?

Log in

moon_custafer

Recent Entries

You are viewing the most recent 10 entries

April 27th, 2016

09:19 pm: In which the reader is left to draw their own conclusions

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.



Tags: ,

April 20th, 2016

10:04 pm: Dream Journal, etc
A couple of weeks back I read a piece about the 1920s "Day Hotel" under Milan. It's described as a hotel with everything but beds, but it strikes me as more like an underground shopping mall with bathhouses. Anyway, probably because of this, and maybe because of the other news stories on trans-panic washroom bans, I had a dream in which I went into the women's washroom in a mall and it had a pool and change rooms and a salon inside. "Nice to know this is here," I thought, but I didn't have time to stay. I sort of wish washrooms really were like that, but I'll settle for everybody being allowed to pee in peace and safety.

Meanwhile, Andrew and I have acquired a bit of antique practical comfort in the form of a vintage banker's chair that Don sold to us for $20 plus the $40 taxi fare to get it to our place. I'm afraid the poor guy had to sit outside our building for a while because I'd expected him slightly later, and also didn't notice for a while that Andrew had unplugged our phone (he doesn't want anyone disturbing him during the day.) The chair was made in Guelph, Ontario sometime in the early 20th century, has leather armrests and an adjustable leather back, and is generally very nice to sit in. Pictures to come.

Tags: ,

April 10th, 2016

07:32 pm: Been kind of a rough day, for reasons I don't feel like going into, but a friend posted on Facebook:

I really love going on to Facebook on a Sunday morning, when all my friends are reposting articles, or posting their movie/TV reviews, or blogging. It's like spending the morning in a Parisian cafe with a bunch of really interesting people, without having to leave the house.

That helps a bit.

March 30th, 2016

01:53 pm: I'm off work today, taking Andrew for some tests at St.Mike's. The waiting rooms there all have the tv on and tuned to local news. I've been trying for a couple of hours to figure out how to put something into words. I didn't feel glad when Rob Ford field. Cancer's an awful thing. But it really creeps me out that he's been lying in state at City Hall this week, and that his funeral is now being televised and everybody, including people who I know were critical of his behaviour, is suddenly talking about how warm and down-to-earth he was and hey, even that woman who "caused some controversy" when Ford knocked *her* down at City Hall is there to show she forgives and forgets. It feels like a scene from The Godfather or something.

Tags:

March 22nd, 2016

01:33 pm: Well, that Happened
So Rob Ford, AKA the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto, has died of cancer -- not caused by the crack, btw, it was apparently some rare kind with no risk factors other than being 30-50 years old.

While I feel more sympathy for say, today's terrorism victims in Brussels (and anybody who looks remotely foreign and is probably going to be hit yet again by the backlash), cancer isn't something I'd wish on anyone.

Also, this is beginning to feel like the year that everyone I've heard of dies.

Tags:

March 20th, 2016

10:03 pm: I think we performed correctly at the memorial party held for Angus at his aunt and uncle's home.

I knew some of the people there, but hadn't seen most of them in several years or more -- it was an odd series of reunions. His parents each began to introduce themselves before suddenly focusing on my face and hugging me in recognition. One of his RPG friends I'd briefly dated twenty years ago spotted me at once, which I admit pleased me a little. I recalled his aunt from the one time we'd met and she seemed to remember the occasion. There were a lot of theatre programs on display, some from our high school days.

One of the more touching eulogies was from his boss: Angus had never had a long enough stretch of good health to complete his EngSci degree, so about fifteen years ago he became a math and science tutor for a private agency, and likely he had more of an impact on individuals that way than he would have had following his original plans. I was told he ended up coaching one pupil on her essay test on Hamlet as well as her math exam, which surprised no one who knew him: a journal excerpt read by his father, written in his twenties, showed a maturity and a prose style someone twice his age might have envied, and in the end, the liver transplant bought him an additional two decades -- twice the life span he would have had without it. It was a compressed life, but worth the purchase.

March 19th, 2016

01:27 pm: Vague Spring Nostalgia
  When I was a kid, stores at this time of year would all suddenly be stocked with skipping ropes (pink or orange, smelling like vinyl, slightly powdery to the touch), rubber balls (red and blue with a white stripe around the equator, and a finish that very quickly began to crack and peel), bags of marbles and bags of jacks. 

I don't believe any of us ever shot marbles, or even knew what to do with the jacks, but stores still sold them, adults still gave them to us, they featured in the math problems in our elementary-school textbooks. They were like abstract signifiers of "Play." Which I suppose is appropriate -- from the little I know now about jacks, they were apparently very abstract representations of the knucklebones of sheep. The ones I remember were little metal caltrops (even worse to step on than lego bricks) with a slightly iridescent finish. I liked possessing them, even if I wasn't sure what for. Probably wouldn't have had the hand-eye coordination for it anyway.

Funnily, one kind of toy I only ever saw in pictures and old movies -- those little push-scooters -- made a comeback about sixteen years ago, and even though the fad died down again, I still sometimes see them.

How did pre-1950s children play with their hoops? The illustrations always made it look as though they made them roll by pushing or striking them with a short stick, but it's just occurred to me it would make far more sense for them to have put the stick within the hoop's perimeter and pulledthem along.

March 17th, 2016

08:14 pm: Nose Memory
I was thinking, the other night, about a particular smell which I am not sure how to identify correctly.

You see, thirty years ago I lived in Japan for a bit, and there was a particular railway stop on the Takarazuka line that we used to visit sometimes because there was a shop there that sold lovely paper. Somewhere nearby there must have been another shop that sold spices, because the neighbourhood always smelled of a particular flavour that I've never smelled since and don't know the name of, and now you see my difficulty.

It was a dark smell, powdery and chocolate brown and earthy and bitter, but maybe sort of tangy as well. I had not yet begun to drink coffee, but to use a Douglas Adams analogy, it was almost, but not quite, completely unlike coffee.

Googling "Kiyoshikojin" (the name of the stop) brought up a lot of articles about the temple there, and one or two mentions of spice shops. I'm beginning to think the scent might have been Japanese Seven Spice, but I can't be sure from the description alone, or even from this recipe. I suppose I could try the Japanese grocery on Queen West, one of these days.

March 12th, 2016

03:47 pm: Another trip to the hospital for Andrew yesterday; he'd been having a bad week and finally had asked to be taken to Emergency, as the pains in his ears made all sound intolerable. Luckily it wasn't an overnight stay this time; eventually they diagnosed ear infection and sent us home with a scrip for antibiotics, which probably ought to have come hours earlier but they always get distracted by his other symptoms.

He seemed a little better today and after picking up the pills I took a longish shopping trip to appreciate the mild weather and picked up a couple of smoked mackerel for lunch.

One the way home I noticed a man sunning himself on one of those newspaper vending boxes that are too small for a human to lie on. Quite undeterred, he'd arched his back and draped himself over the box, like some kind of giant cat, except he was also smoking a cigar. Spring is on its way.

February 25th, 2016

09:54 pm: So, I guess there's zero chance of either Miyazaki or Del Toro ever doing an adaptation of The Master & Margarita, right?

For one thing, I doubt it could ever get a North American release --too much nudity. Though I'd love to see hard-core fundamentalists *and* hard-core atheists protesting simultaneously outside theatres.

Powered by LiveJournal.com