The Gunpowder Plot: torture and persecution in fact and fiction



After the main plotters of the Gundpowder plot were tortured and executed, accusations of treason, heresy, and witchcraft were used to persecute other enemies of the Crown.
Crispijn van de Passe the Elder/ Wikimedia

Shareena Z Hamzah, Swansea University

In 1605, England’s parliament was sitting on a powder keg, literally. Like now, the country was bitterly divided between two factions, with religion at the heart of the schism after the Reformation pitted Protestants and Catholics against each other in a life or death struggle. History tells us that instead of seeking a political solution such as an election, a group of 13 Catholic conspirators plotted to blow up parliament.

The conspiracy aimed to assassinate King James I and the Protestant establishment with a massive explosion under the House of Lords. Every “fifth of November” since then, what is now known as the Gunpowder Plot is remembered in Britain through bonfires, fireworks and the burning of effigies of one of the conspirators, Guido (Guy) Fawkes. Following the torture and execution of Fawkes and his co-conspirators, accusations of treason, heresy, and witchcraft were used to persecute many of the perceived enemies of the crown.

The process of arrest, torture, trial and execution was widespread, as the king sought to rid the country of his twin hatreds: Catholicism and witchcraft. This purge caused many Catholics, especially priests, to flee northwards to escape the king’s revenge. Lancashire came to be perceived by the royal court as a lawless area where Catholicism and witchcraft thrived – and it was there that the infamous Pendle witch trials of 1612 took place.

Though evidence remains from the actual trials, one of the most intriguing accounts didn’t come until 400 years after the events, when author Jeanette Winterson published her work of fiction, The Daylight Gate. In this story, the fates of a group of vagrant women and a Catholic nobleman, Christopher Southworth, converge when the attention of the law turns towards them. Winterson uses the genuine names of the women who were tried for witchcraft – though freely fictionalising their lives. Southworth was also a real person, a Jesuit priest from one of the oldest families in Lancashire.

An illustration of Ann Redferne and Chattox, two of the ‘Pendle witches’.
William Harrison Ainsworth/Wikimedia Commons

As in real life, the women in the novel are charged with murder by witchcraft. Whether they committed acts of witchcraft or not, that is not their true crime here. These women have too much power and liberty for the patriarchal Protestant society in which they live. Southworth, meanwhile, is hunted in the novel for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. Captured previously, he had escaped from prison and fled to France, before returning to England to save his sister from her own witch trial.

There is no evidence to show the real Southworth was a part of the Gunpowder Plot. But historical record shows us Southworth was accused of coaching a young girl to make false accusations of witchcraft against her family – possible because the family had renounced Catholicism and converted to Protestantism. Given this, it’s likely he would have supported at least the aims of the Gunpowder Plot.

Monstrous marks

The fictional women’s bodies are sites onto which the men of the law project both their fears and desires. “Look her over for the witch marks – go on, Robert, run your hands across her. Do you like her breasts?”, remarks a constable’s assistant. But these are bodies made monstrous by the effects of poverty. The feet of the appropriately named Mouldheels are described as stinking “of dead meat … wrapped in rags and already beginning to ooze”. Yet despite this monstrosity, these women are still raped by their captors as desire, disgust and domination merge.

Southworth’s status in the novel is initially different from the women. He was born and raised with the twin privileges of being male and wealthy. With no marks on his body to denote his Catholic faith, he could not be identified as an “other” without specific knowledge of his religious divergence from the ruling class. But, following the failed Gunpowder Plot, his torture at the hands of the king’s jailers results in his body being made monstrous. Attempts to blind Southworth leave scars on his eyelids and cheeks, and pictures are carved into his chest with knives.

Like the women, he is raped by his jailers. He is then literally emasculated when his penis and testicles are cut off. Perhaps luckily for the real-life Southworth, there is no evidence of an arrest, although his historical records are very scant. By comparison, the archives indicate the torture of Fawkes at the hands of the king’s inquisitors.

In this febrile, paranoid society of post-Gunpowder Plot England, the connection between Catholics and witches is stated explicitly. As Potts, the prosecutor sent by the royal court to seek out heretics, says: “Witchery popery, popery witchery. What is the difference?”. The outcomes are certainly very similar. And the burning of the womens’ bodies after their execution mirrors the ritual bonfires and immolation of Guy Fawkes effigies that have celebrated the failure of the Catholic plotters ever since.

Winterson’s novel forces the reader to consider what a monster is and what they might look like. Elizabeth Device, one of the supposed witches, is described as follows: “The strangeness of her eye deformity made people fear her. One eye looked up and the other looked down, and both eyes were set crooked in her face.” But her disfigured appearance had not saved her from being raped nine years before the novel’s setting. Throughout the book, fear and disgust mix dangerously with desire and power to produce awful crimes.

The real monsters are the men who savagely abuse and oppress the unfortunate – whether women or Catholics. Yet, they are not represented as physically repulsive. One of the torturers even has a “pleasant voice” as he questions his victims. In the end, The Daylight Gate reveals that monstrous desires produce and prey on monstrous bodies, and all those subjected to the burning heat of the king’s revenge eventually turn to ash. While the political situation in Britain today has moved away from the Catholic/Protestant schism of 1605, it is worth remembering the human tragedies behind the celebration of Bonfire Night.The Conversation

Shareena Z Hamzah, Honorary Research Associate, Swansea University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Maps of Fictional Worlds


The link below is to an article that takes a look at maps of fictional worlds and why we make them.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/why-we-feel-so-compelled-to-make-maps-of-fictional-worlds/

2019 Longlist for US National Book Award for Fiction


The links below are to articles reporting on the longlist for the 2019 US National Book Award for Fiction.

For more visit:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/announcing-the-longlist-for-the-2019-national-book-award-for-fiction/
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/this-is-the-national-book-awards-longlist-for-fiction

Top 10 Libraries in Fiction


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the top 10 libraries in fiction. Are there any that have been missed in your opinion? Should the library in the Sarah J. Maas ‘Throne of Glass’ series be included for example? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/31/top-10-libraries-in-fiction-jrr-tolkien-borges-game-of-thrones

The Fantastical and Fictional World of Westeros


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the world of Westeros and the ‘canon’ of literature available to read concerning it.

For more visit:
https://www.cnet.com/news/game-of-thrones-finale-season-8-winds-of-winter-books-a-song-of-ice-and-fire/

The Best Translated Book Award 2019 Shortlists for Fiction and Poetry


The links below are to articles reporting on the shortlists and winners of The Best Translated Book Awards for 2019 for both fiction and poetry.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2019/05/17/best-translated-book-award-2019-shortlists/
https://themillions.com/2019/05/best-translated-book-awards-names-2019-finalists.html
https://themillions.com/2019/05/and-the-winners-of-the-2019-best-translated-book-awards-are.html

How the ‘good guy with a gun’ became a deadly American fantasy


A drawing of Philip Marlowe, an icon of hard-boiled detective fiction created by author Raymond Chandler.
CHRISTO DRUMMKOPF/flickr, CC BY

Susanna Lee, Georgetown University

At the end of May, it happened again. A mass shooter killed 12 people, this time at a municipal center in Virginia Beach. Employees had been forbidden to carry guns at work, and some lamented that this policy had prevented “good guys” from taking out the shooter.

This trope – “the good guy with a gun” – has become commonplace among gun rights activists.

Where did it come from?

On Dec. 21, 2012 – one week after Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre announced during a press conference that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Ever since then, in response to each mass shooting, pro-gun pundits, politicians and social media users parrot some version of the slogan, followed by calls to arm the teachers, arm the churchgoers or arm the office workers. And whenever an armed citizen takes out a criminal, conservative media outlets pounce on the story.

But “the good guy with the gun” archetype dates to long before LaPierre’s 2012 press conference.

There’s a reason his words resonated so deeply. He had tapped into a uniquely American archetype, one whose origins I trace back to American pulp crime fiction in my book “Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Decline of Moral Authority.”

Other cultures have their detective fiction. But it was specifically in America that the “good guy with a gun” became a heroic figure and a cultural fantasy.

‘When I fire, there ain’t no guessing’

Beginning in the 1920s, a certain type of protagonist started appearing in American crime fiction. He often wore a trench coat and smoked cigarettes. He didn’t talk much. He was honorable, individualistic – and armed.

