27/05/2017

Les Mystères de Londres


 
    “The man has arrived thus far. To-morrow, by his secret labours, his ideas will be promulgated, and he will find a powerful auxiliary in European politics. The man will then transform himself; in order to obtain access to crowned personages, he will become a mighty lord. He will amass into one mountainous heap the bitter and legitimate hatreds; all the crying wrongs committed by the insatiable cupidity, by the perfidious ambition, by the cowardly tyranny of his enemy. His voice, which will be heard, will preach the establishment of an immense crusade. Then this great lord will for a time throw off his golden honours, and his velvet robes, and become the Irishman, Fergus, in order to gain the hearts of his countrymen. He will revisit his poor Ireland; his treasures will be employed in relieving her indescribable distress, and his hand always open to bestow, will one day stretch toward the east, and will point to London in the distance, whence descends upon Erin, the torrent of her sufferings.
    “And then he will repeat the death-cry of his father: Arise—and war to England.”

 

 

 

 

 

While the timing of the publication of G. W. M. Reynolds’ own sprawling penny-dreadful, The Mysteries Of London, was no doubt primarily responsible for the failure of Paul Féval’s Les Mystères de Londres to appear in English translation in 1844, it is not difficult to imagine that whatever enthusiasm there might have been for this French-penned crime drama in the wake of the enormous popularity of Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris, it was quenched by the realisation that for all of its many and varied crime plots and French criminal characters, the real Bad Guy in Les Mystères de Londres was England. Sue’s stringent criticisms of his own country, his own society, were one thing; a Frenchman depicting England as a monster of tyranny, oppression and injustice, both at home and across the world—particularly in a work aimed (at least overtly) at the working-classes—was something else entirely. And to make things even worse, the main thread of the narrative concerns a plot against England that is explicitly Catholic in nature.

But even as English readers gobbled up the myriad exciting improbabilities of Reynolds’ The Mysteries Of London and its follow-up, The Mysteries Of The Court Of London, a version of Les Mystères de Londres did finally creep out into the marketplace. Published in 1847, translated by one “R. Stephenson”, about whom I have been able to find no information, and bearing no hint of the identity of the work’s original author, The Mysteries Of London; or, Revelations Of The British Metropolis is a poor shadow of Paul Féval’s original work, a one-volume, 500-page rendering of his four volumes.

It is hardly to be wondered at that The Mysteries Of London is a difficult, unsatisfactory read. Like its model, Les Mystères de Paris, this is a rambling, undisciplined, multi-plotted story full of people with secret identities (sometimes several at once): one difficult enough to follow even without huge chunks of the narrative being excised. As it stands, it is frequently impossible to tell whether something is mysterious because Féval meant it to be mysterious, or because Stephenson hacked out the explanation—although it progressively becomes evident that the latter is responsible for a majority of the reader’s frustrations.

Allow me to offer a minor example of the editing style that plagues this work throughout: one of the novel’s heroines, a girl called Susannah, is steeling herself to tell her brief life-history to the man she loves, revealing that she is the daughter of Ishmael Spencer, “the forger”, “the robber” and (worst of all?) “the Jew”. She has just got through explaining that she was never allowed out of the house, and had no companions other than a maid, Temperance, and a disfigured manservant, Rehoboam:

“It was one evening. Ishmael had not for two days been in that part of the house in which I lived. I was in the parlour, where I had just fallen asleep with my head upon Cora’s shoulder. I raised my eyes; whether I was still sleeping or awake, I know not, but I saw a lady cautiously entering the parlour with Temperance. How beautiful that lady seemed to me, and how much goodness was there in her features!… Corah lay trembling under me, for Corah was timid also, and was alarmed at the appearance of a stranger…”

Thus, at a moment when we are no doubt supposed to be speculating about the identity of the “beautiful lady”, all I could think was, “Who the hell is Cora(h)!?” – to whom we will continue to get confusing references for quite a number of pages, until (more by accident than design, we suspect) Stephenson leaves in his text the key to the mystery, after Ishmael finds out about Susannah’s visitor:

“‘Do not sleep any more in the parlour, my child; and, when you have dreams as this, always come and tell me at once. Will you do so, Susannah?’ My father’s questions were always an order or a threat. I bowed my head and trembled. ‘Will you do what I tell you?’ repeated Ishmael, shaking me by the arm. ‘I will, sir.’ ‘Yes, Susannah? You are a good girl; and, besides, if you did not, I would kill your doe.'”

Ohhhhhhhhhh, she has a pet deer! In the middle of London. Which sleeps in the house with her. Of course.

This is, as I say, a very minor example of Stephenson’s editing style. More serious (and even more frustrating) is the eventual realisation that he also censored Féval‘s text. What remain are mere allusions to shocking material that has been removed—enough to hint at what happened without us ever knowing the details. Two plot-threads in particular are affected by this. In one, we have an improbable love affair between Susannah, the daughter of Ishmael Spencer, and the aristocratic Brian de Lancaster, who is waging a personal and public war against his brother, the dissolute and criminal Earl of White Manor. It will, at great length, be revealed that (of course) Ishmael was not Susannah’s real father; that she is the daughter of Lord White Manor and his discarded wife (the mysterious, beautiful lady of Susannah’s vague childhood memories); and that Brian and Susannah are therefore uncle and niece. We are shown the aftermath of this devastating discovery—

Susannah has seen Brian de Lancaster but once since their fatal separation in Wimpole Street, and this was immediately after the decease of the Earl of White Manor, which took place during one of his terrible attacks at Denham Park. He came to inform her of the death of her father, and of his having succeeded to the peerage, and then set out again for London, without so much as sleeping one night under the same roof with Susannah.

—but not the moment of realisation.

Still more frustrating in its way is perhaps the most shocking of all this work’s shocking subplots, that involving the sisters, Clara and Anna Macfarlane, whose romantic affairs drive most of what we might call the “middle-layer” plots. One of the criminal gang, Bob Lantern, is offered money in return for the person of a beautiful young woman by two different people, and decides to cash in on both offers by abducting and selling the sisters. One of them, Anna as it turns out, is destined to be the unwilling plaything of the Earl of White Manor, although she is rescued before he gets around to having his way with her. Clara is not so fortunate, being sold to a certain Dr Moore to be the test subject in his experiments. Hints about this come and go, so that we are never sure of all she has been subjected to; but what remains is hair-raising enough:

For a time, the doctor ceased his experiments on Clara, who had become useless to him, and left her under the charge of Rowley, who divided his leisure moments between her and his Toxicological Amusements…

Rowley had been ordered to supply her with good food, that she might better be able to sustain the galvanic shock to which the doctor wished to expose her…

Clara Macfarlane was much changed. The traces of the long and cruel martyrdom she had been made to suffer, were clearly perceptible in her pallid and meagre face. Her form, so beautiful in its youthful proportions, had become debilitated and stooping… In the eyes of Clara, was some what of a wild expression. The horrible shock that had been given to her nervous system, had left behind it an affection [sic.?] which continually distorted her features by sudden and painful twitchings…

The final exasperation is that for some reason the text of The Mysteries Of London was rendered without any punctuation of the dialogue: I have inserted it in my quotes for ease of reading, but it isn’t present in the book itself. For example, the conversation quoted up above, between Ishmael and Susannah, is presented as follows:

Do not sleep any more in the parlour, my child; and, when you have dreams as this, always come and tell me at once. Will you do so, Susannah? My father’s questions were always an order or a threat. I bowed my head and trembled. Will you do what I tell you? repeated Ishmael, shaking me by the arm. I will, sir. Yes, Susannah? You are a good girl; and, besides, if you did not, I would kill your doe.

The cumulative result is a rather gruelling five hundred pages, in which we are never sure who anyone is, or who is speaking from moment to moment—or even if certain passages are meant to be dialogue at all. But if reading The Mysteries Of London was a chore rather than a pleasure, reviewing it is even more difficult: far more so than, say, dealing with the full six volumes of Les Mystères de Paris. In fact it can’t be done in any coherent way, except by, as it were, speaking backwards from the point when the fragmented pieces fall into place.

Briefly, then, The Mysteries Of London has two main parallel plots, one dealing with machinations at the very highest levels of English society, the other with the activities of a brutal criminal gang; with most of the “nice” characters, like the Macfarlane sisters, caught between and swept up into danger because of one or the other (or both). The link between all the story’s threads is the Marquis de Rio Santo, aka “Mr Edward”, real name: Fergus O’Brian—the money and the genius behind a plot to lead the Irish in violent revolt against the English government, with his own part being to use his access to the highest levels of society to assassinate the British monarch (who at the time of the story’s setting was the relatively inoffensive William IV).

It is late in the narrative before we are finally let in on the life-history of this work’s anti-hero, but his story, when it finally emerges, is one of an amusing and spectacular climb up the social ladder; one which might reasonably open, “Once upon a time— “. Some twenty years earlier, then, the lovely Mary Macfarlane fell in love with and became engaged to the poor Irishman Fergus O’Brian, rejecting the advances of Godfrey de Lancaster, afterwards the Earl of White Manor. A quarrel led to a duel in which de Lancaster was wounded; and Fergus, being a poor Irishman, was tried, convicted and transported to Australia. During his transportation, Fergus gained a friend and collaborator in the form of an angry Scot named Randal Graham; the two agree to (i) escape, (ii) turn pirate, and (iii) find some way to stick it to England:

    Fergus O’Brian had not become a pirate, merely to be a pirate. He had other views besides that of making booty more or less abundant; and every action of his during the four years in which he had traversed those seas, was a stone added to the gigantic edifice, of which he was the architect.
    It is not necessary to state, that his attacks were made on British ships, in preference to all others. They pillaged, sunk, or blew up, more ships belonging to the East India Company, than all the French privateers that ever swam…

Fergus also spends these years travelling the world, getting a good look at the brutality and exploitation that are the hallmarks of English colonisation and English trade, and gaining recruits to his cause:

Quitting the Indian seas, he only changed the scene, again to find, at intervals more distant from one another, the same hatred against England, still covered and restrained, but ready to burst forth. At the Cape of Good Hope, the Dutch boors—in America, both the Canadas, from one extremity to the other, groaning under the most horrible oppression, and venting their cries of distress, which were soon to find an echo in a French heart…

An amusing interlude follows, in which it is solemnly explained to us that Napoleon – who had, The most noble, the most enlightened, and the boldest mind, which has perhaps ever dazzled the world – escaped from St Helena with the single goal of crushing English tyranny…

…but since he didn’t quite manage it, it was up to Fergus O’Brian to pick up his slack.

During his travels, Fergus managed to be of service of John VI of Portugal, whose reward paved the way for Fergus’s great plan against England:

    In 1822, one year after the restoration of the house of Braganza, Fergus O’Brian, the poor orphan from St Giles’s, was created a grandee of Portugal, of the first order, Grand Cross of the Order of Christ, and Marquis de Rio Santo in Paraiba. Fergus was also, by royal prescription, authorised to bear the name and title of a noble family which had become extinct, the Alacaons, of Coimbra.
    So that when we heard announced in the proud drawing rooms of the Westend, the sounding titles of Don Jose Maria Telles de Alacaon, Marquis de Rio Santo, it was not the name of a vulgar adventurer, ennobled by the grace of fraud, and strutting about under a false title, but it was really a great nobleman, of legitimate manufacture, a marquis by royal grant, an exalted personage, upon whose breast glitterd the insignia of several of the most distinguished and most rarely bestowed European orders, which he had acquired and merited…

Perhaps the single most interesting thing about The Mysteries Of London is that its anti-hero is both a genuine aristocrat (albeit a created one) and a poor, dispossessed Irish revolutionary. His toggling between the various levels of society is, therefore, rather more convincing than usual: he is able both to command a dangerous and extensive criminal gang, and enter unhindered into the very highest circles of society. The latter, indeed, is why he takes upon himself the task of regicide: as the noble Marquis de Rio Santo, he has no trouble getting access to the king.

