Saturday, December 17, 2011

Italians with white mice

I found this, while searching around for the significance of Italians with white mice:
At this time, Italians frequently roamed the streets of London and other large English towns as organ-grinders. Daryl Ogden, in an article fromStudies in the Novel, mentions this practice: "In the 1820s and 1830s, a relatively large population of Italian 'organ boys' was imported into London. These street entertainers, mentioned by Dickens in Little Dorritt, performed tricks with trained monkeys and mice while their masters played the organ. It was eventually revealed that organ boys were being trafficked in an elaborate white slave trade (the practice was subsequently denounced by Mazzini)" (Ogden, Daryl, "George Eliot and Italy: Literary, Cultural and Political Influences from Dante to the Risorgimento," Studies in the Novel, Fall 2000). So the image of Italians as poor street performers carrying around white mice would have been a particularly strong one for the Victorian audience George Eliot was writing to.
From The Literature Network forums. Is it trustworthy? Well, it cites a book, you know. So it must be, right?


Guilty Boksen said...

Well, Sarah Wise's The Italian Boy (Cape 2004) mentions:

" The objects and creatures were rented out to the boys each morning by the men who ran the trade [exhibiting portable creatures] at these daily rates:

... box of white mice - 1s 6d" (The Globe and Traveller, 12 Nov 1831.)

Also from The Italian Boy:

"Londoners appear to felt sentimental about Italian Boys/Image Boys/White Mice boys...In a curious case of 1834 Lord Dudley Coutts Stuart...announced he would personally request the Home Secretary to secure the release of two Italian boys committed to a fortnight in prison...Police Constables Simpson and Brockway ...had arrested Antonio Loniski and Barnard Malvarham, both aged about fourteen, for begging in Wilson Street, boy had a monkey, the other a cage of white mice."

Trish Byrne said...

Oh, that's interesting stuff. I had no idea about this white mice malarkey before reading those two books this year.