Blogger Template by Blogcrowds

For late-risers, here are the links to the Chapter Recaps (chock full of spoilers): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22.

If you're interested in a treatment of the Hooligan problem that takes a more directly critical and advisory tone, Clarence Rook wrote an article on the topic for The Anglo-Saxon Review in 1900, somewhat sarcastically titled "St. Patrick Hooligan". This one even draws a comparison between the Hooligan and Lord Byron. No, really.

His conclusion in this later article is the fruit of the seeds scattered throughout The Hooligan Nights.

No human instinct is bad; and the only sensible way of developing character is to accept the instinct and make the best of it. Lawlessness in itself is not praiseworthy; but I maintain that the character which naturally breaks out into lawlessness contains splendid possibilities. So long as we leave several hundreds of thousands of boys to roam the streets with no legitimate outlet for their abundant energy, so long shall we be startled by the howl and occasionally stunned by the belt of the Hooligan. Here and there efforts are being made in the right direction. Here and there an obscure clergyman has recognised that if boys are set to box with the gloves in a parish-room they will be too tired to fight with the fists in the street. The organisers of the cadet battalions, such as the Queen's, which has its headquarters in Southwark, have found that 'playing at soldiers' is an extremely popular amusement with boys. Such efforts, however, touch but one in ten thousand ; and London swarms with boys who, filled with the laudable ambition of being pirates, have to struggle blindly, without guidance, after their ideal. Let us not think too unkindly of a lad when he goes howling through the streets to the fray. Let us remember that the Oxford undergraduate was a Hooligan, delighting in town-and-gown rows, until some one had the happy thought of turning his misdirected energy towards athletics.
--Anglo-Saxon Review, December 1900
This is touched on fairly early in the book itself, the theme of "There is no such thing as a bad boy, just bad guidance from adults who should know better." In spite of himself, Rook does occasionally find admirable qualities in the young man who is his subject which, if they had been channeled in positive directions at an early age, would've made him an upstanding (if not as well-paid) citizen. The hopeful, if (in my opinion) woefully over-optimistic, closing lines seem to reflect a belief in the perfectibility of humankind fairly common to the time, that if you could somehow crack the code of the soul, everybody could live a beautiful life.

Of course, there's a less-than-pleasant second flank to this argument, one which isn't necessarily said out loud in the book but which bubbles up when we take a gander at Alf's less-than-ideal mostly unsupervised upbringing: If those bloody lower-class parents knew how to raise their brats, I wouldn't have to lock my windows at night. And it poses the most valid question to the human perfectibility drive: Whose idea of "perfect" are we talking about, anyway? Because while this frame of mind led to a number of worthy charitable organizations striving for the betterment of awful situations, it also led to more sinister things like the imperialist concept of the "white man's burden". In that spirit, it probably says more than he intended about Rook's sense of social bias when he silently refuses to believe Alf's contention that some people steal because they have to steal to keep from going hungry, not just out of stubborn-minded up-yours rebellion.

Anyway, dragging our focus away from the subtext and back to the book itself: the early chapters' straight biographical narrative fades in and out like a bad TV signal, but the anecdotes and observations that make up the bulk of the book have the desired effect (suggested by the dominant framing device) of sitting down in the back room of a pub with a petty criminal while he gives you a loose account of his "brilliant career".

Would this have had the result of warning and deterrent? That's a question I'm not fully equipped to answer, since the reaction you have to the events of the book hinge on what mindset you have coming in. When Alf is telling his own story, you're given just the story, not cues on how to react...apart from Rook's occasional interjections. But it does fall into a longstanding gambit of condemning behavior while presenting it meticulously--almost lovingly--for the entertainment of people who want to feel superior but also want to wallow in second-hand sin. On that level, The Hooligan Nights is a success and points the way to, among other things, the Fox Network Saturday night lineup. Maybe not Mad TV, though.

In spite of the promises of the introduction, Rook didn't manage to completely hold off on the moralizing, unless by "story without a moral", he meant that Alf didn't reform and stayed true to his established nature all the way through. Maybe it was asking too much for him to completely resist the urge to interject his consternation, but I still maintain that Chapter 20's digression into civic pride was a genuinely sour note. Instead of the authorial hand gently pushing up from underneath to make certain things stand out, we got an authorial fist suddenly punching through the floor. He was doing so well up to that point, too. But again, there weren't that many wobbly spots of that variety, so it was just a hiccup on the race to the finish.

MVP Of The Book: It's Alf by default, since out of necessity he's front and center on almost every page. Take him away and it's just Rook sightseeing around some seedy neighborhoods.

Nagging Question: I've come to terms with the idea that Alf is at least partially based on a real young man, albeit one that's probably been embellished out the yin-yang for the page, but info on the author himself eludes me. I know Clarence Rook was a journalist/mystery writer/travel writer who originally wrote his Hooligan material for The Daily Chronicle. I have a birth and death year (1862-1915), and--here's a surprise--Bill Schwarz tells us that he was an American. Apart from that, all we have is what Rook left us on the page, and no, I haven't read him past this one book. Forget about Wikipedia, there isn't a trace of him in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Not even the 1911 edition, when he would've still been alive. There's no way he could've shuffled off the mortal coil without leaving a trace. A little help here? Part of my failing is using the Interweb as my primary research tool, I'm sure...

Would you recommend it to a friend? Sure. If they're interested in sneak thieves of days gone by, this should be on their list. The eternal question, though, is "Would I let an impressionable kid looking for imitatable acts read it?" Probably not. I've been exposed to too many sitcoms where the dad obliviously reels off his childhood misdeeds with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye, while his kids pay rapt attention and silently take mental notes. And those were about building rafts and jumping things on your BMX bike, not bashing old ladies over the head to steal the money from their candy shops and fighting dirty. Having said that, there's nothing in Hooligan Nights that tops the Grand Theft Auto/Sopranos family of entertainment in terms of violence and nastiness, so use your own discretion.

Is this (still) a summer book? Emphatically yes. Don't let the fits and starts of my updates fool you; that was more out of frustration with my own working methods than anything the book was (or wasn't) giving me. It would've been a brisk read if I wasn't so insistent on anal-retentive note-taking and strike-while-the-memory's-hot recapping. For potential readers, keep in mind that any sex is implied (and even then it's strictly between-the-lines weasel phraseology) but the violence is right up front, so you'll get at least one of your basic food groups.

Next: Time to choose #3, folks. Take a close look at the list and see what you'd like to inflict on me this time.


Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home