Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 1

An enormous amount of work has been done on the global circulation of culture via electric and electronic media, but it’s becoming realised more and more that there was a set of narratives and imagery shared globally in the nineteenth century too. What I want to do over the next few blog posts is to mark the commercial importance of serial novels by American women writers to a specific but huge sector of British mass-market fiction between 1855 and 1883.

from The London Reader 1899; my thanks to John Adcock's splendid blog for this image

Key to the idea of “commercial importance” is whether the stories these women wrote were pirated or paid for by the British publishing industry. As we know from Dickens, the issue of transatlantic piracy was very important to writers. American publishers waiting at the dockside for new British books could produce an edition almost within hours, as they did in 1823 with Sir Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak. In the absence of international copyright agreements, the British author usually received nothing, although Harper Brothers, for instance, paid considerable royalties to Dickens and Macaulay, among others, and later on in the century Lippincott was generous to British authors he published, including Ouida. Accounts of British pirating of American serials commonly refer to how about 1.5 million copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published in Britain without Harriet Beecher Stowe’s consent, but not much else. In fact there was a huge trans-Atlantic exchange.

I’m not going to write about well-known cases here. Furthermore, rather than talking of the piracy of books (quite expensive at the time) , I’ll focus on serials in cheap fiction magazines. Instead of the high-profit-per-unit-sold model which books operated on, penny periodicals made profit through the quantity sold. Most mid-nineteenth-century British mass-market fiction was published according to the latter model in penny weeklies such as The Family Herald, The London Journal, Reynolds’s Miscellany, The London Reader and so forth. America had its analogues in 4 cent weeklies such as the New York Ledger and the Philadelphia-based Saturday Evening Post. The circulation of all these magazines was enormous, with sales in the 1850s and 60s of 500,000 each (Dickens at his most popular, remember, managed 40,000). Given the usual calculations that are used to calculate readership from sales, in 1860 just the three best-selling magazines amounted to a 50% penetration of the entire population of Britain. Given that then the literacy rate in Britain was around 60%, that means that c. 83% of the literate population of Britain was reading one of these three magazines. The analogous American magazines had comparable sales figures, though given the much higher literacy and population of American – some 31 million as opposed to 19 million in 1860 – their percentage penetration was actually rather lower, if still hugely significant.

Example of a typical cover page of The London Journal

If what I’m saying is not as well-known as it should be it’s because, despite a few academic studies (most recently of American women writers), there are no bibliographical guides or descriptions of any of these periodicals. Some are available through ProQuest’s Periodical Archives Online but one still needs a bibliographical map to find one’s way around. Unless one knows what to look for one cannot find it.  Hence the importance of aids such as the Victorian Fiction Research Guides.

The points I am making come out specifically of my bibliographical mapping of primarily the British mass-market: what I found was that I also needed maps of the American and even Australian mass markets too. A focus on one does not give an adequate picture of how the market operated.

That said, in the British market there was a quite strict form of market segmentation along national lines. While some penny periodicals such as Bow Bells, Reynolds’s Miscellany and The Family Herald gave consumers mainly home-grown British fiction, there was another set that from 1855 offered stories written primarily by a mixture of American women and British men. This set comprises three closely related magazines: The London Journal, its offshoot The Guide, and its rival from 1862 The 7 Days Journal renamed in 1863 as The London Reader. These published a very large number of serials by three American women authors: E.D.E.N. Southworth, Harriet Lewis and May Agnes Fleming. The London Journal alone published 237 serials of various lengths – some in fact lasting only a few episodes. At least 50 of these serials, all of them long (and sometimes very long), were by 4 American women: 2 were by Caroline Lee Hentz in the mid 1850s, 13 by Southworth between 1855-1868, at least 22 serials by Harriet Lewis between 1868 and 1883, and at least 13 by May Agnes Fleming over the same period (I say at least as some are not attributed and others which are given signatures I haven’t been able to trace elsewhere).

While Southworth and Fleming have recently become visible again through the work of Nina Baym, Lorraine McMullen and others, it is Lewis in fact who has the largest number of novels published in this market sector as a whole, not just in The London Journal though she is most dominant there. Indeed, there is not a single number of The London Journal without one of her serials for 12 years from 1868, a succession of tales halted only by her death. When I discovered from perusal of her letters that she wrote a large number of serials that appeared under husband’s name Leon and his pseudonym “Illion Costellano”, her market share rose even higher.

The Uncle Tom mania in Britain over 1851-2 is well known and Louis James has pointed out the importance of American fiction in the 1830s British mass market. Susan Warner’s Wide Wide World (December 1850) and later Queechy (1852) had considerable sales on both sides of the Atlantic. Maria Cummins’s The Lamplighter created a sensation in 1854 with sales of 40,000 in its first 8 weeks and 70,000 in its first year. But it’s 1855 that is the key date for the beginning of a sustained massive import of American women writers into the British mass-market periodical. That year Margaret Oliphant realised the potency of American fiction in the “sensation” market and the Saturday Review commented on the popularity of American women writers early the following year.

There are several reasons for stressing 1855.

First, there had been recent changes in the law of copyright in Britain. In the 1840s, France had been seen as leading the way in mass-market periodical fiction, and British publishers mercilessly pirated French serials. The economics of mass-market publishing in Britain meant that there was no money to pay authors much: publishing translations of French works already known to sell well was a much safer speculation than publishing work that was untried in the market. But in 1852, there was a change in the copyright agreement with France. Now no longer could publishers in Britain simply take and translate a French work without paying the author. Fortunately, this was also the period when home-grown British writers such as J.F. Smith, Percy B. St John and Pierce Egan the Younger were selling so well there was enough profit on sales to pay them quite well, but of course it was still more profitable to publish works you didn’t have to pay for – and that would also sell well. The problem was now where to find them.

Angels and Demons: Lulu and the Copula Part 3

The previous post closed with a perhaps outrageous claim to have noticed something that specialised music critics have not. But the point is not difficult to argue. Let’s look again at the extract from the score I printed in the previous post.

Lulu centre again - but note the direction to the performers to put mutes on their instruments

Notice the directions nehmen Dpf in the middle of the page – put the mutes on. For the music is played backwards with all possible instruments muted. This signals a difference from the first half, an addition subtle on the page but decidedly audible in performance. To an audience listening as opposed to a reader reading, that is, with the remediation of the text through the technologies of musical instruments from the visual to the aural, the palindrome does not signal a suspension of the arrow of time. Rather, it emphasises time’s passage by highlighting difference in similarity.

This is certainly the case with the narrative palindrome that Berg creates. By the last scene, when the husbands start returning and taking their revenge, we in the audience have been so well trained we know the narrative law.  And we are given a choice. Do we simply accept the law as an inevitable given, as part of the human condition, or do we rebel against its violent inflexibility? Do we want this structure to be enacted? I want the ending to be different. I want Lulu to escape Jack and for the self-sacrificing Countess to study law and fight for women’s rights. I do not want men to take revenge, as by this time I, though a man, have come to see Lulu as a human being. I want transcendence from my own gendered, socialised subject position, I want the cycle of suffering to be broken. My engagement with the performance has caused me to distance myself from a community of people who automatically assume the rightness of the lex talionis.

Alternatively, if I do want it – and parts of me do, confiteor – I am encouraged to ask myself about the moral stature of my sadistic desire, my conservative desire to remain within a community of vengeance.

Lulu in the final scene puts my desires in dialogue with one another.

By listening to and watching, by experiencing a performance on stage, I, already split, have also become linked to Lulu. If the title of the opera follows the tradition of naming a work after the solitary protagonist like Tosca and Fidelio – it’s not Tristan und Isolde, or A Village Romeo and Juliet ‑ I nonetheless supply both the conjunction the missing adjunct: Lulu and me. Who of these is the angel, who the demon? Am I Jack or Lulu or both? The and here is not, as I’ve already explained in a previous post, a simple conjunction: it is an implied copula. It suggests identity through linkage. Lulu and me suggests I wonder whether I am Jack or Lulu or both?

There is one of the many recurrent passages that is never subject to palindromic treatment. This is the music of Lulu’s desire to be loved by Dr Schön, her third husband and the man she wanted to be married to at the start. She wants him to recognise her as a valid human being. She him to recognise that she is. It’s all she’s ever wanted, as she says in one of the terrible quarrels they have. The first time the passage appears she recalls her childhood as a street urchin and thief in spoken words that ensure the audience understands them:

“My husband… If I belong to anyone in this world, I belong to you. Without you, I don’t know where I’d be. You took me by the hand, you gave me food and clothes, even though I was trying to steal your watch. Do you think I can forget that?”

Alban Berg, Lulu, vocal score, Universal Edition, 1936: 81 (“Coda der Sonata”)

Memory binds Lulu to Dr Schön. And indeed, it is the power of memory that binds me to Lulu as I watch that last scene. I remember her story, and that is why I partly become her.

What does Lulu give me in that memory? She does not give food and clothes. Instead she gives me the story of her life, an Other to my own. And then, to complicate the act of generosity that art always involves, the actress who plays Lulu gives me her labour and her skill. If successful, this is a gift beyond price, signalled by the ecstatic applause at the end of a performance which pays the artist beyond her fee, an act of recognition all of us who have performed need and know in our flesh.

Now, though no previous critic has pointed this out, I think it clear that Lulu’s gratitude  music owes a debt to the very first motif in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The first four notes have the same intervals but are played backwards and upside down, the whole filtered through the emotional and orchestral lens of late Mahler (itself deriving from Wagner).

How the opening bars of Wagner's TRistan und Isolde become the theme of the heroine's Gratitude/ Love in Berg's Lulu

Lulu’s music of gratitude and love is by no means the music of absolute modernity and abstraction from history. Its reworking of Wagner declares itself to be very firmly within tradition, within a historical community of texts: Berg and Wagner, not Berg in splendid isolation. The reworking is a memory and acknowledgement of history, of community, of society — and therefore necessarily of ideology. The music of gratitude can even be said to acknowledge its debt by mirroring back its donor. This is exophoric reference, an intertextual repetition. It is not the abstract kind of repetition without ideology that Adorno and his followers have praised. It is an and of textual community.

My point is that repetition, even the retrograde of the palindrome, does not necessarily mean timelessness, the absolute of utter novelty that is high modernity, or a refusal of ethical intervention into society. On the contrary – repetition of the intertextual kind (and there are many such in Berg) and even palindromic repetition, necessarily implies memory, a coupling of the past to the present that enables future action.

I remember and I am  reminded of Lulu’s gratitude to Schön and her desire to be recognised by him every time this music recurs.  Its last appearance is in her conversation with Jack, the reincarnated Schön, when it is conjoined effortlessly with the music of her beauty that we first hear when she is presented by an animal tamer in the Prologue. Jack and Lulu discuss money: he, rather than she, takes more and more in incremental demands, an inversion of her financial dependence on Schön – except that he takes everything. (“Gib mir das ganze” he demands at 4.02 in the video; “In Gottes Namen” – “In God’s name” replies she, as if acknowledging the operation of Biblical lex talionis)

When Jack cuts Lulu we have been reminded he is killing a human being who only wants to be loved as she is. When he kills the Countess we have been reminded, and afterwards in her Liebestod will be reminded again, that he is killing a human being who only wants to live for others. Our Weinigerian misogyny at this moment will be pressured by our affective involvement, by our feeling for and with Lulu and the Countess.

That sounds very sentimental. Indeed it is, in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sense. This is a political tradition of sentiment that in the nineteenth century was practiced especially by women for the sake of women and other oppressed people – Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is perhaps the most famous and impactful example of its deployment. Ouida operated within it, as did the American mass-market abolitionist and proto-feminist novelist E.D.E.N. Southworth. Better known today is the political sentimentality of Dickens.

This is not the sentimental tradition of, say, Violetta or Mimi – those archetypal operatic women who are thrown away when used up, who die of consumption literally and metaphorically and whose voluptuous deaths we uncritically enjoy so much, as we are reminded by Catherine Clement in her famous 1979 book on Opera and the Undoing of Women. That is the version of commercial sentimentality that Adorno hated. Instead, we are talking of a use of emotion to stir the audience to political action. Such action may stem from a humanistic ideology that not so long ago it was the fashion to excoriate and altogether repudiate. But at least action is possible (indeed necessary) in that ideology.

We also have to ask if Adorno’s belief in the possibility of escape from ideology and the personal is actually only a blindness to the very material conditions which permit that belief. After all, Universal Edition, Lulu’s publishers, were and remain a very canny publishing house as moiled in capitalism as any Hollywood studio. Adorno depended on a printed text produced by Universal to  show how Berg was unideological and passive, resistant to action. My main issue with him here is not blindness to the capitalist materiality of what enabled this anti-capitalist’s praise of inaction and formal perfection, nor his praise for the hard, the difficult, the challenging, the unpopular,  but  his rejection of the sentimental through praise of the abstracted.

Sentimentally, I refuse to be abstracted.

To move us to action a link must be made with  us.  And this is the conjunction-copula that binds the work of art to us. Lulu’s escape from ideological constraint, pace Adorno, lies not in its mystical abstraction of structure and a purity of absolute decontextualised modernity. That idea relies on the media technology of printed scores, itself a product of industrial modernity of which Adorno was the salesman of a specific sector. Instead, opera, when it is successful, like theatre in general, offers us the conjunction-copula – the and – of Carmen and Don Jose, Lulu and Dr Schön, murdered and murderer, actor and audience.

I stand with Cixous in her remarks on opera and theatre. Lulu offers the time of pity in its examination of the uncertain differences coupled and defined by a conjunction, the messy relation of memory, of today and yesterday, of the popular and exclusive, of men and women, of Angels and Demons, of Conservative Communities and New Possibilities, Others and Us. And is not a simple parataxis devoid of force; it is a part of speech that, when examined, can and should result in calls to action. What that action is depends on the force of  copula and conjunction.

Christine Schafer as Lulu in prison, from the palindromic film at the centre of the 1997 Glyndeborne production.

Angels and Demons: Lulu and the Copula Part 2

I ended the previous post with a reference to Adorno’s appreciation of Lulu. I’ll return to Adorno later. Before I do, I want to remark on a particular structural element the critics find more fascinating than any other:  Berg’s obsession with palindromes – music that runs forwards and then backwards.

