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Found Pages: The Remarkable Harold Ernest (“Darcy Glinto”) Kelly, 1899–1969.

Sidebar 13: Bodily Harms

This page is partly here as a corrective to the model of a decent, pacific British culture into which the venom of violent American-type fictions like No Orchids for Miss Blandish and Lady—Don’t Turn Over was injected; partly, too, as a reminder of how relatively mild the violences in Chase and Glinto are, as compared with what they could have been—which is to say, the routes that Glinto in particular didn’t take in his five 1941 novels after Lady—Don’t; partly also as a reminder of the savagery welling up in both Fascism and Communism.

Apart maybe from the shudder pulps, the kinds of works that I have drawn on could have been accessed by younger readers and writers before the Even Greater War. When a book doesn’t make it into the libraries and costs too much to buy, it can still be sampled off the bookstore shelf.

1. Chambers of Horror; fiction

Here are a few excerpts from British Establishment fiction before the First World War, when the atrocious was safely elsewhere in foreign parts that hadn’t yet caught up with the civilization of a Europe that had mercifully renounced, in the 19th century, the worst crimes of punishment:

(a) “The cave of torture.” I afterwards saw this dreadful place, also a legacy from the prehistoric people who lived in Kôr. The only objects in the cave itself were slabs of rock arranged in various positions to facilitate the operations of the torturers. Many of these slabs, which were of a porous stone, were stained quite dark with the blood of ancient victims that had soaked into them. Also in the center of the room was a place for a furnace, with a cavity to heat the historic pot. But the most dreadful thing about the cave was that over each slab was a sculptured illustration of the appropriate torment being applied. These sculptures were so awful that I will not harrow the reader by attempting a description of them.—L.H.H.

H. Rider Haggard, fictitious footnote in She (1887)

(b) Strickland wrapped a towel round his hand and took the gun-barrels out of the fire. I put the half of the broken walking-stick through the loop of fishing-line and buckled the leper comfortably to Strickland’s bedstead. …

Strickland shaded his eyes with his hands for a moment and we got to work. This part is not to be told. … [sic ]

The dawn was beginning to break when the leper spoke.

Rudyard Kipling, “The Mark of the Beast,” first book publication 1891

(c) “I have seen the death of the hot eggs; I have seen the death of the boiling kettle; I have seen the women—my God! I wonder that I have ever slept sound again.” His usually impassive face was working and quivering with the agony of the remembrance. “I was strapped to a stake with thorns in my eyelids to keep them open … ”

Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Pot of Caviar,” 1908, about a fictitious incident during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China.

(d) Laputa laughed. It was a horrid sound in the darkness.

“You are brave, Mr. Storekeeper, but I have seen a brave man’s courage ebb very fast when he saw the death which I have arranged for you. Would you like to hear something of it by way of preparation?”

In a low gentle voice he began to tell me mysteries of awful cruelty. At first I scarcely heard him, but as he went on my brain seemed to wake from its lethargy. I listened with freezing blood. Not in my wildest nightmares had I imagined such a fate. Then in despite of myself a cry broke from me.

John Buchan, Prester John, 1910, ch. XVI

But Joseph Conrad, having participated himself in the “civilizing” mission of King Leopold’s Congo, knew how fragile European decency and “civilization” were.

2. Chambers of Horror; non-fiction

The following come from works of propaganda, intended to influence the attitudes of readers, including politicians, towards particular regimes and parties. They seem to me very likely to be true. In any event, they or passages like them were available in the inter-war years.

(a) It is a fact that there existed in Riga, in the years 1906–8, and even later, a “museum of tortures” [torture chamber], in which the police, with the approval of the magistrates, tortured political prisoners, in order to wring admissions from them and to extract the names of their comrades. The tortures were directed by a special “commission,” composed of officials to whom the Governor—according to the declaration of the commission—had granted the right to kill political prisoners without trial and without inquest.

Here are some facts, cited from an interpellation made in April, 1907, upon this subject, and approved by an enormous majority of the second Duma (Parliament]: …

“On March 14, 1906, three revolutionaries were arrested, and for eight days they were subjected to the most refined tortures . . . [sic] Their nails and hair were torn out, they were struck upon the genital organs, their bones were broken … [sic]

“On the 18th August a youth of sixteen was arrested, a secondary school boy, being accused of lending a comrad a copy of the ‘Proclamation of Viborg.’ He was struck on the arms, the back, the head, and the genital organs, so that at last his whole body was merely one horrible wound.

“Another young prisoner of twenty-two, arrested the 30th of November, 1906, was transformed, in a detective police bureau, into a hairless and mutilated old man.”

Gregor Alexinsky, Modern Russia, trans. 1913, pp.280-81.

(b) The place had formerly been a garage, and then the provincial Che-Ka’s [Cheka’s] main slaughter-house. And the whole of it was coated with blood—blood ankle deep, coagulated with the heat of the atmosphere, and horribly mixed with human brains, chips of skull-bone, wisps of hair, and similar fragments of brain and scalp, as well as riddled with thousands of bullet holes. … And though it had been the Bolshevists’ rule to load their victims on to wagons and lorries as soon as massacred, and take them outside the town for burial, we found that a corner of the garden near the grave already described had in it another older grave, and that the second grave contained eighty bodies which in every instance bore almost unimaginably horrible wounds and mutilations, In this grave we found corpses with, variously, entrails ripped out, no limbs remaining (as though the bodies had literally been chopped up), eyes gouged out, and heads and necks and faces and trunks all studded with stab wounds. …

Cheka torturers
Cheka torturers

In fact, each Che-Ka seems to have had its specialty in torture. Kharkov, for instance, under Saenko, went in primarily for scalpings and hand flayings; and in Voronezh the person to be tortured was first stripped naked, and then thrust into a nail-studied barrel, and rolled about in it, or else branded on the forehead with a five-pointed star, or, if a member of the clergy, “crowned” with barbed wire. As for the Che-Kas of Tsaritsin and Kamishin, it was their custom to saw their victims’ bones apart, whilst Poltava and Kremenehoug made it their special rule to impale clergy (once, in the latter place, where a ruffian named Crishka was in command, eighteen monks were transfixed in a single day).

Sergey Petrovich Melgounov [Melgonov], The Red Terrot, tr. C.J. Hogarth (London, J.M. Dent, 1926)

(c) We found the town’s Jewish population robbed of everything it had, wounded and hacked to pieces. Our soldiers, who have seen a thing or two in their time and have been known to chop off quite a few heads, staggered in horror at what they saw. In the pitiful huts that had been razed to the ground, seventy-year-old men with crushed skulls lay naked in pools of blood, infants, often still alive, with fingers hacked off, and old women, raped, their stomachs slashed open, crouched in corners, with faces on which wild, unbearable desperation had congealed. The living were crawling among the dead, bumping into mangled corpses, their hands and faces covered with sticky, foul-smelling blood, terrified of leaving their houses, fearing that all was not yet over.

Isaac Babel, “Murderers who have yet to be Clubbed to Death,” The Red Cavalryman (paper distributed to cavalrymen during the Russian/Polish campaign, 1920. This wouldn’t have been available in English, but it can stand in for accounts that I’m sure were.
Atrocities in Spain
Atrocities in Spain

(d) The atrocities which were committed in this town [San Martin de Valdeglesias] are notable, not so much for their number, as for the cruelty and fiendishness with which they were perpetrated. A red tribunal was improvised composed of men notorious as being the lowest of the low and with the worst characters in the town. This tribunal passed the most appalling sentences so far known even among the Spanish Communists.

