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Response to Review of Roguery in Print: Crime and Culture in Early Modern London

I would like to thank Jonah Miller for a thorough and generous review of Roguery in Print. In my answer, I would like to focus on the two points for further investigation suggested by Miller: the issues of gender and genre. I appreciate this opportunity to clarify some of the thinking that underpins my book.

I appreciate and agree with the point about gender. While writing the book, I was aware that significantly more could be said about gender. Female rogues, such as Moll Cutpurse and Mary Carleton, have received extensive scholarly attention, and rightly so, so I did not feel I could add much to this. In terms of masculinity, I am still particularly interested in the way these texts utilised the prodigal son narrative. This trope presents other kinds of male behaviour, which is not accepted but at least forgiven. However, I felt that doing the issue of gender justice would require an extra chapter.

Regarding the fluidity of genre: for Roguery in Print, this is not a bug, but a feature. I was not trying to argue that rogue pamphlets are a separate genre, but that they are part of the literature of the city. My aim was to interrogate previous attempts to examine them on their own and to present them side-by-side with other kinds of cheap print: jestbooks, news pamphlets, drama, poetry. My only reason for using the term ‘rogue pamphlets’ was that I wanted to focus on the way cheap print presented information relating to London criminals. By consequence, when I was selecting my material, I had two criteria: that these texts would at least claim to be about real criminals (not necessarily named individuals, but at least to claim to present actual criminal practices) and that they would be about London. In this context, rural rogues did not feature, partly because there are very few texts about rural rogues (and I would argue most of them from the earlier period, something borne out by the texts Miller suggests) but mostly because I was interested in urban criminals and the way that these texts make specific points about London.

The fact that I focused on texts that claimed to be providing a true image of crime is why Dekker’s Iests to make you merrie was not included as a rogue pamphlet. Even though I would certainly agree that it is very similar, it does not purport to be a true description of crime. Often, of course, claims of truth were just a flimsy excuse for wildly inaccurate or satirical tales. Regardless of their accuracy, they still presented themselves as reportage on criminals and could have greater impact to (some) readers’ understanding of crime in the metropolis than jestbooks.

If we look at Judges’ The Elizabethan Underworld, the main compilation of rogue literature ‘canon’, it is clear that it includes a variety of texts, such as Greene’s cony-catching pamphlets, two texts about Luke Hutton (a real criminal), descriptions of prisons, and texts by Dekker and Middleton. This is not a homogeneous collection, and this is part of the point. Rogue pamphlets are diverse and defy easy categorisation. I agree that there are other ways of categorising them: for example, I think it makes sense to categorise them based on mobility, as Patricia Fumerton does. However, this would privilege different readings of the texts, which was not my intention.

Even though I do not think that there is ‘unity and stability’ in rogue pamphlets, I believe there is value in examining texts before and after 1640 together. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, there are significant similarities between earlier and later texts. Throughout the book, I am trying to show that there is no clear-cut distinction between them. Even though there are more discoveries of criminals in the period before 1640, they do not disappear after this point, they just evolve: the narratives about hectors in the 1650s are so similar to earlier discoveries of criminals, that it seems counter-intuitive to treat them as separate. In the Epilogue, I also present some discoveries of criminals which come from the 1680s and 1690s, suggesting that similar kinds of texts keep cropping up. In addition, stories of real criminals appear earlier as well. A good example of this are the two pamphlets about Gamaliel Ratsey, which appeared in 1605 and which are very similar to later stories of highwaymen. More broadly, even stories of criminals after 1640, which seem more ‘journalistic’, include many trickery stories that are often very similar to the ones appearing in discoveries of criminals. By consequence, I do not think it is useful to create a cutting-off point in 1640.