Monthly Archives: June 2012

Foul Play, by Charles Reade

Foul Play is a novel by Charles Reade, but it was written in collaboration with Dion Boucicault, who wrote it as a play.  Reade’s collaboration with Boucicault, combined with the word “play” in the title, makes me think that the narrative thematizes theatricality in some significant way.  Right now, I’m really interested in John Hazel’s character, since he reminds me of Lady Isabel in East Lynne, in terms of theatricality.  Lady Isabel Vane became Madame Vine thanks to some superficial physical changes, and Robert Penfold becomes James Seaton, who becomes Rev. John Hazel, just by shaving off his beard.  This multiplicity of self is what Nina Auerbach talks about in Private Theatricals, and is part of what fed the Victorian anti-theatrical prejudice (although Lynn Voskuil revises Auerbach’s historical narrative, I think).

The other thing that fascinates me about Penfold/Seaton/Hazel is his relationship to professionalization.  It doesn’t surprise me at all that, in sensation novels, when a character changes his/her identity, the character’s class status changes as well.  In that respect, perhaps there is some overlap between the sensation novel and the picaresque.  But early in the 1860s, when Lucy Audley changes her identity, she goes from being a middle-class housewife to being an aristocratic housewife.  (That narrative is really more about Robert Audley’s professionalization, perhaps).  And when Lady Isabel becomes Madame Vine, she goes from being a housewife to being a governess, which isn’t quite as dramatic as the switches in Foul Play (these comparisons are clearly divided along gender lines…).  In Foul Play, Robert Penfold is a tutor, James Seaton is a gardener and then a clerk, and John Hazel is a minister, builder, and amateur botanist, a sailor, an explorer, and later a merchant.  I’d really like to compare Penfold/Seaton/Hazel to Robert Audley, since their characters depictions are so full of detailed skill sets, but in such completely different ways.

Also, Arthur Wardlaw is introduced in Foul Play as a mimic: “Young Wardlaw, you must know, was blessed or cursed, with Mimicry; his powers in that way really seemed to have no limit, for he could imitate any sounds you liked with his voice, and form with his pen or pencil” (5).  All of his forgery is really mimicry, and it also has direct effects on his professional identity.  But Hazel is really a mimic too, so these characters are clearly the conventional psychomachian foils typical of melodrama.

But, despite the psychomachian element to melodrama, I remember reading a source (was it Peter Brooks?) who said that separating melodramatic characters into “good” and “bad” doesn’t really work, even though these simplistic designations are what the mode is known for.  I can definitely see this in Foul Play, where none of the characters are fully good or evil.  The narrator sympathizes with Arthur Wardlaw at times, because of his redeeming love for Helen, and criticizes Penford/Seaton/Hazel at other times, because of his cynicism.  Even Wylie–who initially seems like the quintessential villain’s evil sidekick–gets a complex set of motivations, followed by a happy ending.  All of the characters succumb to despair at one point or another (even the normally steadfast fathers, one of whom momentarily agrees to pine away on the island while watching his daughter live in sin, and the other of whom gives up and dies after discovering that his son is a forger).  Anyway, the characters may not have the exposed-nerve interiority of a George Eliot character, but I can definitely see how Charles Reade considered himself a part of the Realist tradition.

Character List:

John Wardlaw:  a rich and well-respected merchant.  On the verge of retirement, he decides to hand his business over to his son, Arthur.  He sponsors General Rolleston’s voyage on the Springbok to go find Helen.  He also petitions the Queen for greater recognition for General Rolleston, who eventually gets a baronetcy thanks to him.  However, his impeccable respectability prevents him from coping with his son’s misdeeds, so once he finds out about Arthur’s multiple forgeries, he signs the business over to the Penfolds and dies three days later.

Arthur Wardlaw:  “he was one man under his father’s eye, and another down at Oxford” (5).  He takes a degree, with the help of his tutor, Robert Penfold (son of his father’s cashier, Michael Penfold).  Grateful for his tutor’s help, he petitions his father for the money to buy Robert a living near Oxford, which his father refuses.  Arthur uses his mimicry skills to sign a check in his father’s name, but the forgery is promptly detected and blamed on Robert, who gets arrested and shipped to Australia.  Arthur feels incredibly guilty, but not guilty enough to intervene in Robert’s defense.  And not guilty enough to avoid falling in love with the beautiful-but-secretly-consumptive Helen Rolleston, who agrees to marry him.  Arthur gets into deeper and deeper trouble as the narrative continues.  After his forgeries are discovered, he clears Robert and then promptly goes mad, spending the rest of his days in a lunatic asylum (a la Lady Audley).

