Posts Tagged ‘male violence’

Lady Smallwood (original story Lady Blackwell, player Lindsay Duncan — one of my favorite actresses), politician

Nameless person calling herself Mary Morstan (original story, Watson’s wife, player Amanda Abbington), double

Dear friends and readers,

This was the best of this season’s films: the players returned to the guarded within anguish stride of the first season, only with a multiplication of women — in the original story blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton knows the sexual past of only one woman, Lady Blackwell, whom he will shame as well as the honor of the man, and the family she is planning to marry into; here she has metamorphosed into a sort of subMargaret Thatcher, woman politician with reeking perfume (Thatcher liked to be sexy with men). In this 2013 story where Milverton has metamorphosed into the amoral ruthless social media magnate who is supposed to make us think of Rupert Murdock but is dressed like Dr Strangelove (all but the gloves, thus evoking Kissinger) and could as easily be Roger Ailes of Fox TV, considering the immediate influence he thinks he has, this villain also is pursuing a second woman: our sweet Mary Morstan turns out to be one of these nameless heroines (so familiar to readers of women’s romance (Rebecca anyone?), only her past appears to be one of violent assassination and such shameful ugly behavior she fears John Watson will be alienated forever if he is already not blindsighted by discovering all she has told him or implied has been lies.

Far more usual of the previous seasons are the twists and turns of extra plot-design with matter from other Sherlock Holmes stories woven in: so we first meet Sherlock apparently under the influence of drugs (opium become heroin? cocaine?) in a filthy temporary open air ruin-space of addicts where Watson has gone to find the son of a grieving black woman who comes to him as a doctor who cares for addicts.

Black and white version of Sherlock (Cumberbatch) as we first see him (from Tumblr)

Now that Sherlock is blessed (to be pious about this) with a family, he and Mycroft and Watson and Mary too do some turns in the parental home at Christmas.

The brothers (Matiss as Mycroft) – “Aw shucks, mum!”

Modern motifs combined with older ones include the Sherlock in hospital and Sherlock as out-patient, hovering murderous helicopters over our heads (we are under the bombs), stun guns; lots of overlay of computer print-outs as someone’s inner thoughts. In her study of Holmes stories Emelyne Godfrey showed that weapons, weird, pizzazz ones, or merely cruelly wounding were central to many of the Holmes’s tales; Godfrey also showed that the core meaning of respected masculinity in the tales was not spontaneous wild violence as a means of expressing say disapproval: as when Louise Brealey as the indignant Molly is reduced to half-hysterically slapping Cumberbatch with all her might for “throwing away his gifts”; but rather carefully channeled effective violence aimed at the mindlessness (sorry to say this but it’s true) of the lower class vulgar and/or somehow inferior male. The recent spate of Sherlocks (in the cinema too) move against the grain of Doyle’s work where smart calculated “restraint is a index of modesty, reserve, manliness, professionalism.” But so anxious are these new shows to make women the equal of men, even the silliest behavior if men are thought to do it is enough to give us a woman doing it so she will be deemed admirable.

Molly worrying over Sherlock in a way that recalls Kitty (Amanda Blake) endlessly fretting over Matt (James Arness) in the 1995 Gunsmoke (‘Oh Matt! be careful.’ ‘I will, hon.’)

A recap.

I shall have to admit that Jim Rovira, one of the commenters of my last blog can make a good case for the thinness and feebleness of the original material in this case. “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” is deservedly usually ignored in studies of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock canon; it is just so cliched, down to the titillation and class snobbery of Sherlock disguising himself as a lower class man courting Milverton’s housemaid (unnamed in the original) to find out where Milverton is hiding the documents he uses to blackmail people and both he and Watson breaking the law (gasp!) in order to steal into Milverton’s lair (called Appleton Towers in both film and original story). Where in those Holmes stories that go deeper, family honor becomes a stalking horse for far more interesting social and psychological conflicts, not so here.

Perhaps they were attracted to the story for the same reason my husband Jim used to say the Sherlock canon has become cult stuff: it is so hollow you can pour anything you want into it. I think that’s unfair as I argued with Jim Rovira: there are some superb stories and lots of people (Emelyne Godfrey among them) have agreed with me the stories dramatize serious and important conflicts and themes then and since (through many film adaptations too). This one did allow for feminization (if I may be permitted the term) of the Sherlock material. Matiss and Moffatt took an opportunity to have yet another supposedly “tough” female about: the unnamed housemaid becomes a secretary/personal assistant who despite her Arab looks (the actress is Yasmine Akram) and name redolent of what Said called “orientalism” (Jasmine) sports a melodious Irish drawl and evening dress even in broad daylight.


If we count Mrs Hudson — Una Stubbs doing her best to be memorable –


and Mother Holmes (Cumberbatch’s mother also now employed), trying not to attact attention, the domestication (if I may coin another term) of the series I noted in Parts 1 and 2 is now seen in women women everywhere. One joke is to call Sherlock “Sherl” — feminizing the name to a diminutive of Shirley. The joke is made by Jasmine with the effect of bringing Sherlock “down” to her level; that is a woman — implicit is the idea that whatever are feminine qualities, they are not worthy.

