Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Thinking about Monster Theory? (Seven Theses)

Hundreds of books have been written about 'real' and 'imagined' monsters. Monsters are in between reality and fantasy because they are part nature and part culture. We could list thousands of named types of monsters (and the creation of new ones is infinite); but it is also helpful in understanding the phenomenon of monsters to think about common patterns of perception and recurring issues in theoretical approaches.

One of the essays that I used for discussion with my University students for several years was the "Seven Theses" in Monster Culture by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, a collection which he also edited:

Thesis I
The Monster's Body is a Cultural Body

Thesis II
The monster Always Escapes

Thesis III
The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis

Thesis IV
The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference

Thesis V
The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible

Thesis VI
Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire

Thesis VII
The Monster Stands at the Threshold ... of becoming

Synopsis of Monster Theory: Reading Culture

Monsters provide a key to understanding the culture that spawned them. So argues the essays in this wide-ranging collection that asks the question, what happens when critical theorists take the study of monsters seriously as a means of examining our culture? In viewing the monstrous body as metaphor for the cultural body, the contributors consider beasts, demons, freaks, and fiends as symbolic expressions of very real fears and desires, signs of cultural unease that pervade society and shape its collective behaviour. Through a sampling of monsters as a conceptual category, these essays argue that our fascination for the monstrous testifies to our continued desire to explore the difference, prohibition and the everchanging "borders of possibility".

Topics treated include: the connection between Beowulf, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, and Dr Jekyll's Hyde; the fascination with Chang and Eng, the "Siamese twins" in 1830s America, and what it has to say about anxieties regarding the recently "united" states; the idea of monstrosity in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles"; the use of monstrosity in medieval anti-muslim polemics; and an exploration of the creation myth embedded in "Jurassic Park".

Further information.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Want to know more? See

Friday, 4 November 2011

Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine

Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine

September 13, 2011–March 4, 2012

"The exhibition explores caricature and satire in its many forms from the Italian Renaissance to the present, drawn primarily from the rich collection of this material in the Museum's Department of Drawings and Prints.

The show includes drawings and prints by Leonardo da Vinci, Eugène Delacroix, Francisco de Goya, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Enrique Chagoya alongside works by artists more often associated with humor, such as James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, Honoré Daumier, Al Hirschfeld, and David Levine.

Many of these engaging caricatures and satires have never been exhibited and are little known except to specialists.

In its purest form, caricature—from the Italian carico and caricare, "to load" and "to exaggerate"—distorts human physical characteristics and can be combined with various kinds of satire to convey personal, social, or political meaning.

Although caricature has probably existed since artists began to draw (ancient examples are known), the form took shape in Europe when Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of grotesque heads were copied by followers and distributed as prints.

The exhibition's title derives from Hamlet, which is quoted in a Civil War print that uses the famous line: "I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest" to mock Lincoln."

The Trumpet and the Bassoon

The Trumpet and the Bassoon (1796) by Thomas Rowlandson.

In cases where some people hear pleasing sounds, others hear grotesque noise. Noses and mouths are common in grotesque literature, paintings, and music. While we often think of the grotesque and the monstrous as visual, there is in fact a sonic element that plays on moaning, shrieking, roaring, snarling (satire), and dull snoring. Noses are a common feature as talking phallic doubles...

"We are interested in the theme of the nose itself, which occurs throughout world literature in nearly every language, as well as in abusive and degrading gesticulations." (Bakhtin: 316)

" [...] the meaning of the grotesque image of the nose: that it always symbolizes the phallus." (Bakhtin: 316)

Russian satirical novel "The Nose" by N.V.Gogol

"Of all the features of the human face, the nose and the mouth play the most important part in the grotesque image of the body;" (Bakhtin: 316)

"The grotesque face is actually reduced to the gaping mouth; the other features are only a frame encasing this wide-open bodily abyss." (Bakhtin: 317)

Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Indiana University Press 1984)

On the grotesque in Stravinsky

“ […] he named the piece not simply Petrushka […] but Krik Petrushki, ‘Petrushka’s Shout.’ This krik was a very special genre; it had nothing at all to do with the pathos we now associate with the hero of the ballet. It was just a grotesque noise used at various strategic points during the traditional puppet play. It was the usual means of attracting the crowd’s attention: ‘From behind the puppet screen one heard piercing, nasal shrieks, groans and random snatches of tunes sung in Petrushka’s voice, and just as expectation is about to flag and the public is about to let itself get distracted by its surroundings, petrushka suddenly appears from behind the screen and shouts, ‘Greetings, kind sirs!’” It was also the howl of physical pain with which many scenes reached their culmination […]”

Richard Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works Through Mavra (University of California Press (1999)

See also: Grotesque Opera

Finally a solution to the population problem


In his Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (1729) Jonathan Swift satirically proposed a solution to poverty and the population problem. Infant cannibalism.

There is a grotesque logic to his monstrous calculations:

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

I do therefore humbly offer it to publick consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 pounds.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Infant's flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, labourers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend, or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants, the mother will have eight shillings neat profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child.

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flea the carcass; the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.

As to our City of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose, in the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs.

Also recommended:

Cannibalistic Capitalism and other American Delicacies: A Bataillean Taste of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

By Naomi Merritt

Read the full article here.


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) presents a nightmarish vision of an America, metaphorically and literally devouring itself.  ‘Home, sweet, home’ becomes the slaughterhouse and consumers become the consumed as ‘cannibalistic capitalism’ (embodied by a family of unemployed but murderous abattoir workers), wreaks havoc on the lives of a hedonistic group of youths, as the ‘Age of Aquarius’ comes to a bloody end.  Chain Saw offers a model of horror that is both deeply rooted in American ideology, taboos, and the key (and interdependent) institutions of the family, the worker and capitalism, yet produces aberrant and transgressive versions of these same social units.  In this paper, the film’s representation of ‘cannibalistic capitalism’ will be explored in relation to Georges Bataille’s theory of taboo and transgression.  While Bataille asserts that the ‘main function of all taboos is to combat violence’ (thus maintaining the power, integrity and conformity of social institutions), he also suggests that the taboo paradoxically begets its own violent transgression.  In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, capitalism’s transgressive excesses both ignite the taboo’s prohibitive power while revelling in and glorifying its violation.  This paper offers a ‘taste’ of a Bataillean approach to the theorising of horror and the spectatorial ‘pleasures’ of submitting to the anguish it provokes.

