Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Transpontine Paris Commune

Always on the look out for uses of the word 'transpontine', so that was the first word I entered when I found the treasure trove of the Spectator archive. There were quite a few references, confirming its most common meaning as being in relation to the 19th century theatres of South London, with their taste for the sensational and melodramatic. Hence the word denoted condescension both to this form of drama and the presumed 'vulgar'/lower class theatre audience who enjoyed it (I guess it was the 19th century equivalent of being snooty about people watching Eastenders).

So a January 1857  review of a play at the Royal Surrey praised 'a writer who for something like three hours can interest a Transpontine audience, without once changing his scene, firing one pistol, or introducing one melodramatic effect' (the Surrey in Blackfriars Road was the transpontine theatre to top them all).

An 1885 review of a novel commented 'we do not believe that. any Irish butler would address his master, "Ay, ay, lad," except perhaps on a transpontine stage'.

But sometimes the word was applied to real events seen to have similar characteristics. The Paris Commune of 1871 was a defining event of the period, seen by Marx for instance 'as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators' history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them'. Thousands were slaughtered by the authorities as they regained control of Paris. So how did the Spectator see this at the time?

'This French civil war is like nothing so much as a transpontine tragedy, abounding in incidents, chokeful of horrors, and inexpressibly tedious nevertheless. M. Thiers has been attacking Fort Issy all the week, and thought on Monday he had captured it ; but the Commune, indignant at the flight of its commandant Megey, replaced him by General Eudes (printer), and the fort is firing away as before. The troops on both sides are becoming more determined, and in two instances a spirit of desperation seems to have been displayed. On Monday night, the 22nd Chasseurs were ordered to take the railway station of Clamart, and they took it with the bayonet, killing nearly the whole of the garrison of 360 men. The soldiers gave no quarter, and of course the Communists fought to the last' (Spectator 6 May 1871)

No comments: