Parergy and the Beginnings of the Mass Market in the 1840s

 

1st page of The London Journal 1845

One of the key concepts was what I called the parergic after Derrida, though I used the term in a very different way from him. It was an attempt to explain in a serious and non-condescending but at the same time intellectually rigorous way the particular position in the literary market place of texts right at the beginning of the commercial mass-market: what was the relationship of these texts to the more general field? Here in this first post revisiting what seems like a long ago (and indeed I first came up with the idea in the 1990s), is an extract from the original. Later posts will test the concept against other work.

Having provided paragraph-length biographies of several journalists and marked their career paths – they all started aiming for high status and ended writing for money – I came to a conclusion and then sought to explain that conclusion and link it to curious stylistic features characteristic of these texts, features very different from the Edward Lloyd-type serials I had encountered previously which did not seem to care about their status as commodities. The material I was studying from The London Journal seemed worried about being ‘economic literature’ – how did this worry manifest itself exactly?

*****************************

… The London Journal was thus a precipitate out of surplus labour which would prefer the greater symbolic (and at this stage usually economic) capitals of the up-market magazines. The desire for a unified cultural field that I discussed in Chapter 2 is visible here, supported sociologically by the very limited socio-cultural group that writers in general came from (Altick, 1989). In that sense, the impression gained from Vizetelly’s description of the magazine as staffed by ‘failures’ is correct.

The longing for the high but exclusion from it that such career paths suggest results in what I term the parergic. This comprises a set of specific textual effects and practices, which, while underpinned by sociological narratives, does not inhere in specific bodies or corpora (a writer, artist, a periodical or even an article may display the parergic or not at various points). It is a system whereby texts are based on originals that are invested with greater symbolic capital and authority. Officially respectful and emulative, the parergic is tinged always with a resentment, caused by exclusion from desired cultural areas, that brings about mutation in what is supposedly emulated. The parergic sometimes raids authority aggressively and seems therefore to attack it, but nonetheless paradoxically buttresses cultural boundaries even in the act of transgressing them. Unlike parody, which always in some sense undermines the authority of its original even while being complicit with it, the parergic fully acknowledges and maintains this authority even when it effaces its model. Unlike straightforward imitation of the high, which depends on large cultural capital to judge its value, the parergic does not use the exclusive codes or high prices that cultural authority wraps itself in to keep out the uninitiated.[1]

The weekly ‘Essays’ furnish typical examples of the parergic in terms of that practice which is ‘style’. Essay L on ‘The English Language’, signed by John Wilson Ross (III: 7-8), begins with the commonplace thesis that ‘the progress of language marks the progress of the human mind’, and swiftly interprets this in a nationalist sense. It continues by placing the ‘rise’ of the English language at the Reformation because then ‘men began to argue’ and to do so ‘they [had to] express themselves with precision’. Thereafter,

Addison was unquestionably the first of our writers who introduced elegance of expression into the composition of English prose. He found the writings of his predecessors disfigured by a loose, inaccurate, and clumsy style. He changed all this, and made himself a model for imitation. In his works we find no forced metaphor – no dragging clause – no harsh cadence, – no abrupt close. He is, also, a happy model for the use of figurative language. They seem to spring spontaneously from the subject: and are never detained till the spirit evaporates or the likeness vanishes. They are just like flashes of lightning in a summer’s night – vivid, transient, lustrous, – unexpected but beautiful, – passing over the prospect with a pleasing brightness, and just vanishing before you catch a sight of all the beauties of the scene they gild. The copious and classic mind of that writer gave our language the greatest degree of elegance and accuracy of which it is susceptible. Since his time fine writing has not improved. Simply, because it cannot be. You cannot give the English language a nicer modification of form, or a greater beauty of feature than Addison gave it. But you can give it more nerve and muscle. And subsequent writers have done so.                                                                                                     (III: 7)

It was Johnson, ‘[t]hat Colossus of English literature’, who provided the muscle. Since his time ‘there has occurred no variation in the style of English prose’ except, possibly, by increased use of the ‘Gothic, whence [English] sprung; and that is a feature in language which our readers will agree with us is more deserving of disgust than admiration, and a variation in style more worthy of punishment than praise’ (III: 8).

