Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Horse-racing Fraud, Then and Now

by Nancy Henry

This past March, twenty-seven people involved in U.S. horse racing, including trainers and veterinarians, were federally indicted for doping racehorses with banned substances. A New York Times article by Benjamin Weiser and Joe Drape reported: “To avoid detection of their scheme, the indictment said, the defendants routinely defrauded and misled federal and state regulators ‘and the betting public.’”

Three bookmakers are watching a horserace. Lithograph by Tom Merry, 7 September 1889. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

This ongoing case is part of a long, troubling history of horse-racing fraud. In Victorian Britain, attempts to cheat sometimes erupted into full-blown scandals. For example, the 1844 Epsom Derby was compromised by a series of deceits that included entering a four-year old as a three-year old. There are many ways to “fix” a race, but drugging or injuring the horse is particularly shocking because it involves a betrayal of trust, as well as physical harm. Fiction is uniquely able to create sympathy for the horse, and in some cases, imagine his thoughts. In Ouida’s Under Two Flags (1867), for example, the steeplechaser Forest King has his bit painted with poison, and we see the ensuing delirium through his eyes.

In Victorian fiction generally and racing fiction in particular, there is tension between the horse as a living, feeling creature and the horse as source of monetary value. Jane Smiley observes that in the eighteenth century, “horseracing, fiction, and capitalism came to form a mutually nurturing threesome” (44). In the nineteenth-century racing plots are also financial plots; horses are characters and commodities. Forest King’s loss results in financial ruin for his owner Bertie Cecil, and it redirects the novel’s plot. In Anthony Trollope’s The Duke’s Children (1880), Lord Silverbridge’s horse Prime Minister has a nail driven into his hoof on the morning of his race, causing Silverbridge to lose the tremendous sums he had bet on the horse.

In Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41), Little Nell attends the races, reflecting, “how strange it was that horses who were such fine honest creatures should seem to make vagabonds of all the men they drew about them” (157). Later novelists like George Moore in Esther Waters (1894) agreed. More recently, The Sport of Kings (2016) by C.E. Morgan explores the economic cultures of racing and breeding horses in Kentucky.   

While many tracks closed temporarily, horse racing is one of the few sports that remained available for live viewing (and betting) in the US throughout the Covid-19 pandemic shut downs. For many gamblers, racing is entirely removed from the horses, who are represented by statistics in the racing form and numbers on a screen. Outrage over doping is apt to be more about financial loss than animal cruelty. Victorian literature is a good place to start when considering how horse racing, literary criticism and Animal Studies might intersect in order to bring attention to the harm done to horses when humans put money above the integrity of the sport and the safety of the horses.

This post forms part of a special issue on “Fraud and Forgery in Victorian Culture.” To read more see Nancy Henry, “Horse-Racing Fraud in Victorian Fiction.” Victorian Review, vol. 45, no. 2, Fall 2019, pp. 235-251.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop. Ed. Elizabeth M. Brennan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.

Smiley, Jane. “The Fiction of Horseracing.” Cambridge Companion to Horseracing, edited by Rebecca Cassidy. Cambridge UP, 2013, pp. 44–56.

Interview with Martha Stoddard Holmes at VSAWC 2015

At the 2015 VSAWC conference, Victorian Bodies, Dr. Martha Stoddard Holmes gave the inaugural McMaster Lecture, “Liminal Children: Making Disability and Childhood in Nineteenth-Century Fiction,” which examined the intersecting developments of disability and childhood as cultural constructs. Victorian Review had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Stoddard Holmes, who wrote Fictions of Affliction, the seminal book on disability in Victorian literature,  about her research and what led her to it.  She told us that her interest in disability was instigated by Victorian studies, just when the field of disability studies was emerging in the humanities in the 1990s.

In the following video clip, Dr. Stoddard Holmes discusses the need for critically studying disability’s cultural construction, and she relates how examining Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens novels led her to become aware of that need. Additionally, she explains how the Victorian era was a crucial time in the development of disability as an object of discourse and social identity.


In our discussion with her, Dr. Stoddard Holmes also informed us how activism plays an important role in the field of disability studies, particularly since the study of disability in the humanities came out of disability rights movement that began in the 1970s. In the video below, Dr. Stoddard Holmes describes some of the social restrictions faced by an important Victorian activist for the blind, Elizabeth Margaretta Maria Gilbert—restrictions that appeared even after her death through the biography written by her good friend and fellow women’s activist, Frances Martin.