I’ve no doubt Matiss and Moffatt did seize the doubling opportunity they hit upon to transform the apparently conventional female Mary Morstan character into a female action-hero who could also sustain a love interest: she emotes wonderfully well her love for “John,” and how she cannot stand to sit in the chair (per usual with the Sherlock material) and tell her tale as victim since her tale will make her beloved Watson reject her. And anyway we are against victims, are we not? there are no such things in the world any more, are there? they must be complicit, passive aggressive becoming a term of praise almost in this new anti-sympathy reactionary ethic preached up in popular media. She is very pregnant by the end and so happy to be so (photographed so as to emphasize this), but by the end of the tale there is real feeling between them:

John and Mary’s faces as they talk to one another in their final scene

even if John shows his love for her by throwing away her story without reading it: instead of a packet of letters he hurls a thumbdrive into the fire.

Why did I like it – or think it an improvement on the previous two parts. Not for the multiplication of women as only intermittently did Lindsay Duncan or Amanda Abbingdon have moments of genuine feeling. Nor their or anyone’s violence. Nor for the any post-modern working out of typical Conan Doyle themes as in the previous season where camp art and a strong sceptical disillusionment and depressive mentality made for intelligent entertainment. Rather because despite the overlay of superfluous sudden outbursts of violence, modern gadgetry and neon underlinings, the program managed to recreate a companionable rhythm of story-telling, to re-establish the central effective team friendship of Sherlock and Watson


ending in a rescue of vulnerable people from a genuinely horrible man in a way relevant to our era.


The omnipresent spy gathering all our documents, the murderous cold-hearted ambitious capitalist politician with his militarist thugs in tow is a creature we can’t have too many attacks on. What could be worse than a man spying on us all? eager to tell unless we pay him huge sums of money.

That is, I thought the program did what good relatively faithful or commentary (heritage) film adaptations usually do, even if it was an appropriation or modern analogy type. It did take a long time getting there.


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it’s the adults who give the film its heart. Watson is winning as the family’s overbearing matriarch, her strict facade slipping to reveal a trembling core of vulnerability. It’s Rush, though, who steals the show, playing his part with irresistible grandfatherly charm … Barbara Brandenburgh, Des Moines review

My friend, Vivian, and I went to see The Book Thief this afternoon. It’s based on a best selling novel set in Germany in WW2; the film adaptation has received mixed reviews. On the whole the film succeeds in providing the viewers a story of fraught people who live in a repressive society which values discipline, despises and/or distrusts books, and is carrying on a brutal war whose cruelties extend to the civilian population. We see a number of scenes where military police mercilessly beat up Jewish people — and lash out at anyone who protests or irritates them. the population are terrified, cowed, submissive. They fear being taken away and killed.

Like most films, historical or otherwise, it is about today: we see mirrored in it the treatment of civilian populations by heavily armed police all around the world — in the US daily too police kill with impunity. These people under the bombs are us, are which ever body of people in the mideast is now being bombed, are anyone who is droned to death.

In the air-raid shelter

At first the film’s story moves slowly and does not seem to have any inner life or hold together. It’s not clear the little girl has been taken in by the characters Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush play as their adopted daughter. The dialogue is wooden (Petroni’s script leaves a lot to be desired) especially at first, and between the children throughout: the actors playing the children remain stilted, staccato. The actors just don’t seem to make contact with one another.

Then as the story’s events unfold and twist the characters this way and that, a compelling and shaping center does emerge in the triangle of the father (Geoffrey Rush), mother (Emily Watson) and (temporarily?) adopted daughter (Sophie Nelisse). The directing (Brian Perceval) is effective; the settings are so good, they call attention to themselves — the quaint rooms, the basement where a young Jewish boy is hidden; the coloration has a bronze-brown hue over it.

I began to cry strongly when the conscripted father taken away, and the mother, hitherto seeming mostly severely contained and cold, turns into a grieving widow, holding to her his accordion where he makes the few notes of cheer through playing it. Especially effective is the narrative over-voice of death; I thought it was God and found its voiced sentiments (how he loves killing, how peaceful people find it to be dead) electrifyingly perverse. I thought maybe they were miscalculated attempts to give an upbeat ending, but having read about the novel I conclude they are sardonic. It is long but our time with the characters showing them doing and feeling different things, acting, reacting, dying, gives the piece its depth.

The movie conveys the idea that underlying it is a young women’s diary, perhaps written towards the end and slightly after she endured the ordeal of the war, and its ending shows the heroine to be a multi-novel author. The allusion is to Anne Frank, only this heroine survives to have a good life later on (we see her beautiful front room with a piano, photos of her family, daughters); she even reunites with Max, a Jewish young man who was kept in the basement, became sick from its cold and damp and escaped a search just in time.


