Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, March 19, 2023


Openers:  There are many who recall full well the rush ar Chinaman's Flat.  It was in the height of its prosperity that an assault was comitted upon a female of a character so diabolical in itself, as to have aroused the utmost anxiety in the public as well as in the police, to punish the perpetrator thereof.

The case was placed in my hands, and as it presented difficulties so great as to appear to an ordinary observer, almost insurmountable, the overcomoijng of which was likely to gain approbation in the proper quarter, I gladly accepted the risk.

I had little to go upon at first.  One dark night, in a tent in the very centre of a crowded throughfare, a female had been preparing to retire to rest, her husband being in the habit of remaining at the public-house until a late hour, when a man in a crepe mask -- who must have gained an earlier entrance -- seized her, and in the prosecution of a criminal offense, had injured and abused the unfortunate woman so much that her life was despaired of.  Although there was a light burning at the time, the woman was barely able to describe his general appearance; he appeared to her like a German, had no whiskers, fair hari, was low in stature, and stoutly built.

-- "Traces of Crime" by "W. W." ["Waif Wander"] (Mary Helena Fortune) (first published as "Memoirs of an Australian Plice Officer, No. IV:  Traces of Crime," from The Australian Journal:  A Weekly Record of  Amusing and Instructive Literature, Science and the Arts, December 2, 1865; reprinted in Shadow Voices:  300 Years of Irish Genre Fiction:  A History in Stories, edited by John Connolly, 2021)

In this early example of the police crime story, our unnamed Australian police officer latches onto the a singular clue that might bring about the arrest of the man guilty of a brutal rape:  the tattoo of a small anchoe and heart on the criminal's upper arm.   Athough many people in Australia were tattooed, few had that specific one.  After several weeks of investigation, our police officer settled on the mot likely person to have committed the crime -- a man working in a digging some seven miles from where the rape had occurred.  One fly in the pinment remained; it was uncertain whether the man had the distinctive tattoo on his arm since the tattoo would normally be hidden by a shirt sleeve.  Our police officer goes undercover to the mine digging and befriends his suspect and soon is working side by side with him.  After more than a week, however, the man had not removed his shirt.  Does he have the tattoo or not?  Sneaking up to the man's tent one night and surreptitiously cutting a small opening in the rear of the tent to observe the man's actions, he is surprised to see his suspect carefully cutting a boot into small pieces and eventually throwing those pieces in a fire to destroy them.  Our police officer is able to retrieve the boot pieces and join them together to form a distinct sole pattern.  What to make of that?  Later, a body has been discovered nearby.  Near the corpse is a piece of a shattered button, which appears to match a shirt button the suspect has.  A print in the mud appears to match the recovered boot sole the suspect had tried to destroy.  The dead man's widow stated that someone had tried to become familiar with her, not realizing that she was amrried, but continued his pursuit even after he found she was married; he husband had chased the man off and threatened him.  The suspect is arrested for the murder.  He also has the tell-tale tattoo.  He had believed that he had successfully hidden the body of the murdered man in a water hole and di not realize that his victim had enough life left in him to crawl out of the hole enough for his body to be found.  Being superstitious (as so many criminals are), he felt that the discover of the body was divine retribution and he promptly confessed to the murder, the rape, and a goodly number of other atrocities,  He was tried and quickly hung.

A couple of things of interest here.  The Australian Journal was the first periodical in the country to target a mostly female readership.  Then, as now, stories of crime held a great fascination for female readers.  The crime of rape was never mention in this story and was only obliquely referred to -- indicating the social sensitivites of the time as well as those of the females reading the tale (although many, I'm sure, knew full well what the "heinous crime" was).  The "Memoirs of an Australian Police Officer" was a popular on-going series in the magazine.  It had been initiated by a writer named James Skipp Borlase, who was fired for plagerism, and the series was then continued by Mary Helena Fortune under her "W.W." or her "Waif Wander" pseudonyms.  Police procedural work and, indeed, a true detective element, are absent here; what is important to the readership  is that a crime has been solved, the perpetrator punished, and justice served.  Note also that this was early days -- the concept of a female writer of crime stories was basically unfamiliar, although Carolyn Clive wrote what has been considered the first such story a decade earlier, and Harriet Spofford's crime stories began about the same time as Fortune's; "Seeley Register's" The Dead Letter appeared soon after Fortune's first crime story.

Not much is known about Mary Helena Fortune.  She was born in Belfast and was about twenty years old when she and her father moved to Canada.  She married Joseph Fortune, had a son by him, then moved to Australia with her father and her son, leaving her husband behind.  A second son was born in Australia and Mary claimed Fortune to be the father, although that was impossible.  She eventually married a policeman but that marriage soon ended.  It is unknown whether she ever divorced either husband.  She began writing short stories and poetry under pseudonymns -- one of the few "respected" ways a woman could earn money at the time.  Her writing was good enough to bring an offer for a sub-editorship at an Australian magazine, but the offer was rescinded when it was found that she was -- gasp! -- a female.  She evidently was an alcoholic; police reports noted that she had been jailed several times for drunkeness.  Her surviving son (her eldest died of meningitis when very young) was a career criminal and had been jailed for bank robbery and safe cracking.  She stopped writing when her eysight began to fail and she was buried in a grave originally intended for another.  Her role as one of the pioneers of the detective story was unknown until 1950, when it was discovered that she had written the "W.W." stories.  (The above information comes from John Connolly's fascinating introduction to  "Traces of Crime" in Shadow Voices -- an anthology recommended without reservation.  Fortune having spent her first two decades in Ireland was enough to justify her inclusiuon in the book.)


  • Colin Cotterill, Six-and-a-Half Deadly Sins.  A Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery.  "On 25 December 1978, the concrete public address system pole in South That Luang's area 6 unexpectedly blew itself up, a Lao sin with a severed finger sewn into the hem passes through the national postal system unchallenged and Vietnam invaded Cambodia...A couple of weeks on, China invades Vietnam and, but for the cunning of Siri and Civilai would have passed through Laos to do it.  The finger in the sin and the aborted invasion of Laos are intrinsically woven together as the oldies find themselves together again in the far north of Laos, following clue after clue and uncovering even more nasty goings on."  This is a 2015 paperback published and printed in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos -- "All royalties from the sale of this book remain in Laos at the wish of the author and publisher.  Money raised from these books will be used to produce books in Lao through Big Brother Mouse and to promote Lao literacy among Lao.'
  • Gordon R. Dickson, Time to Teleport and Delusion World.  Omnibus of two science fiction novels.  In Teleport: "The world was quiet -- and that was bad...for it was the quiet not of peace but of stagnation.  Strife was ended but so was progress, growth, human striving -- except in the hidden laboratories and redoubts of the underground Members of Humanity.  They dared to look ahead; they dared to try and struggle and move forward.  And unless Eli Johnstone, Spokesman for the Automonous Goup that runs the world, can come come to grips with their unflinching dedication to the future, they could just be the spark to blow a planet apart..."  In Delusion:  "There had to be a reason why that isolated human colony had been able to survive mankind's implacable enemies.  But nobody had been able to get to the quaintly named Dunroamin to find out.  If they had a secret defense, it could be the answer to a hundred planets' prayers.  And Feliz Gebrod realized as he came in for a crash landing that he'd know the secret sooner than he'd expected.  Except that what he encountered was a life-or-death riddle that had nothing to do with stellar defense.  It was this:  how can two mutually irreconcilable Utopias occupy the same place at the same time?"  Early Dickson novels from 1960 and 1961, based on stories originally published in 1955.
  • "Jack Kilborn" (J. A. Kornrath), Afraid.  Thriller/horror novel.  "Welsome to Safe Haven, Wisconson.  Miles from everything, one road in and out, this peaceful town has never needed a full-time police force.  Until now...A helicopter has crashed near Safe Haven and unleashed something horrifying.  Now this merciless force is about to do what it does best.  Isolate.  Terrorize. Annilhilate.  As residents begin dying in a storm of gory violence, Safe Haven's only chance for survival will rest on an aging county sheriff, a firefighter, and a single mom.  And each will have this harrowing thought:  Maybe death hasn't come to their town by accident..."  Kornrath, a self-publishing and self-promotion guru, is the author of the Jack Daniels mystery series, as well as a number of horror and thriller novels.  Although he sometimes aims for the cheap seats, his books are unflaggingly entertaining.
  • Robert W. Walker, Blind Instinct.  A Jessica Coran thriller.  "FBI Medical Examiner Dr. Jessica Coran and Inspector Richard Sharpe have been enlisted to spearhead the investigation of a series of crucifixion murders -- a bizarre rash of ritual killings in London's underground.  The madman has left a trail of carnage unequalled in the history of serial crime.  But he has also left no clues to his identity, or to his unfathomable motive.  It begins as a terrifying challenge for Coran and Sharpe.  What it becomes is an invitation to enter the deep abyss of a killer's mind, a chilling dare that will draw them closer than ever to the nature of evil and the rapture of death at the dawn of a new millennium."  Walker has published  over seventy books, mainly thrillers, horror, and mysteries -- sixteen of them in the Jessica Coran "Instinct" series.

