Sorcerers and London Streets: books read

THE SORCERY CLUB by Elliott O’Donnell is a 1912 novel that has just enough good moments to wish it was actually good. Three unemployed office clerks discover a manual of the occult they use to bargain with Something (the summoning is one of the good moments); in return for supernatural powers (divination, mind-reading, levitation, enslaving women) they must forswear all hope of spiritual advancement, focusing purely on personal gain. They’re good with that. Over the next few chapters they steal, blackmail and humiliate, mostly for money but sometimes just for sheer meanness; one of the high points is when even they’re horrified at the number of people willing to pay for the magic death of a relative, rival, boss, etc.

Unfortunately the book’s just too pedestrian in too many scenes. The strongest character is a cynical, self-interested secretary who falls for a young artist, but in the worst Victorian tradition she sacrifices herself so he can be happy with the woman he truly loves. O’Donnell’s story is also unpleasantly sexist (the wizards delight in doing nasty things to suffragettes) and very anti-Semitic (Jews are greedy, money-obsessed, and generally unpleasant).

CITY OF DREADFUL DELIGHT: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Victorian London by Judith B. Walkowitz positions the outcry over the Ripper slayings in the context of established concerns about fallen women, the London working class, and the efforts of independent women to establish their own place in the city, whether as feminist activists or Salvation Army redeemers. Walkowitz argues that this stew influenced the various theories Jack was a reformer, a sex maniac, or a mad scientist while feminists tried to link him up with male violence in general (for a while “I’ll Whitechapel you!” was a standard threat toward women). An epilog looks at the much more organized feminist push back to the late-seventies Yorkshire Ripper case and the sexism around it. Academic and dry, but interesting.

#SFWApro. Don’t know the cover artist, all rights remain with current holder.


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