an anthology of DESCRIPTIONS


JAMES THURBER, 'The Day the Dam Broke' from Vintage Thurber Volume II p.172 a short story

"Suddenly somebody began to run..." an account of the impact of a rumour that the dam above the town had broken, 'Black streams of flowed eastwards down all the streets leading in that direction..." the great rout of 1913 stopped when militia men rode about announcing that the damn had not burst. Also called the Afternoon of the Great Run, and notable for its depiction of the Crowd as great senseless Tide (not unusual given the context). For an account of mass hysteria on a domestic scale, see also 'The Night the Ghost got in..."

NATHANIEL WEST, see the Movie premiere scene in The Day of the Locust, (1939)

the frenzy and destruction of the crowd, see Jay Martin, Nathaniel West The Art of his Life, Carroll and Graf, New York 1970, chapter 9 'The Apocalypse of the Second Hand" which also documents the sudden ephemeral crazes for dance marathons, stunts and miniature golf. That West instinctively grasped 'the secret inner life of the masses" and was instrumental in plotting the birth of 'mass man".

Tod Hackett from art school to Hollywood, working on a large painting called The Burning of Los Angeles an apocalyptic landscape with crowd carrying baseball bats and torches, with grotesque faces , "all those poor devils who can only best stirred by the promise of miracles and then only to violence."

p.10 Tod looks at the "evening crowd" - compare to the premiere riot. Tod at the Movie premiere, "Although it was still several hours before the celebrities would arrive, thousands of people had already gathered. They stood facing the theatre with their backs to the gutter in a thick line hundreds of feet long. A big squad of policemen was trying to keep a lane open between the front rank of the crowd and the facade of the theatre....

reaction to the individual -" Tod had walked only a shoret distance along the narrow lane when he began to get frightened. People shouted, commented on his hat, his carriage and his clothing. There was a continuous roar of catcalls, laughter, and yells, pierced occasionally by a scream."

broadcasting the crowd (radio) a man with a portable microphone describes the event, "What a crowd, folks ! What a crowd !"

the identity of the crowd, :Tod could see very few people who looked tough, nor could he see any working men. The crowd was made up of the lower middle classes, every other person his own standard bearer."

entering the crowd, He whirled around angrily and found himself surrounded by people who were laughing at him. He knew enough to laugh with them.

subsumed "New groups, whole families kept arriving. He could see a change come over them as soon as they had become a part of the crowd. Until they reached the line, they, they looked diffidernt, but the moment they had become part of it, they turned arrogant and pugnacious... They were savage and bitter, especially the middle aged and the old, and had been made so by boredom and disappointment."

caught up in the crowd, "The crowd in front of the theatre had charged. He was surrounded by churning legs and feet."

the sexuality of the crowd, license and mass promiscuity, a young woman with torn dress being fumbled and bitten by an old man. An older woman is pinched, "Lay off that," she said goodnaturedly. "I was shoved" he said..."



DOSTOEVSKY The Possessed.

" a crowd of people marched through the town and was watched by many curious spectators. They were the workers from Spigulin's factory, about seventy of them or more.... In troubled times of uncertainty or transition, all sorts of low individuals always appear everywhere. I am speaking only of the rabble. This rabble which you will find in any society, usually rises to the surface in every transition, and it is not only without any aim, but also without an inkling of an idea, merely expressing with all its strength unrest and impatience. And yet this rabble without realising it itself almost always finds itself under the command of the small crowd of 'progressives' who act with a definite aim and it is they who direct this scum..... His last words could not be heard in the roar of the crowd. He could be seen raising his hand once more and bringing it down triumphantly. The enthusiasm of the crowd was unimaginable ; they yelled, they clapped their hands.... They were like drunkards. The orator seemed to look at them all and seemed to melt with delight at his own triumph."


CHARLES DICKENS The Tale of Two Cities.

Chapter XIV The Honest Tradesman - A Funeral Crowd - Dickens describes the gathering of a rabble about the cortege of an Old Bailey spy, and their gradual attempt to take it over. He alludes obliquely to voices/ a voice in the crowd that makes suggestions that are taken up by the crowd. Dickens further describes the momentum of the mayhem and the dispersal. One mourner throws some of his clothes into the mob, "These, the people tore to pieces and scattered far and wide with great enjoyment, while the tradesmen hurriedly shut up their shops; for a crowd in those [Revolutionary] times , stopped at nothing and was a monster much dreaded. They had already got the length of opening the hearse to take the coffin out, when some brighter genius proposed instead, its being escorted to its destination amidst general rejoicing.... Thus with beer-drinking pipe-smoking song roaring and infinite caricaturing of woe, the disorderly procession went its way, recruiting at every step and , and all the shops shutting up before it." The dead man was disposed of in the crowd's own way, and then it looked for further activity. "... another brighter genius (or perhaps the same) conceived the humour of impeaching casual passers-by, as Old bailey spies, and wreaking vengeance on them. Chase was given to some scores of innocent persons who had never been near the Old bailey in their lives, in the realization of this fancy, and they were roughly hustled and maltreated. The transition to the sport of window-breaking, and thence to the plundering of public houses, was easy and natural. At last, after several hours, when several sundry summer-houses had been pulled down and some area railings had been torn up,, to arm the more belligerent spirits, a rumour got about that the Guards were coming. Before this rumour, the crowd gradually melted away , and perhaps the Guards came and perhaps they never came, and this was the usual progress of a mob."


See also Dickens description of the gathering of the crowds in a time span before dawn and up to noon, "The Streets - Morning" Sketches by Boz, second series 1837 (R.Vallance, Dickens' London, Folio Society, 1966 pp.31 - 36)