Wednesday 30 August 2023

Review: John Buncle, Junior, Gentleman by Thomas Cogan


After 750 pages of The Life of John Buncle, Esq, I thought I was Buncled out. Even the temptation of DE Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book would not draw me to Buncle again. But then I saw John Buncle Junior, Gentleman by Thomas Cogan - maybe I can stretch to a little more Buncle.

Despite claiming to be written by a son of the original Buncle (of Miss Dunk, if you were wondering), it’s a very different book, rather more like one of Richard Griffith’s books, one of which is named in John Buncle Jr. Rather than being a meandering mix of religious screed, encyclopaedia and romance, it’s a fairly typical set of light eighteenth-century essays with a loose theming around sending letters back to a fancy—bit while taking a trip. Personally, I love this kind of thing and many eighteenth-century authors were so good at creating a likeable, conversational personality on the page.

But how? Older Buncle made it clear that his children were losers.  “They never were concerned in any extraordinary affairs, nor ever did any remarkable things that I heard of; only rise and breakfast, read and saunter, drink and eat, it would not be fair, in my opinion, to make anyone pay for their history.” Younger Buncle says that his esteemed father, though a very good man, is too argumentative in his views and lost contact with all his children as they become less vehement than he. 

The first essay is about the title. The publisher doesn’t think that John Buncle Jr, Gentleman is not a very catchy title, that he could at least prop his name up with a ‘learned’ or ‘renowned’. The publisher says that he likes a teasing, vague title, as, “Our business is to catch attention and the less we reveal, the better chance for a sale.” He says these vague titles are especially good for scrappily written, miscellaneous works and he cites the name Something New, one of Richard Griffith’s books under the name of Automathes. He also has a list of sellable book titles to slap onto future books. These include;

“The mental Don-Quixote

The spiritual light-horseman

The moral hussar”

 - I just found those funny.

The first few chapters poke light fun and play with many different parts of the book, the title, the pitfalls of a dedication and the throat-clearing of the preface. They have that wonderfully light, snarky and direct tone often found in these kind of pieces. The sort of writing that shows how readable older works can be, that verbose and stiff writing is not a necessary feature of old writing.

The next chapters purport to be letters from Buncle to Masie, the woman he loves, as he takes a little saunter around the home counties. He says that he is travelling sentimentally, meaning that he is travelling with his eyes open to the little moments and stories as he goes. The rest of the book are these little events and thoughts he has to himself.

The first goes a bit Wonder Woman, as he possesses a ‘whip of truth’, a device that allows him to see beyond the outward impression and into the reality of people’s lives. At other times he refers to it as his ‘rod of intelligence’ and his ‘mystic instrument’. He touches people with this device, sees the seemingly innocent maiden who yearns for her lover again, the pious vicar who is simply totting up his tithes and other stock hypocritical figures. Of course, the only person who is straightforward, and is not kidding himself about his qualities or happiness, is the poor street sweeper. He was press-ganged away from his family, lost a leg and returned to find his wife dead and his children scattered to the winds. To be fair, his happiness mostly consists in the knowledge he has nothing to lose, and the appreciation of the things he has. 

There’s one pair, an old man with a young schoolgirl, which prompt a little more investigation. He is an aged family man, who takes the girl for a little fling in return for presents. She is the daughter of honest farming people who has been sent to school to improve her prospects but which has essentially corrupted her by false promises of her eligibility in fancy circles. Her preferred lover is the school dancing master, but she’ll fool around with the old man because he has better gifts. Buncle notes;  “One incident made me smile. In the ardor of his caresses, the upper set of the gentleman’s teeth fell into her lap.” I laughed at that.

As they get closer to London, the chapters discuss that city. He talks about the hypocritical poets, who write about the better moral purity of the countryside when they couldn’t exist outside of the metropolis. He tries to set a case for London, describing the kind of people who might get something out of the place. These include pleasure seekers, men of business, criminals, single men who enjoy the freedom and those who are “able to embrace a thousand miseries if they appear but happy” - i.e influencers. He doesn’t exactly succeed at selling London, not with the certainty of Johnson’s overused quote. He says that true Londoners think they are wiser and sharper than everyone else but would be useless anywhere else. He also defines those Londoners as those “born within the sound of Bow Bells”, which is the earliest version of the classic Cockney definition that I’ve read.

