Saturday, 11 February 2012

A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison

Look at any map or Atlas of the Victorian era and you will not find The Jago. However, every large city and town and even some smaller towns throughout Britain had their own Jago, an area of streets for which the word "mean" really comes nowhere near descriptive enough.

The Jago of Arthur Morrison in his work A Child of the Jago is based very closely on the worst part of the East End of London.

His description of the hovels the people of the East end occupied, of the filth, the dirt and the squalor are very well realised.

There are certain little facts that he salts his novel with that make its reading even more compelling. For example, did you know that people residing in slum areas such as the Jago often had to keep a light on all night, to ensure that their sleep was not disturbed by being attacked by rats?

Morrison tells the tale of young Dicky Perrott, who is the child of the Jago. His mother reminds him that they are not like the other people of The Jago, although when his father returns home with a cosh covered in the blood and hair of a victim of a coshing robbery, the reader is forced to conclude that perhaps she is not really even fooling herself. Street robberies and urders punctuate the book like grimy comas.

Dicky knows what he wants out of life. He wants to become a leading criminal, in the parlance of the area, a High Mobsman.

But due to the herculean efforts of Father Sturt, it eventually becomes clear to Dicky that perhaps there is another way? Another path that might not lead him ever downwards to the prison cell or even the gallows? Or worse?

Some novels that told of the life of the Victorian working classes were sentimental and mawkish. This novel, however, is not. Its attention to detail and its realism set it high above novels by Morrisons well-meaning but lesser fellow contemporaries.

Although Morrison gives a warts and all description of what was the worst part of the East End of London, a place where even some criminals would fear to visit, let alone the police officers who would only ever visit it in threes, he also showed that the denizens were capable of normal acts of human kindness. One example of this is the obvious love that Dicky Perrott showed to his baby sister, early in the novel.

This edition caries a very good introduction which gives a background to the area upon which The Jago is based. It also provides as much biographical detail of the author as is to hand. Which is not much. Morrison was an extremely private man whose desire for privacy seemed deep-rooted. He felt that he had enemies who would use information from his past against him.

The book also contains a very helpful glossary of terms used in the book.

The Appendix also includes a chapter on Morrison and his Critics, 

It is published by the Oxford University Press in paperback at £8.99 and is available via the That's Books bookshop and all good bookshops.

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