At the center of the film’s story, the girl becomes “a book thief”because once she learnt to read (taught by the adopted father), she loves books. She comes to the notice of the mayor’s wife who invites her to come to the mayor’s house and library and read books in the library or “taken them out.” The mayor himself one day surprises them and kicks the girl out (as a low person, suspect with a father who is not a Nazi), so after that she sneaks in through a window to “steal” books. She is borrowing them, and returns and takes out books regularly. She reads them to anyone who will listen. She particularly likes a Kipling story whose title include the word “invisible.”

The thrust of the movie as a whole is melodramatic and pious too (the director and script writer are on the right side, have conventional values) but it is not Hollywoodized nor does it exploit the camps. The film shows death everywhere; the picturesque town our characters live in is bombed to smithereens. Its unspoken question: why do people allow others to enforce a desolate life upon them.


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Dear friends and readers,

Some nine days ago I put Anthony Trollope’s satiric newspaper article, “The Uncontrolled Ruffianism of London” on my website and described its immediate context on my blog as preface to a review of Emelyne Godfrey’s Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence … . It’s one of the many many intriguing documents Godfrey discusses in this, her companion volume to her earlier equally original Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society (see Caroline Reitz’s review in Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, 59-60 [2011]).

Both books, taken together, depict the era in which modern crime fiction (mysteries, police procedurals) developed as one of the responses to the growth of large cities where crowds of people unknown to one another live in close proximity; others are new permutations in norms for middle-class masculinity (as these are men who had to walk or today at least drive and take public transportation in said cities) and defensive tactics for women who feel themselves at risk or want to participate aggressively too. The root is the very paranoia that Trollope unerringly describes and partly mocks in his timely article.

“I struck him again and again” (from Femininity, Crime & Self-Defence)

In a nugget, Godfrey is looking at crime from the point of view of the city-goer, using popular writing and images and activities (clubs, educational groups), works of popular playwrights and texts by two literary geniuss: Anthony Trollope and Arthur Conan Doyle. Richard Sennett is an important source for her fundamental bases: Sennett (whom she quotes at key points) says modern cities are structured so as to have public spaces where the threat of social contact between upper, middle and lower classes is minimalized — they are planned to keep middling citizens from the “underclass” (the under- and unemployed, the poverty-striken, those driven into criminal and violent activites), but these breaches are easy to cross (p. 3). There are just so many pedestrians, commuters all higgedly-piggedly hurrying along. A fear of exposure emerges, a horror of injury.

Godfrey studies a popular movement then (and there is an equivalent one now), partly paranoic, of self-defense seen in the way male violence is depicted in the era. There is the question of what is a socially acceptable masculine behavior: self control and self-restraint were and still are part of the upper class gentleman ethos; the problem arises that men therefore may see themselves as potential victims as well as perpetrators of crime. When she looks at the interiority of male heroes you find a restrained flamboyancy; sartorial restraint is a index of modesty, reserve, manliness, professionalism. Godfrey has studied a slew of books on the history of respectable fear and where this comes from, on media panic, on figures she calls “men of blood” (violent men who yet stay within legal bounds, e.g., Trollope’s Lord Chiltern in his Palliser books. She looks at male anxieties and some of the weirder deadly instruments that were developed — like the truncheon Phineas Finn ill-advisedly carries with him (“the life-preserver”) in Phineas Redux.

Middle class respectable men were also supposed to protect women from men imagined on the attack. Novels in the era dramatize the maltreatment of women, e.g., Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall; Trollope repeatedly uses trope of animal cruelty to depict a ruthless male; the most typical opening of a Conan Doyle Holmes story is a gentlewoman comes to Holmes for protection.

Everyone remembers John Thaw’s magnificent performance in the film adaptation of Sign of Four, but the story opens with the elegantly dressed Jenny Seagrove, all anxiety, come to Mr Holmes for help.

The later 19th century is a period of wide-spread investigations into methods of self-defense. She divides her book. Part 1 covers hitherto neglected plays popular among middle class audiences. Part 2 is a study of Trollope’s exploration of masculinity in the large political novels which take place in cities and show the importance of a measured response to aggression. Part 3 reveals the Sherlock Holmes narratives as a collection of lessons expressive of Doyle’s views on reasonable force in response to violent crime; they too promote the cause of measured self-defense for gentlemen. One new element emerged for me: I had not realized how frequently the Holmes stories focus on uses of weapons, many of them cruelly wounding.

Henry Ball’s belt-buckle pistol of 1858, Royal Armories, Leeds

Anti-garotte collar and advertisement

Part I (Chapters 1 & 2) tell of the xenophobia (“foreign crimes” hit British shores) and class fears that led to the build-up of myths around a phenomenon that did occur but not with the frequency claimed: the garrotting people. Godfrey begins her book with singularly cruel execution in Cuba in 1852: a man was strangled to death in a wooden chair while an iron collar passed around his neck screwed ever tighter; his windpipe is crushed (p 19). Garrotta was the name for this kind of capital punishment and in a twist became used by robbers; you threatened to strangle your victim to death. There were such incidents on London streets where people began increasingly relying on police protection: a 1st incident is recorded 12 Feb 1851.