On the way, he finds himself in a manky inn. They climb up to the central dining are where the naked spaces of the room let the imagination work at will”. I like the idea of him seeing faces in the cracks of the walls. I also wonder of there’s any graffiti there. The landlady has an amazing ability to talk all the time and Buncle wonders how she does it.

  “I will not say she thought aloud; that would be paying her too great a compliment; but every drifting idea that slightly touched upon the fibres of her Censorium, immediately ran by something of an electrical conductor, to her tongue, and set it into motion.” It’s a neat little character sketch.

Then there’s a chapter which describes a series of people taking offence at small trifles, then the book simple stops. There is no conclusion, no reunion with Maisie, no sequel. That’s it. So that’s also the end of this write-up.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Review: The Life of John Buncle Esq by Thomas Amory

 I’ve taken myself into the country for the summer and to save on space (so I can bring Clarissa with me) I brought my kindle. Honestly, I usually forget about it in my usual reading diet and I’ve had fun exploring the odd things I’ve accumulated on there. One of these is The Life of John Buncle Esq by Thomas Amory and first published in 1756.  Bibliophile, Edmund Gosse  said, “To lovers of odd books, John Buncle will always have a genuine attraction.”

Written by an eccentric shut-in, who’d only leave his house at night, John Buncle is a strange, unclassifiable work. Purporting to be an autobiography, it blends travel literature, amatory tale, general encyclopaedia and religious tract in peculiar ways. The young John Buncle has thrilling journeys through untamed wildernesses, where he finds highly intelligent women, frequently living in hermitages with their fathers, or in communes with other women. These women tend to be very knowledgable about some aspect of religion and lecture out hero for many pages before John Buncle moves on. Sometimes he marries these women, sometimes he doesn’t. If he does, their lifespan is precariously short.

The book begins with a very off-putting chapter where Buncle/Amory lays out his educational and dogmatic positions. He is an ardent Christian but a unitarian, he believes that the concept of the trinity was invented to by logic-chopping monks. He believes that there is a singular and all powerful God, who can reveal himself miraculously but does so more often through reason - that knowledge of the world and nature reveal more and more the existence and nature of this supreme being. He is ardently ant-catholic, seeing it as a religion based on man-made nonsense like saints and magic bread. Lucky for him, most people he meet already hold these views, or are easily convinced of them.

I wrote so many notes about this book, 24 pages in total, more than I have for the 1300 pages of Clarissa I have read so far. However, so many of those read the same, it’s quite a repetitive book.. 

After describing his educational positions, Buncle has a little wander around the countryside where he meets Miss Noel. She’s in a green, shell-lined grotto where she’s studying Hebrew. She invites him to see “the curiosities of my grot”, lectures him for many pages about shells and then many pages about the Hebrew language. She’s funny, clever, well read and incredibly hot. She was black hair. It’s something of his type. Alas, she does of smallpox before he can marry her.

After his wander round the countryside, he returns home to find, horror of horrors.. his dad has married the help. This evil stepmother, and his father’s dislike of Buncle’s Unitarianism, means he leaves home and goes wandering, practically a beggar (except for the £500 his dad gives him.. not exactly stingy). On the boat over, he meets Miss Melmoth. She’s extremely intelligent, funny and attractive, with long black hair. He also gets to save her in a storm - she’s sleeping in her bed naked when a wave sweeps in her cabin and he gets to pick her up, naked and save her, naked and hold her, naked - the book very much wants her nudity to be known.

