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«Author(s): Jamie Wise Title: Horse racing in nineteenth-century literature Date: 2013 Originally published as: University of Chester MA dissertation ...»

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and one hundred and fifty in London alone.66 In this way the act was very much class biased and based around paternalistic middle-class concern for the degenerative effects of gambling on the easily corrupted lower orders. Horace Smith, a London magistrate, commented in 1902 that the still in force betting act was ‘for the protection of the poor; as for the rich, they do not need any protection in such matters; they can help themselves, but the poor cannot’.67 Such an idea is indicative of the myopic view that for the poor gambling was ultimately compulsive. It ignored not only the fact that the rich too could be consumed by its addictive potential and could, just like the poor, only afford to lose relative to their wealth, but also evidence to the contrary, that gambling for the vast majority of the working classes was not a compulsive addiction. Furthermore it was still legal to bet off-course on credit, something only available to wealthier gamblers, similarly the upper-class betting rooms of Tattersall’s were viewed as exempt as they were considered private clubs.68 Indeed one councillor from Middlesbrough commented in 1880: ‘if they were going to stop betting they should stop it not only among the working men but in the clubs and the higher grades of society’.69 That said the 1853 Act was largely ignored, with police and magistrates only willing to convict if there was significant pressure from the public or officials.70 Similarly the complicated nature of on-course betting’s legality, which apparently made it illegal to


Hawke v. Dunn the court ruled that betting enclosures on the racecourse were included in the act. Within a month of the court case however a shareholder in Kempton Park Racecourse Company sued the company over the presence of bookmakers at the course. The shareholder was acting in collusion with the racecourse in order to bring the case for on-course betting before the Court of Appeal who subsequently ruled that betting enclosures on the racecourse were not part of the 1853 act and on-course gambling was reinstated. For a comprehensive summary of the court case see David C. Itzkowitz, ‘Victorian Bookmakers and their Customers’, Victorian Studies, 32 (1988), pp. 7-31, p. 18.

Vamplew, The Turf: A Social and Economic History of Horse Racing, p. 203.

Horace Smith, Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Betting 1902, quoted in Itzkowitz, ‘Victorian Bookmakers and their Customers’, p. 19.

Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 98.

Cleveland News, May 1st 1880, p. 25.

Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 99. The Times notes how London still had ‘hundreds’ of public houses which were willing to take bets. The Times, 19th July 1856, p. 18. The Penny Bell’s Life informed its readers that there were ‘thousands’ of betting houses still operational across the country. Penny Bell’s Life, 9th April 1859, p. 6.

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apparent, despite its illegality, is that betting was becoming an increasingly popular and accepted part of late nineteenth-century life. Notwithstanding class-biased legislative acts to the contrary the democratisation of racing information and the sporadic enforcement of the 1853 Betting Act promoted a specific working-class arena of leisure which had the ability to defy middle-class hegemony. Although remaining illegal, working-class gambling was moving closer towards a legitimate form of leisure by the latter part of the nineteenth century.

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The popularity of horse racing across the nineteenth century should not be under estimated, attended in various guises by all classes of society and debated across social divides in exclusive aristocratic clubs and working-class public houses, it was by definition truly a ‘national’ sport. And yet as a site of carnival, a medium of cross-class gambling and a morally questionable spectator sport, horse racing housed and expressed class conflicts which were becoming ever more prevalent in a Victorian society under increasing pressure to establish legitimate leisure activities.

What will be discussed in detail in the following two chapters is the notion of space in relation to the carnival and class segregation on the racecourse, this along with working-class gambling and its position within nineteenth-century society as a legitimate form of workingclass leisure will form the basis of my analysis in chapters two and three. Whilst ideas of a disciplined middle-class example of leisure and its failure on the racecourse will form only a minor part of the analysis in the following two chapters, its place in Chapter One is necessary to establish the prevailing attitudes of the middle classes towards working-class leisure, and


Huggins, Flat Racing, p. 132. At Manchester in 1876 bookmakers were banned from using their ‘paraphernalia’ but the following year they returned with numerous stands and advertisements. Salford Weekly News, 10th June 1876, p. 20. At Newcastle in 1870 when bookmakers were forced to abandon their traditional means of advertising they instead wore ‘sleek hats with terrific brims’. Morpeth Herald, 25th June 1870, p. 15.

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legalities of gambling itself and the instigation of class-biased betting acts are discussed only briefly in chapters two and three its inclusion in Chapter One is vital not only to establish the historical and social context surrounding gambling on horse racing, but to confirm the significant part such gambling played in the lives of the working class; particularly betting’s role in challenging middle-class hegemony.

Racecourse space and its hegemonic complexities feature prominently in George Moore’s Esther Waters and Émile Zola’s Nana. The racecourse scenes of both novels provide, I will argue, a symbolic representation of the contradictory tensions nineteenthcentury horse racing housed between class, leisure and the carnival. Similarly, the corruptive potential of working-class gambling is a significant part of George Moore’s presentation of horse racing in Esther Waters. However, I will argue representations of such gambling, when view alongside the theoretical premise of the autonomous working-class space of interaction established in Chapter One, run counter to critical and contemporary readings of the novel.

Finally representations of horse racing in Charles Dickens’s fiction and non-fiction will be analysed in relation to carnival space and the sport’s association with gambling. The complex nature of Dickens’s conceptualisation of horse racing and its link to betting, particularly for the working classes, is I will argue, the overriding component behind the sparse representation of the sport within his fiction.

