On New Year's Day 1753, Elizabeth Canning, an eighteen-year-old maidservant, vanished. A month later she turned up, claiming to have been assaulted and held prisoner; when her description of the house she'd been held in seemed to point to one Susannah Wells, Canning identified her and another woman named Mary Squires as her captors.
The trial was an 18th-century media circus (more on that later); at first Wells and Squires were convicted and sentenced, but the case was immediately reopened by the Lord Mayor of London; this time Canning was convicted of perjury and deported to the American colonies. Until her death, she stuck to her version of the story, and Wells and Squires stuck to theirs. The Rashomon-like case apparently retained enough notoriety that 20th-century writer Josephine Tey based a novel upon it, updating the circumstances to a modern setting.
Back in the winter of 1753, though, the story Canning told when she returned (emaciated and with marks of an injury on her head) was that she had been assaulted by two men, robbed and struck unconscious; that when she came to, her attackers had let her to a house where an old woman had tried to recruit her for the sex trade; and that when she refused, the woman had beaten he, stolen her corset stays and put her in a hayloft with "a black pitcher not quite full of water, and about twenty-four pieces of bread ... about a quartern loaf." After subsisting on this for several weeks, she had given up hope of release, and managing to work one of the boards loose on a window, climbed out and found her way home after five hours of walking.Trying to piece together where she'd been held, friends and family noted that Canning thought she'd heard the name "Wills or Wells" used, and that she'd recognized a coachman through the window who drove on the Hertford Road. As it happened the widowed Mrs. Susannah Wells lived on the Hertford Road, and a local paper immediately reported the whole story including the suspicion cast on Wells .
This is pretty much where *any* hope of a professional, unbiased investigation would have gone off the rails, if there'd been such a hope on the first place: England in 1753 -- had not only no forensics, but no police as such -- Robert Peel wouldn't be along for seventy years. So Canning and her family had to have the local alderman swear out a warrant and then go oversee Wells' arrest themselves. (They did have a warrant officer and several peace officers.) There, Canning seems to have identified everybody in the house as having been present when her abductors had brought her in a month before. Meanwhile, she was still recovering from her captivity, and her family still needed to prosecute the case against Wells themselves. They needed a backer, and they got one in the form of novelist magistrate Henry Fielding, who proceeded to issue a warrant against everybody in Wells' house, imprisoned two of them (both young women) and cross-examined them until they corroborated Canning's story. The actual charge was theft of Canning's corset stays, worth ten shillings: a more serious charge at the time than assault, and a hanging offense. Eventually Wells was sentenced to branding and imprisonment and Squires to death.
Meanwhile Grub Street was having a field day -- Squires was described as a "gypsy," adding racism to the rousing narrative of "innocent maid defends her virtue against a gang of crooks." (George Rousseau in his 2012 biography of John Hill, a popular writer and supporter of Squires, links the ferocity of the Canningites' racism to a bill in under discussion in Parliament at the time that would have granted Jews the vote.) Outside the trial, mobs attacked anybody they recognized as being related to Wells or Squires.
So who took upWells and Squires' side, and why? The Lord Mayor seems to have been genuinely horrified by the behaviour of the opposing "Canningites," but also seems to have suspected them of supporting Canning as a political attack on himself. John Hill mostly just hated Fielding -- London newspapers had just got through the "Paper War of 1752–1753," which Hill later claimed was a joke or publicity stunt he and fielding had cooked up and which had got *way* out of hand. Hill began collecting witnesses who could testify Squires and her family had been travelling in another part of the country during the month of January. Meanwhile the Canningites, for their part, hunted up witnesses willing to say the opposite.
Canning went on trial for perjury in the spring of 1754. Family and neighbours testified that she'd been genuinely injured and emaciated when she returned home. Canning's mother attempted to claim the young woman was too stupid to invent falsehoods, but was forced to admit she could read and write. Adding to the grotesque comedy, all the witnesses who'd attested Squires presence in the neighbourhood at the time of her supposed crime fell apart on the subject of the exact dates, because England had changed over from the Julian calendar to the current one in 1752, a few months before the incident. The jury's initial verdict was that Canning was "Guilty of perjury, but not wilful and corrupt." They were told they had to find her wilful and corrupt as well, or she couldn't be guilty of perjury.
She appears to have started a new life after she was sent to the American colonies. It wasn’t a long one by modern standards, but she lived with a Methodist family who believed in her innocence; eventually she married somebody. She died at thirty-eight. I don’t know how old Wells or Squires were at the time of their deaths — Wells had served her prison sentence by the time of Canning’s conviction, and Squires had been pardoned and wasn’t executed.
I need to address my own bias here: I heard of the Canning case via an online discussion among people who *hated* Tey's version. In Tey's version, the accused women are now a middle-class mother and daughter in straightened circumstances, while their accuser is still working class; and it's taken for granted almost from the opening that she's a lying liar who tells lies. Her age has been lowered to fifteen years old from eighteen, but only to further condemn her — she’s a cunning piece of jailbait who’s accused two total strangers of a serious crime in order to account for the month she spent with a married man (to whom she’d — of course — lied about her age) until his wife caught up with them and beat her. Tey’s “elopement gone wrong” version at least fits a one-month timeline better than “covering up a pregnancy” or “covering up an abortion,” which seem to be the usual suspicions among Canning’s modern disbelievers. The viciously classist take on the case was what had irked the readers on the discussion thread, but at least one person also argued that when a mystery is set up in binary terms, the resolution needs to be a third possibility, unsuspected by the characters. Otherwise you might as well watch a coin toss. I freely admit, therefore, that when I heard about the Canning case and its *lack* of resolution, it struck me as more interesting than the novel; and when I looked up the details I was hoping to find room for a third explanation. I'm not a historian, and this was a quick overview, based on only the most easily accessible sources, but I think I succeeded in finding enough doubts to satisfy myself. I did eventually come across a few other theories that Canning’s story was basically true but she misidentified her attackers, though a few of them still veered into “crazy girl hallucinated it,” which I’m not sure is any less depressing than “evil bitch made it up to cover some sexual misconduct.”
I’m not so sure she needed to be crazy, either, or even full-on amnesiac from the head injury.
Back when she, her family, and the peace officers they’d brought along had entered Susannah Well's house, Canning had stated that the hayloft looked like the one she'd been held in, but with more hay. Somebody had noted that boards across the windows appeared to have been put up, or put back up, recently. This, I think, is where it's possible for Canning to have gone off-course without deliberately lying.
It goes without saying that an eighteenth century house and barn wouldn't have had electric light; it's not unlikely that Elizabeth Canning never got a good look at any of her captors. Furthermore it doesn’t sound, from her account, as though she saw any of them during her month-long captivity after that first night when they put her in the hayloft. Even leaving aside confusion from her head injury or pressure from the peace officers to agree that they'd found her assailants, the situation could have primed her for false memories, and as the trials wore on, With both mobs and local political leaders piling on fuel, and Canning herself reduced to a token to be blamed or protected, the sunk cost of her efforts could have made her even more convinced that she was facing down her true tormentors.
I actually think it's intersectional, as Marsden also pretty explicitly discussed voluntary submission as a demonstration of self-confidence and trust in one's partner; but it's good to hear someone bring up a different take on it than "kinky, hur hur hur." Now I'm curious as to how big an influence Wonder Woman actually had on modern BDSM (of the "safe, sane and consensual" kind); guess I'm going to need to research that.
(I'd also have liked to know more about the relationships between Marsden, Holloway and Byrne, but as Lepore pointed out, they all lived together so there are no letters between them; if you want further historians to know what was up between you and your loved ones, you have to spend time apart from them.)
The character is psychopathic enough to kill out of jealousy at others' success, but philosophical enough to judge success on aesthetics rather than money or acclaim; and I'm not sure those two things go together very often.
To be fair, Salieri in the play starts out just trying to make sure Mozart doesn't get any good gigs, and then his obsession sort of gets away with him. Like I said, it's well-told enough to be plausible.
ETA because Don's subsequent comment and my reply got swallowed by LJ:
> LJ won't let me post this on your Self Defense for Women blog entry for some
> reason. FYI.
> Best "Self Defense for Women" stuff on TV was the old "Beauty and the Beast"
> series with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. In the pilot Linda gets mugged
> and left for dead. The Beast finds her and nurses her back to health in his
> underground pad: dropping her off anonymously at an emergency ward when she
> starts to regain consciousness. She decides never again to be as helpless
> as she was whilst being mugged and seeks out a sensei who is notoriously
> demanding and choosey about who he takes on as students. He reluctantly
> agrees to a try-out which he starts off by grabbing and immobilising her.
> Linda: Wait! NO! I'm not ready...
> Sensei: Ha! You going to just beg and put yourself at my, possibly
> non-existent, mercy? I thought you didn't want to be that helpless little
> girl who almost died doing that.
> Linda: No, NO!
It's an interview with a historian/collector who became fascinated by opium-smoking paraphenalia and eventually took the habit up as research, because there are very few *accurate* depictions from the era (mostly just a lot of "and now our story takes us to an opium den, because EXOTIC! DECADENT!"). Short version -- it's harder (or it was for him) to become addicted to opium than to the more concentrated modern drugs, but once you are the withdrawal symptoms are hell.