Michael Penfold:  Robert’s father, who has been working for the Wardlaws for years.  He is a ruined gentleman, and very kind and timid.  He trusts the Wardlaws implicitly until Nancy Rouse arouses his suspicions about Arthur.  His connection at the Bank of England eventually helps detect Arthur’s forgery, since he traces the 2,000 pounds in bank notes from Wylie back to Arthur.

Robert Penfold:  a devoted son who gets wrongly convicted of forgery.  The unfairness of his conviction “injured his mind; and, before half his sentence had expired, he sailed for a penal colony, a man with a hot coal in his bosom, a creature embittered, poisoned; hoping little, believing little, fearing little, and hating much” (23).  After “Hazel” gets himself off Godsend Island toward the end of the novel, Robert makes his way back to England to confront Arthur.  After John Wardlaw signs his business over to the Penfolds, Robert leaves it in the care of his father and buys a vicarage.  He restructures the lake to look like Godsend Island and ends up marrying Helen.

James Seaton:  the name Robert Penfold gives himself after his petition for a ticket of leave (I think that’s like probation) is accepted.  He asks Lieutenant-General Rolleston for a job working with his hands, and Rolleston gives him a job as a gardener at his house.  To Penfold’s request to work under an assumed name, he says:  “If you really mean to change your character, why, the name you have disgraced might hang round your neck.  Well, I’ll give you every chance.  But […] if you go a yard off the straight path now, look for no mercy–Jemmy Seaton” (27).  While working in Rolleston’s garden, Seaton falls in love with his daughter, Helen, who takes walks in the garden.  After he learns that robbers plan to break into her house, he sleeps outside her window to protect her, and ends up foiling the robbers’ attempts, and getting shot in the process.  Thus, he earns the respect of both General Rolleston and his daughter, Helen, who exerts herself to find him a job as a clerk, which he accepts.

When Seaton finds out that Helen is sailing for England to marry Arthur Wardlaw, his eternal nemesis, he vows to prevent the marriage at all costs.  In the process of making sure that the ship Helen plans to sail to England on is safe, Seaton stumbles upon another forgery (the first mate of one of Wardlaw’s ships switches the freight of one ship with that of another).  Seaton decides to find a way to board the ship with Helen, so he shaves off his luxurious beard, which apparently renders him unrecognizable (to everyone but Mr. Wylie, the first mate of the Proserpine).

Rev. John Hazel:  Robert Penfold’s second alias, which he uses to gain entrance to the Proserpine in order to watch over Helen.  On the voyage to England, he gains Helen’s trust, but then inadvertently confesses his love for her after he finds out that she is dying of consumption.  Meanwhile, he uncovers Mr. Wylie’s plot to purposely sink the Proserpine, and tries to warn Helen and the rest of the crew.  Wylie succeeds in sinking the ship, but Hazel, Helen, and several crew members make it into a lifeboat.  Despite having almost no food or water, Hazel helps keep Helen alive for the entire voyage, which ends when they find a deserted island.

Joseph Wylie:  The first mate of the Proserpine.  He uses augers to drill holes in the ship and successfully “scuttles” it.  After watching the drunk captain inadvertently go down with the ship, he escapes into a lifeboat.  After leading the other lifeboat (containing Hazel and Helen) toward the faint promise of land, he changes course in the middle of the night to try to get on the trade route.  He starts feeling guilty about this when he realizes that his ship contains most of the food and water supplies that the escapees took from the Proserpine.  He goes back to England thinking that he has condemned all the people on the other boat to death.

We later find out that Wylie partnered with Arthur Wardlaw because he wanted to engage himself to Nancy Rouse, who stipulated that she would only marry him if he came up with 2,000 pounds to buy her a property where she could run her laundry business.  After lots of misunderstanding, they do marry and get their business.

General Rolleston:  Helen’s father.  He follows Helen to England in the Shannon, only to find out that her ship, the Proserpine, has sunk.  He finds out the coordinates of the shipwreck from Wylie and, with the help of John Wardlaw’s cash, he embarks on a mission to find his daughter.  He eventually succeeds, although he finds her in love with Hazel, not wanting to leave the island.  He coaxes her back to England through their mutually strong sense of duty (she is engaged to Arthur, after all), and leaves Hazel on the island, since his criminal status keeps him exiled from England.  He’s a bumbling misogynist, but he loves his daughter.

Helen Rolleston:  the very complicated heroine.  She agrees to marry Arthur, although she doesn’t really love him.  In Australia, she’s dying of consumption, but by the time she gets shipwrecked with Hazel, intense starvation and dehydration seems to cure her, making her strong enough to steer to boat hundreds of miles across the ocean.  Her time with Hazel on the island is a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  Episodes of friendly feeling are interspersed with periodical temper tantrums.  Eventually she falls in love with Hazel, which puts her in an awkward situation, as a pure Victorian angel in the house (they are co-habitating alone on an island and she is engaged to someone else).

Upon leaving Hazel on the island, she agrees to clear his name when she gets back to England, and not to marry Arthur until she does.  After multiple setbacks and occasional lapses in focus, she makes enough friends in high places to uncover Arthur’s treachery and clear Robert’s name.

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Sensation Theater

Holder, Heidi J.  “Sensation Theater.”

Chapter 5 of the Blackwell Companion opens by discussing a play that caught my interest right away: H.J. Byron’s 1863; or, The Sensations of the Past Season.  This is definitely a relevant play for my reading, since it lampoons Lady Audley’s Secret specifically, and sensation theater and fiction more broadly.  Lady Audley was played by comic actor J.L. Toole, and Robert Audley was played by actress Fanny Josephs, so the cross-dressing is also an interesting aspect to think about (and the play seems hilarious!).  Apparently, these parodies and burlesques of sensation drama were extremely popular in the mid-century, since Dion Boucicault and Braddon’s adapters were dominating the sensation theater scene.  The Adelphi Theatre was one of the main houses for sensation drama (also called “blood-and-thunder” melodrama), and sensation plays were well-known for their special effects, or “sensation scenes.”  In discussing sensation theater’s detractors, Holder makes the comparison to present-day movie critics who lament Hollywood’s over-reliance on “special effects.”  It seems that sensation drama was guilty of the same thing.

Major playwrights associated with sensation burlesques were Gilber Abbot a Beckett, F.C. Burnand, H.J. Byron, William Brough, and Mark Lemon.  Holder looks at the temporality of sensation fiction and its corresponding burlesques, noting that the prolonged detection plot in such novels as The Woman in White or Lady Audley’s Secret gets humorously shortened in the burlesque versions.  “The customary amazing rescue, reappearance, or reclamation in sensation fiction of the lost, exiled, or presumed dead,” Holder says, “[…] happens now in burlesque time: instantaneously” (69).  Holder cites Martin Meisel’s Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England (1983), which makes a parallel (though different) point to the one I made in my first paper on Lady Audley’s Secret.  I like Meisel’s way of explaining it, so I will quote it here to remind myself to go read this book:

One cannot help but be aware of a severe tension in the theater of the nineteenth century between picture and motion; between the static image, halting (and compressing) time so that the full implication of events and relations can be savoured, and the achievement of a total dynamism, in which everything moves and works for its own sake, as “wonder” and effect. (50, qtd. in Holder 69)

Holder uses this quotation to point out the difference between “sensation scenes” in the theater (which are moments of “shocking movement,” she says) and in the theatrical engravings familiar to most audience members (in which the sensation scene is frozen against a backdrop).  Interestingly, the scene painter in sensation theater became a more dominant figure, since sensation scenes were so elaborate, so the integration of the actor into the scene was a problematic issue, as was the actor’s ability to navigate the complicated scenery.  In this way, sensation theater was a very technological medium.  Special effects, like explosions or fires, often resolve tensions inherent in the plays, so Holder argues that they were far from gratuitous.  People falling from tall buildings, or throwing themselves on the ground, for example, might parallel moral rises and falls, tying physical spectacle to psychological drama.