These characters were dubbed “hard-boiled,” a term that originated in the late 19th century to describe “hard, shrewd, keen men who neither asked nor expected sympathy nor gave any, who could not be imposed upon.” The word didn’t describe someone who was simply tough; it communicated a persona, an attitude, an entire way of being.

Most scholars credit Carroll John Daly with writing the first hard-boiled detective story. Titled “Three Gun Terry,” it was published in Black Mask magazine in May 1923.

The May 1934 issue of Black Mask features Carroll John Daly’s character Race Williams on the cover.
Abe Books

“Show me the man,” the protagonist, Terry Mack, announces, “and if he’s drawing on me and is a man what really needs a good killing, why, I’m the boy to do it.”

Terry also lets the reader know that he’s a sure shot: “When I fire, there ain’t no guessing contest as to where the bullet is going.”

From the start, the gun was a crucial accessory. Since the detective only shot at bad guys and because he never missed, there was nothing to fear.

Part of the popularity of this character type had to do with the times. In an era of Prohibition, organized crime, government corruption and rising populism, the public was drawn to the idea of a well-armed, well-meaning maverick – someone who could heroically come to the defense of regular people. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, stories that featured these characters became wildly popular.

Taking the baton from Daly, authors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler became titans of the genre.

Their stories’ plots differed, but their protagonists were mostly the same: tough-talking, straight-shooting private detectives.

In an early Hammett story, the detective shoots a gun out of a man’s hand and then quips he’s a “fair shot – no more, no less.”

In a 1945 article, Raymond Chandler attempted to define this type of protagonist:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. … He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.”

As movies became more popular, the archetype bled into the silver screen. Humphrey Bogart played Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to great acclaim.

By the end of the 20th century, the fearless, gun-toting good guy had become a cultural hero. He had appeared on magazine covers, movie posters, in television credits and in video games.

Selling a fantasy

Gun rights enthusiasts have embraced the idea of the “good guy” as a model to emulate – a character role that just needed real people to step in and play it. The NRA store even sells T-shirts with LaPierre’s slogan, and encourages buyers to “show everyone that you’re the ‘good guy’” by buying the T-shirt.

The NRA sells shirts with LaPierre’s quote.
NRA Store

The problem with this archetype is that it’s just that: an archetype. A fictional fantasy.

In pulp fiction, the detectives never miss. Their timing is precise and their motives are irreproachable. They never accidentally shoot themselves or an innocent bystander. Rarely are they mentally unstable or blinded by rage. When they clash with the police, it’s often because they’re doing the police’s job better than the police can.

Another aspect of the fantasy involves looking the part. The “good guy with a gun” isn’t just any guy – it’s a white one.

In “Three Gun Terry,” the detective apprehends the villain, Manual Sparo, with some tough words: “‘Speak English,’ I says. I’m none too gentle because it won’t do him any good now.”

In Daly’s “Snarl of the Beast,” the protagonist, Race Williams, takes on a grunting, monstrous immigrant villain.

Could this explain why, in 2018, when a black man with a gun tried to stop a shooting in a mall in Alabama – and the police shot and killed him – the NRA, usually eager to champion good guys with guns, didn’t comment?

A reality check

Most gun enthusiasts don’t measure up to the fictional ideal of the steady, righteous and sure shot.

In fact, research has shown that gun-toting independence unleashes much more chaos and carnage than heroism. A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research study revealed that right-to-carry laws increase, rather than decrease, violent crime. Higher rates of gun ownership is correlated with higher homicide rates. Gun possession is correlated with increased road rage.

There have been times when a civilian with a gun successfully intervened in a shooting, but these instances are rare. Those who carry guns often have their own guns used against them. And a civilian with a gun is more likely to be killed than to kill an attacker.

Even in instances where a person is paid to stand guard with a gun, there’s no guarantee that he’ll fulfill this duty.

Hard-boiled novels have sold in the hundreds of millions. The movies and television shows they inspired have reached millions more.

What started as entertainment has turned into a durable American fantasy.

Maintaining it has become a deadly American obsession.

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Susanna Lee, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Georgetown University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.