Masquerade, Crime and Fiction: Criminal Deceptions by Linden Peach (auth.)

By Linden Peach (auth.)

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Example text

The worrying of women on commercial city streets by male pests was a phenomenon in which the Victorian press seemed to delight. 8 That part of Virginia Woolf’s The Years (1937; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). covering the Victorian period appears to pitch itself against the press’ refusal to condemn male harassment of women on the streets as a criminal activity. The novel dramatises a young, Victorian girl’s fear of the threat posed by a male who invokes the cornerman or Victorian ruffian, highlighting how by the second half of the century such a street predator had become for women a Victorian bogey-man.

As in Lytton and Gay’s texts the criminals, in this case pickpockets, housebreakers and streetwalkers, speak in their own, frequently mocking, voices. However, an important distinction to be made between Oliver Twist and Lytton’s early work is that, with the obvious exception of Nancy, the underworld is not sympathetically drawn. It should perhaps be remembered at this point that whereas Lytton based his novels on criminal records, Dickens had observed the London underworld close-up in his work as a court reporter.

1 His theatricality challenges the way society’s power relations have an immediate hold upon the body and exposes how bodies are bound up in complex, reciprocal relations with their economic use. The activities of the street criminals of the nineteenth century resulted from real economic need or greed. But they are also symbolic, challenging the power relations that are invested in the gentleman or gentlewoman’s body and in which the subjection of their own body is in turn inscribed. This is probably one of the reasons why Dickens includes a detailed description of Brownlow in Oliver Twist: ‘The’ old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles.

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