The essay’s claims to authority depend largely on the assumption of a common standard throughout the literary field…

Thomas Walker’s The Original 1835

Here is the first of an irregular series describing individual Victorian periodicals.

The title of the first is The Original. A lively, unillustrated 3d weekly 16-page miscellany (though its first issue comprised 12 pages and its last just 4),  it ran 20 May 1835 – 2 December 1835 for 29 numbers, coming out every Wednesday for 3d and also monthly in a wrapper (its last number, the 4-page issue, cost only a penny). It was published by Henry Renshaw, 356 Strand, London and printed by Ibotson & Palmer, Savoy Street.

The Original was directed mainly towards the male upper middle classes “aloof from sect and party” (no.1 p.2), concerned, as its “Preliminary Address” states, with “whatever is most interesting and important in Religion and Politics, in Morals and Manners, and in our Habits and Customs”, leavened with anecdotes and autobiography, in an attempt to raise “the national tone in whatever concerns us socially or individually”.

It was written entirely by Thomas Walker, the son of a Manchester manufacturer and Whig reformer. Walker was born in 1784, gained his B.A. and M.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1808 and 1811 respectively, and was called to the bar in 1812. In 1829, he became a police magistrate in Lambeth court. Six years later, he began The Original for, he claimed, two reasons. Firstly, it would provide “a constant and interesting stimulus to my faculties of observation and reflection” – in other words, it would act as a kind of public diary – and secondly, it would provide for the reader “an alternative diet of sound and comfortable doctrines blended with innoxious amusement” (“Preliminary Address”). Walker was, however, unable to maintain a constant flow of new material and reprinted material from works he had already published, the most substantial of these being the pamphlet Suggestions for a Constitutional and Efficient Reform in Parochial Government (1834).

 

In social and political terms, the periodical criticises both Tories and Whigs in the interest of “Truth”, both being presented as oligarchic at bottom. True democracy, Walker opines, implies attrition of centralised government and devolution to the parish level where future men of state can be trained. Walker is staunchly against the Poor Law and indiscriminate charity of all sorts, positing bad morals on an individual level as the root of poverty in Britain, citing his experience of the courts as evidence. In this sense,  it is a typical Whig/Radical miscellany of the 1830s.

The most famous and influential section of the miscellany in the nineteenth century and beyond was, however,  “Aristology; or, The Art of Dining”. Beginning in number 13 and continuing until number 22, it received particular favour in the Quarterly Review. It was eventually published separately in 1883 with the rather unlikely suggestion it become a school textbook, edited by no less than Sir Henry Cole, founder of the Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music – and the National School of Cookery. It is possible to see the influence of Brillat-Savarin’s famous Physiologie du Goût (1825) in Walker’s mixture of charming anecdote and pseudo-science. However, recipes are conspicuously lacking: unlike Brillat-Savarin, Walker concentrated on refining the delights of consumption rather than production. His work relates to the gastronomic literature associated with gentlemen’s clubs such as George Vasey’s Illustrations of Eating (1847) and J. Timb’s Hints for the Table (1859) rather than to practical cookbooks such as Esther Copley’s Cottage Comforts (1825), Acton’s Modern Cookery (1845) or Beeton’s Household Management (1861).

To the media historian the most interesting parts of The Original comprise an irregular series of addresses to the reader in which Walker describes in detail his processes of composition in the tone of intimate letters to a friend. This ironic and stylish self-reflexivity is actually, as Walker explains, the result of the pressures of periodical publication: he can’t think of what else to write about except the problem of what to write. Typical of the romantic journalist, this, like the pieces on dining, is a variant of the “subjectified occasionalism” discussed by Carl Schmitt almost a century ago whereby  “The romantic subject treats the world as an occasion and an opportunity for his romantic productivity” (Schmitt, p. 17). One may disagree with Schmitt’s condemnation that the author may “take any concrete point as a departure and stray into the infinite and incomprehensible – either in an emotionally fervent fashion or in a demonically vicious fashion, depending upon the individuality of the particular romantic” (p. 17) but the widespread attempt to capitalise on – even monetarise – individual bodily experience is certainly characteristic of the time. The political implications of such a valorisation will be one of the tributaries that feed into individualism (about whose elater development I have written elsewhere). 