Perhaps the most commented on is the film interlude right at the centre of the opera – where I’ve inserted the blue line is indeed the opera’s exact centre – you don’t need to be able to read music to see that.

The centre point of Lulu

Lulu’s palindromes are narrative as well as musical. As you can see Berg’s screenplay for the 3 minute film at the heart of the opera very clearly organises its narrative palindromically.

Structure of film in the middle of Berg's Lulu

He stuck very closely to Wedekind’s original text, though he had to cut it down by 4/5ths. The cuts are significant: they make the whole work structurally tauter, emphasising the text’s repetitions and balances which appeared in the original but by no means as starkly. Most important of all, the final scene is key: Berg turns it into a recapitulation of the first half of the opera, that is, the whole of Wedekind’s first play. By now Lulu is reduced to plying her trade as a prostitute in London, accompanied by her 3rd husband’s son and the seedy old Schigolch, a hanger on who may or may not be her father. In the Wedekind, she has 4 clients, the last of which is Jack. In the Berg she has only 3 – the virgin university lecturer is cut – and each of these 3 is a reincarnation of one of Lulu’s husbands. Each client has the same music as the relevant husband and even is, so Berg directs, to be sung by the same singer.

Now this emphasis on musical recapitulation and double roles means that everything after the mid point of the opera takes on what George Perle in his magisterial study of the opera calls a déjà vu quality. The musical symmetries seem to bind the characters into a machine-like helplessness.

In terms of narrative justice – and justice is staged at the heart of the opera with Lulu’s filmed trial  –  the plot is governed by the retributive and symmetrical  lex talionis of Deuteronomy — an eye for an eye. A cold, simple and inflexible justice. Lulu kills and is killed, an active is balanced by a passive verb. The narrative, judicial conjunction here becomes a copula marking a predicate,  a cause and effect of equivalent force: the balance of a palindrome. End of story.

Although Adorno never mentions the lex talionis, acceptance that this is the way of the world is what some of his praises of Berg suggest. Berg refuses the happy end of commercial texts – that happy end which may not always be happy for the characters but which suggests catharsis for the audience, or the possibility of hope for a better future – or even, as Adorno devastatingly suggests in his analysis of Hollywood film in some aphorisms from the 1920s in Quasi Una Fantasia (pp. 49-50), the minimal happiness which lies in the audience’s knowledge that happiness is not for them (“the old mother who sheds tears at someone else’s wedding, blissfully conscious of the happiness she has missed”). Berg, for Adorno, looks on the human condition objectively and not sentimentally (i.e. commercially). Berg does not impose his subjective response to the narratives he presents in either of his two operas. It is this, along with the music’s extreme complexity and ingenious logic that renders Berg able to escape the constraints of his society’s ideology. This is a huge and important claim – for how far is it possible for any of us to escape ideology? What of the gender and sexuality conventions that Berg, following Wedekind, exploits for his theatre piece – the tragic half-man lesbian, the sex-obsessed Woman? Is this not ideology?

Adorno has, however, to admit that Berg sided with the lost, and that in this  Lulu is similar to Berg’s earlier opera Wozzeck. But Wozzeck, said Adorno, quoting Berg himself,  could easily put its first bar after its last and the whole tragedy could happen all over again. The narrative is an endless cycle of suffering with no possibility of escape. No answers are given, just deixis – a pointing out of the human condition into which no intervention is possible, and from which there can be no transcendence. Alban Berg was passive, stresses Adorno, not assertive, and it is his siding with  non-action that allows him to escape ideology. This is good, for action is, according to Adorno, always geared towards making a population act in a certain way, and therefore must of necessity be ideological.

The palindrome contrasts with ideology by suggesting a self-contained universe beyond the arrow of time we experience in the phenomenal world – the critic John Covach has suggested that for Berg the palindrome represented a timeless heaven deriving ultimately from a Swedenborgian description in one of Balzac’s lesser-known  novels. This is perfectly consonant with the mystical leanings of the musical circle Berg moved in ‑ and of course it matches Adorno’s promotion of Berg as offering a non-active refuge from the evil of a world that could produce the ideology of Nazism.

There are two things that interest me in these claims. Yes, I love tracing the music’s formal complexity – it has all the charm of a musical puzzle and a practical rhetorical lesson for my own compositions (how did Berg derive that chord or instrumental line from his musical materials?). In either case, its analysis is a very abstract activity indeed, like maths. But it’s of course very dependent upon my access to a very particular mediated version of the music – the printed score. To print I can return again and again – abstracted from society, abstracted from death and the onward rush of time. This is a characteristic of the medium of print, as envisaged in the very first image of a printing press known to us. Death takes away the men, but the books and printing press remain.

The earliest known illustration of a printing press, from the Dance of Death, Lyons, 1499

Adorno’s vision of abstraction from ideology depends, it seems to me, on a particular organisation of the media industry, which enables the stable reproduction of very complex printed musical instructions – to write them out by hand would require literally years and, as all students of media history know, would generate an unstable text.

But my relationship with this medium has also shown me how the large scale palindromes so commented on aren’t exact. How dare I say this when so many critics have not noticed it?

(to be continued)

Angels and Demons: Lulu and the Copula Part 1

In 2010 I organised a conference on Angels and Demons at Canterbury Christ Church University. This resulted in a  special number of Critical Survey on the topic in 2011. Keen to promote my colleagues’ work rather than mine in the limited space available, I never expanded and published the paper at the conference that I had to give at only a few days notice when a speaker had to withdraw. The other papers looked at the first and last words of the title. Typically for me, I examined the smallest, neglected word: the ‘and’ of the title.

Here it is, more or less as delivered, in three parts.

Angels and Demons: Lulu and the Copula

Part 1

Nothing like beginning at the end, especially the end of Alban Berg’s unfinished opera Lulu, and a double murder by Jack the Ripper, of someone we hear described as an “angel”, and of the woman in love with her, a personification of the New Woman, the Countess Geschwitz, who plans to leave the garret to go to university to study law and fight for women’s rights. The 9 minute video in the link unfortunately doesn’t have English subtitles: the last 4 minutes are crucial for the argument (if you understand German – or Japanese subtitles).


or there are several other excellent productions on YouTube.

The important point is that this scene, the last from the opera, pretty unequivocally suggests that men really don’t like women!  Men really are devils, aren’t they? From the way the countess’s decision to fight for women’s rights is thwarted by her murder, you may have decided already that Jack is a representative figure of something beyond himself, perhaps standing for the general category “misogynistic, conservative, reactionary man”. Certainly the idea that Jack represents the revenge of men  on uppity women is a very common interpretation. For some critics, the work even becomes the tragedy not of Lulu, but of men who are forced to violence by such women.

And then the music… this isn’t just any old double murder of women by a man, of course, but a double murder in the 1930s high modernist opera by Alban Berg: Lulu, a work championed by no less an enemy of mass culture than Theodore Adorno.

One might well ask whether the demon is not Jack the casual murderer of would-be liberated New Women, or even women who supposedly make men behave in violent ways,  but exclusive avant-garde texts like Lulu. After all, everyone knows who Jack the Ripper is – he has generated a vast amount of material dedicated to him. We might say he has a vast fan base. We even go on Jack the Ripper tours in London’s East End. Jack is popular.  Berg’s Lulu, by contrast is hardly the Glaswegian singer who won the 1969 Eurovision  Song Context with “Boom Bang-a-Bang”. It’s “hard”, difficult, unpleasant; this Lulu doesn’t follow the musical rules we are familiar with.