Also significant about the stage scenery is the “cup-and-saucerism,” or “intense realism in domestic detail” (71) that Holder mentions.  Playwright Tom Robertson, for example, became famous not only for packing his stages with pianos, tea sets, etc, but for “engaging his characters in a great deal of interplay and stage business with these familiar objects on stage. Much of this interaction is carefully designed to seem routine or improvised” (72).  Even these small props contribute to the sensational effect, since the ordinary and everyday are being made to seem extraordinary, spectacular, and exotic.  Sensation theater, Holder concludes, “demanded deep physical engagement–among actors, between cast and set, and stage and audience” (77).

Timeline of Sensation Theater:

1813: The Miller and his Men, by Isaac Pocock (Covent Garden)

1829: The Collegians; or The Colleen Bawn, by Gerald Griffin

1832: The First Reform Bill

The Factory Lad, by John Walker (Surrey Theater)

1843: Theatre Regulation Act (allows spoken words on stage)

1847: How to Settle Accounts with Your Laundress, by J.S. Coyne (a farce of “blood-and-thunder” melodramas)

1852: Bleak House, anonymous (the Strand, theatrical adaptation)

1860: The Colleen Bawn, by Dion Boucicault (Adelphi theater–one of the leading theaters for sensation drama)

The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (novel)

1861: East Lynne, by Mrs. Henry Wood (novel)

Jessie Ashton (novel): serialized in The Welcome Guest, a Journal of Recreative Literature

1862: Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (novel)

Miss Eily O’Connor, by H.J. Byron (a parody of The Colleen Bawn)

Jessy Ashton; or, The Adventures of a Barmaid, by Mrs. Henry Young (Effingham Theater)

1863: 1863; or, The Sensations of the Past Season opens on Boxing Day

Trial of Effie Deans, by Dion Boucicault

The Ticket-of-Leave Man, by Tom Taylor (Olympic Theater)

Aurora Floyd, by Colin Henry Hazlewood (theatrical adaptation)

Lady Audley’s Secret, by William Suter (Queen’s Theater, February; this adaptation prompted Braddon to sue)

Lady Audley’s Secret, by George Roberts (St. James Theater, February; this was a sanctioned adaptation)

Lady Audley’s Secret, by Colin Henry Hazlewood (Victoria Theater, May)

1867: Lost in London, by Watts Phillips

Under the Gaslight, by Augustin Daly (Pavilion Theater)

Caste, by Tom Robertson (Prince of Wales Theater)

1868: After Dark, by Dion Boucicault (Princess Theater)

1869: David Copperfield, Little Em’ly, by Andrew Halliday (Olympic Theater)

1876: Bleak House, by George Lander (theatrical adaptation, Pavilion Theater)

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McWilliam, Rohan.  “Melodrama.”

Chapter 4 of the Blackwood Comapnion is the best yet!  It has a perfect quote from historian W.L. Burn (in 1964) about Lady Audley’s Secret: “Perhaps few things are better calculated to show the difference between the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century than the experience of reading C.H. Hazlewood’s adaptation of Lady Audley’s Secret … and trying to see it as other than farcical” (Burn 50, qtd. in McWilliam 54-55).

Despite Burn’s dismissiveness about mid-nineteenth century theater, McWilliam uses this essay to showcase the attention that melodrama has been getting in recent years.  Thanks to what he calls the “melodramatic turn,” scholars have noticed the precursors of modern consciousness in melodrama, and an elaborate engagement with “realism,” both in melodramatic plays and in the plays’ lifelike sets and backdrops.

Origins of melodrama: According to McWilliam, melodrama “originated in the later eighteenth century, part of the reaction against the Enlightenment that characterized Romanticism with its emphasis on emotion.  It also had its roots in a new form of Christian humanitarianism whereby spectators were encouraged to identify with the suffering of others.  Thus the purpose of melodrama was to move the audience (which explains sentimentality)” (56).  The word “melodrama” comes from the French melo-drame, which refers to a “play with music.”  Appropriately, our current understanding of melodrama comes from the Parisian stage, during the French Revolution, when theater was so heavily censored in both London and Paris that speech was not permitted on the stage.  Actors relied on music, gestures, and pantomime.  The French Revolution of 1789 changed the speech prohibition, and once speech was allowed, melodrama was born.  The form was first associated with French writer Rene-Charles Guilbert de Pixerecourt, whose popular play Coelina (1800) was pirated two years later by English playwright Thomas Holcroft as A Tale of Mystery.  McWilliam also cites medieval mystery plays, Renaissance drama, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), George Lillo’s The London Merchant (1731), German Romanticism, and Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers (1781) as sources of the melodramatic form.

Melodrama flourished in unlicensed “minor” theaters, where a few songs could qualify a play as a “burletta,” so that normally-indulgent magistrates would not enforce the restriction on spoken-word plays (which were rarely enforced anyway).  It usually took a populist stance, sympathizing with the struggles of the poorer classes, but avoiding anything more controversial than that, for fear of not receiving the sanction of the Lord Chamberlain (whose role as a censor did not end until 1968).  Therefore, evil aristocrat characters are usually counter-balanced by good aristocrat characters, and the plays’ sympathies with the poor do not extend to any socially controversial solution.

The sensation novel, according to McWilliam, “represented a cultural upgrading of melodramatic themes for a middle-class audience, the kind of people who patronized railway bookstalls or circulating libraries such as Mudie’s” (59).  Sensation characters were more complex and not as easy to “read” as were the melodramatic characters of the stage.  This complexity allowed sensation novelists to explore female subjectivity on a much deeper level than melodramatists could or did.  Also, since sensation novelists did not have to worry about the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain, they could write more openly (though still in heavily coded formulas) about things like female sexuality.

McWilliam also mention that stage mechanics “took a huge leap forward in the mid-Victorian years, and it was not unknown for the designer to take a curtain call on the first night” (62).  There was a continual line of traffic between the sensation novel and the stage.  McWilliam quotes Mrs. Henry Wood, in 1875, saying, “I cannot help thinking that a portion of ‘East Lynne’s’ success is owing to its being so much represented on the stage.  Go where I will, I mean into country places, I am sure to see the walls placarded with ‘East Lynne.’  People see the play and next day send and buy the book” (Maunder 173, qtd. in McWilliam 62).  Wilkie Collins loved the stage, and would often adapt his own novels as plays.  This is what led to his relationship with Charles Dickens, who was also interested in amateur theater.  Ultimately, melodrama has a strong afterlife, influenced modern modes of consciousness, and can still be seen in popular culture today.

Timeline of Melodrama:

1737: Spoken word drama is restricted only to licensed theaters and is censored by the Lord Chamberlain

1789: French Revolution–theater is so heavily censored that speech is not permitted on stage

1800: Coelina, by Rene-Charles Guilbert de Pixerecourt is the first modern melodrama

1802: A Tale of Mystery, by Thomas Holcroft, is a pirated version of Coelina

1820: The Lear of Private Life, by W.T. Moncrieff (a domestic melodrama)

1826: Luke the Labourer, by J.B. Buckstone (a domestic melodrama)

1832: The Rent Day, by Douglas Jerrold (a domestic melodrama)

The Factory Lad, by John Walker, takes the side of workers during the Reform crisis

The First Reform Bill

1843: Theatre Regulation Act allows spoken drama to be performed everywhere

1852: The Corsican Brothers, by Dion Boucicault (a sensation drama)

1860: The Colleen Bawn, by Dion Boucicault (a sensation drama)

The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (novel)

1862: No Name, by Wilkie Collins (novel)

1864: East Lynne first arrives on the English stage at the Effingham in London’s East End under the title Marriage Bells

1866: Armadale, by Wilkie Collins (novel)

1867: The Second Reform Act, which happens at the height of the sensation craze

1868: The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins (novel)

Foul Play, by Charles Reade (novel and theatrical adaptation), and by Dion Boucicault (theatrical adaptation)

1870: No Name, by Wilkie Collins (theatrical adaptation of novel)

Man and Wife, by Wilkie Collins (novel)

Free Labour, by Charles Reade (theatrical adaptation of Put Yourself in His Place)

Put Yourself in His Place, by Charles Reade (novel)

1871: The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (theatrical adaptation of novel)

1873: The New Magdalen, by Wilkie Collins (both novel and play) (forerunner to the late Victorian social problem play)

Man and Wife, by Wilkie Collins (theatrical adaptation of novel)

1874: Genevieve, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (play)

1876: Miss Gwilt, by Wilkie Collins (theatrical adaptation of Armadale)

1877: The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins (theatrical adaptation of novel)

1915: Lady Audley’s Secret, starring Theda Bara (American film)

1916: East Lynne, starring Theda Bara (American film)

1931: East Lynne on the Western Front (American film)

2004: Andrew Lloyd Weber composes a musical version of The Woman in White that plays in New York and London

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Cheap Serial Fiction of the 1840s and 1850s

King, Andrew.  “Cheap Serial Fiction of the 1840s and 1850s.”

Chapter 3 of the Blackwell Companion.  This chapter introduces us to two important figures in the serial publication market: John Frederick Smith and Edward Lloyd.  John Frederick Smith may have been the inspiration for Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s character, Sigismund Smith, in The Doctor’s Wife.  His most famous novel is Minnigrey, which was dramatized numerous times, with Mary Elizabeth Braddon among the cast of actors.  Edward Lloyd was a serial publisher.

Before discussing these figures, however, the essay outlines the state of the penny fiction market, which became more popular in the 1830s and 1840s (although the serial form dates back to the eighteenth century) because the costs of paper and printing dropped.  A new business model emerged based on “economic literature,” “whereby profit could be sought through small margins per item and high circulation as opposed to through the previous norm, high prices and limited circulation” (40-41).  Economic literature appeared in both periodical form and through part-issue novels.  By the mid-1850s, the periodical press dominated the publishing scene, and King estimates that the collective audience of the four major weeklies (the Family Herald, the London Journal, Reynold’s Miscellany, and Dickens’ Household Words) was over 50 percent of the British population.  This put the owners of these weeklies (Biggs, Johnston, and Lloyd) in the top 1% of Victorian Britain.  King reminds us that while critics are drawn to moments of subversion and unconventionality in these publications, we must remember that “these texts were the result of business models that situated their publishers high amongst the economic elite and their readers in a majority” (41).

Edward Lloyd was one of these “economic elites” who profited from the popularity of the serial press.  He began his career with “bloods,” or Newgate-esque novels that featured the wounding and mutilation of criminals.  One of Lloyd’s most prolific writers was Thomas Peckett Prest, who parodied many of Dickens’ novels under the pseudonym “Bos.”  Also very prolific was writer Malcolm Rymer, whose famous serial The String of Pearls tells the story of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.  Varney the Vampyre and Ela the Outcast are also Edward Lloyd publications.  Lloyd’s publications are marked by hurried typography and unapologetic commodity-status.  The part-issues often end mid-sentence, and his writers make no pretensions to “literary” status for their work.

Interestingly for me, penny serials were intimately linked to the stage.  According to King, they “not only raided the commonplaces of melodrama for their plots and characters but were also often based on plays currently popular on stage” (45).  Many of these serials were also adapted for the stage, and feature illustrations suggestive of their relationship to the theater.

In contrast to Edward Lloyd’s publications, J.F. Smith’s novels look more professional, with clear typography and more cohesive plots.  According to King, “Smith’s plots are affirmative: rather than reminding readers of the hopelessness of their situation they promote action, not just on an individual level but also through the formation of community” (49).  His most famous novel is Minnigrey, which also seems interesting in its relation to the theater.

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The Newgate Novel

Jacobs, Edward and Manuela Mourao.  “Newgate Novels.”

This is from chapter 2 of the Blackwell Companion.  Newgate novels focused on criminals as their protagonists, originating from 18th-century crime narratives.  The novels’ criminal focus angered many of the contemporary critics, who thought that the characteristically “lower-class” crime narratives didn’t belong in the more “middle-class” venue of the novel.  However, unlike its literary descendant, the sensation novel, the Newgate novel often seemed less subversive to middle-class readers because it located criminality in an alien and subordinate class rather than in the domestic hearth (the setting favored by sensation novelists).  Thus, middle-class readers could be shocked by the completely separate world of Newgate novels, without having the supposed integrity of their own class status violated.  Furthermore, most Newgate novels were set in the 18th century, so they were also temporally distant, and recent juridical reforms often seemed like a safe barrier between the lawless 18th century and the more stable, respectable 19th century.

Newgate novels often asked readers to sympathize with “good criminals.”  They constructed their criminal protagonists as “good” by attributing to them hegemonic middle-class values, and by representing them as victims of social injustice.  Social injustice was usually blamed for involving these otherwise “good” victims in a criminal underworld.  This chapter cites Peter Linebaugh and Simon Joyce, who argue that Newgate novels advance an “excarceral politics,” whereby the criminal protagonist’s numerous flights and escapes are represented as “evidence of their moral natures rather than as signs of immorality or rebellion against the status quo” (30-31).  Finally, some Newgate novels, like Oliver Twist, ascribed “middle-class” status to their criminal protagonists by revealing them to be secretly high-born, or by allowing their protagonists to rise in status at the end of the novel.  Critics, of course, attacked these elements of the genre as “unrealistic.”

The chapter goes on to detail three ways in which sensation fiction differs from Newgate novels.  First of all, sensation fiction focuses on the detection of hidden crime, whereas in Newgate novels, there is little to no secrecy surrounding criminality.  Second, Newgate novels focus much more on the process by which the criminal protagonist fell into a life of crime, while sensation novels devote most of their narrative space to the process of detection.  Third, Newgate novels focus ideologically on the structures of carceral institutions, while the sensation novel “ideologically foregrounds and naturalizes the inevitability of discovery and the pervasiveness of surveillance” (34).  Also, a section on gender highlights the differences in protagonists and readership between the two genres: sensation novels often focused on female protagonists, and had largely female readerships, while Newgate novels focused on male protagonists, and were read by a more varied audience.  Ultimately, sensation novels associate crime with femininity and the repressive strictures of domesticity, while Newgate novels associate crime with socioeconomic disadvantage.

Timeline for Newgate Novels:

1718: publisher John Applebee contracts with the ordinaries (chaplains) of the Newgate prison to publish accounts of condemned felons

1830-1847: heyday of the Newgate novel

1830: genre begins with Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

1832: Eugene Aram, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

1834: Rockwood, by William Harrison Ainsworth

1838: Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens (serialized in Bentley’s Miscellany with Jack Sheppard)

1839: Jack Sheppard, by William Harrison Ainsworth (serialized in Bentley’s Miscellany with Oliver Twist)

1841: Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens (although its contemporaries did not put it in the Newgate school)

1846: Lucretia, or Children of Night, by Bulwer-Lytton; Newgate novel ends as a viable fashion this year, after too much critical condemnation convinces Bulwer-Lytton, Ainsworth, and Dickens to abandon the genre

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The Silver Fork Novel

Casey, Ellen Miller.  “The Aristocracy and Upholstery: The Silver Fork Novel.”

This is the first essay in the Blackwell Companion to Sensation Fiction, which is where I’ve decided to begin my research.  According to this essay, the silver fork novel (also called the “fashionable novel”) was a precursor to the sensation novel, sharing the sensation novel’s interest in minute, realistic detail.  The term “silver fork” came from William Hazlitt in his 1827 Examiner article entitled “The Dandy School.”  The heyday of the silver fork novel extended from the 1820s through the 1840s, and began to wane in the 1850s.  Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is, according to Casey, “both a repudiation of the silver fork genre and its apex” (20).  Silver fork novels were usually published anonymously, so that publishers could suggest to the reading public that the novels were written by actual aristocrats, although it seems that reviewers often saw through this ploy.  Nonetheless, reviewers enjoyed trying to identify the aristocratic authors of the novels, or suggesting that the novels had been published by footmen or maids (who would have had access to aristocratic scenery without being part of it).