He eventually gave it up, partly because a colleague and fellow-smoker died and her fate scared him; mainly because he realized he would have to sell his collection to make ends meet, and the antiques addiction was stronger than the drug addiction.
I like his comment that "All paraphernalia was made with lots of little facets and angles to reflect this lamp light. It all seems so magical. In fact, that’s the thing you really miss after you’ve quit smoking—the damn lamp, it’s just so beautiful."
ETA -- my comment to my brother was that most "opium addicts" in the Western world were probably laudanum addicts, and thinking about it, yeah -- even the ones like De Quincy or Coleridge were basically going, "Dude, this headache medicine -- I hear in China they smoke it for fun." "Cool, let's mix some of it with our tobacco and try!" "Dude!"
The example that always jumps to my mind is Anthony Burgess' A Dead Man in Deptford, a novel about the life of Christopher Marlowe that just can't get over the crazy lack of standardized spellings in Elizabethan England: every time characters are introduced, they'll spend several paragraphs talking to each other about how there are multiple ways to spell and pronounce their names. Not only did this completely yank me out of the story whenever it happened, it's now the only thing I can recall about the book.
Even if it were had just been Marlowe who did this (he at least has the excuse of being a writer*,) and everyone else rolled their eyes and muttered "he's on about it again," I think I could have accepted it as plausible; but, well, a modern-day equivalent would be a story set in the late 20th/early 21st century in which everyone chats about how the temperature of their tap water can be adjusted by turning the faucet handle; or wonders out loud who decided that chairs should be the height that they are; without this ever becoming an actual plot point.
It occurred to me last night that there's an opposite example in Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: in which the protagonist's name changes from paragraph to paragraph. He's usually called Alan, but it soon becomes evident he'll answer to any masculine name beginning with A, and when his younger brothers show up (by this time we know Arnold is one of the few members of his family able to pass as human), we realize they weren't actually named -- they were alphabetized.
This works, because none of it is ever directly commented on in the novel -- to Alan it's completely normal, and he's our PoV character. Whether regular humans notice Arthur's shifting nomenclature is left to the reader to judge, though I suspect they simply block out any incongruity. Only one person pointedly addresses him as Abdul shortly after meeting him to let him know she's spotted the phenomenon, but she's not exactly human either, as it turns out, and her perception is probably meant to foreshadow this.
* He also gets really annoyed if anyone addresses him as "thou," but at least he doesn't lecture them about how it's disrespectful to address anyone in the singular unless they're a close personal friend.
ETA -- fixed it.
Alfred Shaheen - ok, so he didn't actually *invent* the Hawaiian shirt (they'd been around since the 1930s) but he popularized them, by starting his own textile-printing operation, inventing his own printing techniques and designing fabrics inspired by native Hawaiian textiles and Asian art.
The fact that Elvis wore his shirts didn't hurt either.
I wonder whether one could do an Alan-Moore-style look at the architecture of Ottawa for evidence that King, with his now well-known mystical tendencies, was pushing projects that held secret symbolism for him (his own estate was definitely constructed this way - a feature of the gardens was a faux ruined abbey built from parts of different historic buildings - stones from the British Parliament, stones from the original Canadian Parliament, and a few stones from his rebel grandfather's print shop.)
More fun facts about King, according to the National Archives site - although he's usually thought of as a lonely introvert who, when not in Parliament, was hiding out in his room with a crystal ball, he apparently did have a sociable side and liked to dance.
Also, his second terrier, Pat II, originally belonged to his neighbours who named it after his first terrier Pat; some time after Pat I died (aged 17), they gave him "the other Pat." Pat III was given to him by his secretary when he retired from politics, and I suppose by that name naming dogs "Pat" had become a habit. Pat III outlived his master; Pats I and II are buried in the ruined abbey.
Downstairs there was a related exhibit of early Soviet posters, which were also very striking (that style still screams "avant-garde" ninety-five years later). I could have done with a bit more explanatory material, though one obvious recurring theme was "Hey peasants, you can learn to read now! Go for it!"
I just now confirmed my suspicion that one poster was an ad for the political-satire magazine Krokodil, but it would've been nice to have a label telling visitors that bit of information, so they won't have to wonder why there's a picture of a pink alligator skewering capitalist caricatures with a trident while jovially draping his arm around the shoulder of a worker who is reading a newspaper and laughing.
ETA - the main exhibit also contained one beautiful large cubist painting by Vladimir Baranov-Rossine, again, someone I'd never heard of, and with no biographical info except that he'd died at Auschwitz in 1944 - looking him up, he turns out to have been another fascinating individual, an inventor as well as an artist. C'mon AGO, we need to know these things.