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14 Aug

Chapter XX

Dickens had not changed much. In common with MacBeth he was possessed of a vaulting ambition, and although by nature still taciturn, he remained remarkably confident in his own talent. I envied his self-assurance. However well I was doing, I never felt the like, and was confident only in the coming of the next personal catastrophe. I learned later that he was not so different regarding many areas of his life, only he hid it better than I; but in his own faith in his abilities as a writer he was always supremely secure, and with good reason. He really was quite brilliant. I suppose I should have viewed him as a rival, but I was doing...
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19 Jun

Chapter XII

Chapter 12 - Rat
In addition to reformers and evangelisers, another species from the outside well known to us was the tourist; dandies in the underworld who treated a visit to Bedlam, Newgate, or the Marshalsea as a social occasion. Sometimes they would even turn up with hampers and make a day of it. And if prisoners were willing to be observed in their natural habitat then boons might be bestowed upon them, in the form of food, drink or money. My dad was apt to indulge the voyeuristic swine for the latter reason, playing the Father of the Marshalsea and then leaving it to their honour to tip him for an audience. If food were offered I would take it and...
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12 Jun

Chapter XI

Chapter 11 Prison
The buildings and courtyard of the Marshalsea had a much more pleasant aspect than usual the morning after the first night I spent in the bed of Flashy Nanse. Even though I had not slept, my senses seemed strangely acute as I quit her room and walked softly into the frozen dawn. I had left my lover sleeping heavily, and had taken leave of her soft warm body only by a tremendous effort of will, based upon duty to my sister, my promise to David, and my fear of being surprised in Nanse’s bed by Bill, the man I took to be her husband. Despite the latter trepidation, I left in a state of elation that I...
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5 Jun

Chapter X

Chapter 10 - Medium
I had now run out of pirates. Bill had not been forthcoming with any other books or broadsheets, and there was not a single line of print to be found anywhere in the damn prison. It seemed to me that my father and I were the only literate occupants of the entire place, but between us we had but one book. I lobbied the turnkey for literature, and he promised me that he would see what he could do, as long as I could pay him up front, which just then I could not. I was desperate not to lose my spot in the snuggery on Sundays, for this seemed to me the most likely path to...
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22 May

Chapter VIII

Chapter 8 Prison
I was barely fourteen years old when my father and I were arrested for the crime of destitution. The long walk to London had enfeebled us to the point of near insensibility, and that we found my uncle’s house at all was close to miraculous, just as inebriates often seem to be guided safely to their beds by angels, having subsequently no memory of the journey. There our luck had ended. We were received at the side entrance like particularly poor applicants for a vacancy below stairs. A vinegar-lipped housekeeper bade us wait for the master in the kitchen, but it was not my uncle who came but the traps. We were carried to the Sponging-house immediately,...
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17 Apr

Chapter III

Chapter 3 - Mermaids
To the main, I preferred the company of the lower ranks to that of their officers, although in truth I fit no better with the former than the latter. Like the ship, I was an awkward hybrid: too educated to feel comfortable with most working men, yet lacking the breeding to move freely among the so-called upper classes, despite wasting several years in a foolish and ultimately disastrous attempt to do so when I was young. I had more recently come to understand that my place in the world was with my family. I rather liked Lakeman, the condottiere. He was of my kind, although he would likely not have admitted this, being considerably richer than I (though...
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