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Seven Dials, in central London, is a good place to people-watch. Outside the Crown pub, ruddy men laugh loudly, sloshing their pints; shoppers’ heels click on cobblestones; and tourists spill bewildered out of a musical at the Cambridge Theatre. A column marks the seven-street intersection, and its steps make a sunny perch for gazing on the parade. Charles Dickens soaked up the scene here too, but saw something utterly different. Passing through in 1835, he observed “streets and courts [that] dart in all directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-tops and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined.” There were drunken women quarrelling—“Vy don’t you pitch into her, Sarah?”—and men “in their fustian dresses, spotted with brick-dust and whitewash” leaning against posts for hours. Seven Dials was synonymous with poverty and crime, a black hole to most Londoners. Dickens stormed it with pen and paper. It’s hard to conjure the notorious slum from the column steps

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  • Seven Dials, in central London, is a good place to people-watch. Outside the Crown pub, ruddy men laugh loudly, sloshing their pints; shoppers’ heels click on cobblestones; and tourists spill bewildered out of a musical at the Cambridge Theatre. A column marks the seven-street intersection, and its steps make a sunny perch for gazing on the parade. Charles Dickens soaked up the scene here too, but saw something utterly different. Passing through in 1835, he observed “streets and courts [that] dart in all directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-tops and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined.” There were drunken women quarrelling—“Vy don’t you pitch into her, Sarah?”—and men “in their fustian dresses, spotted with brick-dust and whitewash” leaning against posts for hours. Seven Dials was synonymous with poverty and crime, a black hole to most Londoners. Dickens stormed it with pen and paper. It’s hard to conjure the notorious slum from the column steps


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