Paul Féval does not pull any punches with respect to English tyranny, dwelling angrily upon abuses in India, the opium trade in China, the brutalities of Botany Bay—but it is with respect to the treatment of Irish Catholics by English Protestants that he really lets himself go. And this is, of course, Fergus’s background, the first of many injustices suffered, with his respectable Irish family gradually stripped of their possessions and their savings by the cruel manoeuvring of English landlords, his sister seduced and abandoned, and his parents dying of grief and starvation:

    He again threw himself upon his knees and endeavoured to pray. But a mysterious voice resounded in his ears, and repeated to him his father’s dying words:
    “Arise! and war to England!”
    He sprang to his feet; his brows were knit, and a purple tinge chased the paleness from his fine features, and flashed fire.
    This was not—and no one could have been deceived by it—the transient anger of a child; it was the deadly hatred of a man. And in that poor room, in the poorest district of all London, arose a cloud, the precursor of a tempest, which might shake the three kingdoms to their foundations.
    Fergus advanced with firm steps towards the bed, and then slowly drew from his forehead to his chest, and then from one shoulder to the other, the sacred sign of the Catholic religion.
    “My father!” he exclaimed, with head erect and outstretched hand, “I here swear to obey you.”

And indeed, Fergus’s planned revenge is nothing less than the violent overthrow of the English government, for which purpose he spends years building a revolutionary army, predominantly but not exclusively Irish, which he has ferried to England as his plans move towards fruition. Féval allows Fergus’s schemes to progress so far as his army being in place around London, only waiting for their commander’s signal to strike—

—but of course that signal does not, cannot, come.

There is a strange split-vision about the conclusion of The Mysteries Of London. On one hand Féval is clearly enjoying his violently anti-English fantasy; but at the same time he has to find a way for the hitherto invincible Fergus to stumble at the last. His compromise is to have, not Fergus’s revolution fail, but his private crimes rise up against him. It is not the government or the army who stops Fergus, but two personally outraged and determined young men, and a traitor from within his own ranks—one who until almost the last moment was his most trusted lieutenant…

Between its aristocrats and its criminals, The Mysteries Of London is populated by a handful of respectable, middle-class (and mostly Scottish) characters, whose paths are crossed by Fergus in one or other of his various guises. Early on we find him pursuing the lovely Miss Mary Trevor, apparently because she reminds him of his lost love, Mary Macfarlane, even aside from the coincidence of their names. Mary is in love with poor but honest Frank Percival (poverty-stricken younger sons abound in this narrative, presumably as a criticism of the English system of primogeniture); but he is away, travelling on the Continent for reasons never explicated, when the Marquis de Rio Santo first enters Mary’s orbit. Between the “hypnotic” power of the Marquis’s personality and pressure from her family, Mary finds herself engaged to the Marquis almost without her volition. She still nurses Frank in her heart, however, until she is given reason to believe that he has been dallying with another woman even while making her impassioned declarations.

(The woman in question, the Marquis’s first romantic “victim”, is introduced to us rather marvellously as “Ophelia, Countess of Derby, the widow of a knight of the garter”, in the first but by no means the last demonstrations of Paul Féval’s complete failure to grasp the English system of title usage.)

Frank gets back to England to find himself supplanted by the Marquis, upon whom he forces a quarrel and a duel. A crack shot (of course), the Marquis shoots but refrains from killing Frank, who is left to suffer through a slow recovery under the care of his best friend and physician, Stephen Macnab.

And this is where things get complicated. (Yes, this.)

Stephen (whose surname is variously spelled Macnab, McNab and M’Nab throughout the text) is the son of a widowed mother—widowed when her husband was brutally killed many years before:

The death of his father, of which he had been the accidental witness, had at first shaken his youthful faculties; but he had soon recovered from the shock, and the lapse of years had now removed all the effects of the calamity upon his intellect. But the remembrance of his murdered father, and the image of his murderer, were engraved upon his mind in ineffaceable characters of blood. The assassin, whom he had seen for an instant, in consequence of the fall of his mask, was not stamped upon his memory with very certain indications: one circumstance, however, was still luminous—it was the form of a tall, robust, and supple man, with black eyebrows, knit together with a long scar drawn distinctly on his heated forehead. He saw all this as in a dream, but a burning fever for vengeance was kindled in his mind…

Staying with Stephen and his mother are Clara and Anna Macfarlane, the daughters of Mrs Macnab’s brother, Angus: a Scottish landowner and magistrate known generally as just as “the laird”. Mrs Macnab did – and, perhaps, does – have a second sibling, a sister called “Mary”…

When we are first introduced to Stephen, smug male that he is, he is hesitating between Clara and Anna, never doubting that he can have either for the asking; but although Anna is in fact in love with him, he only needs to realise that Clara is attracted to another man to become unalterably fixated upon her. This discovery occurs during a complicated scene in church, which finds a certain handsome stranger gazing fixedly at the young woman carrying around the collection plate, Clara Macfarlane palpitating over the handsome stranger, and Stephen toggling between homicidal fury and suicidal despair. (From the way the narrative unfolds we initially assume it is Mary Trevor who is carrying the plate, but it will very belatedly be confirmed as Anna Macfarlane: one of many missing subplots.) Later we learn that in his “Mr Edward” guise, Fergus has a house very near that in which the Macnabs live, and that Clara has become infatuated with him while watching him from the window. He, in turn, has distantly flirted with her, kissing his fingers at her and such, but without serious intention.

(People falling in love while spying on someone through their windows is a disturbingly recurrent theme in The Mysteries Of London, but since this very situation later leads to the rescue of Anna Macfarlane from the Earl of White Manor, we can’t entirely condemn it.)

So without knowing it, Frank Percival and Stephen Macnab have been supplanted by the same man. Stephen’s romantic sufferings recede while he is fighting to save his friend’s life, however, and he is distracted from them further by Frank’s feverish muttering when, it appears, he is the grip of a nightmare:

    “The scar!” cried Percival suddenly; “did I not see the scar upon his forehead?”
    Stephen had started up. “The scar!” exclaimed he; “oh! I remember!”
    “Upon his red forehead!” rejoined Frank. “It appeared white and clearly defined.”
    “From his left eyebrow to the upper part of his forehead?” said Stephen, involuntarily.
    “From his left eyebrow to the upper part of his forehead!” repeated Percival.
    “Frank!” cried Stephen; “you too know him then, In the name of Heaven, who is it you are speaking of?”
    Frank did not reply; sleep had again overpowered him…

Stephen never gets to follow up the mystery of the man with the scar, because Frank’s life is still hanging in the balance when Clara and Anna Macfarlane disappear, which not unnaturally distracts him from all other considerations.

One of the numerous (not to say infinite) minor characters of The Mysteries Of London is a certain Mr Bishop, whose main profession is indicated by the usual rider which accompanies his name, “the burker”. Hilariously enough, in Paul Féval’s twisted vision of London, not only does Bishop deal openly in dead bodies, he keeps a showroom of his merchandise. Having failed to get any help from the police in the matter of his cousins’ disappearance, the desperate Stephen calls upon Bishop and asks to see what he has in stock:

    All around this place—which occupied the space generally employed as kitchens and coal cellars in ordinary houses—were ranges of marble tables sloping forward.
    It was a frightful spectacle, to see dead bodies lying there, stripped of their sere-clothes, symmetrically arranged with a view to being made an article of traffic…

The girls aren’t there, but as we know, Bishop is very well aware of the fate of one of them:

    “Now then,” continued Bishop—Bob having shut the door—“what I have to tell you is—the devil take me if I tell you or any other man”—and he seemed embarrassed in speaking of it even to Bob—“I have never undertaken a business of this kind; but you, Bob, have neither heart nor soul, and provided you are well paid—”
    “Shall I be well paid, Mr Bishop?”
    “The matter in hand is, that—they want to carry off some young girl alive for the doctor to make some surgical experiments upon…”

Bishop is right about Bob, who almost at the same moment is approached by Paterson, the Earl of White Manor’s steward, who also has a proposition for him:

    “You know that little girl in Cornhill?”
    “Anna Macfarlane? I know, your honour; I was speaking about her only a minute ago to that gentleman who has just left.”
    “She is a divinity, by Heaven!” exclaimed Paterson… “I am sure his lordship would be enraptured with the girl at first sight—we must have her.”

Thus Bob finds himself in something of a dilemma:

“What the devil shall I do?” said Bob, “it is dreadfully awkward: one hundred pounds from Bishop! two hundred from the steward! a very pretty sum. But the sweet girl cannot serve as a subject for Dr Moore, and a plaything for the earl at the same time—that’s very certain—that’s not possible. And yet I promised Bishop; I promised that leech, Paterson…”

…until it occurs to him that Anna has a sister, who will do quite as well for Dr Moore.

The sisters are lured away from home with a false message to meet their father at a certain public house, run by a couple who used to be in the Laird’s service, which lulls their suspicions. Unfortunately for the girls, the Gruffs are in league with Bishop, and they are not the first to disappear through a panel in the floor, to be lowered into a boat on the river below; although they are – perhaps – luckier in that they are only drugged, not dead.

To the mortification of the Gruffs, who should show up in the middle of these dark dealings but the laird himself? – who catches a glimpse of his daughters being lowered through the floor. A desperate pursuit, an even more desperate battle with Bob Lantern, ends with the laird being severely beaten and tossed into the river, while the stupefied girls are carried off to their separate fates…

While this (what we might call ‘Plot B’) is unfolding, over in Plot C we are hearing the history of Susannah and Ishmael Spencer. The significance of this is not revealed until much later in the story, when we get a flashback to Fergus’s return to Britain after his glorious career as a pirate, when he begins the construction of his revolutionary army. He and his angry Scottish offsider, Graham, call upon an even angrier Scot: Angus Macfarlane, who Fergus finds concocting plots to murder the Earl of White Manor, in vengeance for his appalling treatment of his wife, the former Mary Macfarlane.

Fergus learns from Angus, among other things, that at the outset of the former’s piratical career, rumours abounded that he had returned to England, and that false sightings of him were frequently reported. Unfortunately for Mary, these happened to coincide with her pregnancy—leading White Manor (already regretting his marriage, and subject to fits of violent insanity at the best of times) to convince himself that her expected child was actually Fergus’s. When the girl was born he took her away from her mother and gave her up to the tender mercies of Ishmael Spencer; while as for Mary—oh, take THAT, Thomas Hardy!—

    “Two days afterward he dragged his wife to Smithfield. Godfrey made her go into one of the sheep pens, which happened to be empty, and cried out loudly three times: ‘This woman is to be sold—sold for three shillings.’
    “‘Let me pass,’ cried a man, ‘I wish to purchase, for three shillings, the Countess of White Manor.’
    “The man was dressed in the coarse costume of a cattle dealer. Upon seeing him, Godfrey’s courage forsook him, and he made a movement to escape. Mary has never mentioned, in her letters, the name of this man, but when I went to London, public rumour informed me of it. It was the young Brian de Lancaster, the brother of the earl…”

As Angus broods over his bloody plans for White Manor, Fergus manages to re-channel his anger into his own cause, and recruits Angus as one of his lieutenants…

…but it is, in the end, Angus Macfarlane who betrays Fergus—not that we ever really understand what is going on in the feverish last section of the story, where the editing makes bewildering nonsense out of the inevitable long and convoluted explanation, with which such fiction necessarily closes.

