Reading in Progress: The Thieves' Opera by Lucy Moore

The Thieves' Opera - Lucy Moore

[As of Jan 14, 2015 the ebook version is still free on Amazon US. Possibly Amazon UK as well.]


So in theory I was already juggling two nonfiction reads and this one was supposed to wait until I had one of them finished. Then I did my "oh I'll just dip in and read the first chapter" routine and so here we are.


Another fun part for me is that I've apparently already read some of this, because I have some marks in the book at a few parts that I remember making.


For instance, p 57, the rowdy sorts who used to roam London streets:

"...still others assaulted and defaced people they met on the street. Cutting off people's noses was a particular favorite."


The twist: those rowdies were upper class types, not common thugs. They were part of a gang called The Mohocks. (Yes, the name is derived from the American Indian tribe, if you wondered. Also note on that wikipedia page citations that question whether this group existed. Gossip/letters and tabloidy accounts of the time seem to be the main primary sources - so it's a good question.)


Oddly it was already not an unusual thing to see people without noses at this time - it was one of the symptoms of syphilis. (Warning, NSFW and gross medical photos at that wikipedia link. I have a couple of books I've been wanting to read about syphilis, since it had a huge effect in the literature, jokes, and lifestyles of all social classes for decades. But they're all like $30+, sigh.)


Many wonder why it was considered a Very Bad Idea to help beggars or people in need on the streets at this time. (It's a common romance trope: lovely girl stops to help orphan being beaten for stealing, for instance, or old lame solider, etc.)


p 71

"Disguise and acting were key elements in street robbery. Both pickpockets of a sort, the 'Abraham Men' pretended madness, and the 'Congek Cranks' epilepsy, to distract and disarm their prey.


...That crutch which late compassion moved, shall wound

Thy bleeding head, and fell thee to the ground."


That poetry's from John Gay's Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London.


On the streets no one's as they seem. Stopping to help that beggar might result in you being beaten and robbed. And he/she probably has confederates who'll help out.


Interestingly many of the scenarios Moore describes for pickpocketing are still in use today. If you're in a crowd and someone makes a huge fuss about something - and everyone's looking - make sure you keep an eye on your purse and pockets. Distractions like that are great moments for pickpockets.