Godfrey looks at the panic from a literary angle, and debates in texts about nature of middle class heroism. She discusses the 1857 play by C.J. Collins’s Anti-Garrotte, a farce which reveals how reports build an awareness of such crimes; in a later unlicensed play, The Garrotters by William Whiffles, a man feels dread reading about all these strangulation robberies (p 21). The 1853 Penal Servitude Act that allowed more convicts to be given tickets of leave helped justify paranoia; these were conditional pardons for good behavior, with the person released in the UK instead of Australia — such convicts became associated with garrotters. Descriptions appeared in magazines: a 3 people act; Henry Wilkinson Holland interviewed thieves; here were articles on house-breaking equipment which anticipate Holmes uses to break into residences (panel cutter, crobars, skeleton key, lanterns). Later American readers had Wm D Howells’ play The Garrotters (1890s). Anti-immigration and racial fears (terms like “thuggees”) feelings were stirred so for religiously-dressed motivated Indians who carried a scarf (a rumal) were called “noose-operators.” Mid-Victorian novel, Confessions of a Thug (189), our evil Arab, Ameer Ali robs and kills for gain, but he also takes life for sport and exploits and murders anyone showing him kindness. Murder by strangulation is part of the imagined point; in an interview a female thuggee takes pride in having killed 21 people. Fear that exhibit in British Museum teaches these criminal types how to perform such evil crimes

Misogyny plays into this too: a recent book by Neil Story concludes most garrotters were female (ex-prostitutes). A modern film, The world is Not Enough presents Pierre Brosnan as a James Bond tortured by a garrotting woman. (11 years earlier Nicholas Meye’s The Deceivers presented Brosnan as Wm Savage, a British thuggee hunter learning art of manipulating the rumal.) It should be said there were no statistics on female victims.

Tellingly Richard Sennett is quoted suggesting that the fear of exposure leads to a militarized conception of everyday experience as attack and defense. In Phineas Redux Trollope suggests there was a run on life-preservers The Times described a weapon called an anti-garrotte glove; this was a gauntlet fortified with claws, hooks, blades. Some of these show people felt immediate killing or maiming someone else in self-defense as personal protection just fine (p 46). Another recent book, by Rob Sindall (Street Violence in the 19th Century) argues the panic was self-induced and over-wrought. Tom Browns’ Schooldays presented the middle class male ideal and shows concerns over middle class young man’s ability to defend himself. Clerks felt in danger, and acted on norms of self help, independence, masculine self-control — victims becomes feminized (as in the rape in Kleist’s famous novel). Delirium tremens seen as shaming the victim. She notes that Emily Bronte’s novel has many weapons; Gaskell showed that the Rev Bronte kept arms.

[This is utterly germane to our world in the US today where it seems to be open season on young black men since Zimmerman got away with murder: or maybe it's that those of us who were unaware of how black men are regarded as dispensable, attacked with impunity on the grounds the person was made anxious (really) are no longer ignorant. Trollope's article remains sceptical, ironic: he does not say there are no ruffians in the streets, but the man who lives in terror of this as an epidemic, acquires a weapon, is perhaps more in danger from the weapon being taken from him (how modern this argument is, just substitute the word gun for truncheon).]

In Chapter 3 is ostensibly on the Ticket of Leave man, Godfrey studies Victorian
obsessions over middle-class (white) masculine fitness as an index to “the health of nation” and how such ideas stoked fascination with street violence. Images formed in melodrama were deployed to create a garrotter-villain on stage: he’d have a black face, wrinkles, would be degenerate. All in contrast to new middle class ideals of civilized behavior; the magazine All the Year Round insisted there was a link between crime and disease. In this context ticket-of-leave men are seen as belonging to an abject group, who also are involved in a “tide of sewage, disease, and cholera” outbreaks.

Trollope’s is not the only sane voice: Henry Mayhew interviews convicts to show their difficulties in finding work, how they suffer false re-arrests (Stop and frisk anyone?); and Mayhew gives an account of a garrotting supposedly from the point of view of the criminal; the problem here is his story implies garrotters and convicts are the same people (p 31.). Two 19th century plays, the well-known Tom Taylor’s Ticket of Leave Man reveals society’s prejudice to develop sympathy for the rehabilitation of Robert Brierly, duped into a forgery scheme; this play was broadcast in 1937, and revived in Victoria theater, 1966 — the archetypal heart of the story is a good character thrown into bad situation.

