Original illustration for Conan Doyle’s “The Solitary Cyclist” by Sidney Paget
Dear friends and readers,
As reading and reviewing a book on the subject of violence, middle class masculinity and more specifically (among other things) garrotting and paranoia in the street life of London in the 19th century: Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature, I read, was delighted by and so put onto my website another article by Anthony Trollope from the political magazine he was first editor for, St Paul’s – on my website:
As you will see when you read it, it’s a tongue-in-cheek satire in response to one of the 19th century waves of paranoia where people and newspapers were over-reacting to instances of garrotting by arming themselves and Trollope’s point is partly that by carrying a dangerous weapon you may endanger far more than help yourself. The full context is xenophobia (fear of poor people emigrating into London, sometimes not white); unexamined prejudice against those who had committed crimes and become prisoners and been transported (recently there had been an enlightened compassionate movement to free them of their past with “ticket of leaves” for good behavior; and a general feeling of insecurity among middle class males who identified as gentlemen that they were losing their ability to defend themselves against physical violence.
What is relevant here is we can see Trollope would see the absurdity of the argument that carrying guns (the right to) protects people walking in the streets. I suspect he would not be surprised that nowadays we read regularly how the police murdered this and that suspect and claim the suspect frightened them with a weapon — because police come armed like military people in a war zone. He would see the “Stand your Ground” laws for what they are: an incitement to in effect lawless murder.
A secondary topic is violence in political gatherings and there Trollope assumes a conservative stance casually when he suggests that attributing political motivation to public assembly scenes which turn violent is a transparent mask for mob scenes stirred up (inexplicably it seems) by trouble-makers. As an upper class gentleman who has no problem voting and participating in political life, Trollope values order more than he does any reform.
The piece is funny. The rule of thumb is Trollope’s own long experience as a gentleman walker in London and that of all the similar people he’s known. He includes his wife who (it seems) has a penchant for losing handkerchiefs and blaming someone else.
Its fictional context includes Trollope’s own Palliser (or Parliamentary) novels at mid-century –the two Phineas ones and The Prime Minister where we have instances of attempted garrotting with our heroes (including Ferdinand Lopez) to the rescue and political gatherings which in the case of Phineas Finn turn somewhat violent and led to Phineas’s labor-voting landlord, Bunce (a minor character Trollope sympathizes with) being put in jail when he was out on a march for genuinely political reasons. So Trollope takes the opposite tactic of his non-fiction piece: he empathizes with a person who gets caught up in a demonstration to extend the suffrage (though Trollope is against the demonstration and blames the politicians who stir it up as irresponsible). Trollope also genuinely imagines assaults.
Nonetheless, if you think about the whole novels (and other of his later books where he reverses his early pro-duelling position), the thrust is for caution and self-control as part of those reactions which are most “manly” and effective. In Trollope’s Phineas Finn Phineas does not succeed in freeing Bunce easily (in Raven’s film he manages to bribe the jailer to let Bunce go the next morning). Phineas does duel with a “man of blood” (to be explained in my next blog), Lord Chiltern, and this does not hurt his career, but partly this is due to his having shot in the air and refused to wound Chiltern, in other words exercised high courage, patience in the face of possible death.
In Phineas Redux, on the other hand, Phineas loses control: he seethes at the way his attempt to renewing his career is being easily wrecked by Bonteen (a rival for advancement) and Quintus Slide’s slandering him for his continuing relationship with Lady Laura Kennedy. He does wear a life-preserver, one of the many death-wielding weapons beyond guns of the era, and it’s when he brandishes this at the door of his club and threatens Bonteen that he provides one of the pieces of circumstantial evidence against him as murderer of Bonteen that almost costs Phineas his life.
In The Prime Minister Everett Wharton, Ferdinand Lopez’s silly but privileged friend, shows himself a drunken ass when he perversely and proudly (to show himself more courageous and thus a better man than Lopez) by insisting on walking in a very dark spot of a park very late at night. He is inviting trouble, and garrotters oblige him.
Godfrey discusses Trollope and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes where we see the same kind of resolutions. In earlier Sherlock Holmes’s stories there is a quicker resort to guns and violence than in the later; there is a fascination in all of them with over-wrought cruel weapons (using projectiles like soft bullets which do much inward damage to the human body); and finally in the later stories, “The Solitary Cyclist,” for example, a move to non-violent self-defense. In the story the good and bad guys resort to deadly guns, where Holmes prefers to use martial arts (e.g., boxing) which may wound but rarely kill.