Then Buncle wanders ‘Stanemore’. While I am aware there are peaks and fells up north, Amory describes the landscape like it consists of a huge mountain range and huge unexplored areas. He climbs mountains, pole vaults over cracks, journeys inside mountains, often describing them as alps. This allows for picturesque descriptions of landscape, especially the mountainous landscapes described by Burke as ‘the sublime’ in a publication the year after. It also allows him to talk about theories of geology - particularly a theory of underground seas that was described by Athanasius Kircher and a plot point in Simplicius Simplicissimus

It also allows Buncle to stumble across various grottos, hermitages and other countryside retreats where he meets, smart, funny, sexy women with black hair who can lecture him about religion. This happens so often, that it starts to feel like something of a fetish. One behaviour of people with specific fetishes is the need to perform, either in reality or role-play, the same set of actions again and again, and that seems to be what Amory is doing here. Despite being a book that is never-knowingly funny, when Buncle meets yet another of these women, it grows funnier each time.

One woman who does stand out is Azora. Described as being one of the most fascinating talkers, she lectures Buncle about fish for several pages, then moves on to the usual religious lectures. She is, however, the leader of a commune of fifteen intelligent, religious women, all with black hair, between the ages of 19-25 - you can almost hear Amory’s breech buttons ping off. Her father was a chemist who got sucked down an alchemist black hole, he made the mistake of thinking some men were ‘spagyrists’ but they unfortunately turned out to be ‘enigmatistinubiuagi’. (The first meaning alchemist, the second… a cheat, I suppose). Azora runs her commune along strict religious lines and the reader is treated to a nine page prayer and “because some readers may be pleased with a sight of another of Azora’s religious compositions, I have set it down,” so there follows another nine pages. 

As well as meeting hot, intelligent, witty women in their mid-twenties, Buncle also meets a group of male hermit-mathematicians who have a microscope that projects onto the wall. They treat him to a show, a fight between a louse and a flea, which is told anthropomorphically as a tough, personal battle where “the gallant louse did with a frown behold the flea”. Another thing he comes across is a farm with a skeleton. He was a man called Orton, who has left a note explaining that he used to be a rake but had taken himself into seclusion for penance. Buncle is very respectful to Orton’s memory, he carefully buries his body but takes his head as a momento mori and steals his house.

While religious disputes are Buncle’s primary interest, he is willing to lecture or be lectured about all sorts of other subjects, especially the mathematical, the geographical and the medical. He’s particularly interested when a few of these areas match up, with a particular interest in medical springs. He loves exploring the mineral make-up of various springs and listing the illnesses which they will cure. I made I note of the following recommendation;

     “If you have an ulcer in your anus, or in the neck of your bladder, go to Harrowgate and drink the stinking water.”

As the book continues, the lectures die down a little and he starts having adventures in towns, including London. There he meet legendary bookseller, demonised by Pope, Edmund Curll. He’s described as being tall and ungainly, with splay feet. Not a strictly moral man, he does keep his translators “three in a bed at the pewter-platter Inn in Holborn” (near Hatton Gardens). However, he is also presented as being “acquainted with more than just the title pages of books”, having a good knowledge and some goodness - though this may be just because of his willingness to publish Unitarian works.

Also, a different running gag emerges, not that it’s intended to be one. Buncle meets twelve or so women, he marries seven of them, not one of them lasts as his wife longer than two years. A few dies of smallpox, some of fever. One dies in a coach accident and another falls of a boat they are messing about in and drowns. While the first couple of wives make the cotton anniversary, most of them barely last six months. One woman missed the chance of marrying him, she lived for another twenty-years. Admittedly, she became a homeless prostitute, once he finds her and looks after her, she barely makes a fortnight. It was hard not to imagine a secretive under-story, where Buncle is a terrible mass-murderer, poisoning wives or pushing them off pleasure craft. 

What’s more, these deaths always benefit him. Destitute after being conned by card-sharps, he marries and buries three women in quick succession, giving him a pretty fortune, especially when one of their fathers dies quickly into the marriage and his own father swiftly afterwards. One wife dies two days before he’s going to marry her, is dug up by graverobbers and accidentally revives on the surgeon’s table and marries the surgeon. He then dies shortly after meeting Buncle, she marries Buncle and then dies a few months after that - leaving him the doctor’s fortune and hers. I does become hard to escape the notion that, just under the surface of the text, Buncle is murdering everyone and it becomes extremely funny when another name joins the hit-list. I’d say he murders about twenty-eight people in the book - he also knows how to make ants strip a corpse in a week.

