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Peter Bailey. Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City. Cambridge UP, 1998. ix + 258. 59.95 US (hardback) Peter Bailey describes the essays collected in this book as his "enthusiastic ifoccasionally bemusedjourneyalong theshiftingfrontiers ofsocial history" (1). The result ofhis research over the past twentyyears, these essays offer an interesting and detailed examination ofselected aspects ofnineteenth centuiyworking class culture, ranging from comic papers to the socio-cultural significance ofthe Victorian barmaid. Contextualizing these studies, he begins by examiningthe growth of what the Saturday Review ofthe 1890s called "the habit ofenjoyment" (15)· Examining changingattitudes to leisure throughout the nineteenth century, Baileyconsiders the anxieties aroused by thegrowing popularity ofcheap excursions, games, sports and other public amusements. Building on his Leisure and Class in Victorian England, he explores middleclass social and religious concerns about working-class cluture. In the following chapters he examines the different forms of leisure activity enjoyed by the 'respectable' working classes. Ally Sloper'sHalf-Holidaywas a penny weekly comic paper published from 1884 until 1916. In what he describes as "a historian's exercise in deconstructing the popular," Bailey argues for its importance as a prototype ofa new commercial popular culture. His well-chosen illustrations show the comic's eponymous hero in a range ofsettings which indicate the widening choice ofleisure activities for the Victorian working-class, reworking class stereotypes to mediate changing social reality. Baileysees Ally Sloper as "a complex and tightly-wound metaphor for the vulgarised liberal ideology ofmass individualismwith all its hopes and contradictions " (77, 79). This ideology of mass individualism is further explored through Baileys studies ofmusic halls, publichouses and musical comedy. Bailey's essays on music halls offer insights into some often neglected aspects ofthis fascinating form ofVictorian popularculture. He argues that the sub-culture ofthe London music halls "offer a case study ofthe negotiations between the often traditional set ofpractices and the imperatives ofliberal capitalism" (81). His study ofmusic hall ViccorianÄri/iiw 112 reviews proprietors and theirbusinesses examines the cultural significance of friendship among those in the music hall business. Hc pays particular attention to the well-established tradition ofthe Benefit Night, a special performancewhose proceeds would be given to a particular member, associate or servant ofthe company - a practice which also extended to the more legitimate theatre. He argues that these nights show the interaction offriendship and capitalism- "capitalism with a beaming human face" (100), and traces the lapsing offriendship as an instrument ofeveryday business in the music hall community as capitalism took over. It is a shame that spatial constraints prevented Baileyfrom including more details ofthe careers ofindividual music hall proprietors such asJohn Wilton, whose career offers fascinating insights into the cultural life ofLondon's East End. In "ChampagneCharlie and theMusic-Hail Swell Song," Baileytakes a close lookat the career ofGeorge Leybourne, the original "Champagne Charlie" whose impersonations ofa dissolute upper-class man-abouttown made him one ofthe most popular entertainers ofthe 1860s and 1870s. Leybourne's most famous song, "Champagne Charlie," is still performed in modern revivals ofmusic hall. Bailey examines the question ofwhat made Leybourne and his many imitators so popular. There are obvious difficulties in analyzing the performance of an artiste who died before the age offilm and video, but Bailey reconstructs Leybourne's performances from contemporary accounts with enviable skill, analyzing the cultural significance of costumes and body language as well as the words ofthe songs and associated 'patter'. He finds a web ofassociated meanings in songs ofthis type, showing it as a celebration ofrelease from the dull grind ofwork as well as ofgood humour and the pleasures of drinking. He links the song's success with the reduction of duties on champagnewhich made it an affordable drink for the middle classes and somethingwhich theworking classes could aspire to consume. Baileygoes on to consider "MusicHall and theknowingness ofpopular culture" in a lively essay which examines the sub-text of songs by Marie Lloyd and other well-known music-hall artistes. He explains that "this piecewas originally a morevulgar, platform-oriented exerciseentitled 'Did Foucault andAlthusser ever play the London Palladium?' but 113 vo Iu me 25 ? urn b e r 2 has been revised in the interests ofacademicprobity" (233). In a particularly intriguingpiece, Baileydiscusses"TheVictorian barmaid as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 112-114
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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