An interview with Emelyne Godfrey

Emelyne Godfrey is the author of the books Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and its newly published sister volume, Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society.

Q – Emy, can you describe how the new book fits in to your ongoing research on the topic of self defence during the “long Victorian era”?

A – It was effectively the third chapter of my PhD on Victorians and self-defence (which focused on H. G. Wells’ Ann Veronica and women’s self-defence and martial arts in Edwardian literature) but as I started researching for this book, I found so much new material so it felt as if I was starting the research from scratch. Writing it took somewhat longer than expected!

Q – What were your motivations for writing on this topic?  In particular, how did the new book come about?

A – The books were ultimately the result of my mother’s suggestion a number of years ago that I go on a self-defence course which she had seen advertised on TV. At the time, I was a student at Birkbeck College, London, doing the MA in Victorian Studies and was casting about in my mind for a topic for a PhD and was reading about the Ripper murders when it occurred to me to ask how men and women defended themselves during this time. Alongside that, I learned from speaking to women after the self-defence course was that concepts of safety as they relate to feminism were so subjective.

Q – In what way?

A – Our self-defence instructor told us she refused to go out on her own after 8pm, which some women said didn’t sound very empowering, or feasible, especially if you were a student at Birkbeck, when some classes ended at 9pm. What was empowering? Avoiding danger or staying out a bit later and taking the last bus home? Other questions also popped up: how did one respond to being accosted or threatened, where were the sources of danger, and did men and women assess threat in different ways. I started interviewing anybody I saw about the subject of safety and I was passionate about seeking the answers. Intriguingly, men and women were debating these questions in the Victorian era, a time which saw a massive growth in London’s population and also witnessed the growing numbers of independent women of all backgrounds engaged in all kinds of work, and also philanthropy, travel and political campaigning.

Q – The subtitle refers to “Dagger-Fans and Suffragettes” – can you tell us what a “Dagger-Fan” is?

A – The dagger-fan was a novelty hand fan, designed in the shape of a dagger in its sheath. It’s kept at The Fan Museum in Greenwich, which displays some gorgeous fans from throughout the ages. At least one contemporary commentator observed with humour that such a dangerously shaped accessory might subtly discourage unwanted admirers who might lurk on trains or at street corner.

The dagger-fan is symbolic of all the many kinds of subtle means, discussed in this book,  that a woman could employ to deflect threat while out and about – gesturing with her fan, a humorous retort, disguise, a clever use of eye contact. As Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Mona Caird’s The Wing of Azrael, remind us, the ‘marriage market’ and the Victorian home could be a place of danger where all kinds of self-defence skills were needed. What I think all the writers examined in this book show is that there were some areas of life where the law couldn’t reach, and women had to be able to learn to protect themselves.

Q – Of all the heroines described in your book, who is your favorite, and why?

A – I admire the character of Judith Lee as she’s an independent spirit, and she can defend herself using jujitsu against a variety of criminals. I also think that the way an author writes about danger is as important as characterisation. While Judith Lee gets very angry, she has an understated, almost stiff-upper-lip way of talking about peril, which is quite amusing, a credit to the skills of her creator, Richard Marsh, was actually an intriguing figure himself.

Q – In what way?

A – He was involved in amateur dramatics before his writing career began, he also had a gift for portraying the mindsets and distinctive voices of his characters. He was author of the horror-thriller, The Beetle: A Mystery, which was published in 1897, the year in which Dracula appeared, and, according to a number of scholars, was more popular than Bram Stoker’s novel for some decades.  Marsh also spent some time in jail, changed his name and became a prolific writer. What interests me about Marsh was that he combined horror and violence with humour in his stories. His work daringly referenced contemporary crimes such as the Whitechapel Murders – you can see shades of that in his Judith Lee story, Conscience. He really struck a chord with the public with his depiction of Judith Lee, who was in many ways Sherlock Holmes’s equivalent.

Q – You’re also the publicity officer for the H.G. Wells Society.  How does Wells’ character Ann Veronica fit in with your theme?

A – I must say that don’t agree with all of Wells’s views on, for example, women, and some of his views are quite controversial today (he was in many ways a man of his time as well as being a forward thinker) but I think he’s a wonderful novelist and wordsmith whose work is both stirring, lightly humorous and cheekily iconoclastic. I do love his depiction of Ann Veronica, his Edwardian heroine, who wants to see life. A keen hockey player, she also learns jujitsu at high school and uses her knowledge of martial arts to defeat the rather sleazy Mr Ramage, who tries to take advantage of her in a locked hotel room. I think Wells sensitively portrays her feelings of guilt at having tackled him quite so effectively, but at least she does defend herself and doesn’t rely on a hero to come along and save her.

I see Judith Lee and Ann Veronica as early equivalents of feisty women in today’s literature and culture, particularly Buffy Summers from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and even Anastasia Steele from Fifty Shades of Grey – they aren’t invulnerable, they suffer setbacks, deal with the ups and downs of love but they each have their own particular powers and channel their anger into the hand-to-hand defence of good causes.

Q – Finally, Emy, your book includes a chapter on Edith Garrud and the martial arts training of the Suffragettes.  The image of the jujitsuffragettes is easily romanticised by modern readers.  What would you say was the actual, and/or symbolic, social significance of Suffragettes training in the martial arts circa 1913?

A – I’m still making up my mind on that subject. On the one hand, I do agree that there is a tendency to romanticise jujitsuffragettes today, probably because the idea of a woman wearing a corset, big hair and an even bigger hat fighting a man and felling him to the floor cuts a bit of an incongruous yet charming and quaint image in the modern mind.  I think some campaigners enjoyed the limelight too and, as H.G. Wells, suggests in Ann Veronica, some may have joined the movement to do something exciting. Some of them also espoused some more violent means which were controversial.

On the other hand, when you read what some militants went through in jail – sleep, hunger and thirst striking – and how they fought against the ignominy of force feeding (and the Bodyguard bravely protected their leaders from re-arrest and torture under the Cat and Mouse Act) you really get a sense of how brave these women were. I think that whether or not the vote was won by women’s war effort, the suffragettes, and indeed suffragists, raised the public consciousness with regard to female suffrage; it’s something I always think about when I put my cross on the ballot paper.



Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature: Duelling with Danger, is out in paperback in March 2013. Both books are discounted 50% until 31 December 2012. Emelyne will be speaking about garotting (Victorian-era mugging) and Bartitsu at the Victorian Macabre Evening at Blackwell’s bookshop on Charing Cross Road, London, between 6.30-9pm on 14 December 2012, with Jonathan Sale, who will be discussing his book, Premature Burial: How It May Be Prevented.  The event is free (please register with Blackwell’s beforehand so that they know the number of seats needed) and Emelyne’s books will be sold for £20.99 on the night.

“Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society: From Dagger-Fans to Suffragettes”

The topic of women and danger has long fascinated historians. Emelyne Godfrey’s new book, available now from Palgrave Macmillan, innovatively situates both well-known and more obscure themes within the cultural context of the development of self-defence for ladies during the period from circa 1850 to 1914. Elizabeth Robins, Mona Caird and Anne Brontë considered the role of physiognomy in spotting rogue suitors, the nature of feminine anger and the dangers inside and outside the home. H.G. Wells’s controversial novel, Ann Veronica (1909), is refreshingly re-examined as a testament to the growth of women’s sports while the accompanying proliferation of women’s martial arts classes was promoted by Edith Garrud, the trainer for the suffragette Bodyguard. Richard Marsh’s detective, Judith Lee, a lip-reader and jujitsu practitioner, has been likened to Sherlock Holmes; her encounters with the Edwardian criminal underworld are explored here. Emelyne Godfrey introduces major themes in this area, showcasing a wealth of literary sources, artefacts and archival documents.


List of Figures
A Note on the Text
On the Street
Danger en Route
Behind Closed Doors: Bogey-Husbands in Disguise: Mona Caird’s The Wing of Azrael (1889)
Elizabeth Robins’ The Convert
The Last Heroine Left?
‘Where Are You Going To, My Pretty Maid?’: Elizabeth Robins on White Slavery
Read My Lips

Note that the publishers are offering a 50% discount on both this book and the companion volume Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature until 30 November, valid in the UK and Europe. Simply enter the code WGODFREY2012a at the Palgrave Publishing website checkout.

Jujitsuffragettes featured in BBC History Magazine

Self defence historian Emelyne Godfrey‘s article on the jujitsu training of the British Suffragettes is now available in the December issue of BBC History Magazine.

You can also listen to Emy’s interview for the BBC History Magazine’s podcast by clicking on this link.

Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu in the Sherlock Holmes Collection

On Thursday, June 28th, a wall display commemorating Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright was unveiled as part of the Sherlock Holmes Collection at Marylebone Library in London. The display consists of a large framed print of Sidney Paget’s illustration of Sherlock Holmes’ “baritsu” struggle with Professor Moriarty, and a companion print offering a summary of Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu and its connection with the Holmes mythos. The display was designed by Tony Wolf and was donated to the Collection on behalf of the Bartitsu Society, towards the mission of memorialising Barton-Wright’s life and achievements.

Above: Emelyne Godfrey, author of the book Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature outside Marylebone Library.

Above: David Jones of the Sherlock Holmes Society strikes a pose inspired by Paget’s famous illustration. You can click on the picture to enlarge it and see the detail of the display.

Above: Bartitsu instructors James Marwood (left) and George Stokoe demonstrate the Bartitsu method of self defence with a walking stick as part of Mr. Marwood’s lecture/demonstration.

Q&A with Emelyne Godfrey, author of “Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature”

Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature is Bartitsu Society associate Emelyne Godfrey’s new book, which is now available via the Macmillan website, Amazon and other booksellers.

Ms. Godfrey’s previous antagonistics-related projects have included entries in the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, the two-volume Martial Arts of the World encyclopedia set and the article Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Bartitsu for History Today magazine. She has also lectured on the subjects of crime and self defence in the Victorian era and is among the interviewees for our forthcoming documentary, Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes.

Q – Can you describe how you first became interested in the subject of
self defence in the Victorian period?

A – This historical adventure was inspired by a women’s self-defence class that I took when I was an undergraduate student in London. Although we learnt some defensive manoeuvres, the emphasis was on planning ahead and avoiding dangerous situations.

At that time, I was researching the topic of the gentleman-villain for my MA Victorian Studies dissertation. Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty, was one of my subjects. He’s arguably one of the most famous villains in Victorian literature whose evil nature has a riveting superhuman aspect: even after Moriarty’s death, Holmes hears his screams at the Reichenbach Falls. What was also curious was the sheer number of acts of violence in the Holmes stories as well as weapons, from the weird “life-preserver” to the vicious expanding bullet.

I was using a Wordsworth facsimile edition original Strand Magazine Holmes stories, obtained for a mere £3.75. It’s my favourite edition and has friends’ witty alternative captions to the pictures! Whilst reading it, I circled the word “baritsu”, adding a few exclamation marks next to it (I’m sure this is a familiar feeling to Bartitsu Society members).

At that time, I happened upon the EJMAS website, and was fascinated by Tony’s articles and reprints of Barton-Wright’s monographs. A subject and a bunch of questions started to form: How did Victorian men and women respond to threat? What kinds of crimes scared them the most? How popular were alternatives to boxing? And what on earth was a ‘life-preserver’?

Q – What happened next?

A – I was awarded a PhD in English Research on self-defence in Victorian literature. The night before submitting it, there was an earthquake in the UK. They don’t happen here very often but it’s a surreal experience seeing your thesis skimming across the table! Then came the dreaded VIVA interview exam. Fortunately, I had two lovely examiners who asked me lots of questions on Barton-Wright, which was rather good. It was over in a flash and I was very pleased.

Shortly after graduating in 2008, I gave a paper at a Conan Doyle conference at the University of Hull. The experience was somewhat interesting as my glasses had gone astray and to give the talk in a darkened room, wearing blue prescription sunglasses which was all very Ozzy Osbourne. There I met Clive Bloom, the Crime Files series editor for Palgrave and the book took off.

Writing the book wasn’t just a case of rewriting the PhD. Looking back over both, they are very different beasts. Writing a book, you can bring in all kinds of contemporary references and explore the people and events behind the literature.

Q – You’ve broken some new ground in this book …

A – There’s already a lot of information on crime (from poisoning to burglary) and there are books on sports, duelling and boxing during the ‘long nineteenth century’. This book brings together these themes and explores well-established and exciting new work on Victorian masculinity and self-defence in a wider perspective, from the use of weaponry to the employment of the science of physiognomy to read character.

It also draws in little-known topics. For instance, while many Victorian crime specialists have heard of the mid-Victorian garotting (strangling) panics, I have not seen this famous topic discussed with reference to Victorian theatre and it was thrilling to explore this avenue, using hitherto neglected plays from the British Library Manuscript Collection.

Q – Do you have any favourite anecdotes from the process of writing the book?

A – I loved working on it and have many happy memories. I really enjoyed the London launch of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005) where Tony and others gave demonstrations and we all went for a drink afterwards. When I visited the Royal Armouries in Leeds, Rob Temple and Keith Ducklin put on a sensational performance of Bartitsu for me and let me try on one of the helmets they wore during a jousting demonstration. The bizarre garotting plays were treasures and it was equally exciting to find examples of the weapons featured in these works. Some of these are kept at the Metropolitan Police Historical Collection, which is now a small museum, located in West London. It was exciting to meet police historians, and hunt through boxes of artefacts, encountering old helmets, torches and truncheons. The historians and staff are always very welcoming and you have the impression that something intriguing turns up every day. The last time I visited, we were drinking tea and looking through police diaries written during the time of the Whitechapel Murders.

Q – What is your next project?

A – As well as my freelance work, I’m Guest Editing a special edition of the H.G. Wells Society journal on Wells’s controversial 1909 novel, Ann Veronica. I’m also working on a sister book on Victorian women and self-defence so it’s all action-packed!

“Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature”

Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature is the title of Bartitsu Society associate Emelyne Godfrey’s new book, now available for pre-publication orders via the Macmillan website, Amazon and other booksellers.

Ms. Godfrey’s previous antagonistics-related projects have included entries in Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, the two-volume Martial Arts of the World encyclopedia set and the article Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Bartitsu for History Today magazine. She has also lectured on the subjects of crime and self defence in the Victorian era and is among the interviewees for our forthcoming documentary, Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes.

According to the publishers:

This book considers crime fighting from the seldom explored viewpoint of the civilian city-goer. While rates of violent crime were generally declining, the period from the ‘garotting’ (strangling) panics of the 1850s to the First World War was characterized by a cultural fascination with physical threat and personal protection. As masculine violence became less tolerated, literary giants such as Anthony Trollope and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began to ask themselves which methods the pedestrian should employ in this new age. From the pistol duel to the Whitechapel Murders, the self-defence scenario provided an avenue through which contrasting visions of masculinity could be explored. Here, not only literary sources but artefacts tell some bizarre stories. Why was the truncheon-like stick known as the ‘life-preserver’ so dangerous, and what exactly was Sherlock Holmes’ mysterious skill, ‘baritsu’?

The contents include:

List of Illustrations
Note on the Text and Abbreviations
Foreign Crimes Hit British Shores
The Ticket-Of-Leave Man
Tooled Up: The Pedestrian’s Armoury
Threats From Below And Above
Lord Chiltern And Mr Kennedy
Phineas Redux
Exotic Enemies
Urban Knights In The London Streets
Foreign Friends

Congratulations to Emy Godfrey and we’re looking forward to her book, which will surely be a fascinating and informative academic excursion through the mean streets of Victorian England.