In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

68Victorian Review Rob Sindall. Street Violence in the Nineteenth Century. Leicester: Leicester UP, 1990. vu + 168. £27.50 (cloth). Albert Borowitz. The Bermondsey Horror. London: Robson, 1990. ? + 337. £6.99 (paper). These two books stand as a salutary reminder that in Victorian England, conventions of the sanctity of the home and the cult of respectabiUty notwithstanding, a vigorous, vulgar, and often violent street culture lay at the heart of city Ufe. In Street Violence in the Nineteenth Century Rob Sindall is concerned not so much with the incidence of crime, as with the effect of crime, real or perceived, on the pubUc's (middle classes') sensibilities and institutions. The author argues that the many faults and inconsistencies in the statistical evidence make attempts to measure the criminality of the dangerous classes almost worthless. Of much greater concern to the author is the middle-class response to a number of "moral panics" which accompanied a series of extremely violent, although in reaüty quite normal, attacks on respectable members of the community. Put simply, the author concludes that the activities of such "folk-devils" as the garotters in 1862-63, the Liverpool "cornermen," the Trafalgar Square rioters of 1886, along with the actions of sundry other roughs, were promoted by the press in order to rouse pubUc opinion in favour of reactionary legislation to the penal system. Yet the results of this agitation were mixed; it is true that in 1863 flogging was incorporated into the punishment of those found guilty of robbery with violence, and the Penal Servitude Acts of 1857 and 1864 and the Prisons Act of 1865 made the penal system more efficient and uniform. Yet the attempts of the press to persuade parliament to abolish the ticket-of-leave system, whereby convicts were pardoned for good behaviour, failed. There is some evidence that in the short-term the scares generated by the press may also have resulted in harsher sentences meted out byjudges eager to receive pubUc approbation as "folk-heroes." However, the overall sense conveyed by this study is that the press's attempts to sway public opinion were superficial at best. For example the poUce, who bore the brunt of newspaper criticism during the "moral panics," refused to respond to the newspaper taunts that they were never around when needed and, in the author ·s opinion, they continued to carry out their job of protecting the middle class from the encroachment of the rough element with commendable professionalism. Even the middle class, except during a "moral panic," appears to have accepted the roughs as an unfortunate component of city Ufe. Reviews69 The question which Sindall does not ask, and it must surely be a crucial one, is what motivated the press to act in this unprofessional manner? It is apparent that if the press was indeed guilty of manufacturing a number of crises, and the author does a good job providing evidence that there were many unreported (and therefore, as far as the public was concerned, nonexistent) violent crimes, in order to lead (not represent) public opinion, the editors were acting on behalf of someone with political intent—but who? Surely the purpose of the exercise was not just to promote sales among the new readership of the middle and lower middle classes? Surely satisfaction from exacting the revenge of the "cat" on convicts was not reward enough for such complicated journalistic manoeuvering? The author argues that middleclass opinion was mobilized to change institutions and redefine crime in an age when a transformation of manners was well underway. The press was, therefore, in large way responsible for the socialization process by which the general public (middle class) acquired the manners of a more civilized age. But who was controlling the strings of this conspiracy, for that must surely be the correct word, and who benefited politically? Unfortunately these are questions which are not addressed in this study. AU the elements are present in The Bermondsey Horror for a thoughtful analysis of the darker side of gender relations, and the complexities of social stratification, in mid-Victorian England. Yet the opportunity is completely missed as the author seeks only to cash in on the more sensational...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 68-70
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.