Let the Games Begin Part 3

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Duella in umbra,

I have been getting a lot of interest in the Parasol Duelling rules I posted recently.
In fact we will be holding our first public demo this weekend at an event in Calgary called:
Well, Basil My Rathbone - Classic Movie and Performance Series
This week's movie is The Time Machine and we will be putting on several  Steampunk displays which will include a demo of Parasol Duelling. I'm hoping to get  more feedback to enable some fine tuning so that we can actually have competitions later in the year.

So since this seems to have struck a cord in the Steampunk community I thought I would have a bit of fun with some alternate history.  What would it be like if Parasol Duelling had actually been a real thing in Victorian England?  What follows is some faux academic analysis of the mysterious Victorian Parasol Duelling.

I hope you enjoy it.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Rules for Parasol Duelling are here.

Duella in umbra
(Dueling in the shade)

Ed: After the publication of the Victorian era Parasol Duelling rules in our most recent edition of the Neo-Victorian Chronicle there has been much discussion amongst scholars and historians about the historical provenance of the rules. Many notable historians of the period have stated outright that the rules are likely a hoax, that no such formalized rules existed,and that the storied exploits of famous Parasol Duelists were simply children's stories and nothing more. Others have taken a calmer "wait and see" approach suggesting that if the rules are legitimate and can be further documented then they would indeed explain several odd features of the late Victorian era. 

Even though I am quite sure the rules themselves are authentic, in that they were written in Victorian times, I have not myself been convinced that they represent a real competition style. That is, I was not convinced until I received the following long and detailed letter from Professor Lackstone Merrywilson of the Neo-Victorian studies department at Mintercommon College outside Oxford. Professor Merrywilson's letter was stunning in its implications for the historical context of the Rules themselves and does shed some significant light on the practice of Parasol Dueling during the reign of Queen Victoria.

 I will let the good professor's letter speak for itself.

Dear Mr Jepson
I was most interested to read your article concerning the Parasol Duelling Rules of Queen Victoria. This is an area of particular interest to me and one on which I have spent much of my time in recent years. I also followed with some interest the debates amongst our academic fellows in which the Rules seem to have taken on the form of a phantom, a historical Loch Ness monster as it were.

Parasol Duelling, far from being a phantom, was a major form of Ladies entertainment. Much prestige attended on the duels and many famous duellists, whose names live on today in the children's stories, were feted, and attained significant social standing on their own from their exertions on the field of honour. Of all this I am certain, though as you are no doubt aware, this is not the orthodox opinion amongst our fellow historians. The reason that is so has to do with one of the great erasures of history.

Parasol Duelling as a sport and specifically a Ladies Sport has been erased from the public memory, erased as surely as Pompeii was erased by Vesuvius in 79 AD. But even the most perfect erasure leaves a mark, a sign that something was there before. Hints, little pieces of out of place information, even the children's stories themselves, all serve to point to that which has been lost.

If you recall the paper my colleagues and I presented, at the Victorian Historical Pastimes Conference three years ago, you will remember that we postulated that the main reason for the paucity of information on Parasol Duelling was that after the death of Queen Victoria there was a social backlash against it simply because it was a strictly Female Sport and at that time the social mores were swinging towards a more Male oriented culture with respect to public competitions. The tragedy of the First World War also helped to finally obliterate any remaining vestiges of the sport because of its association with the hated Hun and the resulting post war anti-continental feelings.

We based these conclusions on a compilation of news paper articles, court documents and the deeds and leases of the Duelling Schools themselves. By the end of the period many of these once famous schools had been converted to taverns, and in some cases bawdy houses, in order to pay the bills. As such they often ran afoul of the increasingly stringent social and legal framework that was coming into force after the old Queen's death. As we showed in our paper the common elements of all these documents do indeed show the shadow of Parasol Duelling from earlier in Victoria's reign.

Since the presentation of our paper I have come across a document that finally lays to rest any concerns regarding the historical provenance of the rules and of Parasol Duelling itself!  I am in the process of preparing a paper with other members of our faculty, for peer review and presentation at next years conference. But I have my fellow author's permission, in light of the controversy your article has aroused, to release some of the information from our paper in hopes that more eyes will be able to see the truth and historical veracity of Parasol Duelling. 

The document is entitled simply "Duella in umbra" which translates from the latin as "Duelling in the Shade".
Those who study children's literature will immediately recognize the title as being one of the lines of the rhyming song included in the "Adventures of Two Parasol Mary", by Algernon Oakham. This book is often pointed to by scholars as being the origin of the legends of the Parasol Duel.

The author of "Duella in umbra" however is none other than Maxwell MacDonald-Smythe himself!  
The manuscript was found amongst some stored boxes of documents rescued from the archives of an old airship hanger in Portsmouth that had been badly damaged during World War Two.  The document looks to be the final draft that had been sent to a publishing house to be produced as a book.

There are no extant copies of the book that we are aware of, so whether or not it was actually published is unclear. The copy of the rules that you published in the Chronicle is word for word the rules included in the manuscript!  This implies that at least one other copy of the manuscript exists and perhaps the book itself may survive somewhere. 

The manuscript is a history of Parsol Duelling, it documents the arrival of Parasol Duelling in England with a lady in the household of Prince Albert in 1840. How as it gained popularity the young Queen was apalled at the loss of parasols and the injuries sustained by Ladies of all classes in duels that were little more than brawls with parasols used as fragile clubs. MacDonald-Smythe also documents in meticulous detail the various schools that had sprung up in England and, as she became an accomplished Duelist in her own right, the desire of the Queen to organize and formalize the competitions between them.

It is in this manuscript that we see for the first time the formalizing of the Rules with the Brandenburg Variations, and the subsequent massive increase in popularity of Parasol Duelling at all levels of society.

MacDonald-Smythe also documents the rise of the Street Duel and how this form of informal duel eventually made its way into the organized competitions held every year at Wembley.

Now it must be said that MacDonald-Smythe is writing near the end of Victoria's Reign at a time when more conservative elements in English society were beginning to put constraints on the freedom of Ladies to partake in such open female only competitions.

In one revealing passage he laments the passing of the "Flirtation" trials that had been such a popular feature of Parasol Duelling competitions in previous years.

Rest assured that with the "Duella in umbra" we have an eye witness guide to the world of Parasol Dueling.
It is not a hoax or a bunch of children's stories, but rather a social phenomenon that had major effects on the role of women in Victorian society.  That it could be so thoroughly erased from the memory and social records of England is a subject worthy of further study and we intend to touch upon that in our paper.

I hope that this note has given you courage to continue your work and we would be happy to assist and collaborate with you in studying this fascinating period of English history.

Yours Sincerely

Lackstone Merrywilson
Professor Neo-Victorian Studies
Mintercommon College


Jayne says:
at: February 6, 2014 at 7:57 PM said...

Excellent letter. Worthy of The Times.

Liadan says:
at: February 12, 2014 at 5:02 PM said...

I am curious as to whether there is any similarity to fan duels?

KJ says:
at: February 13, 2014 at 12:55 PM said...

Hi Liadan
Do you know of any links to information on Fan Duels?
All I can find is Fantasy Football League sites!

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