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Susan Schuyler, ‘Crowds, Fenianism, and the Victorian Stage’

2011 May 13
The Clerkenwell Explosion

Richard Storry Deans. Notable trials: Romances of the Law Courts. Cassel: 1906. 48

In her essay forthcoming in JVC issue 16.2, Susan Schuyler analyzes two Irish rebellion-themed plays in context of the growth of Fenianism in the months preceding the Clerkenwell explosion.

The melodramatic dramas Oonagh; or the Lovers of Lisnamona (Her Majesty’s, 1866) and Achora Machree; or Gems of Ould Ireland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1867) reveal the ways that popular theatre participated in a wider public discussion about what was seen as the modern phenomenon of the crowd. Produced on the eve of one of the greatest Irish-English political crises of the nineteenth century when fears of violent Irish crowds reached their peak, these two plays feature dangerously ambiguous crowds that alternately form portraits of bucolic sentimentality and forcefully express Irish dissent.

This powerful ambiguity mirrors conflicting visions of crowds in this period. While dominant Victorian crowd theory characterized the crowd as a source of chaos that needed to be controlled, political movements such as Irish Republicanism used the organizational form of the crowd to create political and social change.

Police inspect the scene of the Clerkenwell explosion. Harper's Magazine. 18 June 1868.

Effects of the Explosion at the House of Detention, Clerkenwell, Seen From within the Prison Yard.

"My Reminiscences" by Sir Robert Anderson in The Strand, volume 38 (1909): 491-497.

Dec 13th 1867. Diabolical Feninian Outrage

J. Wood. "Fenian explosion at Clerkenwell Prison: 1867." 1867. Museum of London.

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