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Gambling, Dueling, and Social Depravity in the Haut Ton

  • A. A. Markley
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Abstract

Perhaps the one objective that links reformist writers of the 1790s more than any other is their shared goal to draw attention to the corruption of the British upper class. Inspired by the early promise of the French Revolution, many of these authors worked to convince their readers that the behavior of Britain’s age-old aristocracy had become increasingly damaging to the common good. Such writers traced a host of contemporary social problems to the behavior of aristocrats who continued to live off of the labor of the poor despite the fact that many of them were rapidly beginning to run through their own fortunes. By the end of the eighteenth century, many upper-class families who had been entrenched in ancient estates for generations found themselves rich in land and in pride but increasingly poor in cash. Nevertheless, such families tended to hold tenaciously to their hereditary social status and their lives of high fashion in the “haut ton.”

Keywords

Middle Class Lower Class French Revolution Late Eighteenth Century Excessive Gambling 
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Notes

  1. 4.
    Gary Kelly discusses this aspect of Inchbald’s social criticism in Nature and Ar in The English Jacobin Novel 1780–180 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), 102–3.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Phyllis Deutsch addresses the topic of gambling in detail and focuses largely on the careers of noted gamesters Charles James Fox and the Duchess of Devonshire in “Moral Trespass in Georgian London: Gaming, Gender, and Electoral Politics in the Age of George III,” The Historical Journa 39, no. 3 (September 1996): 637–56. For an overview of gambling in Britain in the late eighteenth century and afterward, see David G. Schwartz, Roll the Bones: The History of Gamblin (New York: Gotham, 2006), 158–80.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See Gerda Reith, The Age of Chance: Gambling and Western Cultur (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 65.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Kavanagh, Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance: The Novel and the Culture of Gambling in Eighteenth-Century Franc (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 38.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Cited by Russell, “Faro’s Daughters,” 500n2. “Hazard” is a dice game and an early version of craps; “E-O” (“even-odd”), an early version of roulette, is a game of chance in which the appropriation of the stakes is determined by whether a ball falls into one of several niches on a wheel marked “E” or “O.” (A woman in the foreground of Gillray’s etching on the front cover of this book is spinning an “E-O” wheel.) “Faro” was an especially popular card game in the late eighteenth century in which players bet against a banker, or dealer, on the order certain cards will appear when taken from the top of the deck. The game seems to have derived its name from the fact that certain cards once depicted the image of a pharaoh (OE). Russell points out that a faro banker stood to win great sums because he or she would win in the case of a tie or “anomalous outcomes” (486).Google Scholar
  6. 26.
    See Robert D. Bass, The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinso (New York: Henry Holt, 1957; repr. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Publishing, 1973), 332–33.Google Scholar
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    Gary Handwerk, “Historical Trauma: Political Theory and Novelistic Practice in William Godwin’s Fiction,” Comparative Criticis 16 (1994): 82. Handwerk extends his analysis of the novel in “History, Trauma, and the Limits of the Liberal Imagination: William Godwin’s Historical Fiction” in arguing that St Leon’s reformist efforts are undercut by his inability to perceive historical repetition or “to acknowledge his complicity with his age.” Romanticism, History, and the Possibilities of Genre: Re-forming Literature 1789–183, ed. Tilottama Rajan and Julia M. Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 75.Google Scholar
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  9. 51.
    Humphry Clinke, ed. James L. Thorson (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983.), 195. It is true, however, that toward the end of the eighteenth century, tradesmen occasionally challenged aristocrats over unpaid bills. Although aristocrats usually rebuffed such challenges as being beneath their dignity, some duels were fought over such disputes. See Frank McLynn, Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-century Englan (London and New York: Routledge, 1989), 146.Google Scholar
  10. 52.
    Donna T. Andrew, “The Code of Honor and its Critics: The Opposition to Duelling in England, 1700–1850,” Social Histor 5, no. 3 (October 1980): 410.Google Scholar
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    See Andrew, “The Code of Honor,” 420–21. In The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britai (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992) (80–81), G. J. Barker-Benfield relates this trend to the eighteenth century’s “campaign for the reformation of manners,” as discussed by Norbert Elias in The History of Manner (New York: Pantheon, 1982).Google Scholar
  13. 64.
    For more discussion of the arguments against dueling, see Francois Billacois, The Duel: Its Rise and Fall in Early Modern Franc, ed. and trans. Trista Selous (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 129–43; Andrew, “The Code of Honor,” 409–34; and Kiernan, The Duel in European Histor, 192–93. An example of the religious argument against dueling can be found in Wilberforce’s A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christian (London: Cadell and Davies, 1797).Google Scholar
  14. 67.
    Amelia Opie, The Father and Daughte with Dangers of Coquetr, ed. Shelley King and John B. Pierce (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2003), 256. For a discussion of this novel, see Catherine H. Decker, “Women and Public Space in the Novel of the 1790s,” in Women, Revolution, and the Novels of the 1790, ed. Linda Lang-Peralta (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1999), 17–18.Google Scholar
  15. 71.
    Gerard Barker attributes this episode to the influence of Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandiso in Grandisos Heirs: The Paragos Progress in the Late Eighteenth-Century English Nove (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985), 131–32.Google Scholar
  16. 72.
    Coke Clifton’s emotional response to this incident would not have been an unusual reaction. In Robinson’s Hubert de Sevra (1796), for example, the aristocratic hero is assaulted by an unknown assailant in the dark, and becomes despondent and nearly goes mad when he realizes that he has no way to avenge his family name and honor by challenging the unknown perpetrator.Google Scholar
  17. 74.
    Peter Faulkner discusses Bage’s treatment of dueling in Man As He I in Robert Bag (Boston: Twayne, 1979), 115–17.Google Scholar

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© A. A. Markley 2009

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