Monday, September 22, 2014

Frith!

I've encountered the name Frith three times recently. Is that strange? Probably not! The butler's name in REBECCA is Frith. Then Megan Abbott was staying in a hotel on Frith Street or Frith Road in London. I was curious about the address because I was going to check out my handy GAZETTEER OF BRITISH GHOSTS to find any nearby ghosts for her convenience. Unfortunately I am ill-instructed in the use of a gazetteer and ignorant of the geography of London. (Megan did say on twitter that was visiting Stirling, Scotland, where reside "TWO famous ghosts: the Green Lady & the Pink Lady [unrelated].") Then I was reading in Jonathon Green's history of slang - THE VULGAR TONGUE it's called - about Mary Frith (pictured), also known as "Moll Cutpurse," a 17th-century high-end fence of jewelry and such. She also specialized "in stealing and returning shopbooks and account ledgers that had specific value only to business owners." She dressed like a man and scandalously frequented tobacco houses! In fact she once suffered official public punishment for dressing like a man. A letter-writer reported to a friend, "she wept bitterly and seemed very penitent, but yt is since doubted she was maudelin druncke, beeing discovered to have tipled of three quarts of sacke before she came to her penaunce." Who wouldn't? There was a play written about her in 1611, THE ROARING GIRLE, and she "even appeared on stage at the Fortune Playhouse. She was dressed as a man and closed the evening's performance with a jig." A great typo in this edition says that she died in 1859, which would have made her 275. I've noticed a few other typos so far. Get it together, Oxford University Press! Ha ha, that jaunty admonition was supposed to be the end of this "post," but it strikes me as I type this that the name Frith may not have been a coincidence in the novel REBECCA. The late Rebecca is often praised and just as often decried for seeming like a man, and our nameless narrator offers to to be more like a boy for her husband (!), and I think there is at least one other woman in the book who is described explicitly as boyish, hmm, not to mention Maxim's sister and Mrs. Danvers. And Lee Durkee told me that there was an aspect of Du Maurier's personality that she referred to as "the boy in the box," recently mentioned also by Carrie Frye in an interesting essay, ("click" here). Gee, as long as I'm typing I should mention that I also read in Green about the 16th-century cross-dressing taphouse girl "Long Meg," who hung out with famous poets, the king's jester, and "the Spanish Knight, Sir James of Castille." She "delighted to assume man's apparel and at last went to the wars with King Henry and returned wedded to a soldier, and set up a public house at Islington." I've also learned more about the bookseller Richard Head, who turns out to have been an important collector of criminal lingo. Green is as baffled as I am by John Aubrey's claim that Head "could transform himself into any shape," though it's a fitting thought here.