«Author(s): Jamie Wise Title: Horse racing in nineteenth-century literature Date: 2013 Originally published as: University of Chester MA dissertation ...»
The Grand Stand, dotted like a ceiling with flies, stood out distinct and harsh upon a burning plain of blue. The light beat fiercely upon the booths, the carriages, the vehicles, the ‘rings,’ the various stands. The country around was lost in the haze and dazzle of the sunlight; but a square mile of downland fluttered with flags and canvas, and the great mob swelled, and smoked, and drank, shied sticks at Aunt Sally, and rode wooden horses (EW, p. 229).
Despite the excesses of the carnival – the smoking, drinking, and ‘shrieking’ of the ‘great mob’, the ‘flags and caravans’, the ‘Aunt Sally’ fairground game, and the ‘wooden horses’ – the separation of the classes by means of priced enclosure provides a decisive backdrop to the racecourse scene, as the Grand Stand, the area of defined social zoning, stands out ‘distinct and harsh’ against the festivities. Indeed the entire description is one which emphasises the many enclosures of the racecourse. The centre of the course which is free to enter and houses the ‘booths’ and ‘carriages’, along with the more exclusive ‘rings’ of the upper classes, and the other ‘various stands’ each demanding their own entrance fee, are all specifically separated class-defined spaces; the ‘light beat[s] fiercely’ down on each enclosures emphasising the distinct and enforced segregation of the classes and the fierce hegemonic control of the racecourse space. Such control is further emphasised by the way in which the
George Moore, Esther Waters, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 228. All further references will be given in the body of the text as EW.
the centre of the course walking becomes disorientating: ‘The form of the ground was lost in the multitude and they could only tell by the strain in their limbs whether they were walking up or down hill’ (EW, p. 229). On one level their inability to ascertain which direction they are walking – whether up or down – is symbolic of the carnival inverting class hierarchies, but given the extensive restrictions made by the ‘Grand Stand’ and the other enclosures such a suspension of social paradigms becomes redundant. Instead de Certeau’s concept of walking as a ‘space of enunciation’ is problematized; restricted by the various priced enclosures, the ‘form of the ground’ is lost because class-defined hegemony asserts the fierce light of its control over autonomous movement by means of the spatial organisation of the racecourse.76 Ironically it is the pressing mass of the carnival space itself which precludes the characters’ ability to walk freely and as such their disorientation becomes symbolic, not only of the restrictions implemented by the various enclosures, but of the Derby carnival’s corruption and manipulation into a space of capitalist leisure.
The various stands and enclosures of Epsom however create a space of contradiction in which elements of the class inversion can still flourish. The characters in Esther Waters use Barnard’s Stand and the ring in front of it – the ‘plebeian enclosure’ – which is afforded the best view of the finish line.77 John Randall describing the scene to Sarah remarks how the runners finish ‘opposite to where we is standing. Yonder, by Barnard’s Ring’ (EW, p. 227), specifically highlighting that the working-class characters will get the best view of the finish line. Although this stand is temporary, indicative of the temporary nature of the carnival, its position on the racecourse is still an infringement of class privilege and an undermining of hegemonic control. By using this enclosure the characters undermine the capitalist space of
de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 98.
Bayles, Atlas and Review of British Race-Courses, in Hunn, Epsom, p. 106.
centre of the course moves away from a symbolic corruption of the carnival space and back towards an emblematic inversion of class boundaries. The ‘form of the ground’ is lost because it is no longer a secure place in which middle-class capitalism can exert full control over its own capitalist space.
In Émile Zola’s Nana the extended description of the Grand Prix de Paris run at Longchamp racecourse presents a similar focus on racecourse enclosure to the one detailed in Esther Waters.78 The image of ‘the Empress entering the little central stand’ is a display which specifically highlights the social zoning of the racecourse, emphasising the exclusive enclosure of the upper classes. 79 Conversely the description of the centre of the Longchamp
course, like Epsom, is one which presents an atmosphere of carnival freedom:
Carriages were still arriving. By this time they were drawn up five rows deep, spreading out alongside the rail in a dense mass speckled with the light patches made by the white horses. Beyond them other carriages stood about separately in complete disorder, looking as if they had been stranded on the grass. Wheels and horses were pointing in all directions, side by side, askew,
Phillip A. Duncan, ‘Genesis of the Longchamp Scene in Zola’s Nana’, Modern Language Notes, 8 (1960), pp.
684-689. Charles Dickens details the class segregation at Longchamp for an article written for Household Words in 1851 and, although slightly earlier than the Zola description, gives an indication of the long-standing and rigidly defined nature of enclosure at the course. Charles Dickens, ‘French Racing’, Household Words, 4 (1851), pp. 213-216.
Émile Zola, Nana, George Holden (trans.), (London: Penguin, 1972), p. 357. All further references will be given in the body of the text as N. I am conscious of the fact that I have paid a great deal of attention to the language of Nana, and as this is a translation from the original French text, I am primarily analysing the language of the translator. However, comparing the translation used here by George Holden to the translation by Douglas Parmée for the Oxford World Classics series, shows there to be very little difference in the language used, and certainly the contrast between the enclosures of the racecourse and the classes which use them is a contextual fact which transcends the language barrier. I quote the two parallel passages below from the Oxford World Classic edition to show the similarities between the two translations. Note particularly the use of the word ‘dense’ in both translations and the way the jumbled carriages are similarly described. Note also the use of the same phrase ‘forbidden ground’ by both translators: ‘Carriages were still arriving. They were by this time drawn up five rows deep, and a dense mass of them spread along the barriers, checkered by the light coats of white horses. Beyond them other carriages stood about in comparative isolation, looking as though they had stuck fast in the grass. Wheels and harness were here, there and everywhere, according as the conveyances to which they belonged were side by side, at an angle, across and across or head to head. […] The scene resembled the field where a fair is being held, and above it all, amid the confused motley of the crowd, the drinking booths raised their gray canvas roofs which gleamed white in the sunshine’. Émile Zola, Nana, (trans.) Douglas Parmée, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 280. ‘The man at the gate, not daring to stop the woman hanging on the count's arm, had allowed them to enter the enclosure. Nana, greatly puffed up at the thought that at last she was setting foot on the forbidden ground, put on her best behavior and walked slowly by the ladies seated at the foot of the stands’. Zola, Nana, (trans.) Douglas Parmée, p. 281.