The deaths in the book stem from that initial fetish-like structure to the piece. For Amory, the moment of meeting and ‘winning’ the beautiful, hot, intelligent woman with black hair is the fetish. Being married to them isn’t. So he’ll use pages and pages to describe the meeting, the initial conversations and the conquest but then the marriage is described in a paragraph, the death and burial in another and the mourning in another - that way, he can go hunting for a new woman.

You’d think, with seven wives, Buncle would have a lot of children, and you’d be right. However, because they don’t exist within Amory’s particular fetish, they don’t really feature in the book. Buncle writes off his whole progeny quite resolutely;

  “They never were concerned in any extraordinary affairs, nor ever did any remarkable things that I heard of; only rise and breakfast, read and saunter, drink and eat, it would not be fair, in my opinion, to make anyone pay for their history.”

One huge disadvantage with reading the kindle version of this book was that I didn’t realise the relationship it had with it’s own footnotes. Or that it had 150 pages worth of footnotes. On the ex-classics kindle version, they’ve been put at the end and so sneak up on a reader. On the whole, they don’t add much to the text, they add citations for the opinions characters lecture about, give biographies of divines, further the same interminable religious fiddle-faddling found in the main text. Generally, if there was something a little dull in the main text, Amory finds a way of making it longer and duller in the footnotes.

The Life of John Buncle, Esq is a truly peculiar book though a long one at over seven-hundred pages. There’s actually an abridgement called The Spirit of Buncle. I’m not sure if it cuts out the amatory elements or the religious polemic - either way, to cut out any of The Life of John Buncle, Esq, is to reduce the ridiculous, amusing, sometimes very dull experience of the whole thing. I recommend it.

There’s also a sort of sequel called John Buncle Jr, Gentleman written by a different author called Thomas Cogan.. I’ve read it and will review it in due course.

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Norman Inkpen, 'Shit Jokes' and his autobiography, 'Life is Shit'.

I’ve mentioned the name, Norman Inkpen many times of this site, going back as far as my Gulliver’s Travels review in January of 2013. In fact, reading his book,  Shit Jokes - A Study of Scatological Humour, was one of the things that first turned me on to the eighteenth century. Although the book is a comprehensive look at multiple generations of excremental comedy, it was in those early-modern chapters that he managed to really polish those turds and make the shit shine. Alas, he’s mostly out of print now, and his Rabelaisian opus will never be completed but the Inkpen legacy lives on, in the posthumous publication of his autobiography, Life is Shit

It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child, and it seems to be the case for Inkpen. Growing up in Sheepy Parva in the 50s, he seemed to live like a cat; romping around the fields and visiting each house to be given fresh apples or even black-market treats. I’m not sure if he ever slept in his own house, or if he even had a certain idea which of the residences he was supposed to belong in. At the age of eight, he showed an affinity for odure when he created a bucket of ‘snowballs’, which he used to menace children from a rival school. 

Leaving school, he followed this interest into a job at the treatment works at Wanlip. He recalls many happy hours sifting through the ‘rag’, the mounds of paper and other solid objects that have been flushed down the toilet, finding money and even jewellery. During the long hours watching the sludge plant whirr the water into a fine chocolate milkshake, Inkpen grew philosophical. He pondered about the inevitability of waste, how it could be seen as a sign of life and a consequence of civilisation. He started to see turds as potent symbols of growth and their management as a true window into a society. He began to dabble in poetry, much of it sewage related.

When he was thirty-five, Inkpen’s mother died. He had been a late baby and his father had died young with lung cancer. As a result, it had just been he and his mother, with him still living in his childhood bedroom. In a desire to escape his grief, searingly described in the autobiography, he sold that house and took a trip of the world. Something of a monomaniac at this point, his journey took in different ways that human waste is managed across the world. The subsequent photos and writeup became his first book, The World in Faeces. While not an initial success, it gained a little notoriety for being in the running for the Diagram prize for odd book titles. 

