Exiliado: Harry Maguire’s Gothic Panic
There’s a part of semi-lockdown I’ve been enjoying selfishly, and that’s the opportunity to visit a cultural place without the crowds of visitors. The last time I visited Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, it was hard to get a sense of the history behind the building. Now, the idea of squeezing past families on staircases is completely gone. What a dream for an introvert who enjoys silence as a way of getting immersed in what’s before you.
And what’s before you is a house the son of the first Prime Minister of England, Horace Walpole, built in the mid 1700s to resemble some sort of Italian palazzo in the Gothic style. Walpole decided to go one step further, and in a strange form of meta-fiction, wrote the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. The castle being a thinly-veiled disguise of his actual house, opening with a murder happening at the bottom of the main staircase. Just to add an extra layer, he decided to use an Italian pseudonym and claim the story had been translated from Italian. In short, putting as much distance as possible between English nobility and a scandalous tale of murder in Italy.
This has a lot to do with footballer Harry Maguire, I promise.
We have Walpole to thank for the slew of Gothic fiction that came after. Hundreds of novels about creepy, lusty Italian counts and creepy, lusty Italian priests. Ghosts and nuns and big castles in the rain with portraits with the eyes taken out. And of course, Mary Shelley’s mad professor and creature, Bram Stoker’s Eastern European vampire count, and R.L. Stevenson’s shape-changing doctor/madman amongst many others.
When I studied Gothic fiction at university, what struck me about the common thread pervading all these works was the fear of the foreigner. Then I realised these foreigners they were scared of, were me and my people.
These stories were inspired by visits to Catholic, sometimes Mediterranean countries with their strange religion, their strange customs, and their strange architecture. What English writers saw when they visited was a sort of crossing over of what they felt was a decent form of societal behaviour as soon as they crossed the border.
In fact, they eventually realised they didn’t even have to leave the country. Look at Sherlock Holmes running off to the East End to hide out in opium dens with criminals. Dr. Jekyll’s home is in the West End, but Mr. Hyde decides to leave in the East End. With its ships and foreigners and poverty, all bets are off. Rich Londoners could even pay a fee to visit the slums and indulge in East End drinking. This behaviour was replicated in the 1920’s in New York where curious and edgy rich white people went to the jazz clubs of Harlem. It became known as ‘slumming’.
Which is exactly what Harry Maguire was doing. Slumming. Like hundreds of thousands of Brits abroad before him. Off to Greece with its nice weather and its all-inclusives and the cheap booze and sexy girls. A playground without consequences, until there are.
And then what? Allegedly he tries to bribe the police, then he does the whole ‘don’t you know who I am?’ bit, and eventually of course, the truth revealed, he shouts out ‘fuck the Greek civilisation’. Although I’m pretty sure a word like ‘civilisation’ is a bit much for him. It was probably just ‘fuck the Greeks’.
None of that works, which if of course outrageous for him. He didn’t come here for the rules. The same reason Brits abroad love the Costa Del Sol. Sun, sea and sangria wet dreams. Until they hit an altercation and suddenly Mediterranean people are savage, emotional, hysterical, lying, thieving, corrupt…
So Harry decides to go with panic. And what’s more terrifying than plain-clothes policemen coming to kidnap you? Because everybody knows the legal system is dodgy everywhere but in jolly old England. He also tries for the Albanian men trying to inject his sister with drugs, which is a plot point from the movie Taken. A movie that excites and titillates for that very reason. Europe, the dark and strange continent that has cheap alcohol and nice weather, but at any moment the hordes of swarthy people can come and take you away.
Harry Maguire was confronted with the reality he had chosen to ignore. You can sit by the pool of your hotel or villa with your cheap pints and your burgers. You can ignore our culture and our way of life, the food you find strange and the language you make fun of. You can call us lazy with our siesta or obnoxious because we talk so loudly. You can talk loudly and slowly to us because you think we’re somehow slow. You can even choose to look at us in a hospitable way while we serve you dinner (see Manuel in Fawlty Towers) or fall into the incorrect fetish of libidinous ‘Latin’ lovers. But the fear sets in when you cross those lines, and you realise we can be a people who don’t like being disrespected or colonised during your holiday.
This island of invaders fears invasion. Whether it’s the person who doesn’t speak English on the Underground, the one with the accent serving you coffee, or the ones who dare to remind you that the foundations of your country’s wealth are built on slavery. Worse still, the teeming horde of faceless brown monsters on boats who cross the Channel in their masses, coming to corrupt you with their strange customs, their strange food and their strange tongues.
The most horrifying part in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is surely the Count’s journey aboard the ship Demeter as it crosses the Mediterranean (past Gibraltar!) and sails up towards England. Dracula even travels in a box filled with soil from Transylvania, bringing his very homeland with him to infect everything in England with blood and sex and darkness.
Except, if you’re Harry Maguire footballer extraordinaire yelling ‘fuck the Greek civilisation’ on Mykonos and offering to bribe police after having caused a disturbance, then making up stories about men in the dark injecting drugs and trying to kidnap you, you may want to consider that the invading monster might very well be you.