As an example may be quoted the sentences passed and the fate that befell various women who were of good position in the locality. Each of them was condemned to be violated and to satiate every vile passion of twenty-five ruffians … The horror of the hours suffered by these victims has had terrible effects on their minds, and they relate how they again and again implored their executioners a thousand times to kill them rather than submit them to such dreadful dishonour.

The Second and Third Official Reports on The Communist Atrocities Committed in Southern Spain from July to October 1936 by the Communist Forces of the Madrid Government, preface Arthur Bryant, issued by authority of The Committee of Investigation appointed by the National Government at Burgos (London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1937), p.147
The Brown Book, 1933
The Brown Book, 1933

(e) Dr Max Plaut, a [ Jewish ] lawyer, was dragged out of his office by a large group of Nazis and taken away in a closed car which drove along the main street. As they drove along he was forced to shout “Heil Hitler” by blows with rubber batons, and each time he shouted the Nazis roared with glee. Plaut was taken to the Nazi headquarters, where a so-called court-martial was held and sentenced him, for alleged professional shortcomings, to 200 blows with rubber batons. He was then taken down to a cellar and strapped to a bench for the sentence to be carried out. He was then most terribly mishandled for almost two hours. After some time Plaut fainted; water was then thrown over him until he revived, when he was given some alcohol by so-called “sisters.” When he had come to himself the mishandling was resumed. By the time the brutal punishment had been concluded he had completely lost consciousness, and was left, covered with blood, lying in a corner. Plaut was then taken to his flat, where he died ten days later. The doctors who were called to attend him, Dr. Scholl, a nerve specialist, and Prof. Tönnisen, head doctor of the State Hospital, found the most terrible injuries, including serious damage to the internal organs, especially kidneys and lungs. His back and legs gradually turned completely black. Plaut had to be kept on his bed in a permanent state of narcosis, as when he came to consciousness he screamed so terribly that he was heard in the street. After ten days of this he died.

The Brown Book of The Hitler Terror and the Burning of the Reichstag, Prepared by the World Committee for the Victims of German Fascism, with an Introduction by Lord Marley (London, Victor Gollancz, 1933, p. 239)

(f) The colonel sat down on the prisoner’s back. A.D. [the prisoner] was going to count the blows. He didn’t yet know about a blow from a rubber truncheon on the sciatic nerve when the buttocks have disappeared as a consequence of prolonged starvation. The effect is not felt in the place where the blow is delivered—it explodes inside the head. After the first blow the victim was mad with pain and broke his nails on the carpet. …

You could learn from those who had suffered that they could give you a salt-water douche in the throat and then leave you in a box for a day tormented by thirst. Or that they might scrape the skin off a man’s back with a grater till it bled and then oil it with turpentine. (Brigade Commander Rudolf Pintsov underwent both treatments. In addition, they pushed needles under his nails, and poured water into him to the bursting point—demanding that he confess to having wanted to turn his brigade of tanks against the government during the November parade.) And from Aleksandrov, the former head of the Arts Section of the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, who has a broken spinal column which tilts to one side, and who cannot control his tear ducts, and thus cannot stop crying, one can learn how [Minister of State Security] Abakumov himself could beat—in 1948.

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Part 1, Chapter 3, Harper and Row pb., 1974, pp. 126-128

3. The Body in Pain

Illogical or not, it is possible to remain unaffected by wide-angle accounts of atrocities, partly because the eye simply glides across the texts and the mind refuse to absorb the facts. Sometimes, as in some of the thrillers thought of instinctively as violent, what truly shocks and personalizes the violence is simply one individual hitting or kicking another. You can approximate it to pains that you have already experienced, and can imagine it happening to you.

A few well-aimed blows with a rubber truncheon can be as effective in inducing terror as the equipment of a whole torture chamber.

