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.
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?
“”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.
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