Dr. Stoddard Holmes also noted that in her research experience, she has often found that the Victorians engaged in issues regarding disability that we are still engaging with in the twenty-first century, sometimes in “less imaginative ways than in the nineteenth century.”

Floating Academy: Stuttering in Victorian Studies

By Daniel Martin

I’ve been working on a book project about Victorian representations and narratives of speech dysfluency for a number of years now, and I’m starting to see a dim shape for the entire project. I think it now has an introduction and a skeleton of chapters, but who knows if I’ll radically blow things up and completely reorganize the thing. As of today, I’m staring, with excitement, at what I hope will be a summer of relatively uninterrupted writing, so I thought I would give our readers a glimpse at some extraneous material from my introduction and early chapters. Basically, some of this material is in the book, some of it isn’t, and some of it is in the book but written in different ways. In a sense, the following paragraphs attempt to outline what I see as some fundamental problems in the ways in which Victorian studies and cultural studies appropriate or misuse metaphors of stuttering and stammering, or dysfluency in general. This is my contribution to thinking about speech dysfluency both within the paradigm of disability studies and more broadly in current critical practices in Victorian studies. Continue reading

Julianne Smith: Adaptations and Unpublished Manuscripts

By Sabrina Schoch and Reba Ouimet

At last year’s Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity for a discussion with Dr. Julianne Smith, a speaker at the conference and the recipient of the 2004 Innovative Teaching Award, Center for Teaching & Learning, from Pepperdine University. Dr. Smith sat down and talked with us about lost manuscripts, different adaptations of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, and her address at the conference. We were interested in discovering how she describes Victorian studies to undergraduate students and in finding out what she thinks is the best way to introduce these studies to students. Dr. Smith explained her teaching philosophy in regards to Victorian literature: “I think the best way to introduce Victorian studies to undergraduates is to talk about the things that you’re excited about yourself, and so I love the context and history of the period…. I talk about the weird and wonderful things the Victorians did, and then with those in mind, [I] begin to look at the text…. I rely on my own interests and ability to convey interest.”

In addition to inquiring about Dr. Smith’s teaching methods, we also asked about her address at the VSAWC conference. Dr. Smith’s current research concerns the unpublished manuscripts of plays, and she acknowledged that “no one has done much analysis on [these plays nor has anyone taken] those plays into the scholarly conversation to look at how they add to or shape the reception of Bleak House itself as a novel.”

We noted that “Jane Eyre changed the way the story [of Bleak House] is being told” and asked whether the Bleak House adaptations have had the same effect. Dr. Smith responded, “Bleak House changes, and because Bleak House is a novel that doesn’t identify a central character in its title, even the first reviewers ask[ed] questions and tried to figure out whose story [it is], and the theatrical adaptations tend to identify a central character and tell that story.”

Not only does the original story lack a central character but the resulting adaptations, the changes in perspectives, and the competing characters also reveal what and who interested the Victorians most.  Nobody particularly cares about Esther, the “sometimes” protagonist; Joe and Lady Dedlocke compete for the starring role. Much like today’s readers, the Victorians were most interested in the tragic characters and melodrama.

We then touched briefly on the BBC adaptation of Bleak House, and Dr. Smith stated that the BBC version “compares shifting class focus on how we receive Bleak House and interpret it, versus how the Victorians did.”

Finally, we asked Dr. Smith if she was aware of any exciting new directions in which Victorian studies could go. “Well for me,” she said, “when I started grad school in the mid ’90s, all of the technology and ways of searching online publications, or even searching the British library catalogue online, was … new and exciting. I didn’t realize the implications of this at the time, and things have really gotten better from there…. Access to those texts, [which] have been so obscure and remote for most scholars, has changed everything. Expectations are higher for students now.”


Julianne Smith

Dr. Smith is an associate professor of English at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She holds a PhD from Texas Christan University, and both a master and bachelor of arts from Abilene Christian University. Her academic interests include gender, religion, Victorian women writers, and Victorian theatre. She is currently working on Victorian Drama in the 1850s and the Transformation of Literary Consciousness, to be published shortly in Victorian Transformations.