Here is Eric Ambler in his first novel, Dark Frontier (1936):

A dreadful cry had come from the direction of the laboratory. It started as a long-drawn “Ah” and rose to a blood-curdling shriek. Then it was cut off as though a hand had been clapped over the mouth that uttered it.…

Five men stood in a semicircle in the center of the laboratory. I recognized Groom and Nikolai; but it was the man in the center of them who held my gaze. Lashed to the chair in which he sat, he appeared to be a mechanic for he was wearing brown dungarees. His head was lolling on his chest and he looked as if he were unconscious. This, I guessed, was the one who had screamed. I was soon to know why. One of the group advanced threateningly toward the seated figure weighing what looked like a short stick in his hand. Then I saw the stick whip as the man brandished it and realized that it was a rubber truncheon, the totschläger or “beater-to-death” of Nazi Germany and the persuasive element in many a Third Degree. The man with the truncheon made a show of hitting the mechanic across the knee with it. The man’s head rolled back and he let out a hoarse shout of terror. I understood. A blow on the knee-cap is bad enough at the best of times. When that blow is dealt with a rubber truncheon the pain is unbearable. Moreover, the knee-cap does not numb as easily as other parts of the body, so that repetitions of the blow will intensify the agony. The device, a New York detective has told me, is far more demoralizing to the victim than many of the more elaborate tortures. (ch. 14)

Stephen Francis (Hank Janson) was obviously hyper-conscious of the dreadful reality of inflicted pain, as witness, for example, the prelude to Accused.

Americans like John D. MacDonald and John McPartland, whose books were reprinted in England after paper rationing was discontinued in 1952, wrote with the authority that comes from having known violent men. Here is McPartland:

“Let’s go back to the alley.”

He laughed. His left hand snaked across the table and he had the second finger of my right hand in his fist, bending it back, holding my palm hard against the table. His right hand thrust his cigarette toward my eyes and I ducked my head back. Still torturing my finger with his left hand hard on my right, he moved up like a cat and his fingers laced into my short hair. He pulled my head way back and I tried to reach him with my left hand. He let go and clipped me across the throat with the side of his right hand. A hard clip at the Adam’s apple.

It was all pain. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I was in the chair, my head hanging forward, loose, holding myself up on my elbows. I could see the puddles of beer on the tabletop, I could feel the frantic pounding of my heart.

Maybe nobody [ in the barroom] noticed. It happened inside of ten seconds. I was sick and weak, knowing only the ultimate desperation of trying to get air through my paralyzed throat to my lungs.

John McPartland, Big Red’s Daughter (Gold Medal, 1953)

In One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966), MacDonald’s Travis McGee comments, “The gutsy dramas on the mass media tend to make us forget that the average urban male is so unaccustomed to sudden pain that if you mash his nose flat, he’ll be nauseated for hours, spend two days in bed, and be shaky for the rest of the week.”

I talk about what I call the poetics of violence, meaning how representations of it “work,” in Violence in the Arts (Cambridge University Press (1973).

4. The Lower Depths

[At this point a sign flashes saying “Proceed at your own risk.”]

Horror Stories, 1935
Horror Stories, 1935

Here as a taste of the underside of “America” in the later Thirties are three excerpts from so-called shudder pulps, available to some extent in Britain.

(a) The alcove was walled with mirrors. Only Chinese cruelty could have devised such an arrangement where, whichever way she twisted her head she was confronted by the spectacle of her own humiliation, reflected from every angle. She was at once actor and spectator in a beastly drama. She could not escape the shameful sight of her own writhings and the eager brutal hands of Woon Yuen remorselessly subduing her hopeless, desperate struggles.

As she felt the greedy yellow fingers on her cringing flesh, she saw in the mirrors, her quivering white breasts, her dress torn—disheveled, the scarlet skirt in startling contrast to the white thighs, with only a wisp of silk protecting them as they frantically flexed, twisted and writhed—then with a sucking gasp of breath between his grinding teeth, Woon Yuen tore the flimsy underthings to rags on her body … [sic]

At the tea-table the senseless Chinese still sprawled, deaf to the frantic, agonized shrieks that rang again and again through the inner chamber of Woon Yuen.”