Yet it’s clear just from the inclusion of the figure of Jack that the opera attempts to take on board the violent hierarchy of popular and exclusive. For the conjunction “and” can be used in various senses – inclusion yes, but also to signal and interrogate a hierarchy of difference: good and evil, man and woman, angel and demon. In questioning the hierarchy of popular and exclusive as well as the other binaries I’ve just mentioned, Lulu is like many operas of the period, such as Ernst Krenek’s Johnny spielt auf, or several of Franz Schreker’s operas (perhaps most of all Die Gezeichneten). Certainly in some places it reworks then popular dance forms, jazz rhythms and instrumental colourings.  Lulu even takes on the film industry – already dominated by Hollywood by the time it was being written between 1927 and 1935. A performance of Lulu as Berg wrote it has a film at its very centre, a 3-minute action-packed short very different from Pabst’s lingeringly aesthetic film on the same subject as the opera, Pandora’s Box of 1928, starring the wonderful Louise Brooks. Despite the claims of a few breathless writers, even the Pabst film was never “popular” in any sense. When it premiered in Berlin in January 1929, it was almost entirely ignored in the excitement of the new “talkies” that were grabbing public attention in Europe and America. Brooks herself was slashed by the critics. It took until the 1950s for the film to be appreciated by the cognoscenti in the art house. Despite the retellings of the tale and figure that Karen Littau and Shelley Berc have detailed for us, the Lulu I’m writing of here has never been popular for all its engagement with elements of the popular. Does that mean that I, as a historian of popular narrative, cannot or should not engage with it?

Like Pabst, Berg based his work on a pair of plays by the fin-de-siècle German playwright Frank Wedekind, Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box which Wedekind worked on between 1892 and 1913. Many of the music critics who discuss the opera love the music. It is a highly ingenious form of dodecaphony and full of the signs of exclusive distinction that requires long training to decode.  But they regard the plays as belonging on the junk heap of literature, too low for the sacred realms of opera. What was Berg doing when he chose to set this shabby little shocker that sold out to contemporary bourgeois notions of the femme fatale and comprised a collage of the vulgar misogynistic commonplaces that Otto Weininger systematised in his 1902 Sex and Character? Wedekind’s Lulu plays seem uncannily to agree with Weiniger’s fantasy that Woman has no ethics, logic or soul and therefore can only see with a blank stare, that Woman is totally materialistic and has no spiritual or intellectual side. It’s all wonderfully summed up in a notorious quotation from Weininger, “Man possesses sexual organs, her sexual organs possess Woman.” The New Woman we see murdered at the end, who plans to go to university to study law so that she can fight for women’s rights was, so her beloved Lulu tells her, half a man. Lulu herself can be regarded only too easily as the quintessence of Weinigerian Woman, as a one-sentence narration of her life will demonstrate. Having started as a child prostitute and thief, Lulu goes through three husbands, murders the last of them, escapes from prison through the machinations of her lesbian friend, runs off to Paris with the son of her third husband, and ends in a London garret as a prostitute.

Wedekind wrote his original version as Die Büchse des Pandora, ein Monstretragödie (“Pandora’s Box, a Monster Tragedy”)  between 1892 and 1894 as a single 5-acter, monstrous both in length and subject matter. If you thought the ending in the opera was shocking, in the original Jack the Ripper explicitly knifes out Lulu’s genitals and fantasises about how much the London Medical Club will pay for them. Partly because of this ending Wedekind’s publisher thought the Monstretragödie would provoke prosecution for obscenity. He therefore persuaded Wedekind to publish just the first three acts of his play which dealt with Lulu’s marriage to each of her three husbands. Subsequent versions of the play which Wedekind wrote attempted to negotiate a path between the censors and desire for popularity through sensation. Berg condensed his opera from the published two-play version – we know from a surviving seating plan that he went to a private performance of the second play in 1905 and that this performance and its paratexts influenced him. By recombining the two plays, therefore, Berg was returning them to their original structural integrity.

To me just as shocking as the murders is the number of music critics who choose to ignore what they regard as an unworthy text to concentrate instead on analysing the fabulous intricacy of the music – Adorno amongst them. What is at stake in this violent excision of words? This what the other parts of this blog will seek to answer.

(to be continued)

The Summer of 1871: Ouida and Wiertz

continued from previous blogs on Ouida and Mario and Ouida and Bulwer Lytton

When Ouida stopped in Brussels her encounter with the paintings of the recently deceased Anton Wiertz provoked her into an explicit and public aesthetic statement. In a previously overlooked article in the shilling monthly London Society, Ouida offers a portrait of Wiertz as ‘the ideal artist … [whose] life was consecrated to one passion, and that passion—Art.’

The major concern for Ouida in this essay is conventionally Ruskinian – an interesting departure from her satirical view of Ruskin and Ruskinianism in her early two-part short tale “Beatrice Boville” . Her target is the deleterious effect on art of industrialisation and commercialisation. Only the artist who gives in to them will gain public acclaim she  says. But public acclaim is by no means the most important criterion of value. Wiertz remains unknown and created no school, says Ouida, because, believing that ‘gold was the murderer of art,’  and ‘a cancer in the breast of humanity’ (‘un cancer [sic] au sein de l’humanité’), he refused to enter the commercial and industrial marketplace. ‘Exalted on the heights of a superhuman purity of purpose and idealism of belief, he had no common bond of connection with the sheer materialism and venal practices of the modern world.’ Wiertz was an anachronistic figure, having more in common, Ouida continues, with the artisanal aims and practices of Italian renaissance artists and of Rubens than with an era in which ‘the colours are bought ready-mixed, the oils are indifferent, the varnishes are adulterated…’  Out of time and out of place, his whole life was a martyrdom. Indeed, Ouida ends her essay with what appears to be a facile comparison of Wiertz to the type of all martyrs, Christ.

They say that when he lay there, lifeless, the peace refused to him throughout his arduous years came on him at the last; and that when the summer sunrise streamed through the ivy shadows of his casement in the glory of the morning, his face was as the face of his Christ ‑ his Christ, who brake asunder the bonds of the grave and rose triumphant in the power of God.
Antoine Wiertz, Triomphe du Christ

Is Ouida simply promoting in commercially commonplace terms an artist who refused to do so himself – in other words treating Wiertz as the very object of commerce that he refused to become in life? She is doing that, of course. She presumably is getting paid for this article (unlike for her letter to the Morning Post  I mentioned in a  previous blog) but she is also imagining a Wiertz that has created himself in the image of his own art.

In Ouida’s vision he has managed to overcome after death the alienation from his labour that he had increasingly felt in the last part of his life: in death he returned to become what Ouida regarded as one of his own best art works, the earlier Triomphe de Christ. To show that, Ouida has drawn for us a word picture of his head that Wiertz himself, the artist of horrible decapitations, might have painted had he stuck to his original principles.

