say, any Tokens—"

The foreign gentleman, with patient courtesy, entreated pardon; "But what was tokenz?"

"Marks," said Mr Podsnap; "Signs, you know, Appearances—Traces."

"Ah! Of a Orse?" inquired the foreign gentleman.[26]

Where did the droppings of London's horses go? What happened to human waste, produced in staggering quantity by the constantly growing city? Cesspools and sewers retained, then drained some of this matter, often directly into the Thames, but solid, towering dung heaps also appeared on the outskirts of the city. Our Mutual Friend 's Mr. Boffin, the Golden Dustman, is the inheritor of his former employer's superbly lucrative dust yard, which purveyed "coal-dust, vegetable-dust, bone-dust, crockery dust, rough dust and sifted dust,—all manner of Dust."[27] But few of these varieties (apart from coal dust) would have been plentiful enough to make the dust mountains Dickens describes, and none of them would have been commercially attractive to purchasers. Most of the "dust" bought and sold in Victorian cities was excrement, valuable as a component in agricultural fertilizer. As an 1839 investigation of the Glasgow slums Annan was later to photograph reported, "the centre of the court is the dunghill [of the tenement], which is probably the most lucrative part of the estate to the laird in most instances, and which it


would consequently be deemed an invasion of the rights of property to remove."[28] The peculiar architectural plan of Glasgow, with its warrens of closed courts, led to the sequestration of dung heaps, whereas in London these depositories were more commonly displaced to the outskirts of the city. Dickens was well aware of this, though he presented the mounds of organic filth as "dust" in Our Mutual Friend . In 1851 a description that served as one of the sources for the Boffins' dust yard appeared in Household Words . The region described lies between Battle Bridge and Euston Square:

"It's a rum place, ain't it?" remarked the dustman. "I am forced to come through it twice every day, for my work lays that way; but I wouldn't, if I could help it. It don't much matter in my business, a little dirt, but Hagar Town is worse nor I can abear."

"Are there no sewers?"

"Sooers? Why, the stench of a rainy morning is enough fur to knock down a bullock. It's all very well for them as is lucky enough to have a ditch afore their doors; but, in gen'ral, everybody chucks everythink out in front and there it stays. There used to be an inspector of nuusances, when the choleray was about, but, as soon as the choleray went away, people said they didn't want no more of that suit till such times as the choleray should break out agen.[29]

Henry Mayhew's authoritative account of the life and work of dustmen in London Labour and the London Poor stated that "The dustmen, scavengers, and nightmen are, to a certain extent, the same people."[30] Dustmen collected ashes and household rubbish, scavengers went freelance through the streets and garnered horse droppings and any other lucrative detritus they might come upon, and night-soil men worked under regular contract to remove the accumulated human waste from privies and dung heaps. Thus as many twentieth-century critics have noted, while Dickens wrote that Mr. Boffin's wealth derived from "dust," other substances are certainly implied. In 1941 Humphrey House pioneered open discussion of the "dust" in Our Mutual Friend by writing that "One of the main jobs of a dust-contractor in Victorian London was to collect the contents of the privies and the piles of mixed dung and ashes which were made in the poorer streets; and the term 'dust' was used as a euphemism for decaying human excrement, which was exceedingly valuable as fertilizer."[31] The actual monetary value of the waste so collected has not yet been charted accurately by historians. Chadwick's Report considered whether entrepreneurial waste collection was economically viable:


It might have been expected, from the value of the refuse as manure (one of the most powerful known), that the great demand for it would have afforded a price which might have returned, in some degree, the expense and charge of cleansing. But this appears not to be the case in the metropolis. . . . The cost of removal, or of the labour and cartage, limits the general use or deposit of the refuse within a radius which does not exceed three miles.[32]

Whether or not collection efforts were profitable in practice, however, the belief in the economic value of this waste was widespread. In Can You Forgive Her? (1860–61) Trollope's comic character Mr. Cheese-acre of Oileymeade speaks lovingly of the valuable muckheaps on his property, hoping thereby to induce a lady to accept his suit. And in Orley Farm (1864–65) the young heir to the eponymous property reveals his impractical nature in his desire to pursue two inappropriate careers: philology and scientific farming. In the cause of the latter, he orders ruinously expensive guano from Liverpool rather than sensibly preferring the locally available product. Charles Kingsley's fascination with chemical transformations in Yeast (1850) led to strangely overwrought praise of sewage as "vast stores of wealth, elaborated by Nature's chemistry, into the ready materials of food; which proclaim, too, by their own foul smell, God's will that they should be buried out of sight in the fruitful, all-regenerating grave of earth."[33]

