Women Subverting Expected Roles Part 2: Mr Mushler’s Shock

How A Society Belle Got Ride of A Troublesome Suitor—A “Turn Out” And A Conversation Which Spoiled A Wedding in High Life—New York

That’s what the front page text of the November 20th 1880 edition of Police Gazette screamed to its customers as it accompanied an image of two women in full swell swagger. By coincidence, the issue was published just before the onset of the events in The Tattered Heiress and, had I found this before I drafted the book, I might’ve woven its presence into the novel. It would’ve made a good addition to both the history and the thematic nature of the story (e.g., appearances versus reality; women’s roles; stealth by necessity).

You win some, you lose some.

If you read through the story, you’ll see it’s about a young woman who detests the marital match arranged by her parents. Prefering a lawyer over a banker’s milquetoast of a son, she and her cousin implement a plan to shock and alienate him. Read through the text to see how they go about it. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

(For best reading, right click on the image and open it in a new tab on your browser. You should be able to zoom in on its text.)

Done? Good. Now onto the assessment!

I have my doubts that this amounts to a real event. I suspect it’s little more than a fanciful tale. But let me be clear: It’s not because I question whether women broke from prescribed roles when it suited them—or especially when its chafed them. I doubt its veracity because of its prose style.

The story is too glib, its entertainment value too high, for me to accept at face value. While its basic plot seems plausible enough, its dialog—especially its slang—strikes me as conveniently contrived to serve the reading public. It’s a yarn, specially designed for one’s reading pleasure, not one’s edification.

No one is specifically named in the story, as it would be for “hard news”—and even the shady Police Gazette had its hard news. Common first names label the women; and by common, I mean, ordinary to the male working class of men who constituted the gazette’s readership.

Further, Mr. Mushler strikes me as a direct play on the word, masher, which those of you who’ve read Tipping the Velvet, might remember. It refers to a man who hits on women, especially those he doesn’t know, for sex. The word came in vogue during the early 1880s and the Gazette used it liberally through out its issues.

But Mushler v. Masher? The unfortunate Mr. Mushler is portrayed as effeminate and ineffectual, the very opposite of the male virility celebrated by the publication and its followers. I can easily imagine crowds of men jeering him in saloons and barber shops as the story was read aloud.

No wonder Gazette historians called the tabloid the “roue of journalism.”