Throughout the second half of her article, Ouida criticises late Wiertz for too great an emphasis on the horrible. Instead, she says, Wiertz should have concentrated on the ‘intrinsically beautiful by proportion, by colouring, and by meaning’ as he had done in his earlier works. It is as if her conclusion were restoring to Wiertz the self Ouida felt he should have been. In some senses too, Ouida’s most famous short story, ‘A Dog of Flanders’ which dates from this time, is also a gift to Wiertz of his lost identity: the underdog hero Nello, like Wiertz, came from a very poor background, was self-taught and, when he came to Antwerp, was ‘entranced and subjugated’ by the Rubens altarpieces in Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal in Antwerp. In this sense “The Dog of Flanders”, like the article, is an analogue of the ivory cigarette case she threw to Mario. She is trying to interpret and give meaning to powerful feelings that art has aroused.

Ouida is conjuring from the dead an anti-sensationalist, anti-commercial aesthetic of the romantic period, where the pen or brush mediates a sincere relation between body and text, and the individual imagination is given priority and autonomy.  Of course in these “restitutions” she’s thinking about herself and the purpose of her own art. Why write about passion? From the early short stories she had excoriated the use of other people to satisfy  one’s own ends and feelings – a conventional enough condemnation of selfish passion. Real love always means accepting the other for what they are and if necessary standing and holding back.  Hitherto, even in the novel about the revolutionary heroine Idalia, the personal had triumphed over the political.

Yet the three encounters I have outlined in these three posts – with Mario, with Bulwer-Lytton and with Wiertz – combined with our knowledge of what comes next – the political and aesthetic celebration of a unified Italy in her next novel– suggest that  Ouida was turning towards and looking backwards to a political, communitarian romanticism as an alternative to a purely commercial art, seeking to give it the gift of life that the Judas kiss of selfish commercialism had betrayed. Was this one the elements in that complex of factors that guided Ouida towards Italy in 1871?

Oscar Wilde certainly recognised Ouida’s romantic lineage in a review of her novel Guilderoy in 1889:

Ouida is the last of the romantics. She belongs to the school of Bulwer Lytton and George Sand, though she may lack the learning of the one and the sincerity of the other. She tries to make passion, imagination, and poetry part of fiction. She still believes in heroes and in heroines. She is florid and fervent and fanciful. Yet even she, the high priestess of the impossible, is affected by her age….

His attribution to Ouida of affiliation to Sand and Bulwer is certainly correct. Jane Jordan (“The English George Sand? Ouida the French Novel and Late Victorian Literary Censorship”, Anglistica Pisana VI/i (2009): 107-16) and I have discussed the former, and the three encounters I have described suggest the latter and more.

But is there also  a fourth encounter in 1871, one with a ghostly revenant that has left only indirect and indistinct traces? All I dare remark for now is that William Rossetti’s edition of the Complete Poetical Works of Shelley had come out with Moxon in 1870 – followed famously by Mathilde Blind’s corrections in the Westminster Review – and that 20 years later Ouida was to publish a long article praising Shelley as the best romantic poet because, according to her, he had “the sentiment and passion of [Italy’s] natural beauty” — and because love underlay his vehement political engagement, just as she was to portray the hero and heroine’s in her next novel, the lyric prose poem in praise of Italy, Pascarel. Did Ouida encounter Shelley too in the Summer of 1871, and was this yet another coal in the steam engine that transported her south?  Just as with her enthusiasm for Mario, Ouida would not have been alone in responding to Shelley’s paeans to the visual and narrative pleasures of Italy such as  Julian and Maddalo, a poem much praised by Rossetti in his preface, for

How beautiful is sunset, when the glow
Of Heaven descends upon a  land like thee,
Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!

The Summer of 1871: Ouida and Bulwer Lytton

(a continuation of a previous blog on Ouida and Mario)

What “Art” was and its relation to her writing were very much on Ouida’s mind in mid-1871.

We know from surviving letters that in the early summer Ouida had become concerned with the discussions around a proposed Dogs Act which would give any summary court powers over the destruction of stray, dangerous and rabid dogs. Determined to block the passage of this Act, in early June, having already been told that he liked her work, Ouida contacted Edward Bulwer-Lytton to elicit his support. He wrote her a kindly response and thereupon she invited him to visit her at the Langham Hotel where she had lived with her mother since 1867. He came several times, much to her delight.

[Picture: Edward Bulwer, (Lord Lytton.)]
Edward Bulwer Lytton
Bulwer-Lytton was a key figure in the development of popular fiction. His help to Mary Braddon is well documented, and, though to a much more limited extent, he acted as Ouida’s mentor as well. After she had left London for her tour of the continent, he wrote Ouida a long but positive critique of her latest novel Folle Farine. His letter does not survive, but Ouida’s response to it does. She wrote it at the Hotel de York, Spa (Belgium), the hotel Baedeker and Bradshaw recommended for English visitors to this already faded (though still respectable) resort. Ouida’s letter is keen to associate her novel with ‘Art’ by attributing it aesthetic value through the conventional eighteenth-century criteria of ‘judgement’ and ‘sympathy’ (I always think of Elinor and Marianne in Austen’s 1811 Sense and Sensibility when I think of those). Ouida ends by justifying her exploration of painful emotion and unconventional sexual arrangements as ‘Art’ and the duty of the artist.

It would be terrible to me to think that I had wrought an injury to any Soul, but it always seems to me that the artist has one duty that he must place before all ‑‑ i.e. to seek earnestly for the truth with all his strength & as he beholds it so to endeavour to set it forth.

She was in November to write to Isabel Burton (wife of the explorer, diplomat, orientalist Richard) and, the following year, to the conservative politician, poet and literary patron Lord Houghton that Folle-Farine should indeed be considered primarily as ‘Art’. Whether this was a retrospective judgement supported by the favourable reviews that compared the Folle-Farine‘s ‘art’ to that of ‘our pre-Raphaelite painters’ or whether the novel had been written intentionally as an ‘Art’ (as opposed to commercial) novel remains unclear. Even though an artist figures very prominently as a heartless Lovelacean seducer in the novel, the nature of art  is not substantially discussed in it compared to in Ouida’s novels of the 1870s. Likewise in her response to Bulwer, Ouida doesn’t set out an aesthetic credo beyond saying that in her view the artist should always try to represent the truth  without causing  “injury to any Soul” – an unambitious and generic programme. As mentioned in a previous blog, for Folle-Farine Ouida had managed to get £900 out of her publisher Chapman – considerably more than she had received for her earlier novels. Ouida certainly knew about the hard cash aspects of art, but her letters suggest that she was at this stage just wondering about what other symbolic systems art might be involved in.

There is another letter that needs to be mentioned here too — a previously unnoticed one from Ouida in the press. On 12 June 1871, the Morning Post published a letter to the Editor from her in response to an article supporting the Dogs Act that had appeared in the paper the previous week. Ouida wrote that while the Morning Post’s position was a very reasoned stance, she wished to add that ‘the emotional side of the subject is one which may be most fairly taken into consideration’ – for dogs are friends who can teach us ‘lessons of faith and fealty.’ Ouida must have been proud of this letter for she sent a cutting of it to Bulwer Lytton. The basis of the letter’s argumentation is the binary of  “reason” and “emotion”. It is not too great a leap to match this both to the “judgement” and “sympathy” opposition in Ouida’s later letter to Bulwer and to the sentimental tradition of writing in general whereby the sharing of emotions is regarded as a way to form communities.  The purpose of “Art” in this understanding is indeed to forge communities through “sympathy” – common feeling – with the “truth” arrived at through reason/ judgement. To forge a community is necessarily a political act which involves ethics. Ouida is trying to forge a community around an ethical cause and thereby cause political change.

