As with most murder cases, the Police were inundated with unsolicited advice from the letter-writing public. Results of seances, pub gossip and the fervid speculations of the marginally insane all found their way to the D.P.P. or Scotland Yard.

One particular note seemed to have caused some concern, as it was carefully logged and kept in the prosecution files. Sent on a postcard from Brixton on the 10th June 1932, it suggests a certain amount of inside knowledge. The authorities were very sensitive to the charge that Elvira was receiving rather “special” treatment because of her her high social status and did their best to convince the general public otherwise. In this they were comprehensively unsuccessful.

The letter reads,

” A complaint is being made at headquarters. What sort of prison is this? A Cabaret? She might be left at home! The fuss they make of her and the “spoiling”!! Poor women are not treated thus. It is money money and one is a Saint! Madam. To the contrary, all sympathy from nice people, goes to the correct-living Stephen’s family and their loss.A woman, married, who goes to live in a place inhabited by quiet decent folk and leads poor Stephens on – is not innocent. This is the way you Mothers with plenty of money bring up your daughters – Cocktail parties – Jazz and frivolity, with husbands in the background, who seem fools, or have “lost their manhood”.

Holloway is too luxurious and good a place for the likes. Why does the Governor allow all this nonsense, for this woman: telephone, powder-puffs and grand tea-gowns etc.

An Observer”

Tea Gowns late 20s early 30s

I don’t think the Police needed to have worried.  This is not the letter of a disgruntled warder or fellow inmate.However,I do think the letter is written by someone who had picked up some facts about Elvira’s period on remand. The references to the telephone and the powder-puff have a specificity that is both charming and credible.

What is more significant is the familiar mantra of “jazz” and “cocktail parties” as being the true culprits behind the whole affair. The icing on the cake is the reference to husbands who have “lost their manhood”. When one reads Marek Kohn or Virginia Nicholson it is tempting to think that they are retrospectively applying  modern readings on to the  social values of the era. But this is not the case. Elvira really did represent one of many threats to the “natural” order. All those books about the post-War  loss of patriarchal authority and the perceived disruption that the flapper generation embodied can be found, in condensed but vehement form, in this angry missive.

Elvira becomes the symbol for two very different conflicts. In the category of “Class”  she signifies old-fashioned privilege and power whereas in regards to what we now call “gender”  she is subversive and the epitome of a decidedly unsettling Modernity. It is a salutary reminder to those who wish to  produce hagiographic studies of Radclyffe Hall or, God forbid, Rotha Linton-Orman that sexual politics are but just one aspect of the overall picture. On the other hand, class analysis alone cannot do justice to the barely-repressed rage of our Brixton Observer.

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