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Mystery of a Hansom Cab: Examining the hansom cab

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Lachlan Brown

on 21 July 2015

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Transcript of Mystery of a Hansom Cab: Examining the hansom cab

Examining the Hansom Cab
PRIVATE (concealing)

- Hansom cab as an intimate space (not like a train, where Fitzgerald is worried about interruptions)

- If there were 2 people then you had to sit close

- Hansom cabs were able to take you to a variety of hidden/private locations (exclusive clubs, private residences, the slums, etc)

- Driver on top, sitting over an enclosed (interior) cab

- Note the emphasis on anonymity and identity. Calton: "if you were to find a man dead in a hansom cab ... I rather think you would find it hard to discover who he was" (46)

- The whole murder plot revolves around the anonymity of the victim, then the perpetrator (who must be known to the victim)
'"Hallow! old Chap," said Rolleston, in considerable astonishment. "Where did you spring from?"

"From the cab, of course" answered Calton with a laugh.

"A kind of Deus ex machina," replied Rolleston' (105)

Note the play between anonymity and publicity here

- Hansom cab is the usual way for the upper class and professionals to travel (e.g. Frettlby, Calton, Gorby trailing Fitzgerald)

- Idea of freedom to travel at leisure or at will (not having to wait, hailing a cab and leaving instantly)

- Gorby "looked around the luxurious hansom, "to choose such a convenient place for a murder; no disturbance and plenty of time to escape after you have finished; it's a pleasure going after a chap like you" (55)(note the class-bound descriptors...luxurious, convenient, pleasure)

- Note the speech of the drivers, e.g. "Look 'ere, sir!... "'ow long's this 'ere game agoin' to larst?" (56)

- The cab's association with drunkenness (of drivers, of passengers)

- Hansom cabs allow the 'high' to mix with, pass through or visit the 'low'.
- The hansom cab itself is the way that all classes are thrust together ('promiscuous encounters' Dixon 40)

- It is light, two wheeled, maneuverable,convenient, flexible and ubiquitous. Therefore it allows people to traverse the city and traverse different class areas easily

- When this happens, various things threaten to disrupt class boundaries:
Affairs, Secrets, Blackmail, Jealousy, Drunkenness, Murder,

- Hansom cab is the symbol of the modern, advanced, technologically progressive city

- Kipperman notes "the careful reticulations of neat colonial order" (130) in the work, e.g. Melbourne's grid-like streets as a symbol of order and the city's sign of 'progress' in the modern world

- Hansom cab is linked to those professions which are dedicated to reason and order (note that doctors, lawyers,detectives and businessmen use them to pursue their agendas)
- So the symbol of the order of the modern city becomes the location for an event that threatens the social order, the moral order and the economic order

- But the hansom cab has within itself the very seeds of this disorder. It is individualistic, almost anonymous and it allows individuals to transgress ordered boundaries

- Thus the title foregrounds this disorder (the MYSTERY of the hansom cab)
PUBLIC (revealing)

- Hansom cab embodies a new kind of metropolitan transport that is available to anyone with the means to pay

- Hansom cab navigates the public city (note the Burke and Wills monument, the prominence of street names in Melbourne, the civic buildings, public parks, etc)

- The fact that the crime occurred "in the open street" (25) is important for the novel

- Calton "the place he chose for the committal of the crime was such a safe one" ... the more public the place the less risk there is of detection" (46-47)

- Note the other public voices/spaces that are foregrounded in the opening of the novel (Argus newspaper report, inquest, reward notice in newspaper)

-Kipperman also notes that the novel shows "a vertiginous blur of dislocation and speed" (130)

- The cab can thought of as enabling a kind of disordered and chaotic city

- Note that the random path of the hansom cab makes a labyrinth of the grid structure of the streets: so Gorby follows Fitzgerald "through an interminable maze of streets" (56)

- The cab is also the location for a series of disordered events: drunkenness, theft, and ultimately murder via chloroform poisioning
When we analyse the hansom cab as a motif, we can begin to see the ways in which it holds within itself some of the key tensions of the novel.
Of course, the tensions of the hansom cab as it appears in Hume's novel are microcosms of those tensions within the Victorian colonial city as a whole

1) public/private

2) proximity and class

3) order and disorder

Can you see how these play out in the trailer for the 2012 Burberry/ ABC adaption?

Melbourne in the 1880s

Lachlan Brown
Charles Sturt University
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