Christopher Hamlin has argued that the chemist Justus von Liebig is the key figure in the Victorian discussion of waste disposal, putrefaction, and decomposition of solid waste.[34] Chadwick, for instance, quoted Liebig to the effect that it was "astounding" how little care was taken to preserve night soil as manure for agricultural use.[35] But many schools of thought concerning issues of sanitation existed. Hamlin cites "A Letter on Sewage" written in 1870 by a visiting American, who

soon found that partisan violence was not confined to republics alone, nor to political parties, nor could theology ever produce bitterer denunciations than were poured out by one party upon another on this subject. If I had not been amused, I should have been indignant at hearing men whose works I have read for a quarter of a century, and thought were men of consummate wisdom, sagacity and coolness, using language worthy of Billingsgate toward an unlucky and persistent supporter of the "earth-closet" idea.[36]

While the larger social questions of sanitation and the chemical processes of organic decay were the subjects of heated and passionate debate, the quotidian reality of excretion and of filth in the cities was drastically less acceptable as a subject of public comment.


Thus Dickens, using evasive, allusive terminology, rendered repellent excrement as euphemistic dust, suggesting at once industrial production and the state to which Christian burial services announce all flesh is to come. Though "dust" was not the usual term for animal and human waste, he seized upon its possibilities. He described the region of the dustheaps (near the present-day St. Pancras Station) as "a tract of suburban Sahara, where tiles and bricks were burnt, bones were boiled, carpets were beat, rubbish was shot, dogs were fought, and dust was heaped by contractors."[37]

While Dickens desiccated humid massy excrement through language, Annan diluted it through pictorial metonymy, indicating the presence of waste in the slums through the slicks of noisome moisture in the foregrounds of his pictures. Both Dickens and Annan transformed the unspeakable matter into other substances, but Dickens did so more simply, through naming. Like Poe's purloined letter, it is always in plain view. Annan, on the other hand, practiced a subtler transformation, because he was unwilling to commit this substance to the camera's only too accurate and unevasive rendering. He could not allow it to appear at center stage in undisguised form. But the real nature of Dickens's "dust" was not always concealed. Not ashy grit but moist effluent, it is emphatically fecal in origin. In a portentous passage, Dickens figured the Boffins as prosperous dung beetles:

And now, in the blooming summer days, behold Mr and Mrs Boffin established in the eminently aristocratic family mansion, and behold all manner of crawling, creeping, fluttering, and buzzing creatures, attracted by the gold dust of the Golden Dustman.[38]

The shit that draws the flies may be solid, but it is also oozing and damp. The Saharan dryness Dickens posits at the beginning of the book gives way by its end to a description of waste that is moist-er, a closer approximation of the liquid filth of Annan's photographs. When the evil Silas Wegg is finally punished by Sloppy, "dust" is revealed as excrement, which makes its first direct appearance in the novel, ostensibly by happenstance:

Mr Sloppy's instructions had been to deposit his burden in the road; but, a scavenger's cart happening to stand unattended at the corner with its little ladder planted against the wheel, Mr S. found it impossible to resist the temptation of shooting Mr Silas Wegg into the cart's contents. A somewhat difficult feat, achieved with great dexterity, and with a prodigious splash.[39]

That splash (an impossible sound for dry dust to make) and the presence of that scavenger's cart confirm Dickens's fascination with the omnipres-


ence of excreta in the Victorian city. Is this the return of the repressed? Or has Dickens evaded the strictures of convention rather than repressed consciousness of the proximity of filth to the society that produces it? He does not remove it from conscious consideration; rather, he constantly draws attention to it. Kucich argues that repression in Dickens is "a rhetorical figure. Far from concealing its operation—as a classically Freudian mechanism of representation would—repression in Dickens actually names itself as repression and details its function, assigning itself a specific set of meanings and values."[40] Dickens's strategy here is in fact visual, while Annan's is metaphoric; the textual description of the dustheaps is as vivid and precise as previous hit photography next hit is customarily reputed to be, while the photographs suggest their subjects by surprisingly indirect and associative means. In an odd episode toward the end of the novel, Lavinia Wilfer and her mother and her suitor travel through the city in a coach. Reproving her mother for her inability to loll comfortably, Lavinia says:

But why one should go out to dine with one's own daughter or sister, as if one's under-petticoat was a blackboard, I do not understand.

