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London Bridge in Plague and Fire

A Novel

David Madden

Publication Year: 2012

"I am still living on London Bridge myself. The world of this novel has merged with my life. Under Madden's pen, the web of human connection is woven over water, through space, and beyond time." —Allen Wier, author of Tehano

For more than two thousand years, Old London Bridge evolved through many fragile wooden forms until it became the first bridge built of stone since the Roman invaders. With over two hundred houses and shops built directly upon the bridge, it was a wonder of the world until it was dismantled in 1832.
    In this stunningly original novel, Old London Bridge is as much a living, breathing character as its architect, the priest Peter de Colechurch, who began work on it in 1176, partly to honor Archbishop Thomas à Becket, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. In 1665, the year of the Great Plague, Peter’s history is unknown, but Daryl Braintree, a young poet living on the bridge, resurrects him through inspired flights of imagination. As Daryl chronicles the history of the bridge and composes poems about it, he reads his work to his witty mistress, who prefers making love.
    Among other key characters is Lucien Redd, who as a boy was sexually brutalized by both Puritans and Cavaliers during the English Civil War before being kidnapped off London Bridge onto a merchant ship. Thus traumatized, he aspires to become Lucifer’s most evil disciple. Twenty years later, young Morgan Wood is forced into seafaring service to pay off his father’s debts; and, compelled by obsessive nostalgia for his early life on the bridge, he keeps a journal. Joining Morgan aboard ship, Lucien “befriends” him—to devastating effect.
    The shops and houses on the bridge survive both the Great Plague and Great Fire, believed to be God’s wrath upon sinful London. Fearing that God may next destroy the bridge and its eight hundred denizens, seven of its merchant leaders revert to a pagan appeasement ritual by selecting one of their virgin daughters for sacrifice. To enact their plan, they hire Lucien, who has returned to the bridge to burn it out of pure meanness. But as Lucien discovers, the chosen victim may be more Lucifer’s favorite than he is.
    Like his creation Daryl Braintree, David Madden employs diverse innovative ways to tell this complex, often shocking, but also lyrical story. The author of ten novels—including The Suicide’s Wife, Bijou, and most recently, Abducted by Circumstance and Sharpshooter—Madden has, with London Bridge in Plague and Fire, given us the most ambitious and imaginative work of his distinguished career.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Praise, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-11

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To My Reader

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pp. xi-xii

I acquired hundreds of books for research into the murder of Thomas à Becket and the building of London Bridge during the late twelfth century, the ongoing history of the bridge, life in the shops and houses on the Bridge, and the events of the plague and the fire. The original...

J. M. W. Turner’s London Bridge

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pp. xiii-xiv

Dramatis Personae

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pp. xv-xvi

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1. Lucien Redd, a Child of Civil War

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pp. 1-6

This Bridge stretched below us—on its twenty piers and arches—is supporting 138 shops, each with a three-to-six-storey house above it, the tallest bridge in england, and eight hundred inhabitants, some such. Quite sick, but not fatally ill, she stands still, in defiance of over...

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2. Daryl Braintree, Poet-Chronicler of London Bridge

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pp. 7-39

Night seeped into every crevice of the Bridge, night crept into the brain of each inhabitant. Lloyd Braintree, reclusive old Chronicler of London Bridge, the heavy Chronicle ledger in his arms, fear of fading memory oppressing his mind, descended the five flights of stairs,...

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3. Shopkeepers on the Bridge Meet to Report Its Condition

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pp. 41-52

On a late afternoon when the House of Many Windows, opposite the great Stone gate, crowned with eighteen severed heads impaled on pikes at the long-defunct drawbridge, a hundred and nine steeples, and the Tower of London bristled in bright sunlight, in late January 1665,...

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4. Morgan Wood, a Child of the Bridge, at Sea

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pp. 53-62

Morgan Wood stood on the deck of the Polestar, trying to pretend that he was within hours of standing on the Bridge. under his feet, he felt again the Bridge begin to fall. “London Bridge is falling down,” he said again, as if to his mother, who had, singing, taught him to sing the song....

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5. The Brotherhood of the Bridge Meets to Repair the Bridge

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pp. 63-74

Glover Lennox archer, eager to be off to the meeting goldsmith Clinkenbeard had called to discuss in more detail ways to repair gale and other damage to London Bridge, was determined first to complete the domestic picture from which he daily hoped, too often in vain, to...

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6. Father Peter de Colechurch Steals the Murdered Body of Archbishop Thomas à Becket

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pp. 75-108

“Don’t forget the fog in our time, the time of plague and fire, and how it affected all our suff erings and fears, the very look of things. Fog as the watery grave of the dying, a street-stream, London as Venice, carrying off the night’s dead. Walking among that, seeing that from various...

