Black and White and Dominant


The Week in Parliament: Illustrated and Described (and Exaggerated) – March 14, 1891 (Page 169)

The gossipy tone of Henry Furniss’ text, which both pokes fun at, and venerates, the insider goings-on of Parliamentary politics, reads like contemporary Washington-based blogs. And like the blogosphere, “Week” takes pride in its intimate knowledge of high-tier government: “Shortly after the mock-turtle was disposed of…” Furniss intones while describing an impromptu “repast” within the House itself, held by ex-Premier Gladstone. Like the illustrations of “The Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace” or “Pictures of the Royal Academy,” Furniss glorifies the journal’s link to the establishment: “Well, this is a house of surprises…” he gushes here, reveling in an intimate knowledge of its peculiarities. The column must also be read in the context of Black and White’s hard news, which often precedes or follows “Parliament.”

But despite this placement, and despite the oath to “be neutral… in home politics” (6 Feb), the work is hilariously subjective. Indeed the editors could not have expected otherwise: Furniss was a caricaturist by trade (DNB). Here he gives an unflattering sketch of “Mr. Leicester (Ex-M.P.) Resting,” which shows him with his hat off, eyes closed, shirt-collar uneven, and mouth wide open. The down-turned and high-arched nose perhaps suggests a big snore. A similar condescension can be seen in his sketch of “Mr. Storey In His Element,” which ironically shows Storey gesticulating wildly, losing control of his papers; in contrast is the handsome calmness of an anonymous speaker – perhaps Gladstone, although elsewhere he is depicted beardless.

Notwithstanding these journalistic liberties, “The Week In Parliament” is freed from any disclaimers about its political bias precisely because its partialities fall so squarely within the framework of mainstream politics. Prejudice via polite condescension is tolerable here because of its normalcy within the mainstream English press: indeed Furniss trained at Punch, the magazine that popularized caricature (DNB). His predictable ingenuity thus makes his column suitable, just as Crane’s unpredictable ingenuity makes his work incongruous.

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