Thursday, 26 February 2015

Charles G Harper: journalist, artist, sexist

With International Women's Day forthcoming, and its particular focus on the centenary (more or less) of the women's suffrage movement, it seems appropriate to mention an egregious example of the kind of attitudes this movement had to contend with. After reading Charles George Harper's South Devon Coast, I was inclined to rate this artist and travelogue writer quite highly as a person, but my opinion plummeted on finding his Revolted Woman; past, present, and to come, a diatribe against women - writers, particularly - with social and career aspirations. Nor is my view much helped by his crass satire Hearts Do Not Break: a Tale of the Lower Slopes.

The preface sets the scene:
It might have been supposed, having in mind her first and most stupendous faux pas, that Woman would be content to sit, for all time, humbly under correction, satisfied with her lot until the crack of doom, when man and woman shall be no more; when heaven and earth shall pass away, and pale humanity come to judgment.

But it is essentially feminine and womanlike (and therefore of necessity illogical) that she should be forgetful of the primeval curse which Mother Eve brought upon the race, and that she should, instead of going in sackcloth and ashes for her ancestor's disobedience, seek instead, not only to be the equal of man, but, in her foremost advocates — the strenuous and ungenerous females who periodically crucify the male sex in sexual novels written under manly pseudonyms — aspire to rule him, while as yet she has no efficient control over her own hysterical being.

Humanity is condemned by the First Woman's disobedience to earn a precarious livelihood by the sweat of its brow. All the toil and trouble of this work-a-day world proceed from her sex; and yet the cant of 'Woman's Mission' fills the air, and the New Woman is promised us as some sort of a pedagogue who shall teach the ' Child-Man ' how to toddle in the paths of virtue and content. How absurd it all is, when the women who write these things pander to the depraved palate which gained Holywell Street a living and an unenviable notoriety years ago; when they obtain three-fourths of their readers from their fellow -women who read their productions hopeful of indecency., and conceive themselves cheated if they do not find it. Let us, however, do these women writers, or 'Literary Ladies', as they have labelled themselves — margarine masquerading as ' best fresh ' — the justice to acknowledge that they do not halt halfway on the road to viciousness, though to reach their goal they wade knee-deep in abominations. Here, indeed, they are no cheats, and it remains the unlikeliest sequel that you close their pages and yet do not find Holywell Street outdone.

Consider: If morals are to be called into question, can it be disputed that, as compared with Woman, Man is the moral creature, and has ever been, from, the time of Potiphar's wife, up to the present?

Woman is the irresponsible creature who cannot reason nor follow an argument to its just conclusion — who cannot control her own emotions, nor rid herself of superstition. What question more pertinent, then, to ask than this; If mankind is to be led by the New Woman, is she, first of all, sure of the path?

Charles G Harper
The diatribe starts with a general attack on the “New Woman”, then moves on to fashions such as Rational Dress; women in art, literature, politics, and social polity; “old-fashioned termagants and ill-made matches of celebrated men”; domestic strife; and finally “women in men’s employments”. This is possibly the most vitriolic section, especially when it gets to railing against women in Harper’s own line of work, journalism, where he presents his own male club of notoriously corrupt hacks as a paragon of ethics, a body of men who "took no bribes" ... yeah, sure. (This portrayal is so patently counterfactual - this was written only three years after Gissing's New Grub Street - that you do suspect he's trolling).
As for journalism, women have invaded the newspaper offices to some purpose, and it is owing to them that the modern newspaper is usually an undistinguished farrago of wild and whirling words, ungrammatical at best, and at its worst a jumble of more or less malicious gossip, without sequence or thread of reason. The 'lady journalist' is no respecter of persons or institutions, and an easy impudence is natural to her contributions, whether her subject be peer or peasant. Proportion is in no sense her gift or acquirement: the death of a member of the 'submerged tenth' in a court off Fleet Street is more thrilling to her senses than the fall of a statesman from office; the cut of a dress or the shade of a ribbon wears an importance in her eyes that the rise and progress of trades can never win; and the babble of Social Science Congresses, or the lecturing of University Extensionists transcends the Parliamentary debater in her mind. 'Actuality' is her shibboleth and gush her output; and the heart actuates her pen rather than the head.
The journalist of years bygone was a very different being. His — for the old-time journalist was always masculine — his knowledge of frocks and flounces was nil; his habitat was generally a pothouse, and his speech was as often as not thick and husky with potations; but however confused his talk, and however objectionable his personality, his utterances in the press were apt and luminous and he took no bribes. In this last respect the name and trade of a 'lady journalist' are somewhat stale and blown upon of late, and she has been revealed as the debaucher of newspaper morality, who, in league with the advertisement department, praises the shoddy goods of the advertising tradesman, while he who relies not upon réclame but on excellence of workmanship is dismissed with faint praise, or mentioned not at all. Worse than this unscrupulous fending for her employer — editor or advertising manager — she stoops to gifts in coin and kind from eager shopkeepers, panting to gain the ear and open the purse of the public, and when she has a fancy for any particular article, she begs it with an assurance born of the knowledge that her wishes will not be refused by the tradesman who has that article in his gift. He dare not do so, for his puff would be missing from the 'organ that would otherwise have proclaimed the excellence of his wares to a gulled and gullible world.

