Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Maypole Inn

Maypole Inn. Old building near the real English village of Chigwell, twelve miles northeast of London. It is believed to be based on an actual Chigwell inn, the King’s Head, that Charles Dickens liked to visit. However, Dickens gave it the name of another inn found in the neighboring village of Chigwell Row. The inn is the site of a homelike little community in which the innkeeper, John Willett, enjoys the company of his regular customers. Its bar is a snug, cozy place, and fragrant odors emanating from its kitchen, along with the pleasant hum of voices and warm glow of the fireplace in its common room, make it a tempting refuge from stormy weather for Gabriel Varden, the traveling locksmith. When participants in the Gordon Riots attack the inn, the damage they cause seems to be a desecration of an almost sacred place.

However, the inn also has gloomy stables and grotesque carvings. Its timbers are decaying, and its bricks have become yellow and discolored. Homelike though it may seem at times, the Maypole is actually no longer a home but a commercial establishment, and its convivial community is repeatedly disrupted by antagonism between John Willett and his son Joe. The complex world of the Maypole reflects the larger world of England in being both flawed and enticing. Its attempted destruction, however, is clearly portrayed as a horrifying crime.

*London

*London. Like his portrayal of Maypole Inn, Dickens’s portrayal of London is contradictory. His first description of it comes after a scene in which the Maypole’s appealing aspects are emphasized. In contrast, London is described as a dark shadow and a labyrinth, lit by its own lights rather than Heaven’s. It is as if this urban world is less wholesome and blessed than the rural world of the Maypole.

Praise of the rural world and Nature, in contrast to the city, continues a few pages later, but this time the picture is...

(The entire section is 805 words.)