The Truth Behind Jane Austen’s Fight Club: Female Prize Fights Were a Thing During the 18th Century

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. 

The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! 

- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Could it be a case of authorial oversight that all subsequent rules are exclusively concerned with such practical matters as dress and fight duration?

Given the macho reputation of both the book and the film adaptation, it seems like the third rule of Fight Club should be: you DO NOT talk about the fact that a fair number of Edwardian ladies were badass bare knuckle fighters.

Because doing so might diminish Fight Club’s street cred just a bitsy…




Filmmaker (and popular audiobook narrator) Emily Janice Card has a good deal of fun in Jane Austen's Fight Club, above, marrying Palahniuk’s tropes to the social mores of England’s Regency period.

“No corsets, no hat pins and no crying,” Tyler Durden stand-in Lizzie instructs the eager young ladies in her circle. Soon, they’re proudly sporting bruises beneath their bonnets and stray blood spots on their tea dresses.

While young women of the fictional Bennet sisters’ social class refrained from brutal fisticuffs, there’s ample evidence of female combatants from the proletarian ranks. They fought for money, and occasionally to settle a disagreement, training hard for weeks in advance.

Their bouts drew spectators to the amphitheater owned by boxing promoter James Figg, and the marvelously named Hockley in the Hole, a seedy establishment whose other attractions included bearbaiting, bullbaiting, and fighting with broadswords and cudgels.

The female fist fighters challenged each other with paid notices in local papers, like this one from “championess and ass-driver” Ann Field of Stoke Newington:

Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass-driver, well known for my abilities, in boxing in my own defense wherever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs. Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing for 10 pounds, fair rise and fall; and question not but to give her such proofs of my judgment that shall oblige her to acknowledge me Championess of the Stage, to the satisfaction of all my friends.

Mrs. Stokes promptly announced her readiness to come out of retirement:

I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not  fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing- woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes, and gained a complete victory (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with will be more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her asses.

Rather than keeping mum on Fight Club, these female pugilists shared Muhammad Ali's flare for drumming up interest with irresistibly cocky wordplay.

References to adversaries fighting in “close jacket, short petticoats, and holland drawers … with white stockings and pumps" suggest that the adversaries played to the spectators’ prurience, though not always. Unlike the 20th-century stunt of bikini clad jello wrestling, sex appeal was not obligatory.

In a chapter devoted to public entertainments, sports and amusements, Alexander Andrews, author of The Eighteenth Century or Illustrations of the Manners and Customs of Our Grandfathers, documents how the Merry Wives of Windsor, a crew comprised of “six old women belonging to Windsor town” took out an ad seeking “any six old women in the universe to outscold them.”

On June 22nd, 1768, a woman called Bruising Peg "beat her antagonist in a terrible manner" to win a new chemise, valued at half a guinea.

In 1722, Hannah Hyfield of Newgate Market, resolved to give her challenger, Elizabeth Wilkinson, “more blows than words,” promising to deliver “a good thumping.” Both parties agreed to hold a half-crown in their fists for the duration of the fight. William B. Boulton, author of 1901’s Amusements of Old London, speculates that this was a practical measure to minimize scratching and hair-pulling.

Time travel to an 18th-century female bare knuckles fight via Female Single Combat Club’s exhaustive coverageSarah Murden’s excellent analysis of John Collet’s painting, The Female Bruisers, above, or Jeremy Freeston’s short documentary available on YouTube.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

“Every Concussion in the NFL This Year” Documented in a Chilling Five Minute Video

Over at  The Intercept, Josh Begley, a data visualization artist, has posted a video entitled "Field of Vision - Concussion Protocol." By way of introduction, he writes:

Since the season started, there have been more than 280 concussions in the NFL. That is an average of 12 concussions per week. Though it claims to take head injuries very seriously, the National Football League holds this data relatively close. It releases yearly statistics, but those numbers are published in aggregate, making it difficult to glean specific insights.

I have been tracking these injuries all season. Using a variety of methods, including reviewing daily injury reports from NFL.com, I have created what I believe is the most complete dataset of individual concussions sustained during the 2017-2018 season.

The resulting film, “Concussion Protocol,” is a visual record of every concussion in the NFL this year.

He goes on to add: "This film does not make an argument for ending football. Rather, it invites a set of questions... When we watch American football, what are we seeing?" Or, really, what are we missing? It's only by "cutting together these scenes of injury — moments of impact, of intimacy, of trauma — and reversing them," that we "see some of this violence anew" and underscore the sheer brutality of the game.

