«Author(s): Jamie Wise Title: Horse racing in nineteenth-century literature Date: 2013 Originally published as: University of Chester MA dissertation ...»
Regan, p. xii.
Regan, ‘Introduction’, p. xiii.
Richard Cave, A Study of the Novels of George Moore, (Buckinghamshire: Colin Smythe Ltd., 1978), p. 77.
Flavin, Gambling in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel, p. 202.
Ginger’s bet on an outsider for the St Ledger provides him with the hope and excitement of potential winnings. There is no sense here of the compulsion to bet, Ginger simply gambles on the horse and then waits with anticipation for it to run. Furthermore gambling becomes physically replenishing as the ‘greyness’ of Ginger’s pallor is altered by a flicker of happiness. The Bishop of Winchester, at a workingman’s meeting in the 1872, suggested that leisure hours could and should replenish the ‘physical force’ of the working body, but also that free time is wasted if it is spent in ‘dissipation, riot and drunkenness’.87 Here gambling moves away from the compulsive qualities of alcohol and its debauched associations, and towards something which, in its anticipation and excitement, provides physical refreshment.
There is now, for Ginger, ‘something to live for’; gambling, rather than sucking away his ‘very life blood’ as Richard Cave has offered, or devouring him in its compulsive jaws, as Moore himself contends, instead breathes new life into Ginger’s existence, replenishing him physically with the hope and anticipation of his bet.
presentation of horse racing, is the intellectual stimulation and community values instigated by working-class gambling. The ‘evening papers’ and the racing information they contain, now affordable and widely available to the working classes through the penny press, provide Ginger with a constant stream of information about his horse which becomes the source of debate – the ‘gossip of the bar’ – within the working-class community of gamblers. The
Bishop of Winchester, quoted in The Times, 11th October 1872, p. 8.
Head, Ginger among them, debating the form of each horse. Information such as the ‘halftrained’ (EW, p. 220) Signet-ring, Dewberry ‘the brilliant winner of the Newmarket stakes’ (EW, p. 220), and Necklace ‘winner of the Middle Park Plate and the One thousand’ (EW, p.
220) highlights the studious analysis of form taking place amongst the working class. The information available through the ‘evening papers’ creates a space of rational study and discussion for the working-class gamblers in the novel which directs their gambling away from the destructive pastime put forward by the author and critics alike.
Interestingly Moore describes such debates as ‘gossip’ and, in line with his treaty for the novel as a vindication of gambling compulsively devouring the lower orders, is an attempt to disenfranchise working-class betting as a legitimate source of intellectual debate, aligning it to a traditionally maligned and feminine form of interaction. However as Ross Chambers has suggested gossip has the ability to move away from traditional information paradigms and construct its own knowledge system.88 For the working-class gamblers in the bar their ‘gossip’, made possible by the democratised availability of the evening racing papers, creates its own system of knowledge, challenging the existing paradigm of middle and upper-class exclusivity and command over horse-racing information. Similarly Robin Dunbar has shown gossip to have significant value within a community, creating a legitimised and socially beneficial space of interaction.89 Ginger’s bet and the ‘gossip of the bar’ which follows allow him entry into a communal space in which autonomous opinions are exchanged. His bet, as well as giving him an individual sense of hope and excitement, gives
Ross Chambers, ‘Gossip and the Novel: Knowing Narrative and Narrative Knowing in Balzac, Mme de Lafayette, and Proust’, Australian Journal of French Studies, 23 (1986), pp. 210-245.
Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, (London: Faber and Faber, 1996)
personal and becomes imbibed with the comfort of community values and exchange.90 This communal and intellectual space is further emphasised with the extended discussion of the upcoming Derby. I quote fully the first paragraph and part of the second
from the beginning of Chapter Thirty One to give a sense of the detail afforded to workingclass gambling in the novel:
The sense of excitement for the Derby is not the compulsive pull of gambling but a genuine interest in which horse is going to win, an interest which is accompanied by knowledge and discussion. As previously noted the descriptions of the form – Fly-Leaf’s Two Thousand guineas victory, the ‘half-trained’ Signet-ring, Necklace’s ‘Middle Park Plate’ and One
emphasises not only the wealth of information which was available to the working classes through the penny press, but also highlights the extensive interest and evaluation of this information by the working-class gambler. Indeed the merits of each horse are extensively ‘argued every night at the ‘King’s Head’.
What is significant here is the foregrounding of individual gambling characters using different methods of selection, rather than a generic, stereotypical working-class gambler.
Ketley is ‘preoccupied with dreams and omens’ (EW, p. 212), Journeyman is a ‘scientific student of public form’ (EW, p. 243), John Randal is concerned with pedigrees and ‘blood’, while Stack follows the rumours surrounding ‘stable-money’. In presenting these various characters and methods of gambling the novel refuses to present a one-dimensional compulsive and degenerative image of the gambler. Knowledge of a horse’s pedigree, its form, or rumours of the stable money could all be gleaned from study of the racing press, and the more studious and careful the study the more likely this was to benefit the gambler;
Journeyman’s ‘scientific’ methods enable him to ‘note an advantage in the weights which would escape an ordinary observer’ (EW, p. 243). What is given prominence by the description of these characters and the discussions in the pub is the opening of a space of autonomy in which the exchange of ideas and the intellectual stimulation instigated by form study could flourish; a working-class space which is free from ideas of compulsion and degeneration and moves towards a legitimate and beneficial pastime. Even Ketley who depends on ‘dreams and omens’ is significant here as he represents the more benign gambler, one who passes over form study in favour of mystical signs. He is not presented as a slave to such omens however, his gambling is a means of leisure and enjoyment, emphasised by the unthreatening tone of the narrator when relating his musing – ‘Dewberries grew on the river banks, but they were not ripe yet’. Indeed the tone of the whole passage is hugely significant,
‘death-like silence’ which accompanies Ginger’s description of the filly Necklace. It does not imply a negative all-consuming addiction but rather a beneficial, unthreatening gambling community and a legitimate space of working-class leisure.