Robert E. Howard, “The Purple Heart of Erlik,” Spicy Adventure, 1936, in Tony Goodstone, The Pulps (1970)

(b) Mike Royce hung perfectly still—staring vacantly at the tortured, writhing body of his wife. Now that my eyes were more accustomed to the light, I could see that his back was scorched and burnt to such an extent, that he had gone insane from the pain.

While one of my lunatic guards remained near me, the other took the cooling poker from Lucia’s hand and exchanged it for another which he withdrew from the fire. But Lucia waved it aside and lifted her whip. The slow, inhuman punishment began again. Mary’s slender body was soon torn and bleeding in a hundred places as the merciless lash bit deeply into her tender flesh again and again.

The room was reverberating with sound—the thunder, Mary’s screams, the mad laughter of the men—yet through it all, I heard Dora’s voice raised in a shriek of agony … [sic] and at that moment I knew the terrible misery of helplessness.

Mindret Lord, “The Dinner Cooked in Hell,” Startling Mystery, 1940, in Tony Goodstone, The Pulps (1970).

(c) At last the masked master returned, and Sylvia saw with chilling dread that he carried something in his hand; her whole body gave a spasmodic jump of terror when she saw what it was: a large, flat hard-rubber paddle! With such an instrument she would sustain a beating for hours before God’s mercy brought unconsciousness to her pain-wracked body and mind!

And then the paddle smashed down, smashed down with its load of searing ache and knife-like torment. Sylvia’s screech of agony was almost simultaneous with the blow, and then she was swinging slowly forward on her ropes. Slowly forward to reach the end of the arc, to hang there for a moment, poised in midair, then to float softly backward, backward to another vicious swing of the paddle. …

After a while time lost meaning, who she was no longer mattered. There was only pain, anticipation, pain, anticipation, on and on, endlessly. She was conscious that blood was running down her back in rivulets from the torn and burst flesh of her body; she was conscious that she no longer screamed; she knew that the salty taste in her mouth came from the tongue that her teeth had bitten. But everything else was only a hazy unreality.

Donald Graham, “Chorines For Death’s Ballet,” Mystery Tales, May 1939, in Tom Mason, ed., Spicy Horror Stories; Classic Tales of Inhuman Terror (1990)

Here is an example of what could happen in post-war British paperback fiction when “Nazi” and “American” violences cross-fertilized one another.

I had been around long enough with the Gestapo boys during the war to know that when a prisoner is naked he is twice as scared as when he has his clothes on. It’s one of those psychological tricks the Gestapo used to play in Columbia House and other of their twentieth-century torture chambers. And I also knew that McWilliams was being clever. If he killed me, there could always be an inquiry—sometime, somehow. If he beat me up and then nursed me back to health, the moral scars of the beating would remain even if the physical ones were healed. I’d be too scared to squeal on him. . . .

Eddie was doing the job scientifically, not beating the upper half of my body at all, but working his way down from the small of my back, across my buttocks, along the backs of my thighs, down the calves of my legs. He did it without emotion, simply as a necessary job. He went down one side of me then the other.

After he had finished beating the hell out of my back, he switched to the front and punished me from my stomach to my knees. Behind the gag I was screaming hysterically, and the tears were running down my cheeks. The whole of the lower half of my body was a howling mass of pain. I would have done anything to have stopped that cold, scientific laying-on of the rubber truncheon, but all I could do was to bite the towel and take it.

Jim Kellan, She’s Dynamite (1953), quoted in Steve Holland, The Mushroom Jungle, chapter 4, pp. 78-79.

Whose real name lay behind that presumable pseudonym, I wonder? The passage almost reads as though it were by Frances. This is the only book by Kellan in the British Library—well, listed as being there.