Another play, Ticket of Leave has good and bad ticket-of-leave men. One Bottles, disguised as butler plans to garrot and rob his master, Mr Aspen Quiver. A wrongly accused convict saves Mr Quiver; again the play does not address false misconceptions. One famous attack in 1862 on Hugh Pilkington (MP for Blackburn) helped lead to a call for the old system to be put back in place. A Director of Prisons, Joshua Jebb, tried to express his support for ticket-of-leaved men. but draconian security measures against violence were passed in an act of 1863 that stipulated flogging.

Part 1 ends with a chapter about the weapons people carried, how several publications, most notably Punch made fun of these and (like Trollope) suggested the person in more danger than the garrotter by carrying such a weapon. There are plays where farcically we see characters over-estimate the danger and react hysterically to information received in the papers. There really were spiked collars, with self-injury the most likely result. Godfrey suggests articles in magazines register a perceived reader’s reluctance to depend on a perceived incompetent police force. Urban heroes those who supported and aided the police; you were supposed to remain calm; you fight back with similar weapons. Gradually what emerged was a civilizing offensive, an adoption of violence adverse perspective; over-arming seen as form of hysteria, but onus on individual to protect himself.

“Life-preservers” (so-called), like the one Phineas carries and imagines himself threatening Bonteen with at their club door (see Ruffianism)

Part II: Anthony Trollope : aggression rewarded and punished, 1867-87

A dramatized scene from Phineas Finn

Chapter One is called threats from above and below, fighting for franchise and concentrates on Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux. Some notes: Phineas’s response to violence affects social standing and political career; the question of what is a gentleman important in the novels; Trollope puts forward Phineas as an ideal of gentlemanliness: social grace, innate goodness. Political action in Phineas Finn is complicated by the question of what is appropriate aggression and what shows one’s fitness to vote (Trollope not a democrat). While we see politically motivated violence, Trollpoe distrusts political violence because he suggests it uses political ideal as a cloak. This is placing the cart before the horse (p 65), but the Times agreed: the legitimate citizen was not a man of the crowd (p 66). While Trollope is looks at the problem of bellicosity in all its aspects (a duke can be as violent as a collier, e.g, Chiltern and Kennedy) and suggests women do not forgive blows (p. 67); it is the pedestrian’s encounter with crime that is the focus of the Palliser series as a whole.

Chiltern heading for the duel

Phineas waiting

The duel

Trollope in his earlier phases seems pro-duel (p. 68): Godfrey goes over the history of attitudes towards duelling swiftly: it was always at odds with rule of law, but the first successful murder prosecution of a duellist was in 1838 (p 71): the voiced Victorian objection was a man left his family destitute. Trollope‘s depiction does, however, throughout betray a nostalgia for outmoded code of honor. His Chiltern resists the new cultural changes, and we are asked to see that when he can channel his violence into hunting, it is a splendid gift for providing healthy and even egalitarian (so Trollope argues though he knew how expensive it was) sports for men. Phineas reluctance is carefully not motivated by cowardice; Trollope means to show us that a man’s bravery need not depend on weapons; Phineas shows bravery and coolness in the face of death; he shoots up into the air, no murderer. The duel in Trollope is also a male secret, a male rite of passage (p 75); but we see how Phineas leaves himself open to Quintus Slide, to blackmail and finally an accusation of murder as a man of blood.

Brooding Kennedy

Chapter 5: Lord Chiltern and Mr Kennedy are two violent poles. Chiltern is the unrestrained man of blood, he should exercise more self-control, there’s a lack of manliness in not being self-controlled; but violence in Chiltern stems from lack of purpose and frustration (p 78); fox hunting allows him to use and master his finer senses – there are fears here too of the over-sexed male; Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wilfell Hall is anti-hunting. Godfrey points out that Children’s fiery temper does not harm him and men need physical confidence to survive.

Phineas too saves Kennedy, and the scene in Phineas Finn is based on a real life incident in 1862 sparking garrotting panic (pp.83-86). Trollope here seems for citizens arrest, and Phineas’s protection of Kennedy exemplary (by inference though Kennedy seen as impotent male who does not sexually satisfy his wife either). The norm here seems to be that the ideal (male) citizen does not actively seek confrontation, but exercises judgement (the right to bear arms is not the point). In Phineas Redux, he learns that you do not openly threaten, that weapons themselves are endanger people — he becomes too wrathful in his own disillusion and disappointment. His encounters with with Bonteen parallel encounters in earlier book; hunting scenes are parallel; this time Phineas hurts his horse, but this time frustration, his exclusion and feelings of inadequacy erupt. As ever Trollope is intrigued by what precipitates violent turn in human nature (p 108): what really unites all these stories is the male characters are driven into violence by a combination of what is expected of them as men (success) and what is thrown at them (scorn). Godfrey finds a parallel in the treatment of the cloak in Trollope’s Phineas Redux and one of Conan Doyle’s stories; more important is that Conan Doyle restricts his dramatization of males in psychological pain to the men Sherlock Holmes investigates and indites so that the latter series implicitly criminalizes what Trollope presents as part of his heroes’ behavior. (See my Heterosexual heroism in Trollope.)

Stuart Wilson endows Ferdinand Lopez with a pained humiliated expression on his face before breaking out into threatened violence against his wife

There is in Phineas Redux and The Prime Minister a fascination with the murderous life–preserver (as we shall see fascination in Sherlock Holmes with exotic weapons) and other more usual weapons (whips). Interestingly, Godfrey likens Phineas wounded by lack of status, rank, respect with Dickens’s Bradley Headstone’s hatred of Eugene Wrayburn (in Our Mutual Friend) — but not Ferdinand Lopez’s; of course both books are virulent with antisemitism in the portraits of the whip-threatening Lopez and Emilius who does cravenly murder Bonteen from behind. So finally, as opposed to his newspaper article (“Ruffianism”), Trollope takes a stern, not comic approach, to the wielding of deadly weapons.


The Adventure of Abbey Grange — beautifully brings all motifs together, woman needing protection, sadistic cruelty, flamboyant defenses

Part III: Physical Flamboyance in Holmes Canon (1887-1914): on Holmes and martial arts continued in comments section 3.

The conclusion and assessment of a change of norms in the era in comments section 4.


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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:

“The Uncontrolled Ruffianism of London — as measured by the Rule of Thumb”

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.

Declaring “everyone bear witness to my doing this in self-defense” Holmes prepares to box the violent cad Mr Woodley in “The Solitary Cyclist”

Alan Plater, the script writer had the original illustrations in mind (in other of the 1980s series, the DVD includes sets of the illustrations, e.g. The Sign of Four)


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Francis Power Cobbe, her own illustration for a travel piece, “A Lady’s Ride through Palestine”

Dear friends and readers,

This is another in my series of foremother poet blogs — whence the label “poet” when it should really be writer and splendid human being, for if the world were filled with people like Cobbe what a better place it’d have been and be. It’s also a follow-up to my blog on the killing of Marie Trintignant by her boyfriend and thus Mary Trouille’s Wife Abuse.

This week I’ve been reading a long splendid (overdue) biography of a woman all other women around the earth ought to celebrate and commemorate, Francis Power Cobbe — take flowers to her grave if you are inclined to Virginia Woolf gestures. If Cobbe didn’t achieve in her legislation all she went for (she was told why should Parliamentarians bother, after all women didn’t affect their position in the Commons and their cause would take away male power), certainly she went further than anyone before her. Tirelessly active for rights to control property, custody of one’s children, access to decently paid self-respecting employment. But her peculiar achievement is in line with her adherence to an ideal of humanity, kindness — don’t knock it.

Her achievement was the 1878 Matrimonial Causes Acts. The first time anywhere a woman could ask for the right to leave a man if he beat her, and to be protected against him. Alas, it was left to the judge (a male) to move to this and often the judges didn’t but sometimes and increasingly they did.

She is still ahead of her time as her biographer actually blames her for her work for animals rights as getting in the way and ruining her reputation in the wider world. Pray tell me Sally Mitchell, what reputation in any wide world? It’s a fine book except for Mitchell’s lack of sympathy for Cobbe’s work for animal rights. This lack of sympathy vitiates the last part of the book, for there we find Cobbe exposing physicians as well as scientists for their inhumanity. This in the US is the period when doctors took control of public health and schools for their own financial benefit. That Mitchell can get away with her obduracy shows the power of established medicine, science and continued indifference to non-human animals by many people.

A photograph she took of her beloved dog, Hajjin, for her Confessions of a Lost Dog

She’s credited with starting the animal rights movement

As far as belles-lettres are concerned, she wrote travel books — yes she was one of these traveling woman, and she illustrated them herself.


I rush to assure all Hajjin did not get lost but remained with Francis and died of old age in their home.

She was lucky in her birth and connections: wealthy Anglo-Irish, amid intellectuals. As a writing woman, she worked as a journalist, often in mainstream journals but anonymously mostly. Her pieces are heavily political. Perhaps her most important document is “Wife-Torture in England.” There was punishment for a man who attempted to kill another man, but if he beat the hell out of his wife, unless she could prove she was in danger of dying, she could not get a separation (much less right to her property). Violence with family life (on children as well as women) was ubiquitous and tolerated and not just in England with records growing from the time of the Enlightenment.

Here’s a selection of her work on line. Another.

I’m not surprised to find “Wife Torture” is not included in either place. The blog I wrote the other day shows how common accepted violence still is — if we needed reminding.

She was not a poet, but she did write some verse and after reading Elizabeth Bishop’s poem this morning I thought I’d share it. She was a lesbian and lived her long life with a beloved partner, Mary Lloyd, and this is to Mary. It reminds me of Cowper’s poem to Mary Unwin:

To Mary C. Lloyd

Friend of my Life, when’ er my eyes
Rest with sudden, glad surprise
On Nature’s scenes of earth and air
Sublimely grand, or sweetly fair,
I want you,- Mary.

When men and women gifted, free,
Speak their fresh thoughts un grudgingly,
And springing forth each kindling mind
Streams like a meteor in the wind,
I want you,- Mary.

When soft the summer evenings close,
And crimson in the sunset rose,
Our Cader glows, majestic, grand,
The crown of all your lovely land,
I want you,- Mary.

When the dark winter nights come round
To our “ain fireside” cheerly bound,
With our dear Rembrandt girl, so brown,
Smiling serenely on us down,
I want you,- Mary.

Now,-while the vigorous pulses leap
Still strong within my spirit’s deep;
Now, while my yet unwearied brain
Weaves its thick web of thoughts amain,
I want you,- Mary.

Hereafter, when slow ebbs the tide,
And age drains out my strength and pride,
And dim-grown eyes and palsied hand
No longer list my soul’s command,
I’ll want you,- Mary.

In joy and grief, in good and ill,
Friend of my heart: I need you still,
My Guide, Companion, Playmate, Love,
To dwell with here, to clasp above,
I want you,- Mary.

For O! if past the gates of Death
To me the Unseen openeth Immortal joys, to angels given,
Upon the holy heights of Heaven,
I’ll want you,- Mary.

A small extra revelance: 10 years after she achieved financial independence through a combination of her share of an inherited income and her publications, she wrote and campaigned strongly against volunteer work. She argued that volunteer work enabled employers to get work from people for free with no strings attached. That it took bread from the mouths of people who could not afford to work for nothing. That whatever you may claim, it disvalued the work done for nothing. In this time of mass unemployment I come across people saying how honored and wonderful it is when they get a volunteer job — say teaching third grade in a school for a full year without a dime of income. Cobbe recognized what this is about. Desperation.

If I had time I’d add portraits of a few of her friends, Fanny Kemble’s daughter, Mary Somerville and other women writers working for women’s causes at the time and some picturesque pictures from their European world. Perhaps later this week.


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Marie Trintignant

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just spent some two months carefully reading and reviewing a somber telling history of wife abuse in France in the 18th century by Marie Trouille: her sources are court cases, memoirs, documents, novels and statistics. Trouille’s is a book whose importance goes well beyond that of the 18th century; her court cases reveal the norms that allowed men to abuse their wives horribly and made it difficult beyond the allowed wife-beating for the wife to escape with her property and build any satisfying life for herself; the roles of lawyers and law and custom; what novels can tell as they are not limited by what is to the advantage of someone in a court case to reveal; and finally what this tells us about the content of the novels then and our era now.

I thought as a kind of “control” text I would read a modern instance of wife abuse to see what would be the difference between what was revealed in Trouille’s book and what didn’t change. Nadine Trintignant’s Ma fille, Marie is a stunner of a moving book. For me it was in easy French. It’s written in a simple stark manner — a sign of its sincerity.

Its core: at age 41 Marie Trintignant was beaten to death by the man she was living with, Bertrand Cantat. The Trintignants might be likened to the Redgraves in the UK: the father, an actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, the mother, actress and film-maker-director, Nadine; other siblings and relatives in the business.

If you read the short biographies of her close family members and her own on wikipedia, you discover by age 41 Marie had had 4 children, each by a different man, none by this creep, Bertrand. You do find in her childhood a sudden language delay or retreat (she stopped speaking when she was 8), showing that she could react with sensitivity and distress to the stresses and dislocations of the acting life; her allowing herself to get pregnant signals a compliance to males, the changeovers of men she’s involved with a susceptibility to dominance in a world where relationships are held together by personal force. She was beautiful and the roles she played turned her into an erotic object.

Not that any of this in the least bit makes her to blame for the abuse she apparently took for some time before Cantat killed her. Rather it’s the underlying attitudes towards women and men that made her so susceptible to this kind of yielding.

The value of the mother’s memoir for herself is a sort of release to her, a getting back at Cantat. Nadine is taking revenge, she is showing what this creep is.

This motive reminds me Retif de la Bretonne who wroteIngenue Saxancour, to expose Auge (Retif’s daughter Agnes’s monstrous husband), his own wife who did pressure her daughter into this marriage partly out of spite (and evidence bears this out), and his sister, Agnes’s aunt who wanted to get rid of the burden of supporting Agnes. The 18th century public would not have known of what happened to Agnes since not that many people pour over separation decrees in the 1780s, and in 1793 she divorced Auge on the grounds of incompatibility.

By contrast, Cantat was tried for murder, but found guilty of manslaughter (!) — what, was he a car running Marie over? – and after 7 years released for good behavior. So it was exposed but the way the court case went apparently did not condemn this horror.

Nadine did go along to the hearings and did what she could to describe his behavior to her daughter and analyze its ugly sources, but it did little good. I read online that at the time of the publication of the memoir, there was controversy and it did sound like people defended or at least were not horrified by Cantat.