The last issue of The Original comprises mostly an “Address to the Reader” in which Walker begs leave to resume his periodical “the first Wednesday in March”, for “London living and authorship do not go well together”. He had become a celebrity: “My writings have latterly drawn upon me more numerous and cordial invitations than usual.” He was never able to fulfill this promise: after a short illness, he died in Brussels on 20 January the following year.

Useful Bibliographical References

Waterloo V: 3647 (NB information there erroneous)

editions 2-4, 1836, 1838, all published by H. Renshaw. I have not seen the 3rd edition. American editions were published certainly from 1837 e.g. by E.L. Carry & A. Hart in Philadelphia.

Walker, Thomas, The Original, 5th edition, edited and arranged under distinct heads, with additions by William A. Guy, M.B. Cantab, FRS, Renshaw, 1875

[Hayward, Abraham], review of The Original,Quarterly Review, February 1836

[Hayward, Abraham], The Art of Dining; or, Gastronomy and Gastronomes, Murray, 1852

Schmitt, Carl, Politische Romantik, 1st edition 1919; 2nd and revised ed. 1925;  trans. as Political Romanticism by Guy Oakes, MIT Press, 1986

[Walker, Thomas], Aristology, or The Art of Dining, with Preface and Notes by Felix Summerly (i.e. Sir Henry Cole), G. Bell & Sons: London, 1881 (subsequently, with “The Art of Attaining High Health”, ed. by Philip B. M. Allan, P. Allan & Co.1921; also with a Preface by Brooke Crutchley and illus. by Lynton Lamb, in a limited edition of 500 copies, CUP, 1965)

“Walker, Thomas, 1784-1836” in the DNB.

Lynette Hunter, “Proliferating Publications: The Progress of Victorian Cookery Literature”, in Luncheon, Nuncheon and Other meals: Eating with the Victorians, ed. C. Anne Wilson, Alan Sutton, 1994, 51-70.

Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 3

There is no sustained recent work on either Harriet or Leon Lewis, although there is a brief post on the both at http://www.ulib.niu.edu/badndp/lewis_leon.html and another on Leon (whose real name was Julius Warren Lewis) at John Adcock’s Yesterday’s Papers site.  Harriet has not benefited from the recent revival of Southworth and other American women writers. Most of the information about her in my London Journal book therefore came from the letters in the Bonner file in the New York Public Library. Brief obituaries of Harriet appear on 21 May 1878 in The New York Times (p.1), and The New York Herald (p.5) and a particularly affectionate one in the New York Ledger itself (4 June 1878, p. 4), largely devoted to reproducing extracts from Harriet’s last letter to her editor Robert Bonner, with whom she entertained a very good relationship.

Leon and Harriet had married in 1856 when she was 15 and he 23 with already a very colourful career behind him. Leon was to run off with another 15 year old soon after Harriet died, aged 37, of a botched gynaecological operation). The copious letters from Harriet and Leon suggest that Leon blusteringly carried on the business and squandered their money while she laboured over the novels – including some under his name.

Yet it is a letter from Leon to Bonner that is particularly interesting for its revelations of how American writers dealt with the transatlantic market.

9 April 1873

Dear Mr Bonner

We hasten to return by first mail the London letter and to reply to the question with which you accompany it.

You refused us the proofs 4 years ago, saying (in substance) to Mrs L. that if she were to have them she would be likely to give undue prominence to the thought as to how the stories would suit over there, etc. (which, by the way, was a mistaken estimate of her character).

We or you or all of us have consequently had some $1500 or $2000 yearly less income during the period named than we might have had. Mr Johnson, of the London Journal, and others have repeatedly written to us to this effect, but we never replied to more than one in ten, and then only to say (you having refused us proofs) that they were not at our disposal, etc.

