Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Three Little Pigs of Victorian London

I was talking with my friend tonight about the various writing I've done over the years and how I have genre-jumped a bit. While I was reviewing some old files, I came across this little gem, which was the product of a novel-writing class I took a few years ago. The idea was for the entire class to present their version of the same story (in this case, The Three Little Pigs), but each person would write it in a different genre. I was assigned historical fiction, and this was the result:

“The Three Little Pigs of Victorian London” – a work of Historical Fiction

Oscar Wolf’s eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted into a pained grimace as he walked through London’s blackened, suffocating streets. The horror of the squalor surrounding him tugged at his very core, aggressive in its absolute need to be recognized. It overwhelmed the senses and unrepentantly squelched even the hardiest shred of hope that might attempt to take root in the cracked and filth pavement. Such a landscape cried out against those in power in tones both strident and unrelenting, and Wolf responded by once more pledging himself to his work. Only anarchy could free the downtrodden of England from the oppression and cruelly inequitable treatment they had endured for so long. He had sworn to become an agent of destruction and to demonstrate with ruthless tenacity how ineffectual and powerless government truly was in the face of the deterioration of the currently established social system.

The worn leather of his boots creaked as he continued down the stinking, soot-stained streets until he stood before a ramshackle house that appeared to have been constructed from nothing but straw. This, he knew, was the home of John Pig, an unskilled laborer who worked in a textile mill along with his wife and five children. If Wolf and his associates were to gain a foothold within the ranks of the factory workers, the support of men such as Mr. Pig was essential. With a resolute step, Wolf stepped up to the tightly-woven straw door, but he could not identify a surface sturdy enough upon which to knock. This slight obstacle did not deter him, however, and he called out to announce his presence. 

                “John Pig! I must speak with you!”

                A rustle and a thump preceded Pig’s reply. “Aye? Who be ye?” asked a grating voice.

                “My name is Oscar Wolf,” he responded. “I wish to speak with you concerning the mill.”

                “Oh?” came the voice again, now heavy with suspicion. “And what is the mill to ye, then?”

                “Your employer is notorious for demanding twelve-hour days from his workers, even the children. We wish to push him to increase wages, as well as reduce the hours...”

                “Oh, shove off,” Pig interrupted. “You be nothin’ but trouble. I won’t be caught talkin’ to the likes of you!”

                “Mr. Pig, you must listen!” Wolf pressed on. “The revolution is at hand! Now is the time for the workers to throw off the shackles of middle class oppression and expose the government’s hypocrisy! I must warn you – if you are not with us, you are against us!”

The door swung open abruptly, revealing a large, weather-beaten man, his muscled forearms folded uncompromisingly across his chest. “I told you to shove off! We’ll have none of your huffing and puffing here! You got no right coming here and makin’ trouble for my family. We be decent folk, and not afraid of hard work. Now, off with ya. I’ve been savin’ up to take the little ones to the penny theater, and I ain’t gonna let the likes of you get in the way!” Pig pushed Wolf roughly aside as he shouldered his way to the street, and a pale and painfully thin woman followed behind dragging a string of young children along in her wake.  

Wolf’s face heated and his blood pounded in his ears as he considered Pig’s obstinate refusal to listen.  His next course of action was clear. As in the case of any obstacle that prevented him from achieving his goal, his only recourse was to remove that obstacle outright. He cast an expert eye over his surroundings, needing to ensure adequate time to execute his plan. Once he was satisfied that any interference would not be forthcoming, Wolf moved quickly, his well-trained hands completing their tasks with only the smallest portion of his concentration. 

When the explosion tore through the straw house, sending ash and flaming tendrils of heated malice in all directions, Wolf was already some distance away. He moved through the passages of the city with confidence, easily avoiding detection by the constabulary, should they deign to respond to an incident involving only a working-class hovel. At length, his steps gradually slowed until stopping in front of a house made of sticks. Once he had caught his breath, Wolf realized that he had fortuitously located the home of George T. Hogge, the middle-class owner of the textile mill at which the Pig family labored. 

Wolf was filled with the determination to take Hogge to task for the condition of his factory and the poor wages and long hours to which his workers were subjected. Not surprisingly, his demands to be given admittance were refused. Hogge deigned at last to lean out of one stick-framed window in a final attempt to rid himself of this nuisance. His brow was smooth and untroubled as he explained that he considered himself a proponent of the principles of Utilitarianism, which supported his belief that the benefits to his workers must outweigh the hardships. When Wolf disagreed and made to debate the matter further, Hogge gave a negligent shrug before asserting that if this were not the case, his workers would have already revolted against the conditions at the mill. As they had not done so, Hogge felt justified in his belief that any change would be unnecessary. 

“Take your huffing and puffing elsewhere, Sir,” he said over his shoulder as he withdrew his head from the window and disappeared from view.

Wolf’s further arguments were met with silence until at last the housekeeper advised him as she made her way to the shops that Hogge has left out the back door of the house with Missus and young Master Hogge in order to attend a dinner party. It was the work of a moment to prepare his fiery rebuttal to Mr. Hogge, and Wolf quickly fled the environs as the house of sticks exploded, giving voice to his wrath and ire.

When Wolf stopped in his headlong flight to catch his breath, now satisfied that the authorities had been successfully eluded, he found himself standing before a grand house of bricks belonging to Sir Arthur Pemberton-Piglet, Earl of Bacon and member of the House of Lords. Giving himself over entirely to the increasing frustrations of the day, Wolf began pounding upon the ornate door, coherently if somewhat frantically denouncing the government in general and Pemberton-Piglet in particular for failing to institute even the most basic reforms and for ignoring the plight of the country’s poor. He received no response from Pemberton-Piglet, who was rather preoccupied with preparations for the ball being given that evening to celebrate his daughter Penelope Pemberton-Piglet’s presentation to society. 

While perfectly prepared to grapple with malicious and rough treatment, Wolf’s entire frame trembled and his breath came in shallow, uneven gasps at this blatant disregard. His voice cracked with the fervor of his dedication as he called out a final warning to Pemberton-Piglet. If he continued to ignore Wolf’s call for justice, judgment would be rendered instantly – Wolf would not hesitate to incinerate the house and its inhabitants without a qualm.

From within his mortared walls, Pemberton-Piglet snorted in derision at this hollow threat before summoning the police, who easily apprehended the distracted and increasingly unstable Wolf. Vast quantities of incendiary devices were removed from his person before his writhing body was confined in chains and relocated to the nearest prison, where he was able to indulge in unrelenting self-flagellation and frustrated huffing and puffing to his heart’s content for many years thereafter.  

Penelope Pemberton-Piglet’s ball, on the other hand, was an unqualified success.


Anonymous said...

That was an amazing re-telling! I loved it. :) BTW, I stopped by to thank you so much for visiting and commenting on my blog the other day with the Blitz Team. It meant the world. I'm still overwhelmed by it. Thanks again. Lily.

Elizabeth Lawrence said...

Thank you, Lily!