Wednesday, March 06, 2024

“Purple with ill-smelling dye”: The river in Coketown in Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times” (1854)

The Coketown canal in Charles Dickens's "Hard Times" (1854) is "purple with ill-smelling dye." Purple dyes were among the first synthetic dyes developed in the mid-nineteenth century, and one center of the discovery and production of those dyes was Basel, Switzerland, where I have made my home since 1995. However, Dickens's novel was published two years before William Henry Perkin synthesized mauveine in London in 1856. And both parts of the company that first became Ciba-Geiby and then later Novartis began to produce the synthetic fuchsine dye in 1859. So something made Coketown's river purple, but it wasn't the synthetic dye that was discovered two years after Dickens finished the novel. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 March 2024)

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