The next thing in order of course were offers for original stories – i.e. for manuscripts – but a like answer was returned, although the offers made exceeded any sums that had ever been paid anywhere by anybody for anything in the line of stories.

And under this state of things it became a question with Sunday English publishers as to which of them would derive the most benefit from republishing from the regular Monday Ledger Mrs L.’s stories.

That is a race of printers of which we do not propose to constitute ourselves the time-keepers. We can do no less, however, than except Mr. Johnson, of the Journal, from the general condemnation. True, he reprinted the stories without authority and without paying for them – (since he could’nt [sic] have them for pay) – but he has done so under certain conditions which command attention from their rarity:

1st – He has given the name of Mrs L. and even given her a standing qualification of “celebrated American authoress”

2nd – The London Journal is of ten times more literary importance and pecuniary value than all the rest of the story papers of the British Empire kingdom [sic] put together. The sum of $3,750,000 (£750,000) has been vainly offered for it to our own certain knowledge. [Here an unidentified extract from a book or magazine is pasted into the letter claiming the excellence of The London Journal. The sum Leon quotes is absurd]

3rd – During our stay in London in ’71, (as we must have told you upon our return) Mr Johnson called upon us at Morley’s [Hotel], offered us every civility, private boxes at theatres, invitations and introductions, etc. and upon the last day of our stay pressed upon Mrs. L a roll of bank [sic] of England notes, as an acknowledgement of the good he had derived from the stories, even in the face of sharing them with everybody else and under all the adverse circumstances – at which time he renewed his offers for proofs, as also for stories written expressly for him.

And now is this Mr Fiske [Amos Kidder Fiske (1842-1921), editor of the American fiction paper, The Boston Globe] more to you than we are that you should “aid and abet” him with the proofs you have so expressly refused to us, and so drag our names into a wretched squawk of a paper that could not possibly last three months, and during this period exist only in obscene contempt? After all you have been to us and we to you – after all we know of your heart and brain – we shall require your written declaration of preference in favour of Mr. F. before we will believe it!

Excuse scratches. We write in haste to catch the mail.

Ever yours,

Leon and Harriet Lewis

For all Leon’s protestations, The London Journal must have been supplied with advance copy of Harriet’s novels since 1869 (when Leon had first asked Bonner for proofs of her novels). Even more consistently than Southworth novels, Harriet’s appear in the New York Ledger and The London Journal at the distance of only a few weeks at most – anyone could work out that for that to happen advance sheets must have been sent across the ocean. No wonder Leon doesn’t want to be a timekeeper in what he calls the “race of printers” – Bonner no doubt had already made his calculations and come to the logical conclusions.

Leon’s also anxious to redefine the tag he claims The London Journal gave to Harriet. This was – he’s right – placed under her name in all of her novels  until Edda’s Birthright, published in The London Journal and the Ledger 3 months after Leon wrote the letter transcribed above. But the tag of “celebrated American authoress” was only part of a longer notice. What the notice actually said was that The London Journal’s was “[t]he only edition in this country sanctioned by this celebrated American authoress”. The full tag was less a celebration of Harriet than an assertion of right.

The tag had been prompted in the first instance by the appearance of Lewis novels in The London Reader, a magazine run by no less than George Stiff, the former owner of The London Journal, from right next door. While almost all London Reader serials are anonymous and with altered titles and sometimes names of principal characters changed, it’s hard to trace the originals, yet it had carried novels with Leon’s signature in 1866-7 (The House of Secrets, 4 August 1866 – 12 January 1867) and in mid-1867, followed by one with Harriet’s, The Golden Hope. More recently, the Reader had somehow published The Hampton Mystery, a version of Harriet’s first novel in The London Journal, The Double Life; Or, The Hampton Mystery a fortnight earlier than the magazine which was published literally next door, The London Journal – which was, it seems, now forced into declaring that it alone had the only sanctioned edition. Since the original had been published in America at exactly the same date as in Reader, it was impossible for Stiff to obtain a copy and put it into print by anything other than advance sheets. Later, Harriet’s Tressilian Court (1871) will likewise appear in The London Reader a week before The London Journal’s version, and Lady Chetwynd’s Spectre (1873) at exactly the same time.