Caught by the travelling bug, Inkpen went on another round the world trip, this time focussing on plumbing in ancient cities. He describes breaking into Pompeii, spelunking under medieval cities and cleaving through dense jungles to explore the sewage of the Inca. What resulted is Faeces BC, part history, part town planning and part Indiana Jones. At one point, the BBC approached Inkpen about making a series, recreating the travels from his books but he found himself too diffident in-front of the camera during tests and wouldn’t allow his material to be used without him.

At this point, Inkpen was running low on money and had taken to living in a caravan on a small patch of land on the Welsh border. Naturally he had his own system he created to sort his waste, recycle some into water for the garden and burn the rest. That fuel wasn’t exactly extensive and powered a little automata of a lumberjack he had outside the caravan. Penniless and alone, he joined his local library. Having never been interested in general literature, Inkpen found himself coming at what he read in a different manner. Even as the voraciousness of his reading increased, so did his shock and dismay at how little classic literature dealt with the issues that most tugged at his heartstrings. What’s more, he was filled with joy when he found texts that did deal with shit, especially when they dealt with it in it’s full, uncensored, smelly glory. No surprise, he was fond of the early-modern period and less for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The resulting work, Shit Jokes, is a comprehensive look at English shiterature, blending Inkpen’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the brown stuff and how it is managed with a nuanced understanding of multiple genres and contexts. It reaffirms his belief that turds are a sign of life and establishes how they can enliven a text, giving groundedness, representing both disgust and the stuff of life. 

Inkpen’s own life was running out. The book created waves in some academic towers but the royalties weren’t enough to sustain him. Left in his caravan through several winters, he worked on his autobiography. In the end, his self-created sewer didn’t work as he’d intended and he died from E-Coli poisoning. It was five weeks until he was discovered, when a sheep farmer moved his flock into the area. His papers, including the autobiography came close to destruction until a council worker saved them, working through the loose sheets, ordering them like a puzzle into the current autobiographical form. His life is sort of tragic, with very little connection to other people, except through what they’d left behind. He did leave a body of work fascinating in its very quiddity and oddity, and now the story of his life as well.

Wednesday 9 August 2023

Review: The Merry-Thought, or the Glass, Window and Bog-House Miscellany by Hurlothrumbo

 The Merry-Thought, or the Glass, Window and Bog-House Miscellany is a collection of writing found scratched into windows, into glasses and on toilet walls. It was published between 1731-2. The author/editor of the collection styled themselves as Hurlothrumbo, the name of a play written ten years earlier by a dance instructor/professional fool called Samuel Johnson, but best known as Maggoty. 

The introduction to the version I read (the ex-classics ebook) by Maximilian Novak suggests that there’s a good likelihood Maggoty himself was involved in this book, as it shares a bookseller with the play’s printed copies and also shares a similar sensibility - with the sublime and the ridiculous rubbing up against each other. I’m not wholly convinced by the idea. I think it’s far more likely that a bookseller known for publishing the (bestselling) script for the play Hurlothrumbo would see sense in attributing a fun and eccentric work to Hurlothrumbo. There’s a sense of brand-name recognition and such a name would set the right tone for the work. I also can’t imagine Maggoty Johnson being as invisible as the editor of this collection, only coming in for a preface or two but not really commenting on the action. From the evidence of Hurlothrumbo, where he gave himself a character who plays no role in the story and mainly serves to upstage everyone, Maggoty rather liked being the centre of attention and I can’t imagine him being so anonymous within the text.

It claims to be a selection of graffiti collected over the years from a number of different locations and I think that’s probably true. The subject matters are the same ones people have felt the need to graffiti since at least Pompeii and most of the entries are attributed to a particular place. The Star Inn in Coventry must have been full of graffiti, judging by the amount of entries it has.

The book actually came out in four volumes, with the end of each volume asking for submissions to go in the next. It boasts how many responses the request received, but the editions stopped after four, so I suppose the submissions run out. It’s a very Edmund Curll-ish thing to do, he’d put a notice in the paper for anecdotes about a recently deceased person to ‘bump up’ the research that had already been done, and then publish a biography consisting wholly of those contributions.

As for the contents themselves, The Merry-Thought is more interesting in what it is, rather than what it contains. To have such ephemeral pieces as graffiti is very special, but most of the entries in this book are the worst kinds of doggerel, full of forced rhymes and no metre. At first it’s fun to read;

“While the old friar was kissing her arse

She lifted her skirts and shit on his face.”

Sometimes a piece can be a neat little rhyme, like this piece from the Temple bog-house; 

“No hero looks so fierce in a fight

As does the man who strains to shite”

And sometimes it can be so rude, it catches the eye, like this acrostic from Uxbridge;

“Commodious for a haven made

Under a rising bank

Nature has fixed a place of trade

To men of any rank”

Sometimes there are tricks and wordplays like;

“I C U B

YY 4 me” (I see you be too wise for me). 

Oxford and Cambridge are particularly good hot-spots for wordplay, as to be expected from the University towns. One source of speculation and graffiti, is the age of Alderman’s daughter, Molly. A number of the wall-scrawlers are wondering how Molly is fifteen, when she was the same age fifteen years ago. There is debate among them about as to whether she still looks it. This discussion may be played out in doggerel but at least it’s in English, much of the University graffiti is in Latin. One piece of Latin graffiti, found in Dean’s Yard, is the Sator Square, the mysterious Latin palindrome that can be read back, forth, up and down - with the word ‘Tenet’ in the middle.

Wordplay is also found on the words etched into glasses. Many clubs and societies had the tradition of engraving the names of pretty, single women onto their glasses and declaring them the toast of the society. Individuals also had their own toasts and would etch the name of her on their glass. One practise, recorded in the book is making rebuses of the loved one’s name;

“To spoil the Cornish ore

names the nymph that I adore”

This one is for a Miss Martin and it’s as corny as most of them are.

One of the most interesting elements to read in the book is when there’s a chain of messages written on a wall. To a modern reader, it’s like a twitter thread, with various different strangers chipping in their opinions and comments. The message chains have a whole range of purposes. There’ll be messages of support, like the person who wrote, ‘well said my boy’. There’ll be admonishments, like the person who told a woman that she’d sold her maidenhead ‘at a bad fair’. Quite often, there are warnings, especially against women with venereal disease. 

An example from the Red Lion, Southwall in 1728 reads;

“Clarinda lay here

with a young cavalier

with her heart full of fear

for her husband was near”

A group of people, signing themselves as SM, JM & RH, have this to add;

”Tis very true for we saw rem in re through the keyhole”

‘Rem in re’ is Latin for ‘the thing in itself’… which is a fairly creepy/funny thing to say. I also find it interesting how doggerel versions of pastoral poetry, complete with poetic names like ‘Clarinda’ are so ingrained into the culture that they become a default position when writing on a wall. I suppose the way people communicate through popular culture today.

Another element found in the graffiti that is found today is misogyny. A lot of the posts, especially the ones found in pub walls/scratched into their windows rely on a narrative as women as sexually voracious creatures who prey on men’s weakness for their own physical pleasures or material gain. Most of these harpies enjoy leaving their lovers with throbbing members, especially if they’ve been paid well. Many of these tired comments sound like the things a certain sphere online say are particular to twenty-first century women.

One, more eighteenth century problem that is often addressed in the bog-house writing specifically, is the instance of shit on the walls. It would seem that many toilets did not include anything to wipe a bum on, or bumfodder, so people had to bring their own. It would also seem that a common, but not very acceptable solution was to wipe your bum with your hand and then wipe the excess on the wall. Lots of writing was directed at these excremental miscreants, also a surprising amount written against the act of writing in the bog-house.

“Damn your writing

Mind your shiteing”

I'm surprised Norman Inkpen didn't mention this in his book Shit Jokes.

The Merry-Thought is a strange book, containing ephemeral trash that is also a unique document of its era. Whether Magotty was the one who gave it to the world, it’s a good thing that it’s here. It is also a book whose mission statement could be summed up by its epigraph, found written on the wall outside Bedlam.

Gameyorum, Wildum Gorum

Gameyorum a Gamy

Flumarum a Flumarum

A Rigdum Bollarum

A Rigdum for a little Gamey

(They’re nonsense words from a song)

Wednesday 2 August 2023

Review: Rakes, Highwaymen and Pirates by Erin Mackie

 When I bought Erin Mackie’s Rakes, Highwaymen and Pirates: The making of the modern gentleman in the eighteenth century, I was aware I was buying an academic work and not a fun collection of criminal anecdotes.

Given that expectation, nothing quite prepared me for the convoluted, dry, academic style this book was written in. Mackie is fond of paragraph length sentences packed with long, technical vocabulary which seem to hint at a point just as it veils it. I picked a bit at random;

“My use of the term “culturally mythic type” means to register, first of all the special intensity of meaning these types exercise in both sociocultural and subjective worlds. Emphatically, this term bares no relation to psychological, psychoanalytic or structuralist elaboration of the notion of the myth.”

I get an impression of an idea from this. I think it means that she’ll be looking at these “culturally mythic type(s)” of rake, highwayman and pirate through a sociological lens, looking at their place in society and the mythical place they gained in it but not looking through other academic lenses. I also presume that she will look at them in a subjective manner, as in, the myths of these people from her own point of view. It took me a while to parse this from the text though - I kept getting a clash between something being subjective but not psychological.. And I’m not convinced I’ve parsed it correctly. Pretty much every sentence in the book is like this, so I am very aware my reading of it is hazy and misty and that I’m trying to follow arguments viewed dimly, like in a fog. 

The first chapter, ‘historicising masculinity’ is, as far as I can conceive, a helpful(?) summary of the position of masculinity in England at the beginning of the 18th century and how things changed. Following the English Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration, a new form of masculinity was being developed, distinct from the cavalier/royalist masculinity of previous eras. 

That former masculinity was linked to wealth and privilege. Closeness to the King and wielding of authority and power were its main signifiers. So much so, those restoration rakes were all flagrantly bi-sexual, the importance was that a rake sexually dominates someone of a lower class, be that woman or young boy. It was also not important that a ‘proper man’ follows the laws, as he is above them, so it’s possible to be both criminal and display healthy masculinity.

However, by the 18th century, things were changing. In Defoe’s Colonel Jack, Jack isn’t a proper man because he is criminal. This is because of the rise in a new idea, the gentleman. Heralded by publications such as The Tatler and The Spectator, this new man was middle-class, moderate in all things and a firm upholder of laws and institutions. With the rise of this form of masculinity, those still enamoured with the older forms find them in the rake, highwayman and pirate - and to a certain extent, still do. (She then goes on for ten pages about how she won’t talk about Jonathan Wilde and Jack Shepherd because they don’t really fit, Shepherd being more working class hero than male fantasy, and Wilde being hated by everyone).

The next chapter, ‘always making excuses’ deals with the rake. I’ve been reading Clarissa throughout this year, so I am quite full of rakes, or at least of Lovelace. The rake takes a lot of the sexual elements of the former masculinity. The gentleman was in a tough spot when it comes to sex, as sex still confirms his masculinity but gentleman-ness calls for a respect for, at the very least, respectable women. This would later blossom into full-on Victorian hypocrisy and the labelling of murdered women (such as Jack the Ripper’s five) as prostitutes - not a point Mackie makes, but I feel it fits.

The rake doesn’t have this doublebind and is celebrated for his conquests. Unlike the regency variation though, the rake has to be heterosexual, even if he is homosocial. He also needs to balance the egotistical nature of the casual lovemaker so it doesn’t become self-love, which would turn him into the rake’s nemesis… the fop.

The rake succeeds in not being criminalised, partly due to an aristocratic position, but also through his ‘superior stylistic mastery’ - in essence, he’s too cool doing what he does that people accept it, a bit like James Bond. Lovelace, in his heightened speech, the complexity of his schemes, his ‘sheer staginess’ creates an ‘art’ of seduction that excuses his actions and builds a myth. A myth that can be quickly dispelled when you realise that in the course of a 2 million word novel, taking place over the course of a year, he only has sex once, and that with someone he has drugged insensible first. Some myth!

Mackie also says that an element of the rake that was excused in their time and forgotten in ours is the hooliganism, the theatre riots, the rampant destruction as exemplified in gangs of young toffs who called themselves Mohocks. These young bucks hounded nightwatchman and beat people up for fun. Their behaviour was excused by “apologetic formulas” which “retain their currency right up to the present.” Namely, boys will be boys. 

Were she British, I think Mackie would bring up the Bullingdon Club at this point. A group of Oxford toffs (including at least two former PMs), who go into restaurants and trash them to pieces while yelling “bully, bully, bully.” Given that former PM, Boris Johnson was a member, has cheated on all his partners and possibly stuck one of (many) secret children into the House of Lords - he’d seem to be a firm contender as a modern rake. At least Lovelace was handsome.

The next chapter, ‘romancing the highwayman’ explains itself. The first highwaymen were out-of-work cavaliers who justified their robbery by robbing only republicans. As such, the first highwayman had a link back to the old masculinity, and, while they maintained the theft as a political act, could spin it as loyal and heroic. Interestingly, come the reformation, there were still highwaymen. Claude Duval and and James MacLaine did not rob for a cause, but to maintain lifestyles they couldn’t afford. They borrowed a trick from the rakes and made it look stylish.

With Gay’s creation of Macheath, the Highwayman was mixed with the rake and deserved to be let off at the end of the play. People like Boswell even imagined he was Macheath before going out on the pull, singing one of his songs. The highwayman was further removed from reality by one of my favourite authors, William Harrison Ainsworth. His Dick Turpin is a highwayman figure born from the author’s daydreams as a boy. He performs no acts of cruelty or villainy in the book and simply stands as a force of mastery and freedom, accidentally creating the Dick Turpin of legend - as far removed from the torturing housebreaker as possible. Mackie also makes the interesting point that Turpin is removed from the gothic plot, a plot that is caused by the rakish behaviours of the Rookwood ancestors.

The third chapter, ‘welcome the outlaw’ is about pirates but takes a sharp veer off into another direction. First she claims that pirates, as a legend are assexual, ‘there’s no pirate sex’. I’d disagree, I think gay pirates are definitely a thing, but that’s not her main point in this chapter.

Makie’s main point has nothing to do with gentleman, or masculinity, or anything the book has previously been about. Instead she wants to draw a link between pirates and the modern gangs of Jamaica. More particularly, she wants to say that the maroons, the free slaves who formed their own towns within Jamaica (like Nanny) are similar to Rastafarians. She sees them both as being pro-Africa, even if that conception of Africa is more of a generic promised land. She also made some connection between maroons being hired to re-capture escaped slaves with a complicity of the Rastas with Babylon. Pirates she equates with the Yardie Rudeboys, both anti-authoritarian but chasing the same things that the system chases. “Pirates expose, even as they mimic, the aggressive self assertion, and ruthless greed of early-modern capitalism” She links this with rudeboys performing the role of private security to political parties. 

Aside from being an utter tangent to the rest of the book, I thought these some bold and broad claims and questioned her authority to make them. Certainly, she is not Jamaican and doesn’t appear to be of Jamaican heritage. What’s more her previous published works are all about The Spectator and The Tatler, nothing much there about Jamaica. 

The last chapter, ‘privacy and ideology’ is a bit of a whimper. It looks at Lord Orville as the perfect new gentleman and compares him to other characters in Evelina who show themselves up to be more rakishly inclined. It also looks at Caleb Williams, but I sped over that a bit because I haven’t read it yet and was fed up with this book.

What the whimper of a last chapter emphasises is how little the book has no real overarching point or argument. It’s less a book about something, as a book about lots of little somethings. And it’s painfully written.