The Redman's View:  Here's a short, fifteeen-minute film directed by D. W. Griffith in 1909. that sympathically depicts the plight of the American Indian.  To my mind, it's hard to reconcile this with Griffth's later overtly racist Birth of a Nation.

Le Juif Errant:  Let's go seven years to 1902.  Here's an interesting take on "The Wandering Jew" by the pioneering filmmaker George Melies.  Melies himself plays the title role.  An interesting bit of film history.

Uncle Tom's Legacy:  171 years ago today, Harriet Beecher Stowes novel Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, the book that "started the Civil War," was first published.  The book did not start the Civil War, but it did much to promote the Abolitionist cause in the1850s and, by helping cement feelings about African Americans and slavery throughout the country, "helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War."  The overly sentimental work was a screed against slavery and posited that Christian love could overcome its evil.  It became the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book after the Bible.

As with any controversial book it had its critics, including philkosophical ones whose supported slavery and literary ones who deplored the novel's simplistic sentimentality.  One literary critic at the time dismissed its "women's sloppy emotions," while another called it "primarioly a derivative piece of hackwork."  And it had its champions, often ordinary people who were swept up in the dramatic tale, and those impressed with its value ass an effective antislavery tool.  One reader stated that she considered renaming her daughter Eva, and in 1852, 300 baby girls were named Eva in Boston alone.  Charles Dickens wrote to Stowe:  "I have read your book with the deepest interst and sympathy, and admire, more than I can express to you, both the generous feeling which inspired it, and the admirable power with which it is executed."  Historian Thomas MacCauley said that iIt is the moist valuable addition that America has made to English literature."

The novel has produced some negative stereotypes.  "Uncle Tom" is now a perjorative, although the character was orignally conceived as a Christ-like character, forgiving his tormentors.  The carefree character of Sam has come to epitomize the "happy darky," while light-skinned mullatto women bring about asscoaitions with sex objects.  There are several characters to fit the dark-skinned "Mammy" role, and Topsy has come to represent Black children as sterotypical "pickaninnies."   Most of these characterizations are modern interpretations on behalf of a few and ignore the basic intent of the novel.

I don't know if there are many today who have actually read Uncle Tom's Cabin (personal confession:  I tried to many years ago and gave up), just that I doubt there are many who have read other significant pieces of protest literature such as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.  Nonetheless, Uncle Tom's Cabin remains a major part of our literary and historical past and should be remebered and respected as such. 

The 2000 Year Old Man:  Carl Reiner would have been 101 years old today.  Here he is with Mel Brooks in a sketch about The 2000 Year Old Man.  (Brokks, thankfully is still us and is working on The History of World Part 2.)

Vernal Equinox:  Today is the first day of Spring, good news for those who have been faced with terrible winter storms!  It is also Snowman Burning Day -- bad news for Frosty!