What’s happening here? One possibility is that Stiff was raiding the mail intended for his former magazine and now rival next door. While he’d certainly done this sort of thing before, there are other possibilities too.

It is clear from the Bonner letters that Leon was a spendthrift and a gambler. After Harriet had procured fame and a good deal of money for them both since first appearing in the Ledger in 1862 (aged 15 and already married to Leon), he had sunk very deeply into debt. Bonner, who was clearly very fond of Harriet, kept lending the Lewises money which she would pay back by writing several serials simultaneously for him under both her and Leon’s name (romances under hers, adventure stories under his): eighty-one numbers spread over five novels managed to pay off $6075 at half rates. It seems to me very likely that the Lewises sent The London Journal AND The London Reader – and quite possibly other magazines that I have yet to discover –  advance copies of Harriet’s works to increase their already huge but always insufficient income.

What I’ve hoped to show in this and the previous blog posts is that in the cases of these three women – May Agnes Fleming, E.D.E.N. Southworth and Harriet Lewis – one cannot talk of “piracy” in the sense of a foreign publisher robbing an author. Two of the women had “exclusive” contracts with their American publishers which they broke quite legally by dealing also with publishers in Britain. Even when apparently straight piracy occurred, as with some novels by Southworth and Fleming, the writers still benefited from this in the end.

As we have come to realise more and more, nineteenth-century women writers were by no means all victims of a male publishing establishment. These three indeed, through translation, achieved a global circulation far beyond the transatlantic anglophone axis that I have focussed on here. In that sense they prefigure Hollywood by a good two generations – they are Hollywood’s grandmas indeed. The implications of that must await another set of posts.

Hollywood’s Grandmas Part 2

In 1855, Robert Bonner of the New York Ledger (NYL) started serialising “Fanny Fern” (Sara Payton Willis). He advertised that she was paid  $100 per column so that readers could gauge the exact amount she got paid – and could value her writing accordingly. It was at this point that sales – and the profits – of the NYL rose to unprecedented heights. This sent a clear signal across the Atlantic that America, with whom a copyright agreement still did not exist, could now provide rich and proven fodder for the cheap periodical market. The result was that The Family Herald pirated Fanny Fern’s two serial novels from NYL in 1855-6 and other papers widely plagiarised and imitated her columns.

portrait of Southworth from Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman’s Record (1853), p. 794; also 1855 ed. from http://www.librarycompany.org/ women/portraits/southworth.htm

The London Journal, The Family Herald’s main rival, didn’t want to publish the same thing at the same time and so researched the American mass market. It discovered a tale called The Lost Heiress that the Saturday Evening Post had just published. The London Journal started running it a month after Fanny Fern’s novel had begun in The Family Herald, having changed the title from The Lost Heiress to The True and False Heiress. It published the serial anonymously until its very last episode, when it revealed the author to be E.D.E.N. Southworth. The serial was apparently very successful.

Back in America, this was noticed by Robert Bonner who invited Southworth to write exclusively for the New York Ledger. She started her series of exclusive” novels for him in 1857 and became one of the most widely read and reprinted authors of the entire nineteenth century. This in turn caused the Ledger’s sales to rise ever higher and The London Journal and other penny periodicals to print more of her stories.

As for why I’ve put 1883 as the terminus of my study you may think that’s curious when copyright plays such an important part in my narrative and the US started regulating international copyright in 1891. But two of the authors I’m focussing on were dead by then – and there are reasons why Southworth appeared in the British mass market periodical much less after 1868. When in 1883 The London Journal made the serious mistake of trying to serialise Zola and lost a large number of readers, they chose to rescue the situation by serialising a Harriet Lewis novel even though she had died 5 years previously. What the original of that novel is I haven’t been able to establish. But I can say that as far as I been able to discover, it hadn’t been published in Britain before and that her name was considered a remedy for the ills of declining circulation. It’s possible of course that she never wrote the London Journal serial: they might have only added her famous name to it. Be that as it may,  what appear in Britain are only reprints of works by these three women. 1883 therefore marks a watershed insofar as works new to the market are concerned.