5. The Glorious Heights

England, home of le vice Anglais, didn’t really need to take lessons from the States when it came to flagellation. Here is the best known passage from a then-unquestioned “modern classic” that soon, I’m sure, became an inspirational presence in the library of every right-thinking boys’ school.

They kicked me to the head of the stairs, and stretched me over a guard-bench, pommelling me. Two knelt on my ankles, bearing down on the back of my knees, while two more twisted my wrists till they cracked, and then crushed them and my neck against the wood. The corporal had run downstairs; and now came back with a whip of the Circassian sort, a thing of supple black hide, rounded, and tapering from the thickness of a thumb at the grip (which was wrapped in silver) down to a hard point finer than a pencil.

He saw me shivering, partly I think, with cold, and made it whistle over my ear, taunting me that before his tenth cut I would howl for mercy, and at the twentieth beg for the caresses of the Bey; and then he began to lash me madly across and across with all his might, while I locked my teeth to endure the thing which lapped itself like flaming wire about my body.

To keep my mind in control I numbered the blows, but after twenty lost count, and could feel only the shapeless weight of pain, not tearing claws, for which I had prepared, but a gradual cracking apart of my whole being by some too-great force whose waves rolled up my spine till they were pent within my brain, to clash terribly together. Somewhere in the place a cheap clock ticked loudly, and it distressed me that their beating was to its time. I writhed and twisted, but was held so tightly that my struggles were useless. After the corporal ceased, the men took up, very deliberately, giving me so many, and then an interval, during which they would squabble for the next turn, ease themselves, and play unspeakably with me. This was repeated often, for what may have been no more than ten minutes. Always for the first of every new series, my head would be pulled round, to see how a hard white ridge, like a railway, darkening slowly into crimson, leaped over my skin at the instant of each stroke, with a bead of blood where two ridges crossed. As the punishment proceeded the whip fell more and more upon accumulating weals, biting blacker or more wet, till my flesh quivered with accumulated pain, and with terror of the next blow coming. They soon conquered my determination not to cry, but while my will ruled my lips I used only Arabic, and before the end a merciful weakness choked my utterance.

T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom; a triumph (trade edition, 1936), chapter 80.

Apart from one later sentence about an Arab on a camel—“He had pity and mounted me behind him on his bony animal, to which I clung the rest of the way learning the feelings of my adopted name-saint on his grid”—, there is nothing about the ongoing discomfort (to put it mildly) of a body that had been whipped, by the sound of it, virtually to the point of flaying—the horrors of sleeplessness, the clothing adhering to suppurating wounds, etc. Absent those, it all seems a bit too tailored to ex-public-schoolboy erotic fantasies. No doubt it sold copies.

6. Boys will be boys

Her breasts, like ivory globes circled with blue,
A pair of maiden worlds unconqueréd,
Save of their lord no bearing yoke they knew,
And him by oath they truly honouréd.
These worlds in Tarquin new ambition bred;
Who, like a foul usurper, went about
From this fair throne to heave the owner out. …

His hand, that yet remains upon her breast,—
Rude ram, to batter such an ivory wall!—
May feel her heart—poor citizen!—distress’d,
Wounding itself to death, rise up and fall,
Beating her bulk, that his hand shakes withal.
This moves in him more rage, and lesser pity,
To make the breach, and enter this sweet city. …

This said, he sets his foot upon the light,
For light and lust are deadly enemies;
Shame folded up on blind-concealing night,
When most unseen, then most doth tyrannize.
The wolf hath seiz’d his prey, the poor lamb cries;
Till with her own white fleece her voice controll’d
Entombs her outcry in her lips’ sweet fold:

For with the nightly linen that she wears
He pens her piteous clamour in her head;
Cooling his hot face in the chastest tears
That ever modest eyes with sorrow shed.
O, that prone lust should stain so pure a bed!
The spots whereof could weeping purify,
Her tears should drop on them perpetually.

Francis Bacon, The Rape of Lucrece (1594)




February 2007

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