It's worth reading Begley's article in full here.

via Kottke

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90,000 Fans Sing “I Won’t Back Down” at University of Florida Football Game: A Goosebump-Inducing Tribute to Tom Petty

Tom Petty grew up in Gainesville, Florida, in the backyard of the University of Florida. On Saturday, during a football game against LSU, some 90,000 Gators fans gave Petty a raucous send off, singing "I Won't Back Down" in unison. Don't know about you, but it gave me the chills.

BTW, if you're wondering what the occasional boos are all about, it's the U. of Florida fans taking the LSU marching band to task for disrupting the Petty sing-along. Or so it was perceived.

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A Hypnotic Look at How Tennis Balls Are Made

Over the years, we've shown you various household objects being made--everything from crayons and ink, to vinyl records, old fashioned books and paper. Today, you can get a mesmerizing glimpse into how tennis balls are made. Created by Benedict Redgrove for ESPN, the short film above shows "the manufacturing process of [Wilson] tennis balls for the US Open." Combined, it takes 24 different processes to make the final ball. And it's fun to watch.

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Watch the First Surf Movie Ever Made: A 1906 Thomas Edison Film Shot in Hawaii

Above you can watch what was arguably the first surf movie ever made--the very beginning of a long cinematic tradition that gave us Gidget in 1959, and The Endless Summer in 1966. And lest you think the surf movie reached its zenith during those halcyon days, some would argue that the best surf films were later produced during the aughts--Thicker Than Water (2000), Blue Crush (2002), Step Into Liquid (2003), Riding Giants (2004), etc. And don't forget this great little short, "Dark Side of the Lens."

In 1906, smack in the middle of the aughts of last century, Thomas Edison sent the pioneering cinematographer Robert K. Bonine to shoot an 'Actuality' documentary about life in the Polynesian islands. The blurb accompanying this video describes the scene above: "The first moving pictures of surfers riding waves - Surf Riders, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu -- shows a minute of about a dozen surfers on alaia boards in head-high, offshore surf at what is probably Canoes. These surfers are shot too far away to detail what they were wearing, but they all appear to be in tanksuits."

If you're interested in taking a deep dive into Hawaii's surfing scene, I'd definitely recommend pickup up a copy of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Lifethe memoir by New Yorker writer William Finnegan. It won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize.

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“We Suck” — When Yale Pranked Harvard at the 2004 Big Football Game

On a completely lighter note.

The blurb to the Youtube video above reads as follows: "In 2004, 24 enterprising Yale students created the non-existent "Harvard Pep Squad" for the big Harvard-Yale football game. As the Pep Squad pumped up the Harvard fans, they distributed 1800 pieces of red and white construction papers with the understanding that when all the cards were held up, it would spell "GO HARVARD" See what happens next!"

To get more of the backstory on what happened that day, read this account by the mastermind of the prank as well as this account from a 2005 edition of Yale Daily News.

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Maya Angelou Reads Her Poem, “The Human Family,” in New iPhone Ad Released for the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony

It’s always demoralizing when a favorite song---Iggy Pop’s "Lust for Life" or the Rolling Stones’ "Brown Sugar" come to mind---is co-opted to sell soda or Caribbean cruises.

Poetry, however? I’m not ungrateful to have some smuggled into my day by a commercial carrier whose agenda is somehow less suspect. Would that we lived in a world where the poetry of Ted Hughes or Emily Dickinson might be seen as having the power to sell viewers on a particular brand of pizza or automobile.

It almost seems we do, given the response to "The Human Family,” a new Apple spot showcasing the iPhone’s camera capabilities with a slideshow of portraits submitted by users the world round. The images---already captivating---are made more so by the unmistakeable voice of the late Maya Angelou, whose poem, "The Human Family,” supplies both title and inspiration.

It’s very stirring, as befits an ad debuting during the Olympics' opening ceremony. (I weep that the Super Bowl failed to make the Dr. Angelou commercial parodies of yore a reality.)

The one-minute spot shaves a bit off the poem, but perhaps it is okay to leave a bit behind as a reward for viewers moved to look it up on their own.

The complete text is here. Below, find a non-Apple-sponsored video that matches the same narration to a slideshow featuring the author at various stages of life. The reading will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

via Adweek

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest script, Fawnbook, is available in a digital edition from Indie Theater Now.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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