The above is all background to the question I really want to address in these three blog posts which is whether the literary property of these American women was “pirated” – stolen morally (if even if such action was legal) – by the British periodicals.

To answer the question is actually rather difficult, for it depends partly on the definition of the term “piracy” and partly on information that is lacking. There is little doubt that Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fanny Fern’s writings were pirated in Britain in the same way that the French novels of Sue and Dumas had been in the 1840s. But the cases of the writers I’m talking of present complications.

While I only want to talk of the three novelists in The London Journal I’ve mentioned, May Agnes Fleming, EDEN Southworth and Harriet Lewis, they will provide varied examples of how American women writers were not simply melodramatic victims of wicked men in Europe. Rather I’ve found that, unlike Isabel Archer in Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady they could actually benefit from and actively manipulate the system of transatlantic cultural exchange.

image from http://content.lib.sfu.ca/cdm/ singleitem/collection/ ceww/id/385/rec/18

First then, May Agnes Fleming. Her first two novels in The London Journal were pirated in a quite straightforward sense, yet this surprisingly worked to her advantage. In 1868, Fleming had signed an exclusive contract with the Philadelphia fiction weekly Saturday Night. The following year The London Journal took from it a novel originally called The Heiress of Glengower, renaming it The Sister’s Crime and publishing it anonymously. Several papers in America pirated it in return, unaware that it was already copyright in America. It was so popular that when it was legally stopped in the American papers, a “bidding war” for the author resulted. The outcome was victory for Fleming: she accepted the offer of the New York Weekly which immediately tripled her income, later signed a contract that gave her 15% royalties on the sales of her novels in volume format, and, from 1872, made an arrangement to send The London Journal advance sheets for £12 per instalment. Altogether, this gave her $10,000 a year. She didn’t do too badly out that initial piracy.

E.D.E.N. Southworth’s relation with The London Journal was even more complicated. Her first three novels in the magazine were pretty certainly pirated and, like Mrs Stowe before her, she came to England to stop this – for residence in Britain gave copyright protection. However, in the year Southworth came, 1859, although she was under exclusive contract to Robert Bonner, she must have arranged to give advance sheets of her most famous novel, The Hidden Hand, to the former owner of The London Journal, George Stiff, as it appeared in another magazine of his, The Guide, only a week after it came out in the New York Ledger. When Stiff rebought The London Journal he continued his relationship with her. The next year, 1860, The London Journal would publish two more novels by Southworth again only a week after their New York appearance. Hypocritically, in an open letter to readers of the Ledger (10 March 1860) Southworth had just complained about being plagiarised in Britain . In 1861, a novel of hers even appeared in London before it came out in New York (Eudora).

Sailing ever closer to the wind, she wrote Captain Rock’s Pet especially for The London Journal. After this, none of her novels appear in it for two years. Stiff had again sold The London Journal and instead, some of her novels appear in his new magazine, the London Reader anonymously. The next Southworth novel in The London Journal, Sylvia (1864), was probably pirated, as it is a version of Hickory Hall, a serial that had appeared in the National Era in 1850. But such is impossible in the case of her next three novels in The London Journal, Left Alone, The Manhater and The Malediction. These again all appear either a week before or a week after they are printed in the Ledger. Southworth’s last novel in The London Journal, The Double Life (1869), is a version of another National Era serial from twenty years previously, which may again suggest piracy. Perhaps Bonner prevented her from sending more advance sheets. Southworth wrote a particularly strong declaration of loyalty to him dated 12 January 1869, which may be read as finally accepting that she really was under exclusive contract to him. Perhaps it is because of this that The London Journal turned to another and younger New York Ledger staple, also under supposedly exclusive contract to Robert Bonner, Harriet Lewis.

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 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).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky0GjgbOakw

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)

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).

Space

•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

Gender

•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)

Economics

•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.