Furthermore, the discussions in the King’s Head provide a sense of appreciation for the sport which goes beyond gambling. Ginger’s admiration for Necklace is not simply the desire to have a bet on the horse for the Derby, he considers her to be ‘the finest mare of the century’ and his description of her One Thousand Guineas victory is listened to with ‘awed attention’ and a ‘death-like silence’. Although the likelihood is that he will have a bet on the horse this is an investment aligned to his admiration of the mare as a great athlete and his appreciation of the sport in general rather than a compulsion to win money. Similarly when the characters in the pub reminisce about Ginger’s riding ability it is not a discussion tinged with gambling, rather they allude to his ‘magnificent riding when he won the Liverpool on Foxcover (EW, p. 220).’ What is evident here is appreciation of horse racing as a sporting endeavour and admiration of sporting skill and ability which stretches far beyond the onedimensional stereotype of the compulsive working-class gambler.
In the article ‘The Ethics of the Turf’ by James Runciman which appeared in The Contemporary Review in 1889 the author tackles the problematic association of racing and gambling and attempts to justify racing as a sport which exists beyond betting’s compulsive clutches. This inevitably becomes a class-biased assessment condoning the ‘nobleman who [...] employs part of his surplus riches in maintaining a racing stud’ and bets only in a ‘languid off-hand manner’ whilst maligning the lower orders who gamble compulsively and ‘show every symptom of a national decadence’.91 For Runciman the degenerative gambling
James Runciman, ‘The Ethics of the Turf’, The Contemporary Review, 55 (1889), pp. 603-621, p. 605, p. 605, p. 608.
Those who have little or no knowledge of racing, who gamble only on ‘names and numbers’ and ‘do not know a horse from a mule’, cannot appreciate its sporting essence, such people, for whom ‘the splendid racers give [...] no enjoyment’ are ultimately not ‘true sportsmen’, degenerating to ‘wretches’ and ‘poor creatures’. Significantly these ‘creatures’ are aligned with the working classes while the ‘true sportsman’ is the upper-class gentleman as Runciman cannot reconcile the notion of thoroughbred appreciation with the leisure of the lower orders. If we return to Esther Waters, the characters who congregate in the King’s Head should be among the ‘poor creatures’ which Runciman describes. However the descriptions of Ginger’s ‘magnificent riding’, his own eulogising of the mare Necklace and the extended and knowledgeable discussion of the Derby portray an image of the working class who are not gambling randomly on ‘names and numbers’ but on individual horses backed up by their own studious hobby. Furthermore the ‘awed attention’ with which all the members of the pub listen to Ginger’s description of Necklace’s victory, shows an appreciation which moves beyond gambling and towards the ‘lovely horses shooting over the turf’ which Runciman confines to the wealthier classes. Such appreciation challenges not only the one-dimensional depiction of the compulsive gambler but also the stereotypical
Runciman, ‘The Ethics of the Turf’, p. 608.
carnival of the racecourse extends to an increasingly permanent undermining of class perceptions in the autonomous space created by working-class gambling.
The appreciation of horse racing as a sport is however something that Runciman
recognises can be attributed to the working classes in certain circumstances:
Runciman recognises the working classes’ ability to extend beyond the stereotype of degeneration and compulsion and appreciate the sporting endeavours of top-class horses. The crowds which flock to watch the country’s oldest classic, the St. Ledger, are ‘horsey to the backbone’, while the working classes of Newcastle were witnessed watching and appreciating the racecourse gallop of St. Simon, the undefeated Ascot Gold Cup winner of
1884. What is interesting here is that this appreciation appears to render gambling no longer degenerative, there is no harm in the knowledgeable working-class gambler betting the ‘odd half-crown’. In one sense this is because it is aligned with the temporary carnival of the racecourse, gambling is given licence because the ‘tourists’ are taking a holiday from normal social customs. However the crucial point to recognise here is that appreciation and knowledge of the sport extends beyond this carnival as the working classes ‘criticize the animals and gain topics for months of conversation’; it becomes a permanent arena of leisure which moves past the temporary licence of the racecourse. Ginger’s riding skill and appreciation of Necklace as a champion race mare highlight working-class knowledge of horseracing and the admiration which comes with it, creating a permanent space of discussion
Runciman, ‘The Ethics of the Turf’, p. 608-609.
no longer the preserve of the more privileged members of society. Similarly the betting of the gambling characters in Esther Waters aligns more with Runciman’s harmless ‘odd halfcrowns’ than his earlier descriptions of compulsion as the scene of Derby discussion in the novel present not an obsessive yearning to bet but a desire to discuss and share opinions on the sport in a communal and increasingly legitimised and permanent space of mutual appreciation.