top of page

Ace of Water

    London is where it is today because of the River Thames. It was founded by the Romans because its site flanks the lowest stretch of the river with a gravel bed, where it could be forded and later bridged. By the time of Dickens' birth, there were 6 bridges spanning the Thames, between the Pool of London and Kew. Six more road bridges and 7 rail were constructed by the time of his death. The history and identity of London is inseparable from the Thames, and it occupied a central position in Dickens' imagination.


 The River Thames and its environs became part of Dickens' mythopoeia from an early age. He invented “quite astonishing fictions about the wharves” while on London Bridge as a boy, speaking with the young servant who assisted his parents in the Marshalsea. Soon after, Dickens experienced the most poignant emotional experience of his life, when he was sent to work at Warren's Blacking Warehouse, a dilapidated rat-infested factory on the muddy banks of the Thames. So upsetting was this episode, Dickens avoided the area on his many walks through the city, and tears came to his eyes when he recalled it long after his eldest child had learned to read and write. Dicken's knowledge of the docks was extensive, and he writes about them straight-forwardly in the Uncommercial Traveler essay, Bound For The Great Salt Lake. Captain Cuttle from Dombey & Son lodges here, and the quarter is seen again in Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend.


 It is here, in Dickens' last novel Our Mutual Friend, that the Thames features most strongly, becoming a theme and the book's backdrop as well as a character almost in its own right. Both John Harmon and Eugene Wrayburn are pulled from it, while Rogue Riderhood, the Hexams, and the others who frequent the 6 Jolly Fellowship Porters pub, all derive their livelihood from the filthy river. Dickens presents the Thames as a menacing place; a mythical entity which causes death, sustains life, and - by magically commingling both - continually transforms them. The novel begins with Gaffer Hexam pulling a corpse from the river. He chides his daughter Lizzie: “It’s my belief you hate the sight of the very river… As if it wasn’t your living! As if it wasn't meat and drink to you!” Before long, his dead body too will be pulled from the Thames.


 As London's aging sewer system emptied directly into the Thames, the miasma from the effluent was foul to behold and transmitted disease, one of the most deadly being cholera. During the hot summer of 1858, the stench of untreated human waste and industrial run-off into the Thames River was so unbearable it became known as The Great Stink. In Little Dorrit, Dickens called the Thames “a deadly sewer” and told a friend “I can certify that the offensive smells, even in that short whiff, have been of a most head-and-stomach-distending nature."


 These dark aspects of the Ace of Water are counterbalanced by the cleansing aspects of rain. While England can be deluged with precipitation, this and the coastal areas of Britain account for the island's temperate climate. Rain, of course, brings water to the land and rebirth to the life-giving water cycle. This aspect of the Ace of Water is further indicated by the Medway River, marshes, and wetland area of North Kent. This area is memorably depicted in the opening scenes of Great Expectations. Dickens' happiest times as a child were spent here, as were his final years at Gad's Hill Place. 


 As the Ace of Water represents all aspects of water on our blue planet, it also represents the world's oceans, which comprise 90% of the world's biosphere. Water is integral to life, forms part of the carbon cycle, and influences climate and weather patterns. The origin of Earth's oceans is unknown. Other aspects of water include dew, snow, ice, steam, sweat, urine, and tears. Traditional human uses of water include cooking, agriculture, hygiene, hydropower, transportation, ritual ablutions, baptism, and as a scientific standard. 


 The name Thames, from the Brittonic Celtic name Tamesas, means dark. The alternate name for the river, especially popular in Victorian times, is Isis. Isis is the Egyptian mother goddess of creation, magic, wisdom, death and resurrection, who taught the Egyptians how to make beer. The Ace of Water, as signifier of its suit, represents feminine receptivity, primordial power, gestation, quiescence, nourishment, refreshment, protection, the unique unknown magic of creation, the faculty of feeling, sensation, fertility, love, bounty, fidelity, the subconscious, and the benevolent source. 


bottom of page