Tag Archives: fraud

“I wrote them all”: Forgery and Forms of Classification in Trollope’s Orley Farm

by Katherine Anne Gilbert

A woman in Victorian crinoline in the foreground has three men behind her, and the town main street in the background.

‘Lady Mason going before the Magistrates’. Source: 1981 Dover Orley Farm, ii, p. 96 Hall, AT and His Illustrators, pp. 29-40.

As Victorianists, we often turn to sensation fiction as the genre in which disruptive challenges to social, legal, and gendered structures were narrated in the nineteenth century. Victorian condemnations of sensation fiction are read as traditionalist calls for conservation of the status quo, one in which individuals remain clearly organized into categories that reinforce inequities in class, gender, and wealth. Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm (1862), however, troubles such easy categorization. Trollope, long considered a consummate realist, tells the story of Lady Mason, the young, second wife of the deceased Sir Joseph Mason, who forges her dying husband’s will to redirect the line of inheritance to her son. Lady Mason is tried–twice—first for forgery and then perjury, and found innocent both times. Yet Trollope, while simultaneously detailing Lady Mason’s crimes, encourages readers not to judge Lady Mason too quickly. How might we read this novel in light of the categories of realism and sensationalism, continuity and disruption, gender and inheritance? And, how might we understand forgery in this light, a crime that brings to the fore concerns about how to classify something as original and true or an imitation and dishonest?

I suggest that it is not the acts of crime that bring together Trollope and sensation fiction in Orley Farm, but a near obsession within the novel with forms of classification themselves. Strikingly, this fixation on classification permeates the novel from the more sensational (is a beautiful Lady capable of crime?), to the mundane (is a lawyer a professional or a commercial man, and should he be allowed in the commercial men’s lounge at a traveler’s Inn?), to class and race (can Lady Mason’s son, Lucius, devise a new system of classification of humans, one that intertwines an analysis of the structures of languages with a racial mapping through history?). Building on the work of others such as Susan David Bernstein, who demonstrates that sensation fiction’s interest in classification intersects with the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, I trace the ways that classification, and threats to it, appear repeatedly in Orley Farm, and argue that it is this interest in forms of classification and their permeations that the novel shares most forcefully with sensation fiction. Taking up Marlene Tromp’s recent problematizing of our own contemporary interest in classifying realism and sensation fiction even now, I then ask, what does it mean to contextualize Lady Mason’s acts as realistic or sensational? Whose stories, as Tromp suggests, are presented to us as within the realm of the likely and the everyday, and what are the political stakes of such classifications?

To read more see Gilbert, Katherine. ““I Wrote Them All”: Forgery and Forms of Classification in Trollope’s Orley Farm.” Victorian Review, vol. 45 no. 2, 2019, p. 307-323. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/vcr.2019.0061.

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.