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This time my project's early adopters let me pull the rabbit out of the hat. Maybe they were demoralized that I had such a good time with the first book.

For round two, filed under the heading of "Travel and Adventure", I've picked The Hooligan Nights by Clarence Rook (1862-1915), who has been described by Gale’s Contemporary Authors Online as “…a shadowy figure whose writing rested uneasily between fiction and journalism.” Already I'm intrigued...

The Hooligan Nights. Being the life and opinions of a young and unrepentant criminal recounted by himself, as set forth by Clarence Rook. 12mo. New York: Henry Holt & Co. $1.25

Mr. Clarence Rook declares that this work of his, with the strange title, is "not a novel, or in any sense a work of imagination." Hooligan is a London burglar, and the main character is a young thief, Alf by name; and Alf, because of his boldness as a pickpocket and general rascal, becomes in time the leader of the Hooligan band. Mr. Rook has made a careful study of the criminal class in London, which wages constant war on society and exists because it robs. Now, writes Mr. Rook, considering Alf as the type, he should be unhappy, "but as a matter of fact he is nothing of the sort; and, when you come to think of it, Alf has had a better time than an average clerk on a limited number of shillings." You never could persuade Alf "that honesty is the best policy." The young villain's conduct is not commended; there is no apology offered. Alf was born a thief, and is bound to die one. "The Hooligan Nights" is curious, as the author gives the peculiar slang or argot of the London thief.

--New York Times, June 24, 1899.
A rascal? Watch out, he's one thrashing away from become a scallywag! I'd hate to be a dustbin in Shaftsbury tonight... (There's also a fuller review available, if you're up for it. It's worth reading just for the telling tidbit that boxing is awesome and manly, while boxing for money is morally repugnant. So if you're going to beat the tar out of someone, do it for free or you're going to Hell...)

Obviously this required further preliminaries, and from just a touch of research I found that The Hooligan Nights, which was reprinted in 1979 (presumably as part of the Victorian pop lit revival that also gave us back Varney the Vampire) and dramatized on BBC radio as recently as last year, casts a respectable shadow over the genre of crime literature. It made such an impression on turn-of-the-century London that the author was actively pursued as an advisor on the criminal and delinquency issues his book raised. The book has been name checked and referenced in modern books and articles about organized crime, juvenile delinquency, and the rise of teen culture, and arguably gave the English language a new word to boot.

And yet somehow all that attention still doesn't ring my chimes. After all, one of the motivators of this project is that lots of books that seemed like a good idea at the time are dire slogs a hundred years down the line. Dammit, I need a tipping point. So let's see what this contemporary ad's pull-quote tells us. C'mon, baby, sell it to me...
"The Hooligan Nights" must be accorded a position of honour in the mean-street is splendid reading, and a valuable revelation of the natural history of Hooliganism... The joys and sorrows of the modern Artful Dodger, the highly developed trickiness and casual brutality of the under-life of London are certainly most fascinating in Mr. Rook's editorial hands.
--Pall Mall Gazette, as quoted in a publisher's advertisement.
Hey, casual brutality! Now we're talking! On top of that, I've been assured that at no time does the story "point to a moral"; Alf's story is what it is, and any heavy-handed judgment must come from the reader. And you know I'm all about that. And just like that, we're off again...

And now, for those of you who want to play along at home, our sources:
  • Google Books has two full-view versions of the first American edition--one digitized from Widener Library at Harvard, the other from University of California. Since they're both from the same edition, we're going to assume one is as good as the other until experience or missing pages prove us wrong. At least this time we have the last page of the story. (All page references will be tied to this version.)
  • The Victorian Dictionary has the full text in HTML (albeit with OCR errors), each chapter on its own page for your convenience...although sadly not the "frontspiece in colours". The full site also has all kinds of dandy illustrations and articles relating to the days and the times, so it'll come in handy.
Chapter Recaps (chock full of spoilers, links go live as they're posted): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and the (less-spoilery) Post-Game Report.


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