Angus is rescued from the river after his attempt to rescue his daughters, and ends up in Fergus’s care. He is raving, near total insanity, and makes a very nearly successful attempt to murder Fergus. We get confirmation during this section that it was Fergus who killed Stephen’s father, and that Angus knows it; and has only refrained from revenging himself upon Fergus for the death of his brother-in-law because (i) Fergus is sort of his brother-in-law too, sharing his grief over Mary; and (ii) his hatred of the Earl of White Manor is his prevailing passion—at least until his daughters are abducted.

It is this that pushes Angus over the edge, understandably, though both girls are eventually rescued. The problem is—as the narrative stands, we never know why Angus is so sure that Fergus was behind the girls’ abduction. It was, of course, in Clara’s case, one of his co-conspirators who was behind it; but Angus seems to have more direct guilt in mind (though, at the same time, he cannot possibly believe Fergus had anything to do with Anna falling into White Manor’s clutches). Perhaps a cosmic irony was intended, with Fergus being taken down by the one crime he didn’t commit? In any event, it is on this basis, and just before Fergus is to set his revolution in motion, that Angus turns on him…

It is, however, Frank Percival and Stephen Macnab who directly intervene, making a citizens’ arrest of sorts. Stephen has his father’s death to avenge, and on the testimony of Angus knows who his killer was; now he gets proof for himself:

At that moment Rio Santo, who had succeeded in withdrawing himself from the maddening grasp of the laird, raised his head—his brilliant eye flashed fire—a reddening tinge proceeding from the efforts of Angus, or from anger, suffused the features of the marquis, till then so pallid; his brows were knit, and on the purpled skin of the forehead a livid scar appeared, extending from the eyebrow to the hair…

So much for Stephen; as for Frank—

    “I have come to ask you, my lord,” replied Frank, hardly able to restrain his anger, “for an explanation of a cowardly and nameless crime.” He raised himself on the points of his toes, and whispered in the ear of the marquis, “I am the brother of Harriet Percival.”
    “And the disappointed lover of Mary Trevor!” sarcastically added the marquis. “I declare to you, sir, that I had not the honour of your sister’s acquaintance.”
    “That is true,” retorted Frank. “You killed her without knowing her.”

Him or anyone else! Of all the pieces of hack-handed editing in The Mysteries Of London, this one takes the cake. Some three hundred pages before this moment there is a single passing reference to “poor Harriet Percival”, and that is all we know about her. Fergus, meanwhile, is hardly more confused than we are: he tries to get an explanation out of Frank, but the situation takes an even more dramatic turn before he can give one, so this particular subplot is left hanging, a perpetual mystery.

Events then occur in a rush. Fergus is arrested, tried and convicted, not for his attempt to overthrow the government and assassinate the king, but for the murder of Mr Macnab (who had accidentally stumbled over an important secret, in the early days of Fergus’s plotting), and for being the mastermind behind a plot to rob the Bank of England—by tunnelling in from underneath! Good grief! – was this the earliest instance of that perpetually popular crime-plot??

Meanwhile, Clara, still in an extremely shaky condition of body and mind, finds out who it was she was infatuated with, the real identity of “Mr Edward”. In her unbalanced state, she makes her way to Newgate, and happens to be on the spot when Fergus is broken out by his still-loyal accomplices. She ends up being carried off by Fergus, who uses her presence to confuse the troops who are searching for a single man on a horse, and travels with him all the way to Scotland—to what should be her own home, Crewe Castle, Angus’s property (though bought for him by Fergus, to be used as a hideout if / when necessary).

And maybe I take it back about the Harriet Percival editing being the most confusing, because we are missing something important here, too—namely, the key to the working out of Fergus’s fate, wherein Clara becomes convinced that despite his engagement to Mary Trevor, her real rival for Fergus is Anna; and perhaps she’s right:

It was a singular journey. During the whole of it, he conducted himself toward Clara as a father would have done toward a beloved child. But, from the impression which had been produced upon him by the sight of Anna, when she presented to him the plate for his donation in Temple church, the marquis, in the strange and unconnected conversation which he had with Clara, several times inadvertently pronounced the name of her younger sister. Each time, that name fell as a heavy weight upon the heart of Clara…

From hints remaining in the text, we deduce that at some point Clara suffered a strange and tormenting dream, in which Anna came between her and Fergus, though we never know if this had any basis in reality. From Fergus’s reaction, almost certainly not:

    “She is not there today,” she said, with joyful anxiety. “Tell me, Edward, she is not come, is she?”
    Rio Santo saw at once that the poor girl was under the dominion of some strange hallucination; but he could not comprehend of whom she was speaking.

And poor Fergus is indeed fated to be taken down by the crimes he has not committed. Harriet Percival, nothing; it is the once-glimpsed Anna Macfarlane who dooms him:

    “My father!” exclaimed Clara. “Oh, yes, yes, Edward! the farm is just on the other side of the hill. O! how happy we shall be there!”
    She paused abruptly, but immediately afterward added: “That is to say, if my sister does not come, as she did the other time.”
    A flash of ungovernable fury darted from her eyes. She suddenly threw herself back upon the ground, and her hand, by chance, fell upon the cold barrel of one of the pistols. Her action was rapid as thought itself. An explosion broke the silence of that sequestered spot; Rio Santo fell to the ground—the ball from the pistol had struck him in the breast…

Some time later, Fergus is found by quite another woman—the lonely occupant of Crewe Castle:

    When the moon…rendered the spot visible by her silver light, a female form was seen kneeling by the unfortunate marquis. She was praying.
    This was Mary Macfarlane, the Countess of White Manor. She had just recognised, in the dead body stretched upon the grass, Fergus O’Brian, her first, her only love…

Having reached this melodramatic conclusion, The Mysteries Of Paris wraps itself up with a few hilariously abrupt paragraphs—which serve the secondary purpose of illustrating how much of the narrative I have been obliged to ignore in this review, even in this severely cut-down version of the text:

    Prince Demetrious Tolstoy was recalled to Russia in 1837.—He has in his old age become a hermit. The Viscount de Lantures Lucas was espoused to a Blue Stocking, and says—that he is now a most unhappy man. Bishop the Burker was hung for the murder of a child only six years old; Snail became a policeman; Rowley was sent to Botany Bay for experimenting upon an Irishman; Doctor Moore is now dead; Tyrrel the blind man is a banker, and chairman of a railway company, in Thames-street, and handles millions. The duchesse de Gevres, alias the Countess Cantaceuzini, has assumed the name of Randal, and has charge of Mr Tyrrel’s house; and Captain Paddy O’Chrane is now landlord of the King’s Arms.
    Gilbert Paterson, on the night of Rio Santo’s escape from Newgate, was knocked down by a person on horseback, and a waggon passing at the moment, crushed him beneath its wheels. Bob Lantern is confined to St Luke’s Hospital, his wife Temperance sharing his fate, gin and rum having deprived her of her reason…

 

 

 

02/05/2017

The father of crime

Frances Trollope’s Hargrave came to my attention when I was researching the roots of modern crime and detective fiction and, as it turned out, rightly so; but while that novel was singled out for its criminal content, there are further indications that several of Trollope’s novels contain crime subplots—and, perhaps more importantly in context of this historical study, that her novels were influential upon other writers who would play a part in the development of this branch of fiction. As the 19th century wore on, Trollope’s novels fell out of favour in England, where her Regency outspokenness offended Victorian sensibilities; but that they continued to be embraced in France is evident from the fact that when the next important work in the evolution of the detective story appeared, its author used the pseudonym Sir Françis Trolopp.

Paul Henri Corentin Féval (also known as Paul Féval père) is a pivotal figure in 19th century crime writing: literally pivotal, as he was the first to seize upon and expand the format initiated by Eugène Sue in his Les Mystères de Paris, and also – or so says the dogma; we shall investigate presently – the first to introduce into his sprawling crime stories the figure of the professional detective. Furthermore, some years later, after founding a magazine devoted to crime stories, Féval employed and collaborated with Émile Gaboriau, who later wrote what is arguably the first modern detective series, with his stories featuring police detective Monsieur Lecoq.

Paul Féval was trained as a lawyer, but he soon gave up his legal career to become a writer; quickly gaining a reputation as the author of entertaining historical swashbucklers. In terms of his later career, his most important early work was Le Loup Blanc, published in 1843, the hero of which is a Zorro-esque figure who fights against injustice—and may be the earliest example of the crime-fighter with a double life and a secret identity. (He’s also an albino, because if there’s one thing Paul Féval believed in, it was piling it on.)

Féval’s breakthrough work, however, was 1844’s Les Mystères de Londres which, although a clear imitation of Eugène Sue’s crime drama, dropped the social criticism which was a major aspect of Sue’s work while adding several components to the mixture that would dictate the immediate future of crime writing, particularly in France. In this respect, Féval’s most important decision was to make his hero an anti-hero, the secret head of a criminal gang who is also a political plotter masterminding a scheme to bring about an English Revolution. Féval’s revenge-focused central character is recognised as an influence upon Alexandre Dumas père, whose The Count Of Monte Cristo appeared the following year. Subsequently, French crime writing would come to be dominated by narratives of criminal life, and stories of criminals evading the law, in a manner which clearly invited the reader to side with “the bad guys”. This form of writing climaxed with the creation by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre of the seminal figure of Fantômas.

Unfortunately, however, for those of us interested in the history of crime fiction but who don’t have French as a second language, Paul Féval was not the only writer for whom Eugène Sue’s complex crime drama became a model. In fact, over the next decade magazines and newspapers worldwide would almost drown in serial stories promising to reveal “The Mysteries Of— “…and a poor city you were if somebody didn’t want to unravel your mysteries.

In England, the person to make this form of writing his own was George William Macarthur Reynolds, a critical figure in the development of both crime fiction and horror fiction in England (about whom, we shall be hearing a great deal more in the future). In August 1844, just as Féval’s Les Mystères de Londres was coming to its conclusion in Le Courrier Français, a new weekly eight-page serial (a form of publication which Reynolds dominated, as we shall later see) appeared in England, bearing the title, The Mysteries Of London.

Féval was furious, rightly anticipating that this home-grown serial would supersede his own work. Content with their own story, English readers showed no interest in a foreign version of the same, with the result that, unlike Les Mystères de Paris, Les Mystères de Londres was not translated into English. Three years later, a translation of sorts did appear; and a year after that, another was published in America. The former is a significant abridgement; the latter seems to have been released in loose-leaf, paper-serial form only, never in book form, and no copies are available.

Thus, though Féval’s work has been regularly reissued in France, including as recently as 2015, there is currently no such thing as a full-length, English-language edition of Les Mystères de Londres. Therefore, all we can do is take a look at the 1847 translation by one “R. Stephenson”: a wholly inadequate version of the original, but the best available.