The Grotesque Englishman - Daniel Defoe

Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,
That het'rogeneous thing, an Englishman:
In eager rapes, and furious lust begot
Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot.
Whose gend'ring off-spring quickly learn'd to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither name, nor nation, speech nor fame.
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infus'd betwixt a Saxon and a Dane
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,
Receiv'd all nations with promiscuous lust.
This nauseous brood directly did contain
The well-extracted blood of Englishmen.

from The True-Born Englishman by Daniel Defoe (1701). He was also the author of one of the earliest British novels Robinson Crusoe.

Origins of Man
"I only infer that an Englishman, of all men, ought not to despise foreigners as such, and I think the inference is just, since what they are to-day, we were yesterday, and to-morrow they will be like us. If foreigners misbehave in their several stations and employments, I have nothing to do with that; the laws are open to punish them equally with natives, and let them have no favour. But when I see the town full of lampoons and invectives against Dutchmen only because they are foreigners, and the King reproached and insulted by insolent pedants, and ballad-making poets for employing foreigners, and for being a foreigner himself, I confess myself moved by it to remind our nation of their own original, thereby to let them see what a banter is put upon ourselves in it, since, speaking of Englishmen ab origine, we are really all foreigners ourselves." 

See, Daniel Defoe's Explanatory Preface in A true collection of the writings of the author of the True Born English-man (1703)

Another version of the Englishman represents him as a Lord of the Country; as a Colonial Master; as a Trader; as a Slave Owner.

Andrew Selkirk - Robinson Crusoe & Man Friday

Two Englishmen dressed for hunting

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Mangled Torso Described

"How are we to understand the fact that the paradigm of supreme beauty is provided by the statue of a crippled divinity which has no face to express any feeling, nor arms or legs to command or carry out any action?"

Jacques Ranciere, The Emancipated Spectator (p. 65)

Winkelmann’s Description of the Torso Belvedere in Rome (1759)

Reader, I now lead thee to that celebrated trunk of Hercules, of whose exalted beauties every praise falls short; I introduce thee to a performance the sublimest in its kind, and the most perfect offspring of art among those that have escaped the havoc of time. But how shall I describe a statue destitute of all those parts which nature makes the chief standard of beauty, and the interpreters of the soul? As of a mighty oak, that, felled by the axe, has lost all its lofty branches, nothing remains but the trunk: thus mangled is the figure of our hero, without head, arms, breast, or legs.

The first look perhaps will shew thee nothing but a huge deformed block; but if thou art able to penetrate the mysteries of art, attention will open all her glories to thine eye; thou shalt see Alcides the hero transfused into the marble.

Where the poet ceased, the artist began; they leave him as soon as, matched with the goddess of eternal youth, he mixes with the gods, but the artist shows us his deified form, and, as it were, an immortal frame, in which humanity is only left to make visible that strength and ease, by which the hero had become conqueror of the world.

In the mighty outlines of this body I see the unsubdued force of him who crushed the giants in the Plegraean plains, whilst the undulating contour reminds me, at the same time, of that elastic flexibility, that winged haste, from which all the various transformations of Achelous could not escape.

There appears in every part of this body, as in so many pictures every particular feat of the hero. As from the usefulness of the different parts of a building, we judge of the judicious plan of the architect; so here, from the harmonious variety of powers which the artist stamped on every different part, we may form an idea of his extensive views.

I cannot behold the few remains of the shoulders, without remembering, that their expanded strength, like two mountains, was supposed to have supported the zodiac. With what grandeur does the chest rise! how magnificent is its vaulted orb! Such was the chest on which Antaeus and Geryon, though three-bodied, were crushed; no chest of an Olympian Pancratiast; no chest of a Spartan victor, though sprung from heroes, could rise with such magnificence.


By a mysterious art, our mind, through all these feats of the hero’s force, is led to the perfections of his soul; a monument which you in vain look for among the poets; they sing the power of his arms alone. But here, not even a hint is left of violence or lascivious love; from the calm repose of the parts, the grand and settled soul appears; the man who became the emblem of virtue; who, from his love of justice alone, faced every obvious danger; who restored security to the earth, and peace to its inhabitants.

Translated by Henry Fuseli (1765)

See also
A Monster Observatory: Disability and the Fourth Plinth

Disability and the Fourth Plinth

For some critics and spectators it was monstrous and offensive. For others it was disability represented as nobility and an echo of the mutilated classical 'statues' that tradition has admired. (See next blog on the Belvedere Torso described by Winkelmann in the eighteenth century.)

How the BBC reported the story on 19 September 2005

A statue of a naked, pregnant woman with no arms has been unveiled on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth.  The 12ft (3.6m) marble sculpture, "Alison Lapper Pregnant", is already dividing opinion among art critics and disability campaigners. Artist Marc Quinn said he had sculpted his friend Ms Lapper because disabled people were under-represented in art. The Disability Rights Commission called it "powerful and arresting", but one critic dismissed it as "rather ugly". Ms Lapper, from Shoreham, West Sussex, sat for the artist when she was eight months pregnant.She has called it a "modern tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood". But she added: "It still daunts me now. I'm going to be up in Trafalgar Square. Little me."
Mr Quinn spent 10 months working on the statue in Italy from a single piece of white marble.

How The Sun reported the story

THE art world was in uproar last night after this statue of an armless pregnant woman was chosen for Trafalgar Square. The politically-correct image of disabled mum-to-be Alison Lapper will stand for a year on the Square’s empty fourth plinth, close to Nelson’s Column.
The statue’s creator, British artist Marc Quinn, 40, was “thrilled” when it was selected by a panel of experts.
But respected art critic Brian Sewell called it an “appalling”, adding: “I would rather there was no statue at all.”


Further Reading

A Mangled Torso Described

Parody of Leonardo da Vinci's Leda and the Swan?

Credit: Wellcome Library, London
 "Four grotesque dwarfish figures: a hunchbacked man and an old midwife help a woman give birth, producing eggs, while on the left a woman boils a donkey in a cauldron to produce gruel for the mother. In the foreground, babies break out of the eggs: possibly a parody of Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Leda and the swan." Credit: Wellcome Library, London

"Pictures of crowds of tiny dwarfs are often attributed to Faustino Bocchi. The present picture, however, is in a very different style, showing the dwarfs much larger by comparison with the size of the painting than is usual in paintings firmly attributed to Bocchi. An alternative attribution to Pietro della Vecchia (Pietro Muttoni) has been suggested." Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Leda and the Swan, copy by Cesare Cesto, Wilton House UK.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Grotesque Apothecaries and Satirical Doctors

Caption: Apothecary. Historical satirical artwork showing the remedies, plants and equipment used by an apothecary (pharmacist). Many of the items shown here are labelled in French, including the alembic on his head, and the decoction flask in his left hand. An enema syringe is in his right hand. The plants include rosemary, aloe and Solanum. This is one of a set of artworks by the French artist Nicolas de l'Armessin II, titled 'Costumes Grotesques', dating from around 1695. This copy is from 'Die Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin' (Caricature and Satire in Medicine, 1921) by the German art historian and physician Eugen Hollander (1867-1932).

Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Caricature: Valentine print, showing a grotesque apothecary with a pestle, verse below. Anon . Circa 1850

Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
 'The poor doctor and the rich patient. 'You are very ill!'

“No other professional group (lawyers, the clergy) was so vigorously and prolifically satirised in this age as medical men. The endeavour was indeed a national sport. Satirists especially chose self-professed rationalists as their targets, although virtually every attribute of doctors was lambasted: their pedantry, mercilessness, immodesty, public antics, bigotry, pretensions, panaceas.”

G.S. Rousseau,  Enlightenment borders: pre- and post-modern discourses : medical, scientific (Manchester University Press 1991), p. 136
Credit: Wellcome Library, London

A lecherous doctor taking the pulse of an old woman whilst fondling a young one. 
(Coloured etching by T. Rowlandson, 1810.)
Why not take a look at the story of  the rabbit-woman Mary Tofts and her examination by the medical men? See Imagining monsters: miscreations of the self in eighteenth-century England.  By Dennis Todd (University of Chicago Press, 1995)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Ventriloquist

"For Ventriloquy, or speaking from the bottom of the Belly, 'tis a thing I think as strange and difficult to be conceived as any thing in Witchcraft, nor can it, I believe, be performed in any distinctness of articulate sounds, without such assistance of the Spirits, that spoke out of the Daemoniacks."

From Joseph Glanvil's Saducismus Triumphatus: Or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (1681).

After the eighteenth-century Englightenment ventriloquism was absorbed into popular culture as entertainment. But the notion of the doll that finds a life of its own was also to have its own rebirth in gothic literature, grotesque thrillers and in the horror market /film industry.

In 2000 Oxford University Press published Steve Connor's wonderful history and critical analysis of 'ventriloquism':

"By `ventriloquism', I mean, not merely the practice of making one's voice appear to proceed from elsewhere - although I am, indeed, interested in the history of this particular form of entertainment or illusion. I use the word to designate all of the many forms which may be taken by sourceless, or dissociated or displaced voices, along with the various explications of such voices and ascriptions of source to them. This makes for an exhilaratingly, perhaps even a nerve-wrackingly large subject, which has no very good reason to exclude such disparate and historically far-flung examples as the following, many (but not all) of which are discussed in Dumbstruck:"

You can read more about his book and his archive here.

Raphael Salkie, writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement stated that the book was

erudite and broad in scope. Its strength is the way it links cultural phenomena in new ways ... Connor gives us an intelligent study of a domain of skilful cultural creativity, against a background of several millennia of appalling irrational behaviour.

The book is available on Kindle and in a Hardback Edition.

The Grotesque in Catch-22

"Heller wallows in his own laughter and finaly drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behaviour the children fall into when they know they are losing our attention" New Yorker Review (1961) by Whitney Balliett.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has been a cult book and a bestseller since its publication fifty years ago in 1961.

It’s a difficult book to frame, define, or to catch in a critical net. For that reason it is appealing to those of us with a taste for the grotesque – a place were opposites collide and interconnect.

Catch-22 sits between the mechanistic worlds of the military-industrial complex of modernism, the bureaucratic nightmares of Kafka and the dead ends of postmodernism. It has become a cult book that rises above passing fashions because it appeals to our sense that there is something comic, absurd, and degenerate in human nature.

When I try to define the novel in formal terms, I recall Wolfgang Kayser’s description of an earlier protean novel of winding circularities, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy which was written two hundred years earlier:

“I emphatically subscribe to the classification of Sterne as a writer of the grotesque, for the categories of humour, satire and irony […] fail to do full justice to the form and content of Tristram Shandy.”

I’m also reminded of that other great writer, Jonathan Swift, and I suggest that there are manifest similarities to Catch-22 in (1) the playful metamorphosis of logic into grotesque absurdities (2) the collapse of spirit or reason into an obsession with the body and body functions (3) and interest in regimes of terror and discourses of containment. If you’ve read Gulliver’s Travels (1726) you will know what I mean.

There is a striking example of the grotesque on several levels in an early part of the novel.

“The soldier in white was encased from head to toe in plaster and gauze.

Sewn into the bandages over the insides of both elbows were zippered lips through which he was fed clear fluid from a clean jar. A silent zinc pipe rose from the cement on his groin and was coupled to a slim rubber hose that carried waste from his kidneys and dripped it efficiently into a clear, stoppered jar on the floor. When the jar on the floor was full, the jar feeding his elbow was empty, and the two were simply switched quickly so that the stuff could drip back into him.”