It is not I think too far to claim that we see in this brief letter to the Post Ouida publishing for the first time with a purpose beyond the commercial, and also beyond the economic interests of herself and her family. She may not have found a reason for her ‘Art’ yet, but she has found, on a miniature scale, a reason for writing: to change society for what she believed was the better by appeal to common emotions without thought of payment. A week before the collective ecstasy of Mario’s last performance, Ouida’s explicit political and economic engagement had begun.

An encounter in Brussels would very soon sharpen the edge of her desire for something in her aesthetic and economic life beyond hard cash.

(to be continued)

The String of Pearls and Space

Space and The String of Pearls

(continued from previous post on The String of Pearls)

That The String of Pearls is set in and around Fleet Street – the main street for the production of newspapers and therefore one of the main centres of knowledge production and circulation at this time – is unsurprisingly significant.  It’s a street that connects the financial centre and the centre of government, the City and Westminster, and the markets of Smithfield and Spitalfields to the rich West End. It’s also a centre of gravity for information and spins it off throughout London and elsewhere through its daily distribition of news.

Given the importance of voyages and ships in this story, it is fair to remark that not only does the street run parallel to the river but that it is a parallel to the river. Through it flows not water but information, residents, tourists and money. The parallel to the river is not that far-fetched — after all, it is named after the Fleet, the once notorious sewer/ river that Eliza was thrown into at the beginning of The Mysteries of London.

If the previous discussion of the economics of money and information in a previous post be followed through – that Sweeney Todd is himself a blockage of the flow of information – then we will note that it was around where his shop was located that one of the most infamous blockages of traffic in London stood for most of the nineteenth cnetury. This was Temple Bar, “a gateway”, so Wikipedia tells us,  “that marked the point where Fleet Street, City of London becomes the Strand, Westminster“.  It was removed in 1878. An informative website is dedicated to it. There we learn Temple Bar’s rather gory history. During the first half of the eighteenth century the heads of traitors were displayed on it, set on iron spikes which protruded from the top of the main arch. Although this had ceased by the time of Sweeney Todd, its horrible history is very suggestive.  Temple Bar was removed in 1878 because it caused too many problems for the progress of law. The Royal Courts of Justice and the Temple were close by and the arch caused too much interruption to the flow of traffic to and from these key seats of British law. By the time the story was written (and when it was set) this blockage was still present of coyrse. The idea that Sweeney Todd and Temple Bar are both blockers of information flow  is a wonderfully evocative metaphorical connection between real and fictional space! It may seem far-fetched but it can be thought of  as an example of the kind of dream logic of association that fiction, according to psychoanalysis, operates on.

The Temple plays an important, if fundamentally ineffectual, part of The String of Pearls.  Mrs Lovett’s clients in her shop are mainly lawyers. In her shop they become unwitting cannibals. They feed off human flesh as though they were vampires (Varney the Vampyre, a text influential on Dracula,  was another Edward Lloyd serial and if Helen Small is to be believed, it was written by the same man). But lawyers aren’t condemned as immoral bloodsuckers (as they are in, say, Dickens’s Bleak House) so much as represented as foolish victims of their own animal appetites. Mrs Lovett excites them by flaunting her charms as she sells, combining sexual desire with greed for food. Besides her special pies she makes them want her special “smiles”. The system – here the organisation of space that puts them into contact with Mrs Lovett’s smiles and pies – is bigger than they are. It’s that that makes them into cannibals. They just can’t resist. The same goes for Sweeney’s poor assistant Tobias, who becomes a barber’s assistant because he’s a failed lawyer, and who is forgiven little but for stopping to buy a pie from Mrs Lovett. He’s not a willing nor witting cannibal and certainly isn’t condemned – on the contrary, we are supposed to feel very sorry for him.

What do the lawyers (and Tobias) get in Mrs Lovett’s pieshop? Pies, smiles – but also information: they go there to gossip. Lawyers were and are knowledge workers who depend on and control the flow of information. Mrs Lovett’s retail space is positioned in exactly the right place and way for them to do that. They are carefully corralled within the horse-shoe of her counter and never allowed beyond it. Of course she doesn’t want them to go behind it in case they discover her secret. This is a form  of negative information control. But their corralled cannibalism also gives them the opportunity to pause for gossip and the production of knowledge. Their information exchange and production is, paradocically, predicated on Mrs Lovett’s control of their ignorance of the exploitation and consumption (at one remove) of other people. They don’t know about the farmers who have come from the country to Smithfield to sell their cattle, who have made a profit and who, murdered by Sweeney Todd, give up their profits, their valuable canes and hats, to his store rooms and secret drawer (Sweeney is not one to reinvest or speculate like Eugene/ Mortimer in The Mysteries of London i.e. he doesn’t put what he’s taken back into circulation). The String of Pearls to that extent is like those attempts today to expose the working conditions in sweat-shops where the cheap clothes we just must have are made, or the conditions that animals are kept in for the food we think we have a right to eat. The novel is thrilling and the story has survived so long  because it deals with a topic perennial to capitalism: the ethical choices all consumers make, often in ignorance of how what we want is made. In the novel this is figured as the difference between street-level consumption in the shop and the terrible underground manufactory. Another organisation of space therefore.

Sweeney Todd stores his stolen treasures upstairs, in the private spaces where the public don’t go. It’s the equivalent of Eliza’s boudoir in The Mysteries of London in which she stores her real identity. Sweeney’s “boudoir” (the word isn’t used of course) likewise contains the evidence of his thefts and murders — this is, his real identity defined by his real activities.

Vertical space therefore is organised in three: the basement reality of manufacture and storage of consumed remains, street level where the story goes on, and the upepr storeys of the house where the reality of identity is hidden away. Only on street level can circulation take place.

A Scandal in Bohemia

Summary of Class Conclusions (I’ll write up a discursive version as soon as possible – I’m only putting this up temporarily to help you compare Conan Doyle’s original “A Scandal in Bohemia” with A Scandal in Belgravia (BBC1, 2011).


•Irene has own space – own house (very different from earlier women) Bryony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue – Garden of Eden – Eve? Serpent? •She manipulates space outside – New Woman – identity not just tied to home •She hides in public space (she inverts the secret spaces) •Fluid – more equal •Sherlock Holmes city not zoned so rigorously as Mysteries of London •Sherlock’s area – the homosocial masculine space of 221B information sharing – he can invade her space but not she his (she can only get to outside the door) •The gendering of space


•Is Irene’s femininity viewed differently than if SH himself had narrated it (SH has low opinion of women’s wit- until end)?  •Watson’s masculine narrative control •Professional masculinity v aristocratic –Intellectual and goal oriented v. wealth and objectification of the world –Irene chooses professional •Irene likes freedom of dressing as a man •The Woman = her name? What Sherlock believes a woman should be, the only one worth mentioning • The Woman V . women  (contradiction)


•Opposite of Sweeney Todd –Money is only a means to achieving satisfaction – •Sherlock wants to be paid the picture not money •The price of information is desire [what does this mean? It’s a wonderfully ambiguous phrase!] •Economics also = control of circ of info •Reputation as information •Value depends on satisfaction not the labour that goes into it

The String of Pearls, sentimental romance and moral free trade

illustration for the famous Dibdin-Pitt theatrical version

Another fascinating and very funny class saw us explore the anonymously manufactured but quite delicious pie which contains Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet street (as later theatrical adaptations advertised him). Serialised in Edward Lloyd’s The People’s Periodical in 18 parts over the winter of 1846-7,  it participates in folk culture, urban myth, feeds off other texts (especially Dickens) and very quickly, helped by the theatrical adaptations which rapidly followed its original publication, makes its own urban confection, as Robert Mack has detailed in his The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: the Life and times of an Urban Legend (Continuum, 2007).