 
 

25/03/2017

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land

 

    The object of the Essays which are compiled in this small Volume, is to impart information upon the state of manners and society in the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land; to hold up to deserved ridicule, some of the vices and follies by which they are distinguished; to present a mirror wherein good qualities are exhibited, the possession of which is not always acknowledged—in a word, to present a picture of this infant state, which, it is hoped, may prove interesting as well as instructive, not only to its own component Members, but to the general Reader.
    The Author has endeavoured to avoid any expressions which might be calculated to cause pain to a single individual—his aim has been to “lash the vice, but spare the name”; and he will be sufficiently rewarded, if, in addition to the notice which his first few essays have already attracted, and which has induced him to re-published them in this form, he should witness that they produce the good effects, the hope of which originated their publication.

 

 

 

 

In my examination of Quintus Servinton, generally considered to be “the first Australian novel”, and of the peculiar life of its author, it emerged that Henry Savery had earlier published another work—one of “fiction” only in the broadest sense. The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, which appeared in 1830, was a series of satirical essays skewering various personalities and institutions to be found in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land—and, like almost everything else in Henry Savery’s life, it caused a lot of trouble.

A reading of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land reveals it as a work so much of its time and place as to be largely incomprehensible to the modern reader: in addition to its author’s generally allusive style, he avoids names at almost all points (even false names), peopling his essays with references to the tall Gentleman, the young Gentleman, the Lady, my Acquaintance, and so on; which over the course of the volume requires considerable effort on the part of the reader simply to keep up with the thread of his discourse.

The edition of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land published in 1964 by the University of Queensland Press, and edited by Savery scholar Cecil Hadgraft and Margriet Roe, provides a key to the characters. This was sourced from the copy of the book held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney, in which its original (unknown) owner not only went to the trouble of identifying most of the people in its pages, but wrote out a list in his copy’s end-papers matching the superscript numbers he had appended to the text. That an original reader was able to do this shows how recognisable was Henry Savery’s portraiture. Nevertheless, with the exception of a handful of people who had public careers, or impacted Henry Savery’s life in some other way, these contents are not particularly informative today. It does not, for instance, help us much to know that “a certain tall slender person” appearing on page 124 was meant for Horatio William Mason, “a member of the Agricultural Association”, and “a wine and spirit merchant and licensee of several hotels in Hobart and New Norfolk”.

Consequently, I am not going to try to analyse the contents of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, but to see where the writing of these sketches fits into the erratic and increasingly sad life of Henry Savery.

As we may recall, late in 1828 Henry Savery’s wife, Eliza, arrived in Hobart to find her husband – who had encouraged her to sail from England on the basis of his own secure position in the settlement – widely unpopular, in trouble with the law again, and on the verge of being imprisoned for debt. Terrible scenes ended with Henry attempting suicide by cutting his own throat, although his life was saved by the the prompt and skilful attentions of a Dr William Crowther. Henry was nevertheless carried off to Hobart Town Gaol, where he lay recovering while his wife turned around and went back to England, at least in part to avoid her own slender means being seized.

There is no doubt that the forced inactivity of jail life did Henry Savery some good: in addition to recovering his health, he underwent a period of introspection which led to the writing of Quintus Servinton, that peculiar, infuriating, self-pitying yet strangely honest novel. Also, for the first time since his arrival in Hobart Town late in 1825, Henry Savery made a real friend.

Thomas Wells was a man whose life had in many ways paralleled Henry’s own: he had been convicted and transported on a charge of embezzlement; worked for a time for the government, including as secretary for Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell (George Arthur’s predecessor); received his pardon and gone into business for himself—and ended up in a financial mess that landed him in Hobart Town Gaol. Wells made the most of his time in prison, setting up an accounting business, and writing what is considered the first work of general literature to be published in Australia: a pamphlet entitled, Michael Howe, The Last And Worst Of The Bushrangers. He also began contributing articles to the Colonial Times.

It was illegal for convicts to write for the newspapers, but the Colonial Times was owned and operated by Andrew Bent, himself a former convict and a constant thorn in the side of George Arthur. Ironically, it was income received for working as a government printer that allowed Bent to pursue his real interest. Then called the Hobart Town Gazette, Bent’s baby was the first and, for some time, only newspaper published in Van Diemen’s Land, growing from a struggling two-page effort printed with homemade ink into a powerful voice in the Colony: one which devoted considerable space to criticisms of the government. Arthur, furious on all counts, tried to have it declared illegal for printing-presses to be operated without a license: his failure was rudely celebrated in the pages of the Gazette as the defeat of tyranny. Arthur’s next move was to set up a rival newspaper, owned and operated by the government—and called the Hobart Town Gazette. He also brought against Bent a successful action for libel.

If Arthur thought this would frighten Bent off or spike his guns, he misunderstood his man: as soon as he was able, Bent was back publishing the Colonial Times, and becoming the power behind a campaign of harassment that would make Arthur’s tenure as Lieutenant-Governor miserable and help to bring it to a premature conclusion.

With his own convict background, Andrew Bent often ignored the laws forbidding convicts to write for the press, and Thomas Wells – struggling from behind bars to provide an income for his numerous family – was one of his frequent jailhouse contributors. Then, in June of 1829, a new column appeared in the Colonial Times

Satirical essays highlighting the foibles of men and manners had been a staple of publication in England since the early 18th century: the Spectator magazine was celebrated for its social analysis, and many writers turned to this form of criticism over the succeeding decades. Oliver Goldsmith, in his The Citizen Of The World, had introduced to the genre the subsequently standard figure of the outside observer, looking with fresh eyes upon a scene perhaps taken for granted by its residents. Henry Savery himself had had experience with this sort of satirical writing, after he bought the Bristol Observer in 1819: he introduced a column called The Garreteers, which promised scandalous revelations about the population of Bristol, of course in the interests of “reformation”. The resulting columns, however, rarely went further than some unkind observations about certain people’s habits and appearance.

Also in 1819, a man called Felix McDonough had written a popular series of columns called The Hermit In London, which followed the pattern by having an inexperienced individual commenting naively upon the bustling and often brutal London scene. The success of this venture was such that McDonough turned it into something of a cottage industry, following up with The Hermit In The CountryThe Hermit Abroad, and so on. Henry Savery and Andrew Bent borrowed this idea, announcing in the Colonial Times:

Perhaps it may be in the recollection of some portion of our readers, that a few years ago, a series of numbers appeared in one of the London publications, under the title of “The Hermit In London”. We have great pleasure in acquainting them, that a younger brother of this family has lately arrived in the Colony; and, having acquired, almost intuitively, considerable information upon the general state of Manners, Society, and Public Characters of our little community, has partially promised to adapt his observations to such a shape, as shall fit them to meet the eye of the Public.

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land purported to be written by one “Simon Stukeley”, a new arrival in Hobart Town casting interested and critical eyes upon the embryo settlement. Scholars attempting to trace this choice of pseudonym to its source found the following nugget in John West’s remarkable 1852 work, The History Of Tasmania:

The original Simon Stukeley was a Quaker, who went to Turkey with an intention of converting the Grand Turk: he narrowly escaped decapitation, by the interposition of the English ambassador. He was afterwards confined in an asylum: in answer to inquiries how he came there, he replied— “I said the world was mad, and the world said I was mad; and they out-voted me.”

Whether truth or shaggy-dog story, we can see how this anecdote may have appealed to Henry Savery.

The characters commented upon by “Simon Stukeley” in his columns may be mysteries to modern readers, but there is no doubt that the people sketched therein recognised themselves. Henry Savery might have been writing from jail, but he had spent the preceding four years working in government departments, and he had not wasted his powers of observation: almost everyone who was anyone in Hobart Town wandered through the columns of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, subject to criticism – or less frequently, approval – for their appearance, dress, habits and conduct.

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land ran in the Colonial Times from 5th June – 25th December 1829, thirty columns in all. It seems that at first Henry Savery had no idea of anything so extensive, but the columns’ reception prompted Andrew Bent to propose their reissue in book form, requiring Henry to keep his idea running. On 8th January 1830, Bent announced the volume’s imminent publication—and a week later was forced to announce that publication was suspended, pending an action for libel brought against his newspaper.

When it came to the government of Van Diemen’s Land, Henry Savery and Andrew Bent found themselves in private agreement but public odds. Whatever he may really have felt, Henry avoided criticism of George Arthur in his columns, and often praised in a general way the conduct of the Colony. He is less kind as he works his way through the lower layers of government, however; while understandably, much of his venom is directed at members of the legal profession.

At one point Stukeley is called to sit on a coroner’s jury, and extensively mocks the process, or lack thereof, as well as those conducting it; a friend of his, “the Informant”, as he calls him, offers him professional and character readings of most of the practising lawyers in Hobart Town, with only one or two escaping unflayed. One in particular attracts his negative attention: a certain “Mr Cockatrice”, upon whom Stukeley calls hoping to negotiate some leniency with respect to a debt: not his own, but that of an acquaintance who is desperately selling everything in order to stave off an arrest which would leave his wife and children destitute:

…in an evil hour, requiring pecuniary assistance upon some occasion, he had recourse to one of the “Withouts” who dealt in that line, to the tune of “never exceed twenty per cent.,” and by whom the needed help was bestowed, upon the joint security of a Mortgage and Warrant of Attorney.—I was sceptical upon the latter point, thinking he was mistaken in telling me they were both for the same transaction; but he was positive, and in the end convinced me he spoke the truth. He farther told me, that the Lawyer’s fangs having once been fixed on his property, never left hold of it, until by foreclosure, writs of fieri facias, compound interest of twenty per cent. upon twenty per cent., and all the other damnables which followed in the Lawyer’s train, he was shorn as closely of all his possessions, as ever was a six month’s lamb…

Stukely calls upon the Lawyer, but one glance is enough to convince him that his mission will be futile:

He was dressed a là dishabille; inasmuch as he wore a grey beaver dressing-gown, slippers down at heel, a yellowish, half-dirty night-shirt; his neck-cloth tied loosely, and he did not appear to have shaved that morning. In person and stature, there was nothing prepossessing… He had a shrewd cunning look about the eye, which had rather a tendency to create repulsion on the part of strangers, than to invite familiarity. Still there was a constrained politeness in his manner, a servility in his mode of replying to me which argued that he could be all things to all men; and warned me, that I was not to be misled by superficial speciousness. One thing struck me as very remarkable, in his countenance; all the lines of which where uncommonly sharp and picked;—that, whenever he attempted to smile, or to utter words which might lead to the suspicion that his heart sympathised for a moment, with other’s sorrows, two sorts of furrows were exhibited, one on each side of the mouth; reminding me to the very life, of the two supporters of the Arbuthnot Arms…

Stukeley’s mission is indeed a failure:

…the Lawyer replied to me, “I can do nothing for him, Sir; he must go to gaol, or pay the money; I only know my duty to my client.” “Surely, Sir, your client cannot suffer by allowing the poor fellow a little more time for payment of the debt—you would never think of separating a man from his wife and children, by so cruel a process as imprisonment, when no possible good can arise from it.” “I know nothing of wives and children, Sir—my duty to my client is all I think about. People have no business to have wives and children, if they cannot pay their debts. I have but one rule, Sir—I always say in reply to the question, what is to be done with so and so, Let him go to gaol, and I say so now.”

The lawyer turns up again a little later, when Stukely is invited to accompany some friends to a meeting with him about the settlement of yet another debt. He finds his opinion shared by the others:

“There’s no doubt of that, so long as you have money in your pocket,” said the Doctor; “he has a wonderful scent where cash is concerned, and will lick your hand like a spaniel, whilst it remains filled with the needful; but woe betide you, if chance place you in his way afterwards.”