For those who have their priorities straight, it is also World Sparrow Day!  Let's celebrate:

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man and State Senator Blaise Ingoglia has introduced a bill that would ban the Democratic Party in Florida.  In part, the bill wouold cancel any political party whose "platform has previously advocated for. or been in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude."  The Florida Democratic Party had advocated for slavery prior to 1865 and, as such, would be the only political party in Florida that could be affected by the bill (or mso Ingoglia believes).  The Democratic Party has had a pesky history in the South and, following the Civil War, was the party of bigotry and racism in the South, because, after all, Lincoln was one of those Godless Republicans.  But political sands shift.  The Dixiecrats hey-day ended during the Civil Rights movement and most then-Democrats shifted their allegance to the Republican Party, just as many of the beliefs of Lincoln's Republican Party are now firmly held by today's Democrats.  Ingoglia is evidentlkyt unaware that a from of slavery or penal servitude is still enshrined in our Constitution regarding legally convicted felons, and I doubt he will try to claim Republicans (Florida Republicans, anyway) oppose the Constitution.  Add to this another proposed bill that would ban young girls from mentioning/discussing their periods in school.  And the Don't Say Gay Bill.  And the Stop Woke Act.  And the Register with the State If You Have Anything Bad to Say about State Politicians Fiasco.  And the Disagree with Me, Your Governor, and I'll Burn Your House Down and Kill Your Dog Act.  Wait.  That last one has not officially been proposed.   Yet.  I weep.
  • Sorry, but after that, anything stupid or dangerous done by ordinary Florida Men and Women seems just irrelevant this week.  So onto:

Good News:
  • CRISPR gene editing reverses permanent vision loss in mice, offering hope for retinits pigmentosa patients
  • Sisters put up for adoption at the end of World War II  finally reunited after 75 years
  • 93-year-old grandmother creates a 6-foot replica of Buckingham Palce out of wool -- and it's incredibly detailed
  • MIND and Mediterranean diets are associated with fewer Alzheimer's plaques and tngles
  • Refrigerator-sized data center transfer heat to English swimming pool, saving thousands in energy costs
  • 27-year-old Dutch man finds 1000 year old treasure using metal detector
  • Hero passerby scales building to rescue a toddler who fell out of a window onto a ledge
  • New tool can 3D bioprint inside the human body to create natural tissue-like structures

Today's Poem:
Our Singing Strength

It snowed in spring on earth so dry and warm
The flakes could find no landing place to form.

Hordes spent themselves to make it wet and cold
And still they failed of any lasting hold.

They made no white impressiojn on the black.

They disappeared as if earth had sent them back.

Not till from separate flakes they changed at night
To almost strips and tapes of ragged white
Did grass and garden confess it snowed,
And all go back to winter but the road.

Next day the scene was piled and puffed and dead.

The grass lay flattened under one great tread.

Born down until the end almost took root,
The rangey bough anticipated fruit
With snowball cupped in every opening bud.

The road alone maintained itself in mud,
Whatever its secret was of greater heat
From inward fires mor brush of passing feet.

In spring more mortal singers than belong
To any one place cover us with song.

Thrush, bluebird, blackbird, sparrow, and robin throng;
Some to go further north to Hudson's Bay,
Some that have come too far north back away,
Really a very few to build and stay.

Now was seen how these like belated snow.

the field had nowhere left for them to go;
They'd soon exhausted all there was in flying;
The tree they'd had enough of with once trying
And setting off their heavy powder load.

They could find nothing open but the road.

Sot there they let their lives be narrowed in
By thousands the bad weather made akin.

The road became a channel running flocks
Of glossy birds like ripples over rocks.

I drove them under foot in bits of flight
That kept the ground
almost disputing right
Of way with me from apathy of wing,
A talking twitter they all had to sing.

A few I must have driven to despair
Made quick asides, but having done in air
A whir among white branches great and small
As in some too much carven marble hall
Where one false wing beat would have brought down all,
Came tamely back in front of me, the Drover,
To suffer the same driven nightmare over.

One such storm in a lifetime couldn't teach them
That back behind pursuit it couldn't reach them;
None flew behind me to be left alone.

Well, something for a snowstorm to have shown
The country's singing strength thus brought together,
The thought repressed and moody with the weather
Was none the less there ready to be freed
And sing the wildflowers up from root to seed.

-- Robert Frost

1 comment:

  1. I'm a fan of Robert Frost (and Norman Rockwell, too). Just call me a traditionalist. Plan on some INCOMING from George the Tempter just in time for Easter.