Visual Trope Gallery of the Week: Fisticuffs and skirmishes

The novels that have been indexed by the British Library Labs collection are typically embellished with illustrations featuring attractive scenery, frolicking cherubs, or decorous ladies making polite conversation in parlours.  However, a little rummaging turns up a wide variety of images on other themes, some of which are quite bizarre and occur more frequently than you would expect.

This week we’re going to have a look at an unsurprising (but quite entertaining) recurring visual trope: people engaging in full and frank exchanges of views, with occasional recourse to weaponry.

tommy toddles - fist shaking
Getting off to a vigorous start: an inhabited initial from the extraordinary Tommy Toddles’s Comic Almenak, for all’t foaks e Leeds (e t’ Wurld) an raand abaght, by Tommy Toddles, “Eesquear”, 1899
the golden galleon - a lunge at gilbert
A swashbuckling stab from The Golden Galleon, 1898, by Robert Leighton, author of “The Pilots of Pomona”.
the eye of istar - with a cry
Another stabbing attempt, this time featuring a rare female combatant.  From The Eye of Istar, 1897, by William Le Queux.
squanders - fighting
Drinking and fighting in the 1852 edition of William Carleton’s blistering satire The Squanders of Castle Squander
grant allen - fisticuffs 1
Michael’s Crag, by Grant Allen (1893), is delightfully illustrated with quirky sillhouettes.
charles o'malley - shovels
This 1879 edition of Charles Lever’s Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon, has a large number of beautiful and intriguing illustrations, including this image (evidently of a gambling-related quarrel?)
grant allen - fist shaking
Another angry man from Michael’s Crag.
leaves from my notebook - single combat
From Leaves from my Note-Book; tales portraying Irish Life and Character, by “An Ex-Officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary”

The fact that Ireland is over-represented here reflects my own interest in Irish books rather than anything about the makeup of the British Library images collection.  Or at least, I assume it does?

nutbrown roger - say your last
A polite interaction between a highwayman and a customer in Nutbrown Roger and I: A Romance of the Highway, by James Henry Yoxhall (1891).
a history of the irish nation - brian boru and the viking
A History of the Irish Nation, by Mary Francis Cusack (1877), depicts an unfortunate surprise for Brian Boru.
skeleton horseman - duel
A duelling scene from the delighfully bizarre 1866 historical horror The Skeleton Horseman, by “the high priest of cheap periodical fiction”, G. M. W. Reynolds.

“”The Skeleton Horseman, or the Shadow of Death”, is, in point of literary merit, the worst penny serial we have met with, but in subject it is perhaps the most astonishing.  It was issued in 1866, and was completed in sixty numbers and 222 chapters.  It is concerned with the secrets of Glendore Castle, and notably with a skeleton who walks about, sword in hand, administering terror and revenge in strong doses.”

– A. E. Waite, “By-Ways of Periodical Literature”.  Walford’s Antiquarian, XXI (1887), pp. 65-70.

bob norberry - connaught practice
A small argument is settled in a gentlemanlike manner, in this illustration from Bob Norberry, or, Sketches from the Notebook of an Irish Reporter (1844).

The hot-headed Galwegian fireworker Lieutenant Hyacinth O’Flaherty of The House by the Church-Yard might be familiar with the “Connaught Practice” illustrated in the above image:

I never fought a jewel yet, Puddock, my friend–and this will be the ninth–without cause. They said, I’m tould, in Cork, I was quarrelsome; they lied; I’m not quarrelsome; I only want pace, and quiet, and justice; I hate a quarrelsome man. I tell you, Puddock, if I only knew where to find a quarrelsome man, be the powers I’d go fifty miles out of my way to pull him be the nose. They lied, Puddock, my dear boy, an’ I’d give twenty pounds this minute I had them on this flure, to tell them how  damnably  they lied!

The House by the Church-Yard, chapter 10




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