Certainly, in all the man's employments she has invaded, in no other is woman so powerful for ill as in journalism. 
The book concludes with one of the "several interesting caricatures of women as birds of prey and such" noted in the 2009 The New Woman in Print and Pictures. If you want to read it, it's here: Revolted Woman; past, present, and to come (Elkin Matthews, London, 1894, Internet Archive cu31924021875566).

There doesn't seem to be much biography available for Charles George Harper. There's a 12-page article on him - The English traveller: Charles G. Harper, 1863-1943, N[orman]. W. Webster Antiquarian Book Monthly Review, 1974, issue 16. But it appears to be largely an extended tour of his travel books (all it has to say on Revolted Woman is "Another miscellaneous work ... had appeared in 1894"), with a few intriguing but unpursued asides such as that "He was a close friend of [WS] Gilbert’s" and that "He was always a stalwart conservative although, as we shall see, by no means a conventional one". Webster concludes: "Harper, so eloquent on expressing himself on the English countryside, was curiously guarded in revealing details of his personal life".

A certain amount of detail, however, is gleanable from his book prefaces - that he was from London ("To me, a Londoner" - A Literary Man's London) and later moved to Petersham, Surrey (the address in prefaces of his early-1900s books such as Rural Nooks around London), and this gives sufficient detail to augment from censuses.

Although the image in his books is of a gentleman of leisure with a private income, he came from humble beginnings. He was born in Marylebone in July 1863, and the 1881 and 1891 censuses find him living with his parents in Connaught Street, Marylebone; his father was Samuel Harper, a lodging-house keeper. By 1901, the whole family (now including CG's wife "Millie") had moved to 'Craigmyle', Petersham - Samuel is described as "living on own means"). By 1911, CG's father had died, and CG was head of the household. He died, aged 80, in 1943, and was buried at St Peter and All Saints, Petersham, on 17th December 1943.

Harper wrote getting on for 200 books, mostly self-illustrated travelogues. He was astute in spotting the growing motoring market, with books such as the Burrow R.A.C. guides and "The Autocar" road book. The exceptions to genre included a few books on art technique - English Pen Artists of To-day (1892), A Practical Handbook of Drawing for Modern Methods of Reproduction (1894), Some English Sketching Grounds (1897) - as well as the appalling Revolted Woman (noted by Sos Eltis in Acts of Desire: Women and Sex on Stage 1800-1930 as an example of "the most virulent contemporary anti-feminism"), and a single novel, Hearts Do Not Break: a Tale of the Lower Slopes (London, K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1896).

At least via any online sources, including the Nineteenth Century British Library Newspapers archive, there's very little I can find in contemporary sources commenting on Harper's non-travel works. It'd be nice to think that even in 1894, reviewers found Revolted Woman too stupid to deserve attention. The Saturday Review piece, probably takes the best route in not taking it too seriously; outrage would be feeding the troll, since it's hard to believe Harper seriously believed in his argument based on the story of Eve, or (especially in the light of his satire Hearts Do Not Break) in the high ethical principles of male journalists.
Revolted Woman. By Charles G. Harper. London: Elkin Mathews. 1894.
Mr. Harper, like a modern John Knox, denounces the monstrous regiment of women, making the "New Woman" the text of a discourse that bristles with historical instances and present day portents. It is an odd jumble of "Bess" of Hardwick and Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, and the devotees of Bloomer, and other specimens of the emancipated, long since lain in limbo. Mr. Harper deals with these vain and transient extravagances with an amusing seriousness, as if the business were urgent, and he had but a short time to vent his wrath upon the puppets of the show. Something, he feels, must be done to stem the outrageous tide. "Society," he tells us, "has been ringing lately with the writings and doings of the pioneers of the New Woman, who Forget that woman's mission is submission." Now, with all deference to Mr. Harper, we protest that these same pioneers do not forget that woman’s mission is submission—the submission of man. Mr. Harper is, in fact, a little unfair. 
- The Saturday Review, November 17, 1894
But The Literary World was less cool about it:
Mr. Charles G. Harper was, if we mistake not, one of those who assisted a daily contemporary to fill up its columns with a burning controversy with regard to the advance of the softer sex, and now he has amplified his arguments, spiced them a good deal too highly, imported a quality which seems perilously like venom, and, to crown it all, borrowed from the sex he attacks so vigorously a Benjamin’s portion of acerbity. He is, in fact, a special pleader of the worst type, to whom logic makes but an indifferent appeal. For him mere statement is enough, and doubtless if any woman had directed such unscrupulous and unreasoning invective against men, Mr. Harper would have at once exclaimed against the want of finish about the whole performance.
Mr. Parker is the possessor of a vigorous pen, but injudicious as regards its use. He has a kind of rough ability which shows itself in pages of prose that is not without good qualities. But in a book the very title of which asserts that argument is intended the style is not to be first considered. Mr. Harper has a brisk nib, but he does not dip it in the ink of logic. In consequence, his most important chapter, 'Woman Up To Date' is, as far as insight and reason are concerned, as worthless a piece of writing as we have ever had occasion to denounce.
- The Literary World, Volume 50, p434, November ?? 1894
Charles G Harper - The Sketch, 30 Sep 1896
retrieved from Google scan
As to Hearts Do Not Break: a Tale of the Lower Slopes: this, Harper's only novel, is a satire on London literary life ("the lower slopes" alludes to "the lower slopes of Parnassus", a popular Victorian cliché for the lower echelons of literateurs. It particularly focuses on the then fashionable controversy/scare about "literary log-rolling"; the idea that there existed walled gardens of authors, within groups such as the Authors' Club, reciprocally promoting their work.

