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Writing the Prizefight

Pierce Egan’s "Boxiana" World

David Snowdon

This book won the Lord Aberdare Literary Prize for Sports History (2013)

This book focuses on the literary contribution made by the pugilistic writing of Pierce Egan (c. 1772-1849), identifying the elements that rendered Egan’s style distinctive and examining the ways his writing invigorated the sporting narrative. In particular, the author analyses Egan’s blend of inventive imagery and linguistic exuberance within the commentaries of the Boxiana series (1812-29). The book explores the metropolitan and sporting jargon used by the diverse range of characters that inhabited Egan’s ‘Pugilistic Hemisphere’ and looks at Egan’s exploitation of prizefighting’s theatricality. Another significant theme is the role of pugilistic reporting in perpetuating stereotypical notions relating to British national identity, military readiness and morality. Consideration of Egan’s metropolitan rambles is complemented by discussion of the heterogeneity, spectacle and social dynamics of the prize ring and its reportage. The book traces Egan’s impact during the nineteenth century and, importantly, evaluates his influence on the subsequent development of sporting journalism.


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Chapter 5 Enlivening Reality: The Egan Touch


I invoke Shakespeare, Kipling, Keats, Shelley et al. in my reports often- times to paper over the cracks in what has been a totally negative, dull, featureless game. I search for the beautiful, the witty, the charmant, the stimulating. I want to bond with fellow bizarre spirits.1 I could describe the scene […] Content yourself with fancying who first drew claret […] who put out cleverly with his left; whose face bore severe marks of punishment, hit out wildly, hung like a mass of butcher’s meat on his second’s knee; and, failing at last to come up to time, fell down senseless on the turf […] What need is there for me to state who of fici- ated […] how there was a cry of ‘Foul!’ and how the swell mobsmen robbed right and left.2 These extracts encapsulate the essence of Pierce Egan’s Boxiana-style accounts, as well as highlighting the problem of reporting on pugilism’s repetitiveness. It appears to be an unavoidable truth that Egan embel- lished proceedings in a bid to mask, or ‘paper over’, frequently uninspiring sporting action. Despite Sala’s endorsement that sports were an intrinsic constituent of English life, his comments cast doubt on the consequence of Egan’s pugilistic reports. Sala implies that the action which he ‘could’ recount, is relatively inconsequential as events have followed a predict- able course. A natural progression might be to surmise that the language 1 Stuart Hall, Heaven and Hall: A Prodigal Life (London: BBC Worldwide, 2000), pp. 41–2. 2 G A Sala,...

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