The notion of a soldier in white is the first clue to a hypocritical sanitization of the dirty business of war. Also, the grotesque typically has a focus on the liminal intersection between inside and outside (mouth/anus/genitals) that comes into play in this quotation. An additional level of the grotesque shifts between body/machine and the natural/artificial (the ‘zippered’ lips). The machine-like and the non-human are also picked up in the ‘silent’ and ‘efficiently’. In the filth of the recycled world excretion of urine is just another version of ingestion. It is an apt metaphor for the military-industrial complex as an input/output bureaucracy devoid of moral integrity or ethical standards.

If the human body has a grotesque logic so does the human mind. Here then is one version of the famous Catch-22

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

I mentioned Kafka (above) but one also thinks of the doublespeak and bureaucratic hypocrisies that George Orwell explored in 1984.

The ability of Catch-22 to sit between popular culture and the canonical (literary works) best explains its enduring appeal to a wide readership. This view is admirably summarised by Howard Jacobson in his introduction to the Vintage Classics edition (2004). For him the book is ‘positioned’

“between literature and literature's opposites – between Shakespeare and Rabelais and Dickens and Dostoevsky and Gogol and Céline and the Absurdists and of course Kafka on the one hand, and on the other vaudeville and slapstick and Bilko and Abbott and Costello and Tom and Jerry and the Goons (if Heller had ever heard of the Goons).”

Further Reading

Meindl, Dieter.  American Fiction and the Metaphysics of the Grotesque. University of Missouri Press (1996)

“By synthesising Kayser's and Bakhtin's views of the grotesque and Heidegger's philosophy of "Being", this work demonstrates that American fiction has tried to convey the existentialist dimension: the pre-individual totality which defines itself against the mind and its linguistic capacity.”

McNeil, David. The Grotesque Depiction of War and the Military in Eighteenth-century English Fiction. University of Delaware Press; illustrated edition edition (1990)

“A discussion of the tradition of grotesque portrayals of war and the military, especially their proliferation in Restoration and eighteenth-century English literature. Swift's the Travels is examined in particular, as well as the novels of Smollett, Fielding, and Stern. Illustrations of graphic satire by Hogarth and others.”

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

We Need to talk About Kevin's Dirty Protests

We Need to talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is not a book that you would recommend to pregnant mothers and/or their partners. Despite its disturbing subject matter, it is not a difficult book to read. But at times its ambiguities make one ponder and reflect.

The book plays on anxieties that parents may have about their role and influence. It raises questions about their ability to shape their child's upbringing towards forming a happy and well-integrated child. Kevin moves from shitty protest to sociopath; his parents shift from aspiration to despair. The narrative of massacres in public places is now all too familiar, but still not well understood, if indeed it is comprehensible to understand massacre beyond the notion of  A Singularity of Evil and Celebrity Seeking Media Event.

I've not yet seen the film but the book is best described as grotesque, harrowing, and ambiguous. Recent British reviews have suggested that the film is presented in the horror genre. For me the book is more of a psychological thriller and possibly a political allegory.

Reviewing the book for The Guardian in 2003, Sarah A Smith noted a tendency to exaggeration that works against a more realistic approach and a more credible explanatory model.

Shriver isn't writing about ordinary motherhood or an ordinary boy, however, and this is where the novel begins to feel dishonest. Kevin is a monster, a gross caricature of childhood.[...] By linking motherhood's most ordinary fears to this cartoon horror, Shriver exploits parents' very worst thoughts - that somehow, despite their best efforts, their offspring will turn out to be sociopathic - while undermining them with the implication that really, raising a mass murderer is just one of those things, much like mastitis.

We Need to talk About Kevin was described by The Daily Mail as a novel that

Knocks you sideways and takes your breath away ... horrifying, original, witty, brave and deliberately provocative.

The Daily Telegraph suggested that

This superb, may layered novel intelligently weighs the culpability of parental nurture against the nightmarish possibilities of an innately evil child.

What intrigued me was the mother's more sympathetic moments of comprehension that shift the moral judgment into more questionable zones.

But underneath the fury, I was astonished to discover, lay a carpet of despair. He wasn't mad. he was sad. (280)

She is also honest about her role as domestic violator / victim / perpetrator

... the additional humiliation of living, for over six years now, up to my elbows in shit (228)

I threw him halfway across the nursery. (229)

I had committed a war-crime (237) 

In a world so dominated by evil and wickedness the only thing that surprizes are the 'unremembered acts of human kindness' that the Romantic poet William Wordsworth managed to summon up as the true pulse of poetry and life.

But the reality for our world is more bleak. Our minds are now accommodated to monstrous acts of torture, massacre and war; as Kevin's mother admits

Holocausts do not amaze me. [...] Kevin does not amaze me. (250)

The problems of toilet training and associated psychological damage have been well documented. But one also recalls the politics of the dirty protests, such as those that occurred during the Dirty Protests of the IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland.

Why Kevin is protesting we don't discover, but the political dimension is a nagging question that the novel hints at but never fully exposes

I gather that you can make bombs, for example, out of methanating manure. For his part, Kevin, too, ran a seat-of-the-pants operation, and Kevin too, had learned to form a weapon from shit. (223)

Perhaps most shocking then is the sense that the family is presented as a site of struggle and power. If we are to believe the mother's account, the evil family is a microsm of the larger wickendness that defines our political world:

The crude truth is that parents are like governments: We maintain our authority through the threat, overt or implicit, of physical force.  (239)

More shocking still is the sense that Kevin's nihilism is a critique of American education, society and politics. In a curious twist of irony he shifts in his friend Lenny's eyes from being the Resident Evil to Redeeming Messiah:

You took the heat like some superhero, like --- like you was Jesus. (314)

Kevin is less of a caricature and more of a contradiction. Massacre is grotesque territory in deed.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Invertebrate English

"Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable soddingrotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today. They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it's a marvel they can breed."

D. H. Lawrence, 1912

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Irish Giant - Charles O'Brien

Hilary Mantel, whose novel Wolf Hall enjoyed critical praise is also the author of a novel called The Giant, O'Brien. Charles Byrne (1761 – 1783), also known as Charles O'Brien or "The Irish Giant", was a human curiosity. Byrne's corpse was bought by John Hunter and his 7 ft 7 in skeleton now belongs to the Royal College of Surgeons Hunterian Museum in London. Review

Like Andrew Miller and Penelope Fitzgerald, Hilary Mantel turns to the 18th century in order to make a universal point. Her eighth novel, The Giant, O'Brien, takes place during that bifurcation of mind and spirit commonly known as the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment. The year is 1782 and Charles O'Brien has fled Ireland, bringing both his massive frame and his ancient folk tales to England, where he hopes to make his fortune as a sideshow exhibit.
"His appetite was great, as befitted him; he could eat a granary, he could drink a barrel. But now that all Ireland is coming down to ruin together, how will giants thrive? He had made a living by going about and being a pleasant visitor who fetched not just the gift of his giant presence but also stories and songs ... many hearths had welcomed him as a prodigy, a conversationalist, an illustration from nature's book. Nature's book is little read now, and he thought this: I had better make a living in the obvious way. I will make a living from being tall."
Unfortunately, O'Brien's height attracts more attention than he might wish for: John Hunter, a surgeon, becomes fascinated with the giant and obsessed with the possibility of dissecting him after he's dead. Thus Mantel sets up the central conflict of her novel: Hunter's thirst for knowledge and fame versus O'Brien's conviction that, without his body, his soul cannot go to heaven. In the mean streets of 18th-century London, the author explores the division of soul and body, imagination and rationalism, as she juxtaposes the two men's lives. In this collision of cultures and paradigms, she offers no easy answers, but instead turns a disturbing spotlight on questions that continue to resonate to the present day. --Alix Wilber


'[A] novel that magically creates an illusion of the Age of Enlightenment. Hilary Mantel puts the stink of the eighteenth century into our nostrils.' Independent

'A novelist of remarkable diversity!She writes about curiosity, companionship, art, love, death and eternity. She writes with wit, compassion and great elegance. Her books never fail to surprise, nor to delight: in this one she is at her very best - so far.' Independent on Sunday 'Mantel can out-write most writers of her generation, male and female. What she has done here is disturbing, grievous and extraordinary.' Maggie Gee, Sunday Times

'Filled with bizarre happenings, brazen images and characters whose earthiness you can smell.' TES 'Hilary Mantel has felt herself into the poetics of history with singular intensity.' New York Review 'Pathos and humour as they are elsewhere in the book are blended to perfection.' Sunday Telegraph

'Simultaneously vigorous and poetic, full of satisfying earthy details.' Sunday Independent (Ireland)

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters - Parody


The reinterpretation of Jane Austen's novel (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) will be followed with the release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters... The books were created by US-based publishing house, Quirk Books. Jason Rekulak, the editorial director, said he pioneered the format after meeting dozens of Austen fans at a Californian sci-fi convention. He told the Independent that he was a "lifelong fan" of the works of Jules Verne, and thought it would be fun to enliven the follow-up with some rampaging giant squid and man-eating octopuses...'
--The Telegraph, 13 August 2009

The crossover between fans of Jane Austen and lovers of B-movie horror is small, but it is enough to warrant a follow-up to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. An instant classic that saw the Bennet sisters meet the undead, it sold more than half a million copies in English and was then translated into 17 languages. This follow-up literary 'mash-up' has the Dashwood girls looking for love in a watery England at the mercy of vengeful sea creatures. Forget sprained ankles in Devonshire, Ben Winters has introduced a gigantic, man-eating jellyfish and packed the poor girls off to the Pestilent Isle under the care of retired adventurer Sir John Middleton, who sports a necklace of human ears, while Colonel Brandon's sideburns are a horrific abberation. Winters lets Austen set the tone and the plot swims surprisingly faitfully in her wake. It's a very silly conceit, mixing Regency manners with a Jules Verne topography, but it is as attention-grabbing as a two-headed creature rising from the deep, while diving suits are far more becoming than frocks.
--The Guardian, 3 October 2009

Product Description

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is expanded edition of the beloved regency romance--with thrilling all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles which are forever snapping at their heels? With many strange and wonderful illustrations throughout, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters invades the prim and proper world of Jane Austen with the outrageous mythology of Jules Verne, H.P. Lovecraft, Lost, Spongebob Squarepants, Red Lobster, and Popeye the Sailor. Let the monster mash-up begin.

Absurdity, Hogarth, and The Bathos

William Hogarth (British, 1697–1764)
The Bathos, or Manner of Sinking in Sublime Paintings, inscribed to the Dealers in Dark Pictures
Etching and engraving, 1764

The Bathos is intrinsic to the fallen world presented in satire; as society decays into chaos the world comes to an end.

William Hogarth's "THE BATHOS, or Manner of Sinking, in Sublime Paintings, Inscribed to the Dealers in Dark Pictures [...] See the manner of disgracing ye most Serious Subjects, in many celebrated Old Pictures; by introducing Low, absurd, obscene & often prophane Circumstances into them."

The poet Alexander Pope also wrote an essay on bathos.

Lady into Fox: A Sign of the Times

When I was a boy one of the most enchanting, curious, and queer stories that I heard on the BBC Radio 4 was Lady into Fox by David Garnett.

Published in 1922 it was his first novel under his own name. I was reminded of it last night during another Radio encounter; on this occasion the voice was Ruth Padell's in her exploration on BBC Radio 3 of the role of the fox in our social, cultural and political life.

Garnett's fairy-tale for adults begins by informing us that

Wonderful or supernatural events are not so uncommon, rather they are irregular in their incidence. Thus there may be not one marvel to speak of in a century, and then often enough comes a plentiful crop of them; monsters of all sorts swarm suddenly upon the earth, comets blaze in the sky, eclipses frighten nature, meteors fall in rain, while mermaids and sirens beguile, and sea-serpents engulf every passing ship, and terrible cataclysms beset humanity.

The narration is artful and pathetic and that's the key to its attraction: the perfection of a tone of voice that draws the reader into the bizarre situation:

Yet I would not dissuade any of my readers from attempting an explanation of this seeming miracle because up till now none has been found which is entirely satisfactory. What adds to the difficulty to my mind is that the metamorphosis occurred when Mrs. Tebrick was a full-grown woman, and that it happened suddenly in so short a space of time. The sprouting of a tail, the gradual extension of hair all over the body, the slow change of the whole anatomy by a process of growth, though it would have been monstrous, would not have been so difficult to reconcile to our ordinary conceptions, particularly had it happened in a young child. But here we have something very different. A grown lady is changed straightway into a fox. There is no explaining that away by any natural philosophy. The materialism of our age will not help us here.