Reviews appear scarce because, according to the very hostile one in The Sketch ("pretentious fiction ... pseudo-philosophical dialogue ... there might be something to be said in Mr. Harper’s favour if he did but chance to compose pleasant, intelligent, and grammatical English"):
You will never have the opportunity of reading this novel, for the publishers have sent out a request to the reviewers to return it, as the author does not wish it to be put into circulation.
- The Book and its Story, A Suppressed Satire, The Sketch, 30th Sep 1896
The Sketch doesn't say why. Personally, I wonder if its satire was so unsubtle and hostile as to get into libel territory, and that he was quietly warned off distribution. For instance, it mentions a "Mr. Julius Floret, a Yankee cotton-broker" buying a newspaper called the Piccadilly Newsman.
‘He [Floret] made his vast fortune … by trafficking in the most sordid and filthy tenements of the Bowery, where the dregs of New York eke out a scarcely endurable existence amid such filthy and insanitary surroundings as we Londoners, although we have an East End, have no conception of.  He was, and perhaps is now, in the Municipal Ring of corruption and jobbery, which gives its members immunity from the improvement schemes that would clear away the noisome dens whence he draws his plague-spotted dollars. He it is who bribes the police of that citythe most venal class of men, I believe, on this earthto swear false information, that deprives small drink-shop-keepers of their licenses, and who purchases their property at a depreciated price to get the licenses renewed again in an easy way, of which only he and his fellows know the secret. He gives out to the world that he is a cotton-broker, and, indeed, so he is, on a small scale. But the society of New York will not receive him. New York society is not particularly fastidious, but it draws the line at Mr. Julius Floret and his family ...’.
- Hearts Do Not Break: a Tale of the Lower Slopes
Floret is highly recognisable, even now, as a very savage slur aimed at William Waldorf Astor, who bought the Pall Mall Gazette in 1892, and "the Honourable Digby Digby", Floret's appointee editor ...
... Digby's knowledge of literature and belles-lettres begins and ends with "Ruff's Guide to the Turf"
... is clearly Henry Cust, the MP and editor appointed by Astor. Another character, the "stockbroker turned poet" Breton Windus, is likely the very minor poet William Edward Windus, the silent partner who bankrolled the founding of Chatto & Windus. I don't immediately recognise any others, but I'm sure the identifications were obvious to Harper's contemporaries associated with the Pall Mall Gazette.

For those who like pursuing such threads, the novel is online via the British Library: BLL01014812771 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options). Whatever its merits otherwise, it does has the odd good parody in it, such as Poe's The Raven done as Those Swedish Matches.

Addendum: I just found another review:
If the scramble for wealth, as some times unscrupulously practised on the Stock Exchange, in the bucket shop, or in the office of the professional company-monger, presents human nature in an unattractive form, Mr. Charles G. Harper, in Hearts do not Break, seeks to reveal still greater depths of meanness—that is, if he is to be taken seriously, and unless this be done the book is destitute of point. The reader is introduced to the members of the Euterpe Club—pseudo-poets, artists, and journalists, whose sole claim to distinction lies in each one's exaggerated opinion of his own powers, or in his ability to find some needy artist willing to permit his work to be signed by an Euterpian, for the members are possessed of very easy morals. The authors of both these books disclaim any attempt to portray actual people or to depict real events. It may be remarked, however, that a certain swindler named Jonas Balfe, arrested in Buenos Ayres, is mentioned in The City [an 1896 novel by Frederic Carrel], while many well-known men of letters and artists are alluded to, in somewhat questionable taste, by Mr. Harper, and the Pioneer Club is spoken of as "that home of strange women, and seething centre of corruption, whence proceed malarial theories and studies in morbid pathology, miscalled novels." In conception and treatment, Hearts do not Break accords with the style, which includes coined words such as "beslavered" and "fellow-feminines."
- The Academy, July 26, 1896, No. 1264
- Ray

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