Up from cellar depth to shimmering Victorian avenues, murk jewelled
with phosphorous, ambiguous dusk. The eastern steams and perfumes . .
. of a street bazaar.
The city's pleasure hill, its Venus mound, venue for lost weekends
atilt over the sexual edge. Gin blur and brothel frenzy, an erogenous
zone shades into the twilight zone. Old smokes linger, 1381; peasant's
revolt. St John's Priory at Highbury, home of Robert Hale<?> who
raised the poll tax, is burned down, a blood and torchlight drama.
Rising from the Priory's ash; the Highbury Barn, a tavern in five acre
grounds with bowling greens and trap-ball<?> alleys, haunt for Walter
Raleigh<?>, for Oliver Goldsmith on his walks to Islington. In 1861 a
defrocked clown, Giovanelli, buys the barn, imports a freakshow,
builds the Alexandra Theatre and crams the fog with lamps and voices.
Giovanelli launches eel-pie fairs, sewer scampy<?> served on croot<?>,
rat killing contests, ballrooms, and the magical perfume of quim upon
A million lights.
His freakshow opens 1869, the city's dreams and visions are
precipitated in an eerie haze.
Namtar<?> the man-frog in his grotto, hyperthyroid eyes upon the
women. Spawning ritual; he spots the most susceptible, flushed in this
chilly hall of monsters. Chang and Eng stroll by, fused at the chest,
the first Siamese Twins, while Leotard<?> the acrobat in his
remarkable costume tumbles above us through the frosted air. Henry
Dirks<?>, inventor of the Dirksian<?> Phantasmagoria, an optical
effect, meets showman Joseph Pepper, swamps the barn with lantern
spooks in an ethereal mob.
Pepper's ghost depending only on a lamp, a sheet of angled glass, will
nightly conjure wraiths accompanying performances of Hamlet. Couples
hug each other in the hush, entranced by men of light in a refracted
afterlife. Reality becomes imagined death in an unsilvered mirror. All
the boundaries begin to slide, even the human body is unfixed.
Manifestations of the double-headed Hackney Brook, Chang and Eng seem
to be attempting to walk through each other, gaseous as Pepper's
phantoms. Namtar the man-frog lets the woman touch his webbed hand.
Anything could happen.
Highbury becomes a high-risk borderland, a mauve zone, a condition
that could spread, infect the city. Spectre epidemic, Pepper's ghosts
suggested as a culprit in the Spring-Heeled Jack plague of the 1870s,
blamed for the rowdy orgies, for the ghost-sex current spilling out
from Highbury Barn. The venue is closed down as an intolerable
nuisance, as a danger to the health and safety of the young. The
luscious creepiness is dissipated and the area becomes a void, invites