Friday, March 11, 2016

Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall and Unwitting Victim of the American White Slave of 1910

 This month I have been researching the Edwardian era for my novel about suffragettes and decided to give one of my characters the name ‘Maud’. I then got sidetracked (as one does on the internet) by the poem, Come into the Garden, Maud, which led me to Marie Lloyd, the Queen of the music hall.
Born Matilda Alice Victoria Wood in 1870, Marie led a fascinating life, made all the more spectacular due to the fact that she was operating in the days when women were expected to behave with decorum and reserve, and were pilloried if they did not conform to these ideals.  Her cheeky delivery of songs, with suggestive nudges and winks were considered vulgar at the time, but still made her very popular. Her personal life was tumultuous as well. She married three times, divorcing twice and several times ended up in court giving testimony against two of her husbands on the grounds of what we would now call domestic violence.
But for me one of the most interesting anecdotes of her life occurred in 1896 when she performed in front of a local council. The council in question were considering refusing to renew a local music hall’s entertainment’s licence on the grounds that the lyrics to songs sung there were offensive. Marie was summoned to the council and sang three of her best-known songs with such charm and innocence that the council could find no fault with the rendition. However, she was so incensed at their interference and judgmental attitude that she then launched into a performance of Come in to the garden, Maud. This was a popular ballad of the time, adapted from the poem by Tennyson, and performed by the daughters of the middle class in many a drawing room. Marie proceeded to execute it in such a way that it sounded filthy and was so crudely suggestive that the councillors didn’t know where to look.
The other incident in her life that I found fascinating happened when she travelled to America in 1913 to appear at the New York Palace. She was with her boyfriend of the time, Bernard Dillon. They had been together since 1910, although Marie was at that time still married to her second husband. When Marie and Bernard arrived in New York they were refused entry as they were not married, as they had claimed when applying for entry visas. They were detained and threatened with deportation on the grounds of ‘moral turpitude’. Dillon was charged under The Mann Act (often known as The White Slave Act) in that he had attempted to take into the country a woman was not his wife; Marie was charged with being a passive agent. After a lengthy enquiry, a $300 fine each, and an imposed condition that they were to live apart while in America, the couple were allowed to stay until March 1914.  The Mann Act was named after Congressman James Mann of Illinois, making it a felony to transport any woman or girl for the ‘purpose of prostitution or any other immoral purpose’.  Its stated intent was to address prostitution, but in reality it was a backlash against the considerable freedoms that women were finally experiencing as they were gradually being liberated from the strict social confines of the time. It therefore became less a weapon in the war against prostitution than to be used to prosecute inter-racial and unapproved pre-marital and extra-marital relationships. The penalties would be applied to men whether or not the woman involved consented and if she did, she would be considered an accessory to the offense. Marie and Bernard were therefore caught right in the cross-fires and Marie was so humiliated by this incident that when the tour finished she vowed never to sing in America again no matter how much money she was offered.
Although Marie died in less than glorious circumstances, penniless and alcoholic she was in her own way as much a crusader for women’s rights as the Pankhursts.  During my research I developed quite a soft spot for her, so expect to see her playing a small role in my next novel, provisionally entitled ‘Grace’.
Jacqueline Farrell writes historical and paranormal romances with The Wild Rose Press. Her two paranormal novels ‘Sophronia and the Vampire’ and ‘Maids, Mothers and Crones’ and her historical romances, ‘The Scarlet Queen’ and ‘Dragonsheart’ are available from Amazon and all good e-book stores. Follow her on twitter @jacquiefw1 and on her website   


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I enjoyed this post, Jacqueline. There is a blue plaque on the house where Marie lived in Graham Road, Hackney; I see it from the 38 bus when visiting a friend in Hackney.

Many years ago, I saw a musical about her life with Barbara Windsor as Marie. The part suited her down to the ground.

Jacqueline Farrell said...

Glad you enjoyed it. There was a BBC drama about her a few years ago with Jessie Wallace (Eastenders fame) and Richard Armitage - also very good