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7. Lucien Comes onto Morgan’s Ship

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pp. 109-117

At first, Morgan took little notice of two of the three men the Captain had hired in Surinam to replace men who perished in a typhoon, but the third stepped up to the door of the cabin as sudden as the shadow of a seabird swooping across the deck. He gave out his...

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8. Voices in the Great Plague of London

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pp. 119-158

Still living in nonesuch House on the bridge, the money his missing father left behind dwindling, he was forced to sell some of the shop’s rare books, one by one, divide the shop to rent, and to fill the many rooms with lodgers, transient and long-staying. Like the Poet,...

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9. Plague Aftermath: The Brotherhood of the Bridge

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pp. 159-173

Stationer Phelan Wood and fishmonger Kerry Brooke walked together northward toward the stationer’s paper warehouse, in former centuries Saint Thomas’s Chapel, for the meeting called by goldsmith Clinkenbeard at his shop....

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10. Lucien Torments Morgan at Sea

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pp. 175-186

While the plague was dying out in London, Morgan at sea whispered to Lucien, “a child’s voice singing ‘London bridge is broken down, broken down,’ drew me out of my father’s shop on the Bridge at twilight, but as i followed the sound, it dwindled and faded, gone. i heard it a few...

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11. The Poet Builds London Bridge of Stone

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pp. 187-203

“Peter, you will build a stone Bridge from London across river Thames to Southwark,” he commanded himself, “and it will last until the last trump reconciles the north and south shores—now divided by the turbulence of the river—to each other.”...

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12. Voices in the Great Fire of London

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pp. 205-229

In states of mild dementia, aggravated by frequent heavy drinking and hangovers, in obsessive fulfillment of his conception of his mission as Chronicler and out of his skewed compulsion as poet, the Poet-Chronicler employed his “method” in his account of the fire, even...

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13. The Brotherhood of the Bridge: Cabalistic Meetings

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pp. 231-261

Growing daily more feeble, never quite hallucinatory, the Poet-Chronicler continued his bizarre account of the great Fire of London and the meetings of the Brotherhood of Merchants, drawing upon the besotted memory of his drinking companion, rag merchant dropstitch...

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14. The Brotherhood Hires Lucien as Kidnapper

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pp. 263-272

On shore, passing the site of Saint Magnus Martyr, Lucien stepped through the blackened arch to the west side of the church onto the Bridge and delighted in seeing houses east side, West side, ten or so, burned down to the roadbed, smoke persisting. “Lucifer, you have been here before...

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15. Lucien Kidnaps Blythe, Dark Lady of the Bridge

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pp. 273-281

Having let the night in which he was hired to take the child pass, imagining with delight the consciences of the father and his co-conspirators in the throes of anguish, Lucien waited for the most inspired moment....

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16. Morgan Wood, a Child of the Bridge, Returns

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pp. 283-304

On the verge of sleep, Morgan decided he would take his very first step on the Bridge from Saint Magnus Martyr Church at the north end, the sacred place from which he had set out to sea. From the Pool where London Rocket docked to discharge cargo, he imagined fi rst going...

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17. Morgan and Lucien on the Bridge

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pp. 305-314

Glimpsing the Sinful Sailor on the Bridge, dressed in the weird costume of a violent tribe they had encountered in their travels, shocked Morgan as if he had looked up from his own bed in his father’s strange house and seen him standing at the foot....

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18. Lucien Kidnaps Gilda, Fair Lady of the Bridge

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pp. 315-320

Gilda lay awake watching the shadows and lights change on her ceiling like clouds passing over the moon in the dome of night, feeling the rhythm in her own pulse. She stared hard, aware that simple blinking interrupted the flow....

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19. The Search for Gilda

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pp. 321-329

As a pebble dropped—or dislodged and fallen—into a stagnant pond sends ripples over the surface, the sneezing rat gets ripples of response from upshaw, the rag merchant, lying awake, stiff, in fear of starting to tremble and not being able to stop, who, listening to his...

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20. Light Is God’s Shadow

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pp. 331-335

‘When my captain forced me off the ship, i stood on the dock, and Morgan pointed his finger at me, saying, “in the world ye shall have tribulations. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” Did he refer to me or to himself? But an acoustic shadow must have been...

Selected Reading

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pp. 337-340

Production Notes

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pp. 342-361

E-ISBN-13: 9781572339286
E-ISBN-10: 1572339284
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338708
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338709

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • London Bridge (London, England) -- Fiction.
  • Experimental fiction.
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