Stukeley does accompany them, out of curiosity: since their meeting, “Mr Cockatrice” has made his appearance in The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, and Stukeley is curious to see if his strictures have had any effect. The three men walk in to a surprising reception:

No sooner had we passed the threshold, than Mr Cockatrice started from his chair, as if he had been electrified—a spitfire Grimalkin, when, with upraised back, and distended brush, she shews her high displeasure, if her territories are invaded by a luckless wanderer of the canine race, is nothing in point of rage and fury, compared with what was exhibited upon the brow of this “stern dispenser of Laws rigours under their most rigorous shape”… He cried out, in a voice half choked with rage and anger, “How dare you put your foot within my doors, Sir? You are the Hermit—you are, Sir—“

To Stukeley’s intense amusement, he realises that for some reason Mr Cockatrice believes the Doctor to be his anonymous attacker. The Doctor himself is taken aback, and torn between anger and laughter: he for one has recognised the Hermit’s target:

    Presently he replied, “Whether I am the Hermit or not, he has produced one good effect at all events, by teaching your wife to allow you a clean shirt more frequently. I see she has taken a hint if you cannot, and that your half-dirty yellow night-shirt has given place to one a little more consistent with good manners.—You may exhibit the Arbuthnot Arms as you like (observing that at this moment two deep furrows appeared in all their native hideousness)—I care not for you, nor for any thing that your iron heart may produce—People shouldn’t have wives and children if they can’t pay their debts, you know—you understand me, don’t you?—There! take your money, and I’ll wash my hands in future of such company as yours, or any that could be found in your house. I tell you that it is well for you, I am not the Hermit; for if I had been, I would have produced a list of your acts of iron-heartedness as long as my arm; the mildest of which would have been ten times as biting as the poor horse dealer’s story.—Egad! man, that’s nothing to what I could have told him. Good bye, Arbuthnot Arms! Good morning to you! Mind the wives and children! Good bye—good bye.”
    We did not stay to hear any more, but left the house, conversing as we went through the streets, upon what had occurred; all agreeing that the moderate blister which had been applied, could not have produced such an effect as we had witnessed, if it had not been put upon a raw place…

It was Gamaliel Butler who brought an action for libel against the Colonial Times—the same Gamaliel Butler who had tried but failed to have Henry Savery jailed after the collapse of the horse-trading business for which he acted as accountant, and who – when the money was available, had he waited only a short period while matters were adjusted – had enforced his financial claim upon Henry, precipitating the disastrous chain of events that led to Eliza Savery’s departure, Henry’s suicide attempt, and his imprisonment.

The libel action against the Colonial Times was in fact the first instance of trial-by-jury in a civil proceeding in Van Diemen’s Land: the case was delayed until all relevant statutes were in place. Andrew Bent stood firm throughout, staunchly guarding the secret of Henry Savery’s authorship (of course, he would have been in trouble himself had it come out). The case itself, however, was doomed from the outset: the Hermit had waved his pen a little too widely. Apart from the vindictive Butler – did he suspect who his real enemy was? – the case was tried before Chief Justice Pedder, who had been mocked for his rambling speech and various personal peculiarities including his snuff-habit; Butler was represented by Solicitor General Alfred Stephen, who had been ridiculed as a “fop” and a “dandy”; and despite the efforts of former Attorney General Joseph Gellibrand (himself none too gently handled), who was representing Bent, the limited population of Hobart Town meant that three other people skewered by the Hermit were on the jury.

Gellibrand’s defence, moreover, was basically to argue that Butler had it coming: that he was widely known and despised as a wrecker of lives; that he profited off the misery of others; that he was notorious for preferring to send men to jail than to agree to accommodation that would allow them to pay off their debts, often rejecting offered assistance from friends of his debtors. The “list as long as my arm” of incidents, mentioned in the relevant column, was aired in court, with Gellibrand summoning John Bisdee, the head-keeper, to testify that of the thirteen debtors in Hobart Town Gaol, nine of them were there under writs brought by Butler.

Moreover, Dr William Crowther was called to testify that the scene in the office of “Mr Cockatrice” played out exactly as reported, with an enraged Butler accusing him, Crowther, of being the Hermit. This, we should note, is the same Dr Crowther who saved Henry’s life after his suicide attempt, and who appears at various points throughout The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land in an affectionate but not altogether flattering way which balances his general kindness and mastery of languages with his love of the bottle.

But truth is no defence against libel, and Bent was found guilty—damages being awarded by allowing each of the twelve jurors to decide on an amount, adding up the total and dividing it by twelve. A large but not outrageous amount, the £80 which Bent was ordered to pay was more than he could afford: he was already in debt, and ended up selling the Colonial Times to Henry Melville.

And it is to Henry Melville that most of the subsequent few positives in the life of Henry Savery are owed. Despite the libel suit, Melville and Bent went ahead with the volume publication of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, albeit in a far more low-key way than originally planned; while Melville hired Henry as assistant editor at the Colonial Times, a position which allowed him to support himself while he completed Quintus Servinton.

The years 1830 – 1832 represented a rare up-swing in the affairs of Henry Savery, but disaster struck again soon enough—inevitably, it seems. Embarking upon business ventures, Henry overreached yet again and found himself once more within the grip of the law. Having long since worn out any sympathy within the settlement, this time he was banished to the notorious penal colony of Port Arthur, where he died in obscurity in 1842—and remained forgotten until, in the mid-20th century, cultural cringe receded far enough for a few iconoclasts to consider the history of Australian literature worth studying and celebrating. In fits and starts, the story of Henry Savery then emerged.

It was Henry Melville who took the risk of publishing “the first Australian novel”, and who arranged for its subsequent reissue in England. It is also he to whom we owe our knowledge of Henry Savery’s authorship of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land. While there had been plenty of speculation about the identity of “Simon Stukeley”, the person most widely believed to be the Hermit was Thomas Wells, who had introduced Henry to Andrew Bent and helped Henry prepare his columns for publication; we assume that something of this finally leaked out. However, the copy of The Hermit held by the British Library has a lengthy annotation written and signed by Melville, wherein he declares the work’s authorship: a fact nowhere else disclosed.

Not many, but a number of copies of Quintus Servinton survived in both Australia and England, and the autobiographical nature of the narrative makes it clear to anyone familiar with Henry Savery’s story who wrote it. Very few indeed, however, are surviving copies of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land; and the story of Henry Savery closes with an odd detail which the preface of the 1964 edition reveals:

This reprint is dedicated, by permission, to Dr W. E. L. H. Crowther, direct lineal descendant of the Dr Crowther who attended Henry Savery after his suicide attempt in 1828. In addition, Dr Crowther is the only private collector to possess both Savery’s works—The Hermit and Quintus Servinton. The former came to him, while he was still a small boy, as a worn little volume that his father had been given by a patient, Mrs Stokell. Packed away among youthful treasures, it was not until after World War I that its scarcity and value became apparent…

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Left and centre: Henry Melville’s handwritten annotation of the British Library copy of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, identifying Henry Savery as the author. Right: part of the handwritten key found in the Mitchell Library copy, identifying Gamaliel Butler (#61), Dr William Crowther (#62) and Joseph Gellibrand (#67).

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16/03/2017

Madeline; or, Love, Treachery And Revenge

    Herbert called late in the afternoon. When he entered the room, by invitation, Madeline was supported by some pillows, in a half-reclining position, looking through the window at the setting sun, and the soft rays lingered upon her faded cheek, and cast a delicately beautiful, but melancholy, glow over her face.
    “Are you better?” tenderly asked Herbert.
    “I do not know, Mr. Leslie,” answered Madeline.
    “I was just thinking,” she continued, “that I should not mind to die if I could sink to rest as quietly as yonder sun glides away in its beautiful vermillion shroud. I love to look upon the serene face of nature, and imagine that I can see God smiling with goodness, mercy and love; and that I can see bright angels standing upon the craggy points of the snow-white little clouds that float dreamily in the blue sea: that I can see harps in their hands, and diadems upon their brows. Yes, I love nature. There is no dissimulation in the works of our Father. There is no deceit ‘graven upon Jehovah’s heart.'”
    Herbert’s head dropped upon his bosom. These words found their way to his heart…

 

 

 

 

 

 
I’ll say this for James Summerfield Slaughter: he wastes no time whatsoever letting us know exactly what’s in store for us during a reading of his 1859 novel, Madeline; or, Love, Treachery And Revenge. Allow me to quote in full his preface:

    We will not detain you, reader, with a long Preface. The author indulges the hope, that our first meeting in the relations of reader and writer may not be disagreeable. He will not disguise that it is with feelings of parental solicitude for a kindly greeting from generous hearts, that his little ideal “MADELINE” is sent abroad to distant home circles.
    The present work is no candidate for fame. If the views and sentiments it presents, shall gladden the hearts of a single wayward fellow-being, or whispers consolation to a mourner of earth, or give encouragement to one struggling for the cause of virtue, then the author will have sufficient recompense in knowing that he has contributed something to the noble and good influences that redeem the world from the thraldom of sin, and invest life with beauty, unequaled by those glittering stars in the purple throne of night, and a fragrance more grateful than the bright flowers of earth.

Slaughter is dead on the mark when he calls his novel “no candidate for fame”. Though at this time Americans had a great appetite for sensation novels, they had also had sufficient exposure to enough well-written ones to be able to discriminate; and despite the preening that lurks behind the mock humility of this preface, and the lofty claims made for the novel in its advertisements, I am unable to believe that the first readers of Madeline greeted it with anything other than guffaws, despite its impeccable Southern credentials.

I give the eponymous Madeline star-billing in the quote up above, but the sad truth is that for most of the narrative she is an almost entirely passive figure, sitting alone in her antebellum mansion and twiddling her thumbs while the plot – or “plot” – plays out elsewhere in the country. It is only towards the end, when the machinations of the wicked Herbert reach their climax, that she is given much to do in the story that bears her name.

The book opens with Madeline Lindsey being deserted by her brother, Albinus, who (without a hint of authorial criticism) has decided that exploring in the north-west is a lot more interesting than staying at home to care for his orphaned young sister and run their plantation, even if he gets killed in the process, which he seems fully to expect; and not content with this, he takes with him both his friend Douglas Hardy, who is secretly in love with Madeline but considers himself ineligible, and the plantation’s mainstay, a devoted old black servant called – I kid you not – “Uncle Tom”.

I’m sure you can imagine the tenor of Uncle Tom’s discourse and his general conduct, but just to make sure, here’s a sample:

    It was in one of these musings in his office, late one evening, as he was sitting by his desk arranging his affairs to leave for the North-West, that Uncle Tom entered with a message.
    “Is that you, Uncle Tom?” spoke Douglas kindly, “and what can I do for you? I suppose I must not forget to leave you some keep-sake to repay you, in part, for your kindness to me, and to take a pledge from you, that you will never forget to favour your young mistress.”
    Here Uncle Tom began to draw out his large cotton ‘kerchief, for the tears were already gushing in his eyes.
    “God bless you, massa Douglas! poor old Tom goin’ too. Just to think! he stay home and let massa Binus go way off, and be killed by the Injuns, and no body to nuss him and take care of him! Old Tom ‘tends to go with the darling. He’s de berry pictur ob old Massa.”

