Monday, 16 May 2016

Among the Cranks by James Greenwood (1905)

The portrait of Greenwood is taken from spartacus-educational as well

James Greenwood (b. 1832 as claimed by, d. 1927) was probably one of the pioneers of investigative journalism, making a sensation in 1865 when he, nepotistically employed by his brother in the Pall Mall Gazette, spent a night dressed as a vagrant in the casual ward of a London workhouse, which fancy terminology denoted a filthy room wherein homeless people could spend the night in a shelter designated for that purpose.

His article of the lowly conditions he experienced there let to a major outcry. Greenwood would go on to investigate the conditions of Railway workers and in 1874 he claimed to have witnessed an organised fight between a dog and a dwarf, though it was later not conclusively proven in investigation by the authorites.

I cannot say much concerning Greenwood's literary career outside of journalism, aside from his first book co-authored by his brother and future employer Frederick Greendoow, called Under a Cloud (1860), him having authored two books in defense of the working class and their plight, namely  Unsentimental Journeys, or, Byways of Modern Babylon (1867) and Seven Curses of London (1869) and the fact that his last book, the subject of this review, came out in 1905. I do not know if he published anything between 1869 and 1905.

The book in question is an odd one. A collection of the stories of the inmates of an insane asylum seems a very interesting idea, and reminescent of a story I'd read years ago which I cannot remember exactly, except that it may have been one of the Gothics, or perhaps a Russian work. Either way, the issue is that the stories presented herein, while possibly accurate to real stories Greenwood may have heard, as this does seem to be the sort of thing he would be all gun-ho about, aren't the most exciting and that's just such a shame, if you can draw entertainment from the mental delusions of people long since dead. Putting that aside, the stories narrated by the inmates aren't as fantastical as you would hope for. One includes a lady obsessed with post-mortem soul migration into cats, a tale of soul exchange in dreams, or a story where a man is convinced he has seen a vision of his utter ruin inside of a pool and goes around hunting to shoot a man he "recognises" from his vision in order to "break the spell", but most of the content is rather dry, and it almost sounds like a plot of a story that someone could have made a book out of, like the story of a man who accidentally becomes a member of an anarchist group that sponges him for money, of a worker who almost gets framed by the accountant of the company for fraud, the tale of a disfigured youth whom circumstances have lead to be wrongly pronounced dead and denied his rightful inheritance by greedy relatives, all these do seem like plots that are starting to get somewhere and then the interview ends and the usually unnamed Doctor, who has the annoying habbit of summing up the patients' story before they tell it so one is forced to hear it twice, will dismiss the whole thing.

The one truly fascinating story is that of a man convinced his old uncle had turned into a bluebottle fly he keeps around in a glass bottle.

Though Greenwood would write no more fiction after this he would carry on until his death at the age of 96.

I must express thanks to John Simkin of for providing information about Greenwood including confirmation that he authored "Among the Cranks", the only source to definitely say so.

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