Harkive: Reviews in the Pall Mall Gazette


This month we begin a series of Harkive entries that chronicle Margaret Harkness’s relationship with the Pall Mall Gazette. Under the editorship of W. T. Stead, from 1883 until 1889, the evening newspaper increased its coverage of political and social questions. After the publication of the scandalous ‘Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’ (1885), Stead’s investigative crusade into the subject of child prostitution, the newspaper became one of London’s most influential.

The Pall Mall Gazette’s review of Harkness’s second novel, Out of Work (1880), appeared under Stead’s editorship. Although the review is unsigned, it commends Harkness’s efforts at investigation in the name of ‘truth’. Despite the ‘shred of sensationalism’, the reviewer praises the representation of the young flower girl who is described as an English transposition of a type represented by the American short story writer Bret Harte.

The cover of the first edition of Out of Work, Swan Sonnenschein and Co. (1888).

With Stead’s departure from the Pall Mall Gazette in 1889 in order to found The Review of Reviews, the newspaper became increasingly conservative. The review of Harkness’s later novel, A Manchester Shirtmaker (1890), appeared during this transitional period and bears the stamp of its changing political disposition. While the reviewer of Out of Work acknowledges that none other than a miserable ending is possible for the present condition of the working classes, the reviewer of A Manchester Shirtmaker laments the ‘continuous panorama of woe’ it presents.


As with Out of Work, much of A Manchester Shirtmaker had been modelled on Harkness’s own experience and investigation. In 1889, Harkness travelled to Lancashire for the purpose of contributing to ‘Life in Lancashire’, a series that began serialisation in the British Weekly on 10 May. By August, Harkness was back in London for the Dockworkers’ Strike of August-October 1889. The series continued during this period, presumably with contributions from other authors.

Source: ‘Out of Work’, NEW BOOKS, The Pall Mall Gazette, Tuesday, 7 August 1888, p 3. Available from Gale Newspapers.


 “Out of Work.” One Vol. By John Law. (Swan Sonnenschein and Co. 1888) The lady who writes under the pseudonym of John Law is specially well qualified – through prolonged personal investigations – to speak of life in the East-end of London. She is able to tell us in very truth how the poor live, and it is this undeniable stamp of reality in her descriptions which furnishes the chief attraction of her books. “Out of Work” is a story of to-day, and tells its own tale in its title. Joseph Coney, the hero, is one of that large class of misguided young men who yearly come up to London in search of work. He is a carpenter by trade; soon he sinks to the rank of dock labourer, and finally becomes a hopeless loafer, living on the earnings of a friendly flower girl. The dismal story of slow starvation the scenes in the doss-house, at the dock gates, in the workhouse casual ard, are all told without a shred of sensationalism, but they are none the less tragic. The hero is, in truth, a very unheroic person; such as he is, however, he has been made by the irresistible force of circumstances, and he may be taken as a type of thousands. Few people realize the utterly demoralizing effet which a futile and ceaseless search for work has on all but the most sturdy natures. More pathetic still is the study of the little flower-girl, nicknamed the “squirrel,” an English edition of one of Bret Harte’s little heroines, with all the precocious ‘cuteness of the street waif, utterly untrained and untaught, and yet loving the “joy” with a quite heroic devotion. Both lives end in misery, no other ending being possible for either in the present condition of the working classes. John Law paints things as they are, and does not always spare even those who are accustomed to be regarded as public benefactors. The Toynbeeites may be trusted not to advertise the book by their praise, and Methodism, smug, self-complacent, and exclusive, in the midst of starvation and vice, is represented under its least edifying aspect, a representation not wholly undeserved. Perhaps the chapter on the Trafalgar-square riots is the least graphic in the book – it would require a Carlyle to do justice to such a scene – and the slight tone of irony which pervades it, is surely undeserved by the Socialists who were present. Nevertheless, “Out of Work” can be thoroughly recommended, and those who like to imbibe information in pleasant doses will find the book an eminently satisfactory medium.


Source: ‘A Manchester Shirtmaker’, NEW BOOKS, The Pall Mall Gazette, Wednesday, 9 April, 1890, p. 3.


How people do miss their opportunities! In “A Manchester Shirtmaker” (Authors’ Co-operative Publishing Company) the lady who writes under the name of John Law relates, in forcible and picturesque language enough, the story of a young widow’s struggles against poverty, which end in the murder of her own child and insanity. Throughout the whole time of her trouble she has been able and willing to work, but is persistently left without employment through the coldness of the outside world, and underbid or swindled by the “sweater.”Here, of course, occurs an excellent chance of pointing out the gigantic social danger looming ahead, when crying evils are allowed to flourish unchecked amongst a proletariat not utterly helpless, as of old, through ignorance and the absence of facilities for combination, but fed with the rays of modern enlightenment, and growing rapidly conscious of its power. Surely the writer must have seized with appreciative eagerness such an occasion for pointing a moral of import so tremendous. Not a bit of it. The tale begins and ends without a hint of any ulterior lesson being deducible from it. Misery is piled on misery, like Ossa on Pelion, nor does a single bright episode relieve the continuous panorama of woe. What use can a tale like this serve?


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