So, basically, the hell with Madeline: the three go off without arranging any sort of company or assistance for her. She manages to locate and hire a middle-aged couple, the Carsons, he to act as overseer, she as companion-housekeeper.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its heroine’s isolated situation, we have progressed no further than page 8 before we get the first of the novel’s interpolated narratives, as Madeline asks Aunt Phebe, as she is known, for her life story. We learn that she was a native of Havana, and that while she was rescued from a fire at a theatre, her father was killed, leaving her an orphan—and an heiress. Her rescuer was a Mr Carson, with whom she promptly fell in love. An amusing recapitulation of Madeline’s own situation then occurs, with Phebe left alone at her father’s plantation and hiring a couple to work for her and keep her company. Also like Madeline (as it will later turn out), Phebe became subject to romantic persecution, with a fiery young Spaniard, Don Pedro Montie, whom she had already rejected, renewing his attentions. She rejects him again, with immediate consequences: she finds in her carriage a bullet dyed red, and attached to it a note reading, Beware the Spaniard’s revenge! She then learns that Mr Carson has been arrested:

I…told him that I desired him to find out the facts—the charge, and especially by whom preferred—and to report to me, enjoining him to keep the whole affair profoundly secret. He departed on his mission, and returned in a few hours. The charge, he stated to be conspiracy against the Government, preferred by Pedro Montie!

Duh, we might think. Turns out ol’ Pedro’s messing with the wrong woman, though: learning that Carson has been condemned to the chain-gang, Phebe sends her servant out again to find where he is held at night. Meanwhile, she makes her own preparations:

I drew the Red Bullet from my pocket, and retired to my father’s old desk and got a pistol that I knew to be there. When a girl, my father learned me to shoot with great accuracy. The pistol was loaded. I drew from the draw an ace of hearts—stepped back twenty paces—fired, and drove out the heart! The shot restored my confidence that I had not lost the skill with which I used to shoot. I returned to my room—charged the pistol—put in the Red Bullet

Phebe and her servant devise a scheme to break Carson out, but are surprised in the middle of the enterprise:

    “Ha, ha! Beware of a Spaniard’s revenge!”
    I recognised Pedro Montie by the first gleam of the lantern. In a moment, I replied—
    “Yes! and BEWARE OF THE RED BULLET!”
    My pistol was discharged. I saw the figure reel in the dim, gloomy light and heard a groan. Mr Carson was by my side. We leaped into the carriage and dashed away…

Now both fugitives, Phebe and Carson are forced to take refuge in a haunted castle…leading to an interpolated nattative within an interpolated narrative, and the story of a lovely young noblewoman being forced into a hateful marriage, and the brave but foolhardy page whom she really loved. On her marriage-day the bride chose rather to kill herself; lamentations over her body were startlingly interrupted:

    The sharp report of a pistol, followed by a stream of blood, sent a thrill of terror through the crowd of spectators. The father fell down upon the floor and cried wildly:
    “Retribution! Retribution!
    Don Leon staggered back, fell and expired.
    “Ha, ha! They thought to rob me of my lady love. I see her now!” His eyes was fixed wildly upon the ceiling. “I am coming, Adelaide!” and, as he spoke, he stabbed himself…

By the way, if you don’t come away from a reading of this blog post the same way I came away from a reading of this novel, namely, crying, “Ha, ha!” upon the flimsiest of pretexts, I shall be very disappointed in you.

Of course (as Madeline actually points out), this has nothing to do with anything, so instead Phebe recounts her own terrifying night in the haunted castle, where she encountered a madwoman believing herself to be the Prophetess of Fire and a chained up “man-monster”. As you do. The madwoman turned out be be an old friend of Phebe’s who was seduced and abandoned, and then lost her mind. (But don’t hold your breath waiting for an explanation of the man-monster.)

Phebe and Carson – “Ben” to us now – find an American minister to marry them, and then flee Cuba, leaving all their worldly goods behind and taking with them Phebe’s own faithful servant, “Old Juan”. (Sigh.) Then three of them hop into a boat and set out to sail from Cuba to Florida—but of course get shipwrecked on a desert island on the way. They are rescued, make it eventually to New Orleans, and find work. Old Juan dies without lacerating our sensibilities any more; and then there is only one more incident to recount before Phebe wraps up her life-story:

“The other event was the loss of our child. We were blessed with a child, who gave us more pleasure than all the world besides.
Percy—that was his name—attained the age of twelve, was merry as a song-bird, and as sportive as the lambkin. One morning he went to the beach, drawn I suppose, by idle curiosity or pleasure; but never returned. We have no doubt that he was drowned…”

That, or he ran away upon discovering that his mother was in the habit of describing him to random strangers as “sportive as the lambkin”.

So, we’re about 30% of our way through Madeline now without its heroine doing much more than listening to stories, and since that’s not about to change any time soon, we (like her own brother) now abandon Madeline for the middle of nowhere, and are introduced to a young woman in every way more interesting than she is—even if she does have what I’m inclined to call “an obvious character flaw”:

White Fawn was the daughter of an Indian chief. She was just blooming into woman-hood—an intelligent, beautiful girl. You would hardly believe that she was an Indian. True, her cheeks were slightly bronzed—and very slightly—but her forehead and chin was perfectly fair; her face possessed a peculiar attraction; the contour was bold and well-marked; her eyes first drew your attention; her nose, you would admit, was beautiful; but when you beheld her hair float back from a broad, snowy forehead, you at once felt the magic of the beauty of an Indian girl…

…who within a single page of her introduction is spurning her would-be native husband for the attractions of a wandering white man and having oblique conversations with Chief Radiola about her paternity. Sigh.

Discovering that the spurned Hawk is plotting bloody revenge, White Fawn slips away through the snowy woods to where Albinus Lindsey, Douglas Hardy, Uncle Tom and a third white man to whom we are not immediately introduced are camped. The latter is the object of White Fawn’s passion. Upon receiving White Fawn’s warning, the men break camp and try to slip away, but are ambushed by Hawk and his followers, and White Fawn and her lover carried away. The others follow and manage an ambush of their own. They carry White Fawn back to her father, who immediately goes on the war-path against Hawk. The others agree to fight with him, but only after White Fawn’s still-nameless lover has, with her father’s consent, placed her with a family living at safe distance—and who, Could not readily believe, that she was an Indiansigh.

The conflict begins, and at the last moment Radiola’s men are reinforced:

He did not make his appearance until the silent moment that precedes the dreadful battle-shock. His equipage was very handsome, even dazzling. He wore a dark velvet frock-coat, beautifully and ingeniously inwrought with beads—bright military buttons and a red scarf—yellow buff pants and light, well formed boots that came to the knee; a beautiful belt encircled the waist, and a light, straightsword hung glittering by his side. The form was slender and extremely graceful. A mask concealed the face. He rode a wild, spirited black horse that stamped the earth and danced, while the rein fell carelessly upon the flowing mane…

In the middle of the ongoing war, the unnamed man is decoyed away and imprisoned. At this point the narrative lurches once again, and we are finally informed of his identity—and, oh surprise!—

    He is Percy Carson—the lost child. Wandering down to the beach on a beautiful spring morning, to view the many objects of attraction to be seen along the “sounding shore,” he met with a man who seemed to be selecting shells.
    “What is your name ?” asked the stranger.
    “Percy Carson, sir,” replied the lad, raising his bright eyes to the questioner’s face.
    The man started back as if an apparition was before him, and then recovering his self-possesion from the shock, assumed an air of perfect indifference. Like Lucifer, in the shape of a toad, to whisper in the ear of Eve while she reposed beneath the fragrant bower in the Garden—while the silver stars glittered above Paradise and trembled upon the four rivers, and the angel watchers winged through the mystic light—this man had assumed a shape, a countenance, not his own, and to beguile, like a lurking demon, an innocent child…

It is soon revealed that the Red Bullet didn’t finish its work:

This man is Don Montie. The infernal spirit of revenge has possessed him, as the unclean spirit possessed the man “who had his dwelling among the tombs” in the days of Christ. It has been his accursed incentive ever since his overtures to Phebe Laniz. He has now followed her to America to get another opportunity of glutting his terrible passion—to rob a mother’s heart of its dearest object. All of life’s aims and purposes, were swallowed up in the one thought—Revenge!

Despite what we might fear from all this, Don Pedro’s plan is merely to, Bind the noble-spirited boy with dark chains of dissipation, and then send him back to his doating mother—a captive of the Evil One: a process slow enough to allow for his rescue by another stranger, this one well-intentioned, who turns out to be Percy’s uncle-by-marriage.

We then hear the history of Mr Shelley and Aurelia Laniz, the latter of whom bore the brunt of Don Pedro’s anger after Ben and Phebe escaped. Using his influence, Don Pedro arrived at the Laniz estate to confiscate the family’s property, only to be thoroughly cowed by a lecture from the spirited Aurelia:

“It is false that my brother fled for the commission of a crime. It is meanly false that I have had any complicity in a conspiracy against the government of this Island. We were both, however, born too free, upon the soil of America, not to despise, upon the one hand, the grinding tyranny of the government, and, upon the other hand, the cowardly submission and servility of a large portion of the population; and had I power commensurate with my desire, I would drag down the regal fabric upon the heads of both tyrant and willing submission. There breathes not an American, animated by the genius of the free institutions of his native land, who does not abhor the vile vassalage imposed by the bloody minded mother government, and old Moro Castle with her bristling cannons, may one day yield as readily to American arms as the famed Castle of San Juan de Ulla did.”

Mr Shelley, a spectator of this scene, is swept off his feet by this patriotic eloquence—though he expresses his passion in practical terms, determining by law what part of the estate has been secured to Aurelia, and holding that when the rest is confiscated. The two are married, and for a time blissfully happy, until one day Aurelia dies suddenly—poisoned. The grieving Mr Shelley learns that he has had a narrow escape:

Mr Shelley would have met the same fate, but for the fact that he was perusing the daily journals, as was his custom, while his cup of tea was cooling. For years he had read the daily papers while sitting at the table by a smoking breakfast. To this habit he owed his life, in this instance.

Mr Shelley and Percy throw in their lots together and set off to make a new life for themselves.

(“What!?” I said out loud at this point. “Didn’t they even try to find his parents!?”—a question not answered for some considerable time, and as an obvious afterthought: “Oh, yeah! We, uh, we looked for them but they weren’t there. Sure, that’s what happened…”)

Anyway, somewhat surprisingly, Percy becomes an actor—and, At the age of twenty, he became what is called in theatrical parlance, “a star.”

But not everyone is a fan, and one night Percy has his performance interrupted by hissing, issuing from none other than Don Pedro—who seems to have moderated somewhat his ideas on “revenge”.

Percy, like his Aunt Aurelia, is undaunted:

“I can brook insults from so great a villain as Don Montie. It is a serpentine hiss, and I am willing that he shall roll in the slime and eat the dust of his own degradation.”