The monstrous transformation provides an opportunity to examine the role of women, the institution of marriage and inevitably the politics of fox-hunting. In fox hunting, of course, far more is at stake than the appealing or detested creature that stalks the country and the town.

Mr. Tebrick and Fox With Stereoscope

Just how significant the fox is in British culture was demonstrated by the fact that the ban on 'hunting with dogs' required the British government to deploy the 1949 Parliament Act in order to proceed to enactment. And that Act has only been used four times in the last half century:
  1. War Crimes Act 1991, which extended jurisdiction of UK courts to acts committed on behalf of Nazi Germany during the Second World War (the only time that the Parliament Acts have been used by a Conservative government).
  2. European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, which changed the system of elections to the European Parliament from first past the post to a form of proportional representation.
  3. Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, which equalised the age of consent for male homosexual sexual activities with that for heterosexual and female homosexual sexual activities at 16.
  4. Hunting Act 2004, which prohibited hare coursing and (subject to some exceptions) all hunting of wild mammals (particularly foxes) with dogs after early 2005.
More than just a fox, then?

Fox Lying on Cushions

Monday, 10 October 2011

Monster Deficits and Grotesque Politics

It's entertaining and instructive to observe how the Left and Right in politics compete for ownership of Frankenstein and his Progeny.

This one's quite well known now and depicts The Irish Frankenstein (Punch 1886)

Monsters and banking seem to be happy bedfellows in the satirist's imagination:

"Jackson slays the many-headed monster of the Second Bank of the United States (1836)"

I suspect in the next example it's the victim that looks more disturbing than the smiling monster.

(The Banker runs off with the nation's wealth?)

The Monstrous State and the Grotesque Empire

Doubting Castle

As an undergraduate at the University of St Andrews, I was taught Philosophy of Religion by John Haldane. It was 1986. The Philosophy departments were divided between Moral Philosophy in one half of the Gothic building, Logical and Metaphysics in the other. The building known as Edgecliffe was perched on the Cliff facing the Scores, on one side, and the North Sea on the other. There was the sense of being part of a long and venerable tradition of Scottish philosophy. But there was a sense also of the urgency of moral questions and life and death situations.

I recollect that Dr Haldane (now Professor) used to hang precariously out of a high window in the Moral Philosophy Department and ask us to spot errors in logic, urging us to construct arguments against suicide or war, or any other moral topic of the hour, as he bit voraciously into his 'final' apple. He's now a Professor of Philosophy and Papal Advisor to the Vatican.

The renowned Haldane family apparently includes J.B.S. Haldane, the Marxist, geneticist and evolutionary biologist. (He also appears in a disturbing 1940 film that records the successful experiments in the resuscitation of life to dead animals (dogs), as conducted by Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R.).

My research on J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) suggests an artful, intriguing and entertaining fusion of theology, teratology and politics. The following quotations hint at his ability to range across multiple domains. On his view, small is beautiful. It's an argument that he extends to a debate about the future of socialism. Empires are monsters that are unable to function well in reality. Politically systems are more effect when they main a due proportionality; when they avoid gigantically over-reaching themselves.

J. B. S. Haldane's discussion begins with a recollection of the Christian allegory Pilgrim's Progress (1678):

"Let us take the most obvious of possible cases, and consider a giant man sixty feet high-about the height of Giant Pope and Giant Pagan in the illustrated Pilgrim’s Progress of my childhood. These monsters were not only ten times as high as Christian, but ten times as wide and ten times as thick, so that their total weight was a thousand times his, or about eighty to ninety tons. Unfortunately the cross sections of their bones were only a hundred times those of Christian, so that every square inch of giant bone had to support ten times the weight borne by a square inch of human bone. As the human thigh-bone breaks under about ten times the human weight, Pope and Pagan would have broken their thighs every time they took a step. This was doubtless why they were sitting down in the picture I remember. But it lessens one’s respect for Christian and Jack the Giant Killer."

[...] "To the biologist the problem of socialism appears largely as a problem of size. The extreme socialists desire to run every nation as a single business concern. I do not suppose that Henry Ford would find much difficulty in running Andorra or Luxembourg on a socialistic basis. He has already more men on his pay-roll than their population. It is conceivable that a syndicate of Fords, if we could find them, would make Belgium Ltd or Denmark Inc. pay their way. But while nationalization of certain industries is an obvious possibility in the largest of states, I find it no easier to picture a completely socialized British Empire or United States than an elephant turning somersaults or a hippopotamus jumping a hedge."

From J.B.S. Haldane On Being the Right Size [1928]

On Being the Right Size and Other Essays (Oxford University Press 1985)

Political Teratology is a common topic in satirical prints and illustrations as this example shows:

"The Hydra of Socialism. You Beat Them Down in Vain; They Always Grow Back."

It shows Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) with the Club of Common Sense trying to destroy the hydra-headed socialist monster.

Clearly, theological /allegorical monsters have become more ideological, compared to those of Bunyan.

"So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold: he was clothed with scales like a fish, and they are his pride; he had wings like a dragon, and feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke; and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question him."

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress

Monday, 8 August 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Dickens, Disability, Cricket

by Charles Dickens

[Full text with supplementary images]

I KNOW that we English are an angular and eccentric people—a people that the great flatiron of civilisation will take a long time smoothing all the puckers and wrinkles out of— but I was scarcely prepared for the following announcement that I saw the other day in a tobacconist's window near the Elephant and Castle:

On Saturday,
A Cricket Match will be played at the Rosemary Branch,
Peckham Rye,
Eleven One-armed Men and Eleven One-legged
The Match to begin at Eleven o'Clock A.M.