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George Moore’s Esther Waters contains the most extensive representation of horse racing in nineteenth-century fiction; it is a novel which exudes the sport in its narrative, its descriptions and in its conceptualisation of character. Published in 1894, it describes the increasingly popular and commercialised world of racing, a world in which racecourse enclosure, social zoning and middle-class ideas of leisure clashed with the traditional values of carnival release the sport continued to offer. Émile Zola’s Nana, published in 1880 and set in 1860s France, is not far behind the detail of Esther Waters with its racing descriptions, using Longchamp as the setting for an extended chapter which represents, like Moore’s novel, the class-based segregation of racecourse space alongside traditional carnival festivities.72 Significant in both representations is how the racecourse is negotiated by the working-class characters in each novel. What emerges from Esther Waters and Nana is a representation of the carnival space which is both disorientating and unstable; a symbolic depiction of the inability of the carnival


Esther Waters and Nana are used in this study as they provide the most detailed descriptions of racecourse space in Victorian literature. Furthermore Esther Waters depiction of working-class gambling is the biggest and most significant representation of the subject to emerge out of the fiction of the nineteenth century. There are several novels which contain minor references to horse racing and which, for the reasons of space, have been omitted from this study. Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil (1845) begins in an upper-class, socially exclusive club on the eve of the 1837 Derby in which various Lords and Earls discuss the impending race. The thrust of Disraeli’s use of horseracing is to portray an aristocracy that is failing and profligate with two of the aristocratic assembly, Alfred Mountchesney and Lord Eugene De Vere, described as having ‘exhausted life in their teens’. Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 2. Chapter Two describes the racecourse and the race itself but rather than portraying the carnival atmosphere Disraeli describes the betting ring, an antiquated meeting post at which members of the upper class gambled between themselves. Disraeli’s The Young Duke and Tancred also have passing references to horse racing and both again relay the gambling aristocracy. William Makepeace Thackeray’s Pendennis describes the Epsom Derby of the 1840s, focussing on the carnival as well as detailing class segregation the characters in the centre of the course remarking at the ‘countless dukes and grandees’ in the grandstand. William Makepeace Thackeray, Pendennis, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 741. The main thrust of horse racing in Pendennis is however similar to Disraeli’s representations in that it shows a profligate aristocracy wasting their time and money gambling. Anthony Trollope’s The Duke’s Children, like Disraeli’s Sybil, shows an exclusive club on the eve of the Derby and again links horse racing to wealth, privilege and the wasteful upper-classes. The Derby scenes in the novel do however show a degree of class mobility which the racecourse carnival could instigate, but the outcome of events is to show horse racing mainly as the preserve of the profligate upper classes.

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emblematic of the corruption of the carnival ideal by the ever-increasing commercialisation of racecourse space.

The most significant feature of Esther Waters as a novel about horse racing however is its presentation of working-class gambling. The novel was received by contemporary nineteenth-century commentators and modern critics alike as an anti-gambling polemic, with the editor of the Sporting Times going as far as calling Moore a ‘puritan killjoy’.73 However, although Esther Waters clearly does condemn working-class gambling, it also provides details of the circumstances which underpin it, describing the increase of racing information available to the working-class gambler and the class-biased acts betting was subjected to.

Furthermore the extended descriptions of discussion in which various working-class characters debate the relative merits of horse-racing form offers a representation of the autonomous, intellectual space of discussion that characterised the more positive aspects of working-class gambling in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Such a representation provides a counter narrative which runs against both the general critical opinion of the text and the narrative thrust of the novel itself. What emerges is neither a novel nor an author puritanically maligning gambling, but rather a text which offers a balanced and nuanced interpretation of working-class betting and its complex position within late-nineteenthcentury society.74


Sporting Times, in Joseph Hone, The Life of George Moore, (London: Gollancz, 1936), p. 195.

Moore famously re-wrote and revised Esther Waters numerous times in the late-nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century. The Oxford World’s Classics edition used for this study uses the copy-text from the 1899 English edition published by Walter Scott Ltd. Royal A. Gettmann and Lionel Stevenson have both made detailed studies of the impact of Moore’s repeated revisions to Esther Waters and although both concur that Moore extensively re-wrote various passages in order to eliminate errors, remove overbearing authorial intervention and generally tighten the prose style of the work, it is clear that any revisions to the racing scenes are minimal at most. Consequently the novel provides a representation of the racecourse and horse racing based around the latter part of the nineteenth century and the revisions made to the text in 1917 and 1920 do not affect the impression that horse racing in Esther Waters is very much horse racing of the 1890s. Royal A. Gettmann, ‘George Moore’s Revisions of The Lakes, The Wild Goose, and Esther Water’, PLMA, 2 (1944), pp. 540-555;

Lionel Stevenson ‘Introduction’, in George Moore, Esther Waters, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963).

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one which foregrounds the social carnival and holiday atmosphere of the meeting. There is ‘a boy walking through the crowd on a pair of stilts fully eight feet high’ and a vast array of ‘vagrants, itinerate musicians, [and] fortune-teller’s’ all mixing amongst the ‘fashion of grey frock-coats and silk sun-shades’ which characterise the social elite.75 The narrator goes on to describe the ‘great blur that was the racecourse’ (EW, p. 230), a site where distinguishing social markers become distorted and unidentifiable. However, as with the Firth, Doré and Punch images detailed in Chapter One, behind the carnival festivities is a depiction of the

vast amount of enclosure and social zoning which was implemented at Epsom:

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