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The scenes in London have a very Dickensian feel to them. The novel then jumps back in time to William's childhood in London. Born into poverty in Southwark, William works as an apprentice to Mr. Middleton, a waterman on the Thames. Williams spends seven years rowing up and down the river, transporting the gentry from one side to the other. He develops a hatred of the gentry and their superior ways. He keenly feels the unjustness of his inferior social position and strains against the limitations of his class. He works himself into the ground in an effort to gain the security that Mr. Middleton and his house on Swan Lane represent.