Icon Feb 13, 2010

‘The Irish Devil-Fish’ by Sir John Tenniel, published in Punch, or the London Charivai,  June 18th 1881. The captions read: ’ “The creature is formidable, but there is a way of resisting it, *** The Devil-fish, in fact, is only vulnerable through the head” Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea, Book IV., Ch. iii.’1. The (stereotypical) Irish octopus is the ’Land League2. The arms read: ‘anarchy’, ‘sedition’, ‘lawlessness’, ‘rebellion’, ‘outrage’ (?), ‘intimidation’, ‘obstruction’ and ‘terrorism’. The man wielding the knife is William Gladstone3: a former Prime Minister of the UK. It relates to the Plan of Campaign and the 1881 enactment of the Irish Coercion Act (Protection of Person and Property Act 1881), a reaction against protests and the Plan of Campaign. The Irish Coercion Act ‘permitted the Viceroy to detain people for as “long as was thought necessary”’45. The Plan of Campaign was formulated by Irish politicians for the protection of tenants from landlords6



Image Source: Pharyngula http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/10/another_reason_to_love_the_iri.php (Accessed: 16th March 2009)

  1. See also ‘The Modern Devil-Fish’. The quote appears on page 357 of the James Hogarth translation published by The Modern Library, New York, 2002. As an aside: possibility of linking Victor Hugo to political cartoons where the octopus/devil fish emerges from a cave? There are several French cartoons (Les Monopoles and la Pieuvre Maconnique  for example) that show the octopus attacking people from the safety of a cave, as in ‘Toilers of the Sea’. The knife stabbing head is another (as in ‘The Modern Devil-Fish’). Perhaps this is also the origin of the idea of a network with a central intelligence as shorthand for monopoly (ie. ‘action at a distance’ MacDougall). English translation/editions of ’Toilers of the Sea’: New York 1867 (the year after it was published in Brussels), and UK edition 1887.
  2. See also ‘Landlordism: a vampiric octopus (Northrop, 1900s)’, a English postcard that shows the reverse of this cartoon: the landlords are the (vampiric) octopus.
  3. Myers, P.Z.  (2007), ‘Another reason to love the Irish’, Pharyngula, http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/10/another_reason_to_love_the_iri.php (Accessed 16th March 2000)
  4. Wikipedia (Feb 2009), ‘Irish Coercion Act’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Coercion_Act (Accessed: 16th March 2009)
  5. A parallel to current events and anti-terror laws?
  6. Wikipedia (Dec 2008), Plan of Campaign’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_of_Campaign(Accessed: 16th March 2009)