The Apprentices

Style: Outstanding

Attitude: Unobjectionable → Fairly Positive

In Brief: Enjoyably Dickensian stories of Victorian London. Some vulgarity, but offset by virtue in general.

Author: Leon Garfield

Published in: 1982

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: Late 19th C

Genres:  HistoricalShort


Each story in the series tells of the life of an apprentice in Victorian London. All are wryly amusing while painting a clear picture of what life was like. The same characters weave in and out of the series though each has only one story: the lamplighter's linkboy, the mirror-maker's apprentice, the trainee midwife, the two pawn-brokers who do deals with each other, the undertaker who's fallen in love with her rival, the Jewish clockseller and so on.


Leon Garfield's stories of Victorian London are always worth a read. The prose he uses is unashamedly Dickensian and enjoyable. There is a certain amount of vulgarity, and the midwife's story goes further into the birthing chamber than might be pleasant for most. However, it is virtue that shows in most of the stories, albeit under a layer of grime. The story about Tom Titmarsh the printer's apprentice results in his rescuing a book from burning which has been condemned and substituting a set of Bishop's sermons instead. While the whole episode is a comical one, it probably needs some explaining.

Old Levy blew his nose and water flew out; the fire jumped in fright and little Moses with his burden of time capered away like King David of old while the stony-faced houses trembled in the hopping light... The old man breathed again; it was indeed a Passover night! At last the dancers swayed to a halt and sang the last refrrain while the torchlight enveloped them in a fiery garment. Smoke billowed out and made them a concealing tent in the wilderness of Carter Lane. It was possible that Elijah the Tishbite, passing by in his robes and with all his ravens had not seen, in all his wanderings, anything half so fine as the ancient man the three children, escaping from the bondage of time.

Tuesday 1st January 2002