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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 6 Post-Fight Observations

Extract

This book has freely acknowledged, and quoted from, pugilistic writing which pre-dates Egan’s contributions. Whilst no claim can be made that Egan instigated the reporting of prizefights, he did devise a dif ferent lit- erary approach – the Boxiana style. I have examined nineteenth-century works, and the treatment of predecessors to the Boxiana series has been necessarily brief, but the inclusion of this earlier material establishes the context in which Egan wrote. Regarding the target audience of the Boxiana-style writings, there must be a degree of scepticism applied to the erratically scattered pieces (throughout the primary texts) expressing aspirations for universal accessi- bility. Concerns over declining masculinity, increasing ‘ef feminacy’, national identity, and martial readiness suggest that idealistic calls to extend the sport’s appeal lacked conviction. The evidence implies that such pieces expressed unrealistic pretensions to attract a diverse audience. Looking at Egan’s supposedly national newspapers, the inclusion of more general news, fashions, advertisements, and event notices (often culled from other publications) might be interpreted as a token ef fort at generating a wider audience. It is almost inconceivable that a prospective purchaser of an af fordable newspaper would buy something entitled Pierce Egan’s Life in London, and Sporting Guide Connected with the Events of the Turf, the Chase, and the Ring, or Pierce Egan’s Weekly Courier to the Sporting, Theatrical, Literary, and Fashionable World, unless they were a member of the Fancy fraternity. There is no attempt to conceal the sporting bent of these pub- lications which the selection of...

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