Well, I have heard of eccentric things in my time, thought I, but I think this beats them all. I know we are a robust muscular people, who require vigorous exercise, so that we would rather be fighting than doing nothing. Our youth walk, run, shoot, fish, hunt (break their necks, even, in pursuit of health), tramp the world over, and leave their footprints in Arctic snows and Arabian sands. It is to this outward working of the inner fire that we owe our great circum-navigators, travellers, soldiers, and discoverers. Our English arms have built up half the railways in the world; our emigrants are on every sea; we are the harmless Norsemen of the nineteenth century. We can do (some of us) without working our brains much, but we Saxons must all exert our limbs; we pine if we are pent up at desks and ledgers. We are a race of walkers, sportsmen, travellers, and craftsmen. We are (by our arts and colonising) the peaceful conquerors of the world. The days of the old red-handed conquest being now (as it is generally thought) gone by for ever, here these one-armed men go and caricature the national tendencies.

Such were my patriotic thoughts when I trudged down the Old Kent Road — chiefly remarkable, since the old coaching days, as the former residence of Mr. Greenacre—and made my devious way to Peckham. Under swinging golden hams, golden gridirons, swaying concertinas (marked at a very low figure), past bundles of rusty fire-irons, dirty rolls of carpets, and corpulent dusty feather-beds—past deserted-looking horse-troughs and suburban looking inns, I took my pilgrim way to the not very blooming Rye of Peckham.

Rows of brick boxes, called streets, half-isolated cottages, clung to by affectionate but dusty vines — eventually a canal, where boatmen smoked and had dreams of coming traffic—a sudden outburst of green fields, that made me think I was looking at streets with green spectacles on—brought me to the trim, neat public house known by the pleasant aromatic name of "The Rosemary Branch."

A trim bar-woman, with, perhaps, rather too demonstrative a photograph brooch, stood in front of a row of glass barrels labelled respectively "Shrub," "Bitters," and "Sampson," the latter, I have no doubt, a very strong beverage indeed. Nor did I fail to observe a portrait of the last winner of the Derby over the fireplace, and a little stuffed terrier pup above the glass door leading into the little parlour, where a very comfortable dinner was smoking.

I procured my ticket, and was shown through a deserted billiard-room, and down a back lane, to the cricket-field. I delivered up the blue slip to a very fat man with a child's voice who sat with an air of suffering at the entrance-wicket, and I was in the eccentric creatures' innocent field of battle.

There they were, the one-legged and the one-armed, encamped like two neighbouring armies.

Two potboys, girdled with tucked-up aprons white as the froth of bitter-beer, hurried past me as if to relieve the thirst of men wounded in war. After them came odd men carrying more benches for spectators of the one-armed men's prowess. The one-armed men were having their innings; the fielding of their one-legged adversaries, I could see in a moment, was something painfully wonderful and ludicrously horrible.

Totally indifferent to the mingled humour and horror of the day were the costermongers, who, grouped near the gate, threw a fair-day show over one section of the field. Those mere boys, with hard-lined pale faces and insinuating curls like large fish-hooks on each temple, were totally absorbed in drawing pence from the people of  Peckham now that the bloom, so long expected, was undoubtedly on the Rye. There, were boys shooting down an enormous tin telescope for nuts; there, were men bowling clumsily at enormous wooden-headed ninepins. But the crown of the amusements was that corduroy-sheathed lad who had, with true Derby-day alacrity, stuck four slender sticks into hampers of matted sand, and on those shivery columns poised hairy cocoa-nuts, gilt pincushions, and wooden boxes meretriciously covered. One, two — whiz — whirl; what beautiful illustrations of the force of gravity did those boxes and pincushions furnish at three throws a penny! With what an air of sagacious and triumphant foresight did the proprietor bundle up the cudgels under his arm and gingerly replace the glittering prizes!

But while I dally here the eccentric game proceeds; so, avoiding the cannon-shot of chance balls, I pass across the field to the little windowed shed where the scorer sits opposite to the signal-post that, with its 4—6—2 in large white figures, marks the progress of the game. Some boys are playing with a bundle of the large tin numerals that lie at the foot of the signboard-post. Inside the outer and open part of the shed sit a row of Peckham quidnuncs deeply interested in the game—a game which, if it were all innings, I hold would be almost perfect, but, as it is, I deem to be, on the whole, rather wearisome. I seated myself on a garden-roller kept to level the grass, and watched the game. A man driving two calves out of the way of the players informed me that the proceeds of the game were for the benefit of a one-armed man who was going in when the next wicket went, down.

The players were not all Peckham men; that one-legged bowler, so deft and ready, I found was a well-known musical barber, a great dancer, and I believe a great fisherman, from a distant part of Essex.

The one-legged men were pretty well with the bat, but they were rather beaten when it came to fielding. There was a horrible Holbeinish fun about the way they stumped, trotted, and jolted after the ball. A converging rank of crutches and wooden legs tore down upon the hall from all sides; while the one-armed men, wagging their hooks and stumps, rushed madly from wicket to wicket, fast for a "oner," faster for "a twoer." A lean, droll, rather drunk fellow, in white trousers, was the wit of the one-leg party. "Peggy" evidently rejoiced in the fact that he was the lamest man in the field, one leg being stiff from the hip downwards, and the wooden prop reaching far above the knee.

He did not treat the game so much as a matter of science as an affair of pure fun — of incongruous drollery, with which seriousness was altogether out of place. If there was a five minutes' lull for beer, when the "over" was shouted, Peggy was sure to devote that interval to dancing a double-shuffle in the refreshment tent, where the plates were now being dealt round ready for some future edible game. When he took his place as slip or long-stop, he ran to his post while others walked; or delighted the boys by assuming an air of the intensest eagerness and watchfulness, putting a hand on either knee and bending forward, as if he had sworn that no ball should escape his vigilance; or when a ball did come, by blocking it with his wooden leg, throwing himself on it, or falling over it: an ineviuble result, indeed, with nearly all the one-legged faction, as the slightest abruptness or jerk in movement had the result of throwing then off the perpendicular. I do not think that Peggy stopped a single ball unless it hit him; he generally fell over it and lost it until some comrade stumped up, swore at him, and picked the ball out from between his feet or under his arm.