Percy goes on to denounce Don Pedro’s villainy and cowardice, until, with all eyes in the theatre upon him, Don Pedro cannot do other than respond with a challenge. To his dismay, Percy leaps at this:

    “I trust this large and respectable audience will remain perfectly quiet. I need not affirm that I have not been the cause of this uninteresting quarrel, but I wish you to witness its end. I accept your challenge,” he said, as he fixed his eyes fiercely upon Don Montie, “which was thrown out with the vain expectation that the time would be set in the future; but I prefer this moment—upon this stage, the place—repeaters, the weapons—across a pocket-handkerchief, the distance—we will need no seconds.”
    “Rash youth!” exclaimed one.
    “He’s a brave one!” answered the second.
    “He’ll do to let alone,” observed the third.
    In a moment suggestions ceased, and every one awaited, with breathless interest, to see the result.
    Don Montie sank down upon his seat, turning pale, and great drops of perspiration gathering upon his forehead. He essayed not to utter a word.
    “Coward! Coward!” ran through the audience.
    Percy bowed gracefully to the crowd, and retired under a shower of boquets…

The narrative then wrenches again, and we catch up with Don Pedro some months later. Another interpolated narrative, this one the life-story of Don Pedro and how he came to be eaten up by—Revenge!—a story peppered with vague references to various crimes committed in his past, some of which sound familiar to us. However, the centrepiece of the tale is Don Pedro’s repeated, La Belle Dame Sans Merci encounters with a strange woman (who we sort-of recognise as the Prophetess of Fire), who again and again ambushed him while he was riding, leaping up behind his saddle and forcing him to ride wildly by holding a knife to his throat.

And in the very midst of Don Pedro’s reflections, the woman appears to him again—this time forcing him into the burial vault of an old and noble Spanish family:

    The view was at once awful—they were in a charnal-house—a Golgotha. Human bones lay profusely about, while in the centre there was a heap of bones some two or three feet high.
    “Now, sir,” spoke the woman, as they came to the vault, “I have brought you hither to show you the place where your bones will soon be piled. No grave yard shall be your resting place, but here your body shall remain until the day of final accounts. Do you know
me?”
    Don Montie shook his head solemnly in reply to the interrogation.
    “Ah! you feign forgetfulness of one whom you injured—victimised—robbed of her chastity,” continued the woman, and there was a fearful emphasis in her expression… “You have lived only to persecute—to blast the happiness of others—to lurk about and accomplish mischief—to war upon women and children! You are a murderer—a forger—and—and—”
    The woman paused for a moment, and laughed frantically, and then continued—
    “A seducer! You turned me loose upon the world, covered with shame and scorn and misery; blasted—robbed of hope—debarred from virtuous society—with no claim for sympathy, while you mingled in the festive throng, and was admitted in society—and all the while you laughed at the credulity of woman. You shall now realise that a woman, weak though she may be, is yet strong enough and capable of avenging herself…”

And so Don Pedro meets an appropriately gruesome end.

The narrative (some 50% passed) then jumps back to—gasp!—the story of Madeline Lindsey. Remember her? Her author finally did:

This scene is going on at Woodland. Madeline and Douglas Hardy have been engaged over twelve months. He has been in the North-west, with his friends, nearly two years.

Thanks for sharing; this is the first we’ve heard about it.

But all is not well between Madeline and the man who prefers wandering around pointlessly in the snow to spending time with her. His letters complain (ironically enough) of her coldness, and demand that they break their engagement. Madeline is angry and indignant, as well as miserable and confused: she endures a state of suffering relieved only by the friendship of a young man called Herbert Leslie, who likes to read poetry with her.

That old ploy.

It is soon revealed to us that between desire for Madeline and desire for her property and fortune, Herbert has launched upon an elaborate scheme to break up her relationship (such as it is) with Douglas, intercepting their letters and getting a useful forger-friend to substitute some of his own composition. The forger, Tom Martin, is (fittingly enough) getting cold feet, but Herbert scoffs at his scruples:

“I will undeceive her when I have succeeded, and the joke has gone far enough for all practical purposes. By that time I will have established my claims as a good husband, and we will laugh it all over as a clever bit of pleasantry. It will no doubt divert her, that you could so successfully counterfeit Douglas Hardy’s handwriting.”

Madeline is deceived by Herbert’s insinuating demeanour; Aunt Phebe is glad of anything that can cheer her up these days; but Ben Carson has suspicions that receive support from an anonymous letter denouncing Herbert as “a monster” and warning of a plot against Madeline. Until now Ben has not been informed of the situation with Douglas, but when an anguished Madeline reveals it he puts two and two together and decides that Herbert has somehow had a hand in things. Madeline rejects this idea, but the suggestion that she has a false friend as well as a false lover is too much for her, and her health begins to fail. It is not long before Herbert has reason to fear he has seriously overreached himself…

In a moment of overwhelming guilt, Herbert confesses. The revelation is a blow that Madeline cannot withstand in her already enfeebled condition. Soon the household is gathered about what they expect to be her death-bed…

…and the narrative jumps back to the North-West, where in the middle of bemoaning Madeline’s conduct towards him, Douglas receives a letter alerting him to the truth, and sets out at once for Woodland…

…and the narrative abandons both of them to follow the adventures of Albinus Lindsey, who we shall give the benefit of the doubt for the moment and assume doesn’t know about his sister’s situation, since the text never bothers to verify that point. He encounters an old friend of the family and accepts an invitation to his home, Clifton Hill.

Mr Wolsey, a year earlier, married a widow with four children; he has since learned not only to resent his step-children, but to be actively cruel to them: among other things, using their money, of which he is trustee, for his own children’s advantage:

Mr Wolsey had cherished a secret prejudice against the Leighton orphans, and all because they elicited more attention from the public than his own children. How revolting, that a man should have prejudice against an innocent, fatherless child! How terrible must be the curse that awaits such a being. Alone in the world, untaught in the great business of life, with no great throbbing heart of sympathy to lean upon when fever racks the brain and gives hot eye-balls! Vile man! to feel no kindly impulse for the orphan in your charge!

(Unexpectedly, and one of the few genuinely interesting things in this silly novel, the narrative will later contend that Mrs Wolsey’s first duty was to her children, and that she should have left her husband when she saw his attitude towards them.)

Almost immediately, Wolsey begins making plans for Albinus and his daughter, Louise. Albinus, however, has rediscovered a childhood friend in the youngest of the Leightons (although given what must be the age gap between them, the subsequent description of how they used to “romp together in the woods” has an uncomfortable edge; however—):

Nannie was a simple child of nature. Her heart knew no guile. She never knew the artfulness of society—the cunning and address of the world, but her heart and hands were as pure as the riven snow of the mountains. Her face was full and fair, and tinged with the healthful life-current that bounded through vein and artery; her wavy, tressy hair was as dark as a raven’s; her lips soft and delicate, and her form was perfect and graceful. She deserved to be called “Pretty Nannie.” She was known far away for her beauty, gentleness and intelligence. Her life was as quiet and even as the little brook that flows along its smooth channel, and murmurs its pleasing, rippling song, and kisses the flowers that bow their delicate faces to the stream for a grateful drop. But in the hidden depths of her heart were glorious sentiments—worthy, noble, pure, holy sentiments!

Sorry—I’m with Mr Wolsey on this one.

Albinus and Nannie go walking together and, when Albinus expresses admiration of a “grand peak” in the district, Nannie is moved to offer an interpolated narrative—that of “The Man Of The Rock”, a wanderer who, in his youth, fell in love with the same girl as his brother, and killed him in a jealous rage. After many years of bitter repentance, the man fell in love with a pretty Italian flower-seller (as you do), and finally overcame both her mother’s doubts and his own feeling that he deserved no happiness in life, and married her. The two had a daughter, but Gabriella died. After placing his child—somewhere—the man returned to the mountains where he and his wife had been happy, and jumped off a cliff…

The narrative then lurches back to Woodland—where Douglas Hardy arrives in time only to hold Madeline’s dead body in his arms…and promptly loses his mind. He is locked up for his own safety while her burial is conducted, but no sooner has he been freed than he undertakes a little body-snatching…

Just as well, too:

    There was the verification—a figure before them, in burial habiliments sitting up and possessed of life.
    “This is a strange world!” began the ghostly figure. “How strange!”
    “It’s Madeline Lindsey!” exclaimed several…
    The dead’s alive! She had been lowered into the silent grave as dead, was resurrected to life—for she moves and breathes and speaks…

It turns out that Herbert Leslie drugged Madeline with something that brought on the appearance of death, that Tom Martin warned everyone frantically that she wasn’t dead, only drugged, and that the doctors and undertakers went ahead anyway, in spite of everyone agreeing that “she did not look dead”, and a corpse that “retained something of a perspiration, and the colour of life”—yike!

Douglas (whose resurrection-work goes politely unremarked) hunts down Herbert and is about to murder him when a mysterious old man intervenes, arguing that he should allow Herbert to be “blasted by God’s vengeance” instead.

As for our undead heroine—

One month from the occurrences just narrated, she was completely restored to her wonted vivacity of feeling and vigorous, blooming health; so entirely that Douglas Hardy again took his leave of Woodland to return to the North-West…

To be fair, this time there’s some excuse for him: he doesn’t know what has happened to either Albinus or Percy. Surprisingly, the narrative stays with Madeline, who gets lost while out riding. With a violent storm coming, she finds herself in a steep, rocky ravine, and makes her way into a winding, secret cave—which turns out to be a bandit’s hideout. While she (and her horse) are hiding in a narrow tunnel, she overhears two of the bandits discussing their latest recruit—none other than Herbert Leslie. She learns to her horror of another plot against herself, when the bandits express doubts about “warring on women”, and hears to her confusion a reference to her father:

“I think—I know that my father died at sea, when I was a child. So I have always heard, and had it not been true, he would certainly have appeared in the interim of fifteen years…”

Oh, certainly! Madeline tries to convince herself that some other girl, lucky enough to have a father, is the target of the plot. She also starts looking for an escape route from the cave, carefully eluding the bandits as she (and her horse) try to find another way out. She glimpses a distant ray of light—hears strange music—and eventually finds herself confronted by a woman who, having been seduced and abandoned by one of the bandits, chose to stay in the cave rather than face the world again. The miserable woman tells Madeline that there are other ways out, but she doesn’t know where they are; so Madeline (and her horse) press on, only to be confronted by—a bear! Madeline has a pistol with her, and arms herself, but before she can take action—her horse springs into action!

You wondered why her horse was being dragged through all this, didn’t you??

Madeline and Snow Ball between them manage to overcome the bear, but their troubles are hardly over:

    “Ha! we have met!” exclaimed a voice near.
    Madeline started up with affright and turned to see who it was that spoke. It was Herbert Leslie!

Snow Ball again intervenes, and this time, sadly, gets a bullet in the chest for her pains. But before Herbert can carry out his nefarious intentions towards Madeline, he gets a bullet in his chest:

    Madeline raised her head to discover from whence her deliverance came. Upon the bank above, just on the verge of the channel stood an old man with a rifle in his hand, apparently as collected as if nothing had occurred.
    “I will draw you up in a basket,” spoke the man above.

Herbert dies, but not before confessing that (i) he already has a wife, and (ii) he was the one who seduced the woman in the cave. The old man, meanwhile, as he helps Madeline out, admits that he is the one who intervened to save Herbert from Douglas, but won’t say any more.

We then lurch back to Douglas, who is talking to a no-longer-captive Percy. The two men exchange stories, the latter explaining that he owes both his own preservation and the conclusion of the conflict to the mysterious masked warrior—and that, oh gosh, no-one’s seen or heard anything of White Fawn since Percy left her with his friends. Funny, that.

Percy does find her again, though, with Radiola, who gives his consent to their marriage; which is to happen at Woodland due to the insistence of Albinus—last seen on a mountain with Pretty Nannie. Douglas now thinks to mention that there are two people called “Carson” at Woodland, though Percy doesn’t think they can be anything to do with him, despite the fact that the woman exactly matches the description of his mother and her name is “Phebe”.