From the ‘dense’ throng of carriages in ‘complete disorder’, to the ‘confused motley of the crowd’ and the ‘drinking-booths’ of excess, this is a ‘fairground scene’ mirroring the carnival of the Derby. Like Esther Waters however negotiating this carnival space is problematised and becomes symbolic of the hegemonic control enforced by the infrastructure of the racecourse. The ‘dense mass’ of carriages ‘five rows deep’ suggest a confinement, symbolic of the restrictions of the racecourse’s social zoning, with even the carriages free from the throng appearing to be ‘stranded on the grass’. Furthermore the carnival and movement within it becomes disorientating, the ground is a multitude of ‘[w]heels and horses’ with carriages arranged ‘askew, at right-angles or head to head’. As in Esther Waters the ‘form of the ground is lost’, walking is no longer a ‘space of enunciation’, with the disorientating ‘dense mass’ of the carnival implying both the hegemonic control of racecourse enclosure and the carnival’s corruption and manipulation into the spatial organisation of the racecourse.80 It is a scene in complete contrast to the order of the socially exclusive enclosures with their ‘five symmetrical stands, rising in galleries of brickwork and timber in the middle of the weighing-enclosure’ (N, p. 345), a description which reinforces the hegemonic control of racecourse infrastructure as the ‘symmetrical’ framework of these stands come to symbolise the implementation of rigidly defined class segregation.
However Longchamp racecourse like Epsom is a space in which contradictions can flourish. When Nana is escorted into the weighing-in enclosure by Count Vandeuvres she
infiltrates and compromises this exclusive upper-class space:
de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 98.
Powerless the stop this intrusion the ‘attendant at the gate’ becomes symbolic of the incomplete hegemonic control the racecourse wields over its own space, the weighing-in enclosure may be ‘forbidden ground’ but it cannot completely seal off its exclusive zones from the lower orders. Just as Nana has ‘imposed herself’ (N, p. 364) on the Count with ‘her coarse plebeian laughter’ (N, p. 364) so too has she ‘imposed herself’ on the spatial organisation of the racecourse. The intrusion by Nana onto the ‘forbidden ground’ is similar to the temporary structure of Barnard’s Stand at Epsom; both are temporarily afforded a privileged position within the racecourse which consequently undermines the social zoning of that racecourse space. With characters from both novels occupying such a position Esther Waters and Nana reveal how the hegemonic control of the racecourse is paradoxically defined by its spatial organisation but also undermined by it; that is the exclusive enclosures which are emblematic of the power of social zoning can never completely control or restrict their own exclusivity.
Although Esther Waters contains an extended description of the racecourse, its carnival and its class defined enclosures, it is a novel primarily concerned with horse racing as a medium for working-class gambling. George Moore indicated his own position on the theme and direction Esther Waters would take in a letter to Madame Lanza in which he describes the novel as ‘all about servants – servants devoured by betting’.81 It is clear from this that his intention was to portray working-class gambling as an addiction, highlighting how the lower orders could be consumed by the compulsive, devouring pull of betting.
Indeed the trajectory of the gambling characters in the novel aligns with this summation: John Randal gambles away his possessions and later commits suicide; Ketley after losing all his
George Moore, letter to Madame Lanza, in A. Norman Jeffares, George Moore, (London: Longman, 1970), p.
losing heavily on a race, is dismissed from the narrative; Sarah steals from her employers to finance her gambling; and William’s final bet is a bet for his life, a doomed attempt to win enough money to go to Italy and recover from illness.
The general critical position of both modern and nineteenth-century reviewers when discussing Esther Waters is to emphasise this idea of moral degeneration and compulsion.
The Times in 1894 proposed that the novel offered its readers a warning by showing ‘the demoralisation of the lower classes by betting’.82 Stephen Regan, in his introduction to the 2012 Oxford World Classics edition, argues that Moore explicitly links gambling with drinking as ‘mutually reinforcing intoxicants’ implying that both are compulsive addictions.83 A point he emphasises by suggesting the wasting and purging of the jockeys serves as an apt metaphor for the ‘general diminishment and impoverishment of humanity caused by horse racing’.84 Richard Cave, in a similar vein, argues that the characters in the novel ‘gamble away their very life-blood’, paying the ultimate price for their compulsions.85 Finally Michael Flavin offers the most nuanced and insightful interpretation of Esther Waters and the way in which gambling in the novel exposes social ills and class-biased laws, however he concludes that it is ultimately a presentation, as Moore intended, of ‘an environment in which gambling destroys both servants and masters’.86 Although these are all astute and well-reasoned interpretations they fail to adequately analyse the significance of the lengthy descriptions of working-class gambling within the text. Beneath Moore’s own intentions and the narrative thrust of the novel, there is, I will argue, a counter narrative which reveals the potential of working-class gambling to function