The one-armed men had a much less invalid and veteran air about them. There was a  shapely lad in a pink Jersey, who, from having his hand off only at the wrist, merely looked at a distance like a stripling with his hand hidden by a long coat-cuff. But then, again, there was a thickset, sturdy fellow, in a blue cap, of the "one-leg" party, who, though he had lost one foot, seemed to run and walk almost as well as ordinary people. Then, again, on the "one-leg" side, there was an ostentatious amount of infirmity in the shape of one or two pale men with crutches, yet everybody appeared merry and good-natured, and determined to enjoy the game to his heart's content; while every time a player made a run, before the dull beat of the bat had died away, there was a shout that made the Peckham welkin ring again, and all the crutches and wooden legs beat tattoos of pure joy and triumph. And when the musical and Terpsichorean barber rattled the wickets or made the balls fly, did not the very plates in the refreshment tent dance with pleasure!

Yet, really, Peggy's conduct was most reprehensible. In spite of his "greyhound-in-the-leash" attitude, he was worse than useless; he kicked at the passing ball, he talked to it, he tumbled down to stop it, but for all the success he attained, he might as well have been away; why, Wilkins, with the long crutches and swinging legs, was three times as useful, though he was slow. I suppose, what with the beer, the heat of the day, the excess of zeal, and the fatigue, Peggy began at last to be pretty well aware that he was not doing much good, for he took to lying a good deal on his back, and to addressing the boys, who buzzed round him like flies, on the necessity of keeping a steady "lookout" at cricket. I do not know what Peggy had been, but he looked like a waterman.

Now, a lad who lost his leg when a baby, as a bystander told me, took up the bat and went in with calm self-reliance, and the game went forward with the usual concomitants. Now come the tips, the misses, the by-balls, the leg hits, the swinging blows that intend so much and do nothing the echoing swashing cuts, the lost balls, the stumpings-out, the blocks, the slow treacherous balls, and the spinning, bruising roundhanders; not that our friends of the one leg and one arm swaddled themselves up in any timid paddings or bandages; they put on no india-rubber tubed gloves, no shelter-knuckles, they don no fluted leggings. What is a blow on the knuckles to a man who has lost a leg or an arm, who has felt the surgeon's saw and the keen double-edged knife? Yet all this time there was rather a ghastly reminder of suffering about the whole affair, to my mind. I could fancy the game played by out-patients in some outlying field of Guy's Hospital. I could believe it a party of convalescents in some field outside Sebastopol. Well, I suppose the fact is, that men don't think much of misfortunes when they are once irretrievable, and that these men felt a pleasure in doing an eccentric thing, in showing how bravely and easily they could overcome an infirmity that to some men appears terrible. After all, one thinks, after seeing such a game, one-legged and one-armed men are not so miserable as people imagine. Nature is kind to us in her compensations.

And all this time my eye was perpetually wandering to that blue bulbing dome and the two little pinnacles, that, though from here no larger than a chimney-piece ornament, is, I have reason to believe, Saint Paul's, some five miles distant as the crow flies. How delicate and clean cut its opaque sapphire—how pleasantly it crowns the horizon! That view of Saint Paul's from the Peckham meadows I can strongly recommend to landscape painters as one of the best, because one of the nearest, suburban views of Saint Paul's. I know it, a little blue mushroom button from Banstead Downs, just cropping up above the grey rim of the horizon, where the dark brown cloud ever lingers to mark out London; I know it, a great palace of air from all the winding reaches of the Thames, but I think I never saw it before so beautiful, so unreal, so visionary, so sublime. It seemed more the presiding'genius of the busy, turbulent, uneasy city. I felt quite a love for the old blue monster; the sight of him moved me as the sight of a great army moves me, or as the sight of a fleet beating out to sea, with their white wings set all one way.

And now looking again to the game—the excitement has become tremendous. A man with crutches is in; he props himself artfully up, while he strikes the ball feebly and with lacklustre stroke. A one-armed man with a wavering sleeve, bowls with his left hand, and makes a complicated business of it: the ball moving in a most eccentric orbit. At the opposite wicket Peggy is enthroned: his attitude is a study for Raphael—intense watchfulness, restless ambition, fond love of glory slightly dashed with inebriation, slightly marred by intoxication, visible in every motion. Alas! the first, fell ball comes and damages his wicket. His perfect disbelief in the reality of such a catastrophe is sublime—it typifies the dogged constancy of a nation that never knows when it is beaten.

The one-arms are rudely exulting as Peggy stumps off, not that he ever made a run, but that the look of the man was so imposing. The one-legs droop, the one-arms throw up their caps, or dance "breakdowns," to give vent to their extreme joy. The outlying one-arms skip and trip, the one-legs put their heads together and mutter detracting observations on the one-armed bowling. "There was no knowing what to make of them balls;" "There was no telling where to have them balls;" "They were a spiteful lot, the one-arms, so cheeky, so braggy;" "But the one-legs knew what's what, and they are going to do the trick yet."

Now the clatter of knives and forks and plates in the refreshment tent grew perfectly alarming; it was like a sale in a china-shop. The players, heedless of such poor sublunary things as boiled beef and greens and the smoke of flowery potatoes, played more like madmen than sober rational cricketers. St. Paul's danced before my eyes as if I was playing cup and ball with it, so dazzled did I get with the flying red ball. The leaping catches were wonderful, the leg-hits admirable, the bowling geometrically wonderful, the tips singularly beautiful; the ball smashed at the palings, dashed into thorn bushes, lost itself, broke plates in the refreshment tent, nearly stunned the scorer, knocked down a boy, flew up in the air like a mad thing. As for Peggy's balustrade leg, had he not occasionally screwed it off to cool himself, it would have been shivered into a thousand pieces. You would have thought, indeed, that the bowler mistook his unfortunate "stick leg" for the wicket, he let fly at it so often and so perversely. But in vain all skill and energy; the one-legs could not get at the ball quick enough, their fielding was not first-rate, the one-arms made a gigantic effort, forged fourteen runs ahead, and won. Peggy performed a pas seul expressive of hopeless despair, and stumped off for a pot of stout.

All the Year Round (October 5, 1861), pp. 33-36

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