The/A String of Pearls: A Romance is the title of a fictional story first published as a penny dreadful serial 1846-47. The main antagonist of the story is the infamous Sweeney Todd, "the Demon Barber of Fleet Street", who here makes his literary debut.
Todd is a barber who murders his customers and turns their remains into meat pies, sold at the pie shop of his partner in crime: St. Dunstan's Church. Todd's barber shop is situated in Fleet Street, London, next to [Dunstan's church], and is connected to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop in nearby Bell Yard by means of an underground passage. Todd dispatches his victims by pulling a lever while they are in his barber chair, which makes them fall backward down a revolving trapdoor, generally causing them to break their necks or skulls. In the event they are alive, he goes to the basement and "polishes them off" by slitting the victim's throat with his straight razor. Todd has a young assistant named Tobias Ragg.
The story is set in London in the year 1785. The plot concerns the strange disappearance of a sailor named Lieutenant Thornhill, last seen entering Sweeney Todd's establishment on Fleet Street. Thornhill was bearing a gift of a string of pearls to a girl named Johanna Oakley on behalf of her missing lover Mark Ingestrie, who is presumed lost at sea. One of Thornhill's seafaring friends, Colonel Jeffrey, is alerted to the disappearance of Thornhill by his faithful dog, Hector, and investigates his whereabouts. He is joined by Johanna, who wants to know what happened to her lover, Mark Ingestrie. Johanna's suspicions of Sweeney Todd's involvement lead her to the desperate and dangerous expedient of dressing up as a boy and entering Todd's employment, after his last assistant, Tobias Ragg, has been incarcerated in a madhouse. Eventually, the full grisly horror of Todd's activities is uncovered when the dismembered remains of hundreds of his victims are discovered in the crypt underneath St. Dunstan's church. Meanwhile. Mark Ingestrie, who has been imprisoned in the cellars beneath the pie shop and put to work as the cook, escapes via the lift used to bring the pies up from the cellar into the pie-shop. Here he makes the following startling announcement to the customers of that establishment:
- "Ladies and gentlemen - I fear that what I am going to say will spoil your appetites; but the truth is beautiful at all times, and I have to state that Mrs. Lovett's pies are made of human flesh!"
Mrs. Lovett is then poisoned by Sweeney Todd who is, himself, apprehended and hanged. Johanna marries Mark and lives happily ever after.
The String of Pearls: A Romance was published in eighteen weekly parts, in Edward Lloyd's The People's Periodical and Family Library, issues 7-24, 21 November 1846 to 20 March 1847. It was probably written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, alternating between each part released. In later years there were many different literary, stage and eventually film adaptations which renamed, expanded and often drastically altered the original story.
A scholarly, annotated edition of The String of Pearls was published in volume form in 2007 by the Oxford University Press under the title of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,