Your initial questions were very revealing of how the text operates. They were very much concerned with how the plot developed, with Sweeney’s motive of particular concern to you.

Unable to identify an author, we started by looking at the context that the story appeared in. Besides focussing on Edward Lloyd (for detail on him turn to the excellent Robert Mack edition entitled Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street) and the ever more densely crowded mass market of the 1840s, we also considered how the story should be read. The String of Pearls marks itself out as a “romance” straight away. Now the distinction between the romance and the novel drawn by David Masson, professor of English literature at University College, London, is often cited. He wrote “when we speak of a Romance, we generally mean ‘a fictitious narrative, in prose or verse, the interest of which turns on marvellous or uncommon interests’; and when we speak of a Novel, we generally mean ‘a fictitious narrative differing from a  romance, insomuch as the incidents are accommodated to the ordinary train of events, and the modern state of society’ (British Novelists and their Styles, Macmillan, 1859, p. 36). What’s not then mentioned is that not only does he go on to say that the distinction isn’t really important, but that the romantic elements of the novel are “medicinal” and connected with nature! Counter to “novels of real life” he sets the following:

In these days especially, when so many of us, cooped up in cities, and chained to this part or that of the crowded machinery of complex civilisation, have all but lost our acquaintance with our ancient mother earth, and hardly known even the overhanging sky, except in ribbands over streets, and as giving picturesqueness to chimneys – is it not well, is it not medicinal, that as much as possible, in the page so fur novelists, as in those of our narrative poets, we should be taken away in imagination from our common social haunts, and placed in situations where Nature still exerts upon Humanity the unbroken magnetism of her inanimate bulk, ‑ soothing into peace in the quiet meadows, whispering of the unearthly in the depths of a forest, telling tales of the past in some solitary crumbling ruin, moaning her sorrow in the gusts of a moor at midnight, or dashing the eternal monotone of her many voices against the embattled shore?  (Masson British Novelists and their Styles, 1859, pp. 37-8)

Doesn’t sound like the same kind of romance as The String of Pearls to me! But The String of Pearls  IS a romance in another sense – the “sentimental” sense. I won’t repeat here what we covered apart from the hilarity engendered by someone saying “Love Conquers All” (which wonderfully sums up the sentimental romance) and remind you first of the significance of the dog who has a – key word – sympathetic relation to his master (and in the first illustration, to Johanna)  and of Colonel Jeffery who not only feels for and with Johanna but is also a good friend to Thornhill: “My friendship for Mr Thornhill, and gratitude, as you know, for the great service he has rendered to us all, will induce me to do my utmost to discover him” he says.  For more detail on the values of the “sentimental” I’ll refer you to the chapter on “Literature of the Kitchen”: Cheap Serial Fiction of the 1840s and 1850s” in  the Blackwell Companion to Sensation Fiction edited by Pamela Gilbert. There the development into the nineteenth-century mass market of what had been originally an eighteenth-century upper-class mark of distinction is more fully explored.

Now, here is a summary of your very rich comments on economics, space and gender.

The economic aspects of the story are, as always, complex – but less so than in G.W.M. Reynolds’s Mysteries of London. You very well pointed out that the string of pearls itself which Lieutenant Thornhill is carrying to Johanna from her beloved Mark Ingestrie – which we later find out is worth the enormous sum of £10,000 – comes from a sailor’s successful “voyage to India”. “[W]here he got them I have not the least idea, for they are of immense value” says Colonel Jeffery to Johanna about Mark, as well he might. We can’t imagine that they just fell into his lap: presumably he undertook what in London would be regarded as some dirty dealings. But since these dealings took place in India, the text doesn’t seem to care (what happens in India stays in India – except for the valuable produce!). The pearls in London are merely a symbol of Mark’s financial and imperial success. In gender terms this marks him out as a real man!  Without them his masculinity would be compromised. Sweeney Todd, the strange outsider whose body and its “cachinatory effusions” terrify people, wants to participate in that. The question remains what “that” is though. Is it Mark’s masculinity? Without money Mark is feminised – he becomes a captured Gothic maiden imprisoned in an underground vault. The text thinks that an outrage against nature, and of course rectifies matters in the end. But how far is money merely a sign of masculinity?

For you pointed out how business and the passion for profit underlie the whole text in more ways than simply proof of gender. The String of Pearls doesn’t condemn profit wholesale.  Rather, it points out that there is a good approach to profit and a bad one. Obviously Sweeney Todd’s and Mrs Lovett’s approaches to it are bad. On the other hand, the farmers who have sold their cattle for a profit at Smithfield aren’t morally condemned (just because Sweeney “polishes them off” doesn’t mean they get what they deserve). Mark Ingestrie’s dubious gain of the string of pearls isn’t condemned either. Mrs Lovett is condemned on the other hand because she exploits her worker too much – without sympathy. She is clearly a brilliant business woman whose main profits come from wholesale not the personal retail sales to promote which she flaunts her charms. She is somehow in possession of a marvellous technology whereby one worker can produce thousands of pies a day. She has entered into a very profitable business – not sexual – partnership with her most important supplier. All that is admirable. But, to recall the words, of David Masson, she “coops  up” her worker in the (manu)factory without pity, and “chains” him “ to this part or that of the crowded machinery of complex civilisation.” She and her supplier exploit people mercilessly, use up their bodies and throw them in a heap when they have no more to give (literally)  underneath St Dunstan’s Church without stopping to consider what their victims feel or the emotional consequences of their actions.

And then we had fun reading metaphorically the human flesh stripped from bodies and recycled into pies sold for profit as like the way Lloyd’s authors regularly raided the private property of other texts (most famously Dickens) and recycled them in altered form, served them up as literary confections in Lloyd’s very own literary factory in Salisbury Square – which is situated just off Fleet street, and not far from Smithfield meat market, and near to where Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett had their shops.

In the end, we concluded that The String of Pearls was in favour of free trade tempered with sympathy.  This is exactly the position of Adam Smith (1723-1790), often regarded as the apologist, theorist and High Priest of free trade. Some have seen him as the theorist of profit for profit’s sake, but in fact his position was much more sympathetic. His two most famous books, The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, when read together (as they should be), make exactly the point that the drive for profit needs to be balanced against feeling and sympathy for our fellow creatures.

Our discussion of space was almost as complicated — and because this blog is already very long indeed, I’ll postpone discussion of that to the next instalment.

Hope – the real Mystery of London?

One thing about G.W.M. Reynolds’s The Mysteries of London that is impossible to question is that much of it is very visceral.

