is all Yankee repression and southern stupor. He saw Boston, New York,
and Philadelphia through the keyhole of the prison cell and the madhouse.
The Tombs, in New York, served as a metaphor for the dark, unforgiving
world in which it was situated. And the geographical heart of the
country, though not a jail or an asylum, or a reeking warren like
the Five Points, was a river of death. Decades before Joseph Conrad
steamed his way upstream into the heart of imperial darkness, Dickens,
travelling from Cincinnati downstream to Cairo, Illinois...experienced
the Mississippi as a septic ooze, a turbid soup of animal and vegetable
muck. Cairo lay in the stinking belly of the beast: 'The hateful Mississippi
circling and eddying before it, and turning off upon its southern
course a slimy monster hideous to behold; a hotbed of disease, an
ugly sepulchre, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise: a place
without one single quality, in earth or air or water, to commend it:
such is this dismal Cairo.