from borrow to barrow

In this week’s reading, I think that the most intriguing piece had to be Hannah More’s “Betty Brown, The St. Giles’ Orange Girl: With Some Account of Mrs. Sponge, the Money-Lender.” As I was going through the short story, there was plenty of inferring on my end about what would happen to Betty Brown. In the beginning, Mrs. Sponge sounded like a woman who could help Betty out of the low place that she was in, but all of that changed once Betty accepted the loan of five shillings.

It was easy for Mrs. Sponge to manipulate Betty because Betty truly didn’t know any better. In her eyes, she was grateful that Mrs. Sponge was lending her money, giving her a place to live, and providing her with meals. However, Mrs. Sponge knew the tricks of the trade all too well, and conned Betty like she did to many others.

When we were speaking about the text in class, everything clicked a little more as we discussed the definition of sponge and how London was beginning to change. Hope is exemplified as “the lady” as she gives Betty advice on how to pay back Mrs. Sponge, and teaches her about the true rules for retail dealers, including her advice, never do that to another which you would not have another do to you. Betty gets back on her feet, and this time as a woman with morals, and we are left to believe that she finds love and eventually opens her own shop.

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A fish barrow in London around 1877.

More presents two different elements of time, and I’m puzzled as I’m not sure which one she believes in. Circular time exists in the moments where Betty starts her lifestyle as a woman on the streets with an orange barrow. I imagine it as the one pictured above, just without the fish. The beginning of time is when Betty takes out the loan of five shillings from Mrs. Sponge, and she is stuck in this circle where she goes and sells oranges, trying to make a profit and pay back her loan, only to have to give away her entire day’s earnings back to Mrs. Sponge because of the lavish and extravagant porter and gin and dinner. Unfortunately, Betty is stuck in this circle and has no chance of getting out of it until “the lady” comes into her life, which brings the story back to linear time. With linear time, Betty makes progress and stops indulging in the expensive things Mrs. Sponge has to offer, which in turn angers Mrs. Sponge and she tries to find ways to abuse her. Betty goes back to see “the lady,” whom gives her advice about being an honest saleswoman and sends her to church to gain morals. Because of this concept of linear time, More instills a sense of hope for the future. The story ends with Betty being happily married and being successful with her shop, which could be connected to the hope that More had for the future of London. No longer would it be a city of corruption, but it would transform to a city of morals, and I think of More saw what it looked like today, she might be pleasantly surprised.

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