Wednesday 3 September 2008

Munbying About


Useful things come up whilst writing a novel. My current effort (will it be published? I know not) involved re-reading the Diary of Arthur Munby, which I had thought I had digitised extensively for but, on second inspection, I realise I left loads of fascinating things out. I think the Munby material went online in the early days, when I was fairly clueless about content. In any case, I now feel myself bound to remedy this situation, and I have a little list. Some things will be fairly straight additions to the site, eg. a brief entry on the Cosmpolite Club which had never previously come on the radar.

The first entry, however, was going to be Caldwell's Dancing-Rooms ... I had gathered Munby's two comments, then a couple of pieces from the Times which throw an interesting light on his comments about it being 'respectable' (in comparison with the infamous Holborn Casino or Argyll Rooms, agreed to be haunt of prostitutes and 'fast' young men).* I was about to create an index entry for Caldwell's (convinced I'd never heard of it) when I find I already have one, pointing to J.Ewing Ritchie's Night Side of London. You can read the whole thing on the Caldwell's page.

What does this prove? First, that J.Ewing Ritchie is the pontificating prig I always suspected him of being (I'd trust Arthur Munby over him any day); second, that I have forgotten a good deal of what's actually on; third, that I do need it as my electronic brain, so the whole mad project was a good idea all along.

More Munby-ing to follow, as and when.

[* If someone hasn't written a thesis on mid-Victorian London dance-halls,
then they should (if they have - send me a copy!). ]

Lights and Shadows of London Life


After much delay (novel-writing), I can devote a smidgen of time to The first effort is a digitisation of Lights and Shadows of London Life, a collection of London journalism of the writer James Payn (1830-98) engagingly described by one of his contemporaries as 'tall, thin, and rather angular, he had a sharp high voice, ... a kindly twinkle behind his spectacles ... a brilliant and amusing raconteur'. As with all 'London' writers of the period, he was published by Dickens, befriended by the great man, and the writing reflects a debt to Dickens's non-fiction accounts of the city. The first section of the book, however, is a spoof - a returning Australian is introduced to the entertainments and amusements of 1860s London by dissolute young rakes. But, for all its humour, even this includes fascinating accounts of how people viewed Frith's The Railway Station and a visit to Cremorne Gardens (unnamed, but it can be nowhere else). In fact, Payn's eye for detail is where he triumphs. Even though he tackles some conventional stock subjects (eg. inconveniences of travelling by bus), he includes information, for the modern reader at least, that isn't found elsewhere. The account of an 1860s hanging is notable; and I was fascinated to discover him decrying ostentation in funeral ceremonies - I hadn't realised the Victorians were turning their backs on such things as early as the 1860s ... anyway, enjoy!