Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Books in…

Blogging about the weirdo-mystical section of 1930s British fascism the other day led me to the British Fascisti, later the National Fascisti, a forerunner of the more famous British Union of Fascists (the smaller, older groups thought that Mosley's lot were uncouth and not nearly anti-semitic enough).

One of the leading Fascisti was Colonel Victor Barker, a champion fencer, boxer and violent street-fighter, forever leading raids (wielding an illegal revolver) on socialist groups and publications. 'Barker' wasn't the colonel's real name - nor was he a Colonel. Or a he - Valerie Arkell-Smith adopted the name when an invitation to the Colonel to join the Fascisti accidentally dropped on her doormat. S/he moved into the HQ, taught the young fascists their favourite sports, stood trial over the revolver matter and was acquitted. S/he also married a young woman named Elfrida Hayward, and awarded her/himself a knighthood. However, 'Sir Victor' was imprisoned for making false statements on her/his marriage certificate (i.e. posing as a man) and again later for theft. According to D. H. Lawrence, her/his wife never realised that her husband was also a woman. Arkell-Smith lived under male identities for the rest of his/her life.

Read all about it in Rose Collis's Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment. I only got it today, so I don't know if she'll claim that Arkell-Smith's fascism was a performance of hyper-masculinity derived from her cross-dressing(as I suspect), or whether it's unconnected, but it's sure to be a fascinating read. She uses Barker/Arkell-Smith to explore the little-known (at least to me) world of 'female husbands'.

It's rather unsettling to see Colonel Barker proclaimed as a hero in lesbian circles - doesn't being a racist antisemitic Nazi outweigh the dedication to Sapphism?

Also in: an odd Arthurian tale, Knight Life by Peter David, in which King Arthur runs for the New York Mayoralty, with his spin-doctor Merlin. Not sure whether it's an Arthurian parody, a political satire, or both.

3 comments:

Rob Spence said...

Makes you wonder how far P.G. Wodehouse's Spode was a parody...

The Plashing Vole said...

Ha! I keep toying with writing something on literary representations of the Blackshirts (or shorts).

Rob Spence said...

I think you should - it would be nice to see PGW in close proximity to some of the more obvious suspects.
Thanks for removing the captcha thing. You've made an old man very happy.