Trouille says that in France still violence towards women is tolerated, overlooked. We see this in the excuses made for Polanski’s raping — there it’s a matter of tolerating a mother offering up her daughter up for sex in return for a job for the daughter and possible career as an actress (the more fool she, the mother).

This is not the first important memoir/novel about the violation of a woman to near death or death that’s not translated into English I’ve come across. Nadine analyses this guy’s motives. She says he wanted to wipe her daughter out if he could not own her every muscle. It was possession, total complete possession he wanted so that the slightest show of affection for someone else drove him to punish her daughter. She says this is not love or passion, it’s hatred.

She has a talent for capturing psychological realities in vignettes of drama. For example, one moment Cantat apparently suddenly turned on Nadine when the mother was talking of one of Marie’s children’s fathers. He was in a cold rage at the idea she still loved one of these four men. The mother both denied this love and asserted her daughter’s love for her children. It’s at this kind of moment she now says she should have been alerted something was wrong.

What’s driving Nadine is regret: regret for what? That she saw, that she did see, that the signals were there. Her daughter wrote her two short notes, one an email in which she called herself a “beaten daughter.” The daughter began to retreat from everyone. She would rush back to the caravan. She no longer looked joyous upon completing a scene, triumphant, but fearful, somber. The mother did see bruises. Why oh why did she step back from “interfering.”

Why didn’t Nadine something, anything? Mum. She did not appear to notice. One letter she now says she took as referring to her self as “beaten daughter.” Really?

It does seem as if the bruises were light — but they were there. I’ve seen women with pinched arms and nothing done.

But Nadine did see the retreat, the withdrawal, the fear. So did others. Marie apparently carried on showing love for her children. Bertrand presented as a social excuse for trying to get Marie to stop doing movies that she needed time for her children. Now Nadine sees through that, saying Marie had plenty of time, that she took them on the set. Perhaps. What is the center here is the man was driven wild by his wife’s past.

He couldn’t stand she had a past with other men. This reminds me of yet another Trollope novel — Kept it the Dark, and again Trollope does not side with the woman but presents the story as a warning lesson to the woman and imbecile critics talk of how the man is motivated by false ideas she must obey him. These are the rationales, the handles which allow this character nearly to destroy his wife (who was engaged briefly before she married him – her great sin). Throughout Trouille’s book I kept finding analogies in some of Trollope’s novels and repeatedly we were led to be on the side of the man.

Cantat wanted Marie to have had known nothing but him. This takes us back to Freud’s essay explaining where the virginity taboo comes from.

Well, why did the mother do nothing? Why did she let it slip? She mentions that in some flat Marie lived in one night the blows could be heard and screams and nothing was done by the neighbors. The night Marie was beaten to death it happened a few blocks from where Nadine was sleeping. She is intensely frustrated at the idea she slept while this happened. She wonders why no one reported it, no one intervened.

The first she heard of it was Marie was in the hospital. We get this long vigil as the doctors try to save her and she dies. Nadine reports the husband’s first lies and how the doctors did not immediately reject them — only after the mother, Marie’s father protested. By the way the father was still alive at the time of the Wikipedia article.

But there is a mystery here. Unlike the 18th century Marie would have found no protests had she determined to leave this man. She didn’t have that much abuse because too much would have shown. She was surrounded by people who would help her if only because she was a valuable commodity. Her last part was Colette — she often did play sexualized free-living women and did love scenes with the actors. Fodder for Cantat but this should not distract us from seeing that precisely because big money was made on such scenes in movies she had people around her with a motive to help her.

So more to the point? why did Marie take it? why did she only send brief enigmatic notes to her mother? why did she let her husband present false excuses for her retreat? Nadine says at one point Marie felt guilty. About what? Nadine says Marie felt ashamed. Well, the shame one experiences for five minutes is soon gone; death goes on forever. We are going to be dead a long time. Beatings go on for shorter time, but much longer than embarrassment. Here again we touch some core sore spot where we begin to glimpse an explanation. Nadine adduces “fear of reprisal” Fear that if she’d told he’d have beaten her worse. How worse? She did not have to stay like an 18th century woman. She had her own money. Or is there some norm, ideal that a woman must and should stay, like the norm that led her to four pregnancies and assertions of herself as this pelican. Why instead did she retreat? why did she obey this man?

The answer I would suggest is that there was a mechanism in her personality that permitted this to happen given what had been inculcated by her culture. What had she been taught, was inculcated about sex and women’s position that led her to have four children by four different men in serial relationships? I don’t see restricted choices as central to this but rather (perhaps) a form of learned helplessness as the stance a woman is supposed to take to everyone else. There’s a remark quoted by Marie about one of her children, how she is to relate to this child as abject in a way, a kind of eternal pelican that contains a clue.

I repeat it should, was in the interest of all but Cantat to save Marie from Cantat. They didn’t. She didn’t turn to them. Why not? Why has there been controversy over the memoir? Why was it manslaughter the charge? That implies he made a mistake you see, took his beating too far. Are we back in the 18th century? Why is this man free with impunity?


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