Like the sensation novels of the 1860s, silver fork novels often followed stereotypical, formulaic plots.  According to Casey, “[r]eviewers repeatedly suggested that these novels were written according to a formula which included a ball at Almack’s, a duel, a visit to a gambling club such as Crockford’s, an arranged marriage, and at least the suspicion of adultery” (17).  The novels were usually set in London, on the West End (as opposed to the East End popularized by the Newgate novel).  They were generally picaresque in form, “following the adventures of a male protagonist in his travels across Europe or the movement of a female one from shop to tea to dinner party to ball” (Casey 17-18).  Casey cites April Kendra’s study placing silver fork novels into two gendered categories: the “dandy novel” and the feminine “society novel.”  Silver fork novels reworked picaresque forms, as well as the bildungsroman, Byron’s own life and work (especially Don Juan), and the novel of manners popularized by Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen.  However, one of the largest sources of the silver fork novel comes from the Reform Bill of 1832, which sought to enfranchise a new mercantile class.  With the social definition of “gentlemen” in flux, the silver fork novel attempted to solidify its boundaries, though it also served as a kind of roadmap to gentlemanly status for the uninitiated.  Casey also cites Edward Bulwer’s (later Bulwer-Lytton) suggestion that the silver fork novel even contributed to the Reform Bill by exposing the wasteful luxury of the elite classes.

Casey ends the essay by connecting the silver fork novel to its literary descendants, which include the sensation novel.  Since the marriage reform law does not happen until 1857, the silver fork novel, like the sensation novel, is often topically interested in the unhappy marriage.  Also like the sensation novel, the silver fork novel often focuses on secrets.

This essay helped me see the generic background of Vanity Fair, which seems like a fascinatingly elaborate response to the silver fork genre.  More importantly, though, I can see the lingering of the silver fork genre in the background of Lady Audley’s Secret, which also focuses on ramblings of its lazy, aristocratic protagonist, Robert Audley.  The unhappy marriage is clearly a central plot point, and Robert’s journey of self-exploration is definitely reminiscent of the bildungsroman.  Also, something that struck me in Casey’s discussion of the silver fork novel’s reviewers seems pertinent here.  The speculation over who actually wrote a given silver fork novel (an aristocrat? a maid? a footman? Benjamin Disraeli?) seems to be mirrored in the question of who gets to write Lady Audley’s plot (Lady Audley? her maid? her maid’s lover? Robert Audley?).  The class dynamics here seem resonant with the legacy of the silver fork novel and its fraught relation to the Reform Bill of 1832.

Timeline of silver fork novels:

1819-23: Byron’s Don Juan: a major source for the silver fork genre

1825: the first full-fledged fashionable novel: Tremaine, or the Man of Refinement, by Robert Plumer Ward

Matilda, by Lord Normanby

1826: Granby, by Thomas Henry Lister

Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli (1826-27)

1827: William Hazlitt coins the term “silver fork” in an Examiner article titled “The Dandy School”

1828: Pelham, Edward Bulwer (later Bulwer-Lytton)

Almack’s Revisited, by Charles White

The Roue, by Samuel Beazley

Yes and No: A Tale of the Day, by Lord Normanby

1829: The Adventures of a King’s Page, by Charles White

1830: The Oxonians: A Glance at Society, by Samuel Beazley

Basil Barrington and his Friends, by Robert Pierce Gillies

Women as They Are, by Catherine Gore

1831: Romance and Reality, by Letitia Elizabeth Landon

The Young Duke, by Benjamin Disraeli (his second of two silver fork novels)

1832: First Reform Bill

1833: Godolphin, by Edward Bulwer (later Bulwer-Lytton) (his second of two silver fork novels)

The Repealers, by Marguerite, Countess of Blessington

“The Dandiacal Body” in Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1833-34) attacks fashionable        novels in general and Bulwer’s Pelham in particular

1834: Sayings and Doings, by Theodore Hook

The Hamiltons, by Catherine Gore

1836: Mrs. Armytage, or Female Domination, by Catherine Gore

Tales of Fashion and Reality, by Caroline and Henrietta Beauclerk

1837: The Victims of Society, by Marguerite, Countess of Blessington

Victoria becomes Queen

1838: Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39) attacks fashionable novels in chapter 28

1839: Cheveley: A Man of Honour, by Rosina Bulwer

1841: Cecil, or the Adventures of a Coxcomb, by Catherine Gore

Punch publishes the satirical article “Literary Recipes: How to Cook Up a   Fashionable Novel”

1843: The Banker’s Wife, or Court and City, by Catherine Gore

1847: Thackeray publishes several parodies of silver fork novels in Punch: Lords and Liveries, Hearts and Diamonds, etc.

1890: H.R.H publishes Lothair’s Children, which is derided for its devotion to “the aristocracy & upholstery”


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