We then catch up with Albinus—or rather Nannie, on whose behalf a couple of cousins have intervened, taking her away from Wolsey on a visit, and then facilitating her elopement. She, White Fawn and the three young men set out together:

Merrily the party conversed—wit and humour passed around. As they were thus rattling away, they were suddenly aroused by a band of highwaymen.

It happens, right? Percy is slightly injured in the ensuing fight, and White Fawn is abducted. Albinus and Nannie continue the journey to Woodland, while Percy and Douglas set out in pursuit; falling in with a small band of trappers, who join with them in their rescue attempt.

White Fawn is carried to the isolated villa of a Spaniard called Gonzoles, for no apparent reason (except that our author is clearly struggling to meet his word count; this was written for serialisation, remember?). We roll our eyes through a lot of highwayman blather, Percy demands White Fawn of Gonzoles, and he hands her over.

Percy, White Fawn and Douglas catch up with Albinus and Nannie at St Louis, and they all set out again together. They make another friend upon the way, one LeRoy Pennance, an elderly man travelling south, and invite him to join them at Woodland. There, Percy and the Carsons rediscover each other; while two more elderly men turn up from nowhere and are invited to stay for no reason.

We are now two pages from the end of Madeline, and from here I think I’ll let the text speak for itself:

*******************

    “LeRoy Pennance!?” exclaimed one of the strangers.
    “Ay! why?” was the answer.
    “And who is this ?” inquired the first speaker, evincing great agitation.
    “I cannot tell,” answered Mr Pennance—“who are you?”
    “Hampton Lindsey,” he answered.
    “What! Hampton Lindsey?” exclaimed the other.
    “Hampton Lindsey!” exclaimed the third stranger.

*******************

    “My Father !” exclaimed Madeline, and she rushed into the arms of Lindsey. He sustained her for some minutes, and then, looking earnestly into her face, said:
    “No, Madeline! I am not your father; but he is here;” and the speaker turned and pointed to Mr. Pennance. “Here is your father. Your name is not Lindsey, as you have supposed, but Pennance!”

*******************

    “Who was my mother?” enquired Madeline.

*******************

    “Hampton, do you not know me?”
    “Jerrald! thank God, the reunion is perfect.”
    “Forgive me, Hampton !”
    “In the name of God, I do.”
    The brothers embraced.
    “De Lord knows! here’s massa Jerrald—after jumping off ob de rock at Clifton—”
    “Clifton Height!”” exclaimed Nannie.
    “Clifton Height!” joined White Fawn and Albinus Lindsey.
    “How’s this?” asked Douglas Hardy.
    “Wonders will never cease,” remarked Percy Carson.
    “What of my child?” asked Jerrald Lindsey of Uncle Tom.    
    “Here she is !” replied the old servant gathering White Fawn in his arms. “Dis is de child, Gabriella,” and he bore her to her real father, Jerrald Lindsey.

*******************

    “And what of—of—what of—Mary?” asked Jerrald of his brother.
    “Ah! that is a painful question,” answered Hampton, “but this is the proper time to answer it,” and as he spoke he regarded LeRoy Pennance earnestly. “She became the wife of my friend, Pennance, and he was an affectionate, kind, indulgent husband, and their union was blessed with the birth of Madeline—but distrusting and jealous by nature, she doubted her trust-worthy husband. She left him, fled to disgrace and infamy. Madeline was left to my charge. By her father’s request she was to pass as my daughter until she became old enough to know and consider properly the facts connected with her unfortunate mother. But let us pass them now, since Mary has long since paid the great debt of nature which, sooner or later, all of us must discharge.”

*******************

    The evening following, witnessed the marriage of the three happy couples.
    Our story is finished.

*******************

And so bewildering is this rush of revelations, enough to sustain any self-respecting soap opera through about five seasons, that we might well think so; but a moment’s reflection informs us that:

(1) We don’t know who the chained-up man-monster was;
(2) We don’t know what happened to Mr Shelley;
(3) We don’t know how Percy came to be wandering around in the north-west;
(4) We have no fricking idea how Gabriella Lindsey became White Fawn, daughter of Chief Radiola;
(5) We never get confirmation that White Fawn and the Masked Warrior are one and the same;
(6) We never find out which of the three elderly men was the person who intervened to stop Douglas killing Herbert, subsequently killed Herbert himself, and rescued Madeline; or if it was someone else altogether.

And yet we get to sit through three pages of highwayman blather

.

15/03/2017

Spoilers. Literally.

I’ve noticed a dismaying trend emerging in my random reading for this blog—namely, the worse and/or more gigglesome a novel is, the sadder the story behind it. Whether this is the universe punishing me for laughing at things that were intended to be taken seriously or just an odd coincidence I couldn’t say, but it sure is starting to spoil my fun.

Most obvious case in point? The hilarious Munster Abbey, whose mind-boggling blending of sentiment and cold hard cash and myriad absurdities were enough to fill out three lengthy blog posts—and which turned out to be a posthumous work, the only novel of Sir Samuel Egerton Leigh, who died at the age of twenty-six, leaving his young widow to oversee the publication of his manuscript

And even the last novel I examined here, Ermina Montrose, had a story of fraud, suicide and poverty lurking behind its literary failings.

This time the work in question is an American novel from 1859: Madeline; or, Love, Treachery And Revenge by James Summerfield Slaughter. The novel itself is both absurdly plotted and poorly written, lurching from improbability to improbability. I snickered my way through it, sat down to try and find out something about its author—and immediately learned that he had committed suicide at a fairly early age.

Thanks, Universe.

There isn’t a lot on the record about the life of James Summerfield Slaughter, who tends to be alluded to in the context of other people rather than spoken about in his own right. He worked chiefly as an editor for various newspapers and periodicals, and wrote for the latter himself, mostly short stories. We gather he underwent something of a revolution in his political convictions: he is first mentioned as a “Know-Nothing”, a party which was anti-slavery inasmuch as its adherents believed that slavery undercut the rights of white workers; but when he next surfaced, Slaughter was hand-in-glove with the Alabama Fire-Eaters, a radical pro-slavery faction that fought to reopen the international slave trade, and which hid secessionist plans behind a facade of “states’ rights”—or at least, they did until James Summerfield Slaughter entered the picture.

At some point Slaughter had become friends with William Lowndes Yancey, a former Alabama Congressman. Both men were natives of Georgia, both had relocated to Alabama; Yancey, one of the Fire-Eaters, apparently saw Slaughter as a useful tool in the recruitment of new members to his “League of United Southerners”. However, he reckoned without his young friend’s capacity for indiscretion. In June 1858, Yancey wrote to Slaughter, stating his political views with alarming frankness; Slaughter, in a fit of enthusiasm, allowed the letter to be published:

No National Party can save us; no Sectional Party can do it. But if we could do as our fathers did, organise “Committees of Safety” all over the cotton states (and it is only in them that we can hope of any effective movement) we shall fire the Southern heart—instruct the Southern mind—give courage to each other, and at the proper moment, by one organised, concerted action, we can precipitate the cotton states into a revolution.

This passage was leapt upon by all factions in the growing political maelstrom, lauded in some quarters, held up as a dire warning in others. Horace Greeley, in the New York Tribune, dubbed the document “The Scarlet Letter”. As such it has gone down in history, with James Summerfield Slaughter achieving a tiny slice of immortality not for his literary accomplishments, but as the recipient of Yancey’s letter.

Both men suffered in the subsequent fall-out, Yancey – though not regretting the spotlight – asserting that he had dashed the letter off in a hurry and implied more than he meant, Slaughter excusing his indiscretion and denying in a series of letters to the newspapers that he held secessionist views.

Having made Alabama too hot to hold him, Slaughter soon returned to Georgia. The next concrete information I have been able to discover about him comes apropos of his brief connection with Mary Edwards Bryan, the journalist and author, who was appointed editor-in-chief of the magazine, the Georgia Literary and Temperance Crusader, in 1858, before she was twenty years old. Bryan arrived in Atlanta at around the time that Slaughter began working for a local newspaper, the National American—and that he married a local beauty bearing the fabulous name of Taccoah Badger.

It was in the Georgia Literary and Temperance Crusader that Slaughter’s only novel was serialised, early in 1859, before being published in book form shortly afterwards. While we can find assertions (or at least, an assertion) of its success and popularity, it is clear that these were not attributable to any literary merit. As this advertisement from the magazine, the Virginia Index, makes amusingly clear, the crux of the matter was that Slaughter’s Madeline was the first novel to be written and published in Atlanta:

(We note that despite the bland subtitle used in this ad, in both serial and novel form Madeline carried the far more enticing one, Love, Treachery And Revenge.)

After this, however, Slaughter drops out of the public record—until the Atlanta Confederacy of 9th August 1860 carried a report of his death. The news was picked up and reprinted around the country, invariably including the original item’s reference to “The Scarlet Letter”, and sometimes with the suggestion that the scandal was responsible for the “fit of melancholy” to which his death was attributed. It was only the New York Times that was unkindly moved to add the rider, As far as he is remembered…although we cannot say that history has not proven them correct:


(Original notice, reprinted in the Newbern Daily Progress of North Carolina, 18th August 1860)

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18/01/2017

Ermina Montrose; or, The Cottage Of The Vale

erminamontrose1b    One fine evening, when the children were retired to rest, Ermina stole gently down stairs, and crossing through the hall to her own apartment, opened the glass door which led into the shrubbery, which she walked, and passed lightly over the lawn to a favourite walk, which was a long avenue of trees by the side of a canal, at the end of which was an elegant alcove, where she frequently delighted to seat herself, as she now did. A pleasing languor stole over her senses…
    The dews of eve that bathed the various fragrant plants and odoriferous shrubs that surrounded the spot where she was, diffused a sweet refreshing perfume, which, added to the general stillness that reigned amidst the shades of night, lulled her mind into calm repose. The images of those she loved, and had so cruelly lost, presented themselves to her imagination in the most pleasing forms, and she pictured to herself that they beheld her conduct and sufferings with approbation. “Alas!” she mentally exclaimed, “though unrelenting fate persecute and tear from me all that my soul holds dear, yet have I the soothing consolation of preserving a heart unsullied with guilt, though not free from error, and this bosom can boast of moments of happiness which the conscience of those who injure me will not suffer them to enjoy, and of which they cannot deprive me, poor and dependent as I am.”

 

 

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When your bosom starts boasting, it might be time to worry.

Emily Clark’s Ermina Montrose; or, The Cottage Of The Vale is a fairly typical second- (or third-) tier novel of the turn of the 19th century, featuring a persecuted heroine and much high-flown sentiment, but with lingering flickers of the Gothic impulse (which, indeed, would not be fully extinguished for another two decades or so). Though the persecution persists, most of the Gothic touches are confined to the first of the novel’s three volumes; after which the narrative settles down and goes through essentially the same set of cyclic motions until the three volumes have been filled—viz. our orphan heroine finds a refuge where she can work and support herself, someone traduces her character, she flees secretly for some reason or another, she struggles with poverty until she finds a refuge where she can work and support herself…

But the repetition of the action is not the major shortcoming of Ermina Montrose, which is rather that Ermina suffers more at the hands of the people who are supposed to love her than she does through the machinations of her enemies. Indeed, this is one of a worrying number of novels I’ve read recently that turn on a man’s willingness (even eagerness) to believe the worst of the woman he loves. This novel features one of the most unlikeable “heroes” of a genre that rