Posts tagged: Victorian

“Hurricane fighting”: the Hooligans of London, circa 1900

An excerpt from The hooligan nights : being the life and opinions of a young and unrepentant criminal by Clarence Rook (1901):

The average Hooligan is not an ignorant, hulking ruffian, beetle-browed and bulletheaded. He is a product of the Board School, writes a fair hand, and is quick at arithmetic. His type of face approaches nearer the rat than the bulldog; he is nervous, highly strung, almost neurotic.

He is by no means a drunkard; but a very small quantity of liquor causes him to run amuck, when he is not pleasant to meet. Undersized as a rule, he is sinewy, swift, and untiring. For pocket-picking and burglary the feather-weight is at an advantage. He has usually done a bit of fighting with the gloves, for in Lambeth boxing is one of the most popular forms of sport. But he is better with the raws, and is very bad to tackle in a street row, where there are no rules to observe. Then he will show you some tricks that will astonish you.

No scruples of conscience will make him hesitate to butt you in the stomach with his head, and pitch you backwards by catching you round the calves with his arm. His skill, born of constant practice, in scrapping and hurricane fighting brings him an occasional job in the bashing line. You have an enemy, we will say, whom you wish to mark, but, for one reason and another, you do not wish to appear in the matter. Young Alf will take on the job. Indicate to him your enemy; hand him five shillings (he will ask a sovereign, but will take five shillings), and he will make all the necessary arrangements. One night your enemy will find himself lying dazed on the pavement in a quiet corner, with a confused remembrance of a trip and a crash, and a mad whirl of fists and boots. You need have small fear that the job will be bungled. But it is a matter of complaint among the boys of the Walk, that if they do a bit of bashing for a toff and get caught, the toff seldom has the magnanimity to give them a lift when they come out of gaol.

The Hooligan is by no means deficient in courage. He is always ready to fight, though he does not fight fair.

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.

 

Postscript

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.

Contents

List of Figures
Acknowledgments
A Note on the Text
Abbreviations
Introduction
PART I: ‘A DOOR OPEN, A DOOR SHUT’
On the Street
Danger en Route
Behind Closed Doors: Bogey-Husbands in Disguise: Mona Caird’s The Wing of Azrael (1889)
PART II: FIGHTING FOR EMANCIPATION
Elizabeth Robins’ The Convert
The Last Heroine Left?
PART III: THE PRE-WAR FEMALE GAZE
‘Where Are You Going To, My Pretty Maid?’: Elizabeth Robins on White Slavery
Read My Lips
Bibliography
Index

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.

“Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London”

During the final decades of the 19th century, a cabal of fencers and historians led by Captain Alfred Hutton and his colleague, the writer Egerton Castle, undertook a systematic study and practical revival of combat with long-outmoded weapons such as the rapier and dagger, sword and buckler and two-handed sword. Their efforts presaged the current revival of historical fencing, a rapidly growing movement that directly parallels the modern renaissance of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu.

The book Ancient Swordplay details the origins, colourful heyday and ultimate decline of this unusual late-Victorian revival movement. Highlights include reports on many historical fencing exhibitions throughout the 1880s and ’90s, Hutton’s and Castle’s work as theatrical fight choreographers (who paid strict attention to historical accuracy) and Hutton’s determined efforts to revolutionise military sabre fencing with an infusion of “ancient swordplay”, especially that of the Elizabethan English master, George Silver.

Of particular interest to Bartitsu enthusiasts, Ancient Swordplay includes a chapter on Captain Hutton’s collaborations with E.W. Barton-Wright. In his book The Sword and the Centuries (1902), Hutton was moved to note that “the fence of the case of rapiers, as of all the other Elizabethan weapons, is much in vogue at the present time at the Bartitsu Club, now the headquarters of ancient swordplay in this country.”

For all their efforts, though, the Hutton/Castle revival did not directly survive their own generation. The final chapters examine the reasons why, coming to a conclusion that may surprise modern readers, and attempt to trace their legacy into the following decades of the 20th century.

Including numerous rare illustrations and a foreword by author Neal Stephenson, Ancient Swordplay is available now from the Freelance Academy Press website or . For a thorough historical context and commentary, please also see the new article Renaissance Swordplay, Victorian-style on the Freelancer blog.

For your listening pleasure: “Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman” and “The Bare Fists of Boxing”

The Art of Manliness website presents a podcast interview with David Waller, author of the new biography The Perfect Man: the Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Stongman.  Sandow was a near contemporary of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s, and the two men shared several commonalities as pioneers in different branches of physical culture.  Both made their names on the music hall stages of London at about the same time, both went on to found institutions promoting their own novel systems, and both were eventually buried in unmarked graves and thereafter largely forgotten.  Sandow, however, was by far the more celebrated figure, and was more successful than Barton-Wright at capitalising on his fame.

Also newly available to listen online is this BBC radio item on the history of bare-knuckle pugilism in England during the 19th century.  From the Bartitsu point of view, this item is particularly interesting as it describes the origins of the culture of British boxing with which Barton-Wright was, to some extent, competing via his introduction of Bartitsu in the late 1800s.

“The sting of a hornet”; Edwardian hat-pin self defence

The popular trend towards enormous, flamboyant hats reached its zenith during the Edwardian era. Circa 1901, fashionable ladies’ headwear featured elaborate assemblies of taffeta, silk bows, coloured ostrich feathers, flowers and even artificial fruit.

The mainstay of the Edwardian hat was the artfully concealed hatpin, and as the hats themselves grew ever larger, so too did the pins. Some antique examples are thirteen inches long and resemble nothing so much as unbated, miniature fencing foils.

A wealth of evidence from the period demonstrates that hatpins were popularly regarded as secret weapons, and indeed as “every woman’s weapon” against the depredations of hooligans and ill-mannered brutes. Laws against hatpins of “excessive length”, or the wearing of hatpins without protective stoppers, were proposed in Hamburg, Berlin and New York among other cities. At least ostensibly, these laws were intended not so much to ban the use of hatpins in self-defence as to mitigate the incidence of accidental hatpin related injuries inflicted upon blameless fellow passengers in crowded tram-cars.

Certainly, though, the hatpin was the weapon of choice for Edwardian novelists and playwrights who had to extricate their heroines from tight spots.

From Harold MacGrath’s novel “Parrot & Co”, 1914:

Craig stepped in front of them, smiling as he raised his helmet. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”

Elsa, looking coldly beyond him, attempted to pass.

“Surely you remember me?”

“I remember an insolent cad,” replied Elsa, her eyes beginning to burn dangerously. “Will you stand aside?”

He threw a swift glance about. He saw with satisfaction that none but natives was in evidence.

Elsa’s glance roved, too, with a little chill of despair. In stories Warrington would have appeared about this time and soundly trounced this impudent scoundrel. She realized that she must settle this affair alone. She was not a soldier’s daughter for nothing.

“Stand aside!”

“Hoity-toity!” he laughed. He had been drinking liberally and was a shade reckless. “Why not be a good fellow? Over here nobody minds. I know a neat little restaurant. Bring the old lady along,” with a genial nod toward the quaking Martha.

Resolutely Elsa’s hand went up to her helmet, and with a flourish drew out one of the long steel pins.

“Oh, Elsa!” warned Martha.

“Be still! This fellow needs a lesson. Once more, Mr. Craig, will you stand aside? ”

Had he been sober he would have seen the real danger in the young woman’s eyes.

“Cruel!” he said. ” At least, one kiss,” putting out his arms.

Elsa, merciless in her fury, plunged the pin into his wrist. It stung like a hornet; and with a gasp of pain, Craig leaped back out of range, sobered.

“Why, you she-cat!”

“I warned you,” she replied, her voice steady but low. “The second stab will be serious. Stand aside.”

He stepped into the gutter, biting his lips and straining his uninjured hand over the hurting throb in his wrist. The hat-pin as a weapon of defense he had hitherto accepted as reporters’ yarns. He was now thoroughly convinced of the truth. He had had wide experience with women. His advantage had always been in the fact that the general run of them will submit to insult rather than create a scene. This dark-eyed Judith was distinctly an exception to the rule. Gad! She might have missed his wrist and jabbed him in the throat. He swore, and walked off down the street.

Elsa set a pace which Martha, with her wabbling knees, found difficult to maintain.

“You might have killed him!” she cried breathlessly.

“You can’t kill that kind of a snake with a hat-pin; you have to stamp on its head. But I rather believe it will be some time before Mr. Craig will again make the mistake of insulting a woman because she appears to be defenseless.” Elsa’s chin was in the air. The choking sensation in her throat began to subside. “The deadly hat-pin; can’t you see the story in the newspapers? Well, I for one am not afraid to use it.”

Perhaps less frequently than in popular fiction, but still present in newspaper articles and medical journals of the time, we find reports of women wounding male attackers via well-placed jabs with their hatpins. For example, according to a story in the New York Times of January 10, 1898, a Miss Sadie Hawkins assisted a Chicago tram-car conductor named Symington in fending off two determined would-be robbers by stabbing them both repeatedly in the arms and legs with her hatpin, causing the aggressors so much grief that they jumped off the moving tram to escape the onslaught.

Hatpins were also apparently among the covert weapons used by Suffragettes in their struggles against the London bobbies, augmenting their judicious use of Indian clubs and jiujitsu.

Unfortunately there is a paucity of technical instruction on the hatpin as a weapon. The picture emerges, though, of a two-phase counter-strategy against over-confident ruffians who seized their intended victims by the shoulders or arms. First, the defender would feign shock and indignation, her hand flying up apparently to steady her enormous hat, but in reality to pluck out a hatpin. Then, in one movement, she would jab the weapon forcefully into the offending hand or wrist; Mr. MacGrath was not the only writer to compare the resulting pain to “the sting of a hornet”. This might well suffice to discourage any further offence. If not, the consensus on following-up was to stab the assailant in the face or, if more conveniently accessible, “the place where it hurts the most”.

Hatpin tactics are illustrated in these photographs excerpted from a 1904 self defence article that was featured in the San Francisco Sunday Call newspaper:


“When attacked from behind, she grasps a hatpin. Turning quickly, she is able to strike a fatal blow in the face.”

… and described in the risque music hall ballad, “Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hat Pin”:

My Granny was a very shrewd old lady,
The smartest woman that I ever met.
She used to say, “Now listen to me, Sadie,
There’s one thing that you never must forget.”

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
The law won’t let you carry more than that.
For if you go walking out without your hat pin,

You may lose your head as well as lose your hat.”

My Granny said men never could be trusted.
No matter how refined they might appear.
She said that many maidens’ hearts got busted
Because men never had but one idea.

I’ve heard that Grandpa really was a mess,
So Grandma knew whereof she spoke, I guess.

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
Not even to some very classy joints.
For when a fellow sees you’ve got a hat pin
He’s very much more apt to get the point.

My Mama, too, set quite a bad example.
She never heeded Grandmama’s advice.
She found that if you give a man a sample,
The sample somehow never does suffice.

In fact, it’s rumored I might not have been
If Mum had not gone out without her pin.

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
It’s about the best protection you have got.
For if you go walking out without your hat pin,

You may come home without your you-know-what!

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