"Neither do I understand," retorted Mrs Wilfer, with deep scorn, "how a young lady can mention the garment in the name of which you have indulged. I blush for you." . . .

Here, Mr Sampson, with the view of establishing harmony, which he never under any circumstances succeeded in doing, said with an agreeable smile: "After all, you know, ma'am, we know it's there." And immediately felt that he had committed himself.

"Really, George," remonstrated Miss Lavinia, "I must say that I don't understand your allusions, and that I think you might be more delicate and less personal."[41]

Dickens did not "indulge" in the name of the excrement that pervades Our Mutual Friend as it pervaded London itself, and he did not blush either. Like Miss Lavinia, he was capable of making an allusion that he immediately refuses to acknowledge. But as his narrative rolls like that carriage through the streets of the city, waste splashes, crossing sweepers remove "Traces" of "Orses," and bugs swarm where the stench rises from the manure piles of Battle Bridge.

Annan's photographs, also unblushing but perhaps more ambiguous, depict similarly fetid aspects of a smaller section of a city, lying close by the broad, relatively clean boulevards of commerce and public life. High Street from the College Open (Fig. 47) depicts such a thoroughfare, off which lie many of the wynds and closes pictured in the photographs I have discussed. The broad pavements and modern gas lamps suggest a


clean, well-ordered city. But—exceptionally—in the foreground near the gutter lies a dark irregular mass, perhaps one horse's contribution to the befouling of the city's streets.

Although Ruskin once opined that "a good sewer is far nobler and a far holier thing . . . than the most admired Madonna ever painted," such frankness was unusual outside the sanitary reform movement in Great Britain.[42] In France, the relation of waste, sewage, daily life and art was seen differently. The Paris sewers were among the wonders of Second Empire engineering and were visited by crowds of tourists. Flaubert, whose sleep was sometimes troubled by the nocturnal visits of the cesspool cleaners to his house, nonetheless expressed interest in their operations and recognized a parallel between their work and his own. He wrote to Louise Colet that "The artist must raise everything to a higher level; he is like a pump; inside him is a great pipe reaching down into the bowels of things, the deepest layers. He sucks up what was pooled beneath the surface and brings it forth into the sunlight in giant sprays."[43] To set art and sanitation into relation in this fashion is to reveal a directness unparalleled in the work of Annan or Dickens. Transformed yet present in the foreground of both Our Mutual Friend and Photographs of Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow, excrement is acknowledged as a memento mori emblematic of the human condition and as the inevitable by-product of the healthy functioning of the city, but never as a metaphor for the content of artistic production. The waste accumulated by the city, like that of the individual, was a source of inspiration because of the anxieties it elicited; for Annan as for Dickens, those anxieties become organizing principles of art very different from Flaubert's cathartic spray from the cesspool of the unconscious.


Fig. 42.
Thomas Annan,  Close, No. 61 Saltmarket,  1868–77. Albumen silver print
from glass negative. Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California.


Fig. 43.
Thomas Annan,  Closes, Nos. 97 and 103 Saltmarket,  1868–77. Albumen 
silver print from glass negative. Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California.


Fig. 44.
Thomas Annan,  Close, No. 31 Saltmarket,  1868–77. Albumen silver print 
from glass negative. Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California.


Fig. 45.
Thomas Annan,  Close, No. 80 High Street,  1868–77. Albumen silver
 print from glass negative. Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California.


Fig. 46.
Thomas Annan,  Close, No. 128 Saltmarket,  1868–77. Albumen silver print 
from glass negative. Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California.


Fig. 47.
Thomas Annan,  High Street from the College Open,  1868–77. Albumen silver
 print from glass negative. Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California.


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