Doesn’t the unflinching detail of the murder of Polly by Bill while their children look on generate a physical reaction in the reader? It’s rapid but not glossed over so that Reynolds makes us see it in front of us. I am always nauseated while reading it, and afterwards when thinking of it. It makes me angry.

Reynolds is using the technology of print to transport us to places, to make us witness to scenes, that our bodies might otherwise never experience. But it’s not a distant understanding – it’s not the experience of the city that the London Eye gives us. In such moments, technology does not mediate and distance us from the world, but wounds us, hurts us – but in thoughtful ways that are very different from the wounds that, were we to witness these scenes in real life, would so traumatise us that we couldn’t think. Reynolds harnesses the technology of print to make us viscerally present and analytically distant at the same time.

He uses the technology to transport us not only to the past but to another part of the city we couldn’t otherwise visit and be safe, and to other states of thinking and feeling.

How does this tie in with what we discussed today?

You heard about the technology and economics of the mass-circulation text, an example of which Reynolds’s Mysteries of London most certainly was. You heard how London was the most obvious place to produce and distribute such a text, but also how London can’t be seen as an entity complete in itself: you heard a lot about Paris too, and how Reynolds was inspired by his life in Paris and by his knowledge of French literature, especially of Eugene Sue’s phenomenally popular feuilleton, the  Mystères de Paris. You also heard about other mysteries of other cities – New York, St Louis and others around the world. The Mysteries of London is just one of many city mystery texts.  The French Mystères feeds into it and it in turn communicates with others, just as Victorian London was a city that existed not simply in itself but communicated with the world. London is the city of circulation, of coming and going, of paths, of adventures, of constant transformation, of multiple plots and multiple plottings, where identities as well as texts migrate and change. Movement, transport is the process that defines this London.

You also heard about Reynolds’s involvement in politics. I particularly mentioned  Chartism and I stressed the politics of Chartism’s interest in representation both in terms of representation in government and in terms of representation of reality.

The questions you asked were as follows:

•What is the reason for the prologue? •What is the reason for cross dressing? •What happened to Eugene? •Why focus on Wealth / Poverty? •What is the origin of the writing style? •What happens to Richard? •How does this text represent London? •How does the text end?

I added queries about gender, economics and space, and we combined the questions to form 6 topics, one for me to answer (what happened to the characters) and 5 that you discussed: the prologue, gender, economics, style, space. The answers to all these cumulatively will answer more specifically your question about “How does  this text represent London”.

The prologue you said set up binaries in order to question them, perhaps deconstruct them, to show that Wealth / Poverty were not absolutes but rather a question of circulation. This notion is set up right away: the opening sentences narrate how “Civilisation” moved East to West – and so may well move on in the future, perhaps again further west to the US.

Gender, we agreed, was a vexed category in The Mysteries of London. It opens with a cross-dressing heroine who isn’t condemned for her transgression. She gets into trouble not for her cross dressing but just because she happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Eliza theatrically feels the rain in the slums near Smithfield Market

Gender is straight away shown as socially performative: Eliza is performing the part of Walter in public while her sex remains, in private for her, never in doubt. It’s the city that enables such gender masquerade (and, indeed, masquerade in general). On a less liberating note, poverty in the city seems to brutalise and unsex mothers – as we see in the case of  Polly who intends to put the eyes out of her daughter with beetles. You had bigger problems in defining how the text defines masculinities – even though there are more men than women in the extract we read! But doesn’t the same apply to men as to women? Don’t we see men masquerading? Think of how the City Man Montague (= Eugene) takes advantage of the anonymity and constant circulation of the city to adopt an identity that is not his, to make money – and an identity – out of air.

In terms of style, you noted the redundancy of the style, the padding.  I’ve heard this before and your examples were very good but I’m not entirely convinced by how it’s the defining characteristic of the style: after all, the plots are swift moving and very ingeniously interlaced (even in the extracts you read, you saw Montague as Eugene, the wife-murdering Bill as one of the men who threw Eliza into the Fleet in chapter 1).  One of the most important experts on Reynolds, Anne Humpherys, reminds us that aspiring writers in the nineteenth century were advised to characterise like Dickens and plot like Reynolds (listen to the interesting BBC radio  documentary on Reynolds here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/r3docs). You also stressed the intense realism of the style. It’s here that I want to return to the murder of Polly by Bill. Isn’t the realism and the detail supposed to move us – to shift our mental and emotional positions? Its investigative realism of the kind that it was possible to read in the newspapers at the time is a very specific kind of representation of reality. It seeks to encompass all – from the luxurious boudoir in upper Clapton to the hell of Upper Union Court, from the polite language of the middle classes to the slang of the criminal underclasses. It seeks to represent all – just as the Chartists wanted everyone (well, all men) to be represented in Parliament. The style is in this sense democratic.

Space, we agreed, was heavily zoned into safe and unsafe areas. This applies as much to the bijou villa in Upper Clapton – the private boudoir where men don’t go (unless they are helped by the technologies of Reynolds’s writing and the illustrator’s burin) v. the public parlour where guests are received – as to the city at large. Eliza’s big mistake is to get lost and wander into areas she shouldn’t have been. She needed the technology of a map, just as Richard needed a moral compass – such as Reynolds’s own text is providing – to help him avoid the wiles of Mr Chichester and (a chapter we didn’t read) of Mrs Arlington’s “Salon”. Without technology, they are lost. You also pointed out the key difference between the suburbs and the centre of the city: the safety and health and space of the suburbs where the Markhams and Eliza have their dwellings v. the crowded centre where, even if as in the Park, the environment seems safe and attractive and natural,  moral corruption lies in wait just as bodies are threatened by disease and violence in the slums nearby.

The question of economics I thought was the hardest question of all. What economics is Reynolds promoting? The answer was very well explained: free circulation of information and money. In other words, Reynolds promotes free trade, though not a dishonest form of it where trickery and deception are employed to ensure the greatest profit for a few. No: he’s in favour of clear representation of what is put into circulation and how it is put into circulation. That ties up – perhaps bizarrely – to the emphasis on the representation of the underworld, including the sewer which was the Fleet at this time. Let’s think of this in relation to Eliza and her alter-ego Walter. At the end of chapter 3 s/he does the morally correct thing: as “an unknown friend” s/he alerts the potential victim to the plot to rob him. In other words, she puts information into circulation. But before that, she herself has been thrown into circulation first by the storm into the narrative, and then by Dick and Bill who throw her into the Fleet Ditch – the sewer which leads out of the city into the Thames and death. In other words, they try to stop her circulating in the city. S/he saves herself, however, and immediately – before the end of the chapter – starts circulating again.  Now isn’t this what wicked greed is in the Reynolds  —  the stopping of circulation, the arrest of flow and its transformation into accumulation?    The idea is based on the Romantic priority of nature over culture, of the countryside over the city.  Economics in London should be like the natural flow of pure water; instead, the reality is a filthy sewer polluted and blocked by City Men, swindlers, gamblers and other criminals.

What has this to do with London? Couldn’t this apply to any city? Yes, of course. That’s why, to cite the title of an excellent book edited by Celina Fox in 1992, “London” is a “World City.” Reynolds’s London stands for all corruption, all pollution, all crime. And its realistic and democratic representation  may itself represent for us the hope of a different, better future.