“This time James and Sean take a trip back to the 80s – the 1880s that is. Aside from the original music we have celebrity appearances from Arthur Sullivan, Johannes Brahms, William Ewart Gladstone and Queen Victoria herself (possibly) – plus some very drunk old Englishmen (not us)”
Centuries of Sound’s debut radio show on London’s Resonance FM was this Thursday night, repeated this Friday morning. The show goes through the first four mixes, spanning the years 1860 to 1889, and features my actual real-life voice, which I’m not quite ready to actually listen to myself . The whole hour is here on Mixcloud for you to hear – and for track listings please refer to the actual mixes in the sidebar.
It wasn’t a nice life working as a matchgirl at the Bryant & May factory in Bow – work-days were fourteen-hours long, pay was poor, infractions resulted in fines and there were severe health complications of working with white phosphorus, such as phossy jaw. But all that was to change after social reformer, socialist and theosophist Annie Besant led the girls out on one of the most comprehensively successful strikes of the era.
Listen to an excellent In Our Time discussion about Annie Besant here.
An even larger figure in British crime lore comes out of 1887 – Sherlock Holmes, who made his debut in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first novel, ‘A Study In Scarlet’.
As far as Victorian popular novels go, it stands up very well indeed, even more so as it manages to act as an introduction to Sherlock as well as a well-plotted mystery story, an accomplished bit of writing and an enjoyable read. My favourite bit has to be the way the middle third of the book appears to be a different, entirely unrelated novel, set on a different continent with different characters and of an apparently unrelated genre, until the two ends finally tie together in the final third.
A Study In Scarlet
A Study In Scarlet (text at Project Gutenberg)
A Study In Scarlet (audiobook read by Derek Jacobi)
The Whitechapel murders of 1888 are a sordid, unpleasant business, and the books, tours and new museum which attempt to romanticise and spin money out of the violence perpetrated on young women are nothing short of disgusting.
‘From Hell’, on the other hand, might be the only great piece of art to be inspired by the killings. It’s a inky, scratchy, hugely uncomfortable read, with Victorian London taking centre stage as the unreliable protagonist of the piece, and sets up a better mental image of the zeitgeist of the year than anything else I can think of.
Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell – From Hell
In 1887 23-year-old Nelly Bly talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and talked the editor into letting her feign insanity in order to write an undercover report into the conditions at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Her investigation was a success in many ways – not only did it result in a grand jury investigation and a $850,000 boost to the relevant budget, it became a best-selling book, and turned Bly into a star.
The following year she managed to get herself a gig recreating Phileas Fogg’s journey around the world in 80 days, completing the journey in just 73 days, under by then national acclaim. In her later years she was a powerful businesswoman, giving it up to return to journalism, work towards women’s suffrage and start one of the first women’s refuges. She was a straight-up amazing human being and an excellent writer too, and I’d recommend that anyone check out these books, free to read or listen to on Librivox.
Ten Days in a Mad-House (full text)
Ten Days in a Mad-House (Amazon)
Ten Days in a Mad-House (audiobook on Librivox)
Ten Days in a Mad-House (article on Mental Floss)
Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (full text)
Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (Amazon)
Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (Librivox)
Stuff You Missed In History Class – Nellie Bly & Stunt Journalism (audio)
The History Chicks – Nellie Bly (audio)
The late 19th Century was an astonishing time for invention – aside from recorded sound we have radio, electric lights, the telephone, the internal combustion engine, electric motors and of course motion pictures.
In Roundhay, Leeds, on 14th October 1888, French inventor Louis Le Prince made the first ever film. It’s less than three seconds long, but compared to the first attempts at sound recording, it’s astonishingly well-developed.
The clip features his son Adolphe Le Prince, his parents-in-Law Sarah and Joseph Whitley and a friend, Annie Hartley. Sarah Whitley died ten days after the scene was filmed. Le Prince also filmed traffic crossing a bridge in Leeds later that year.
Two years later Le Prince went mysteriously missing, and his contributions to film are therefore unclear, especially as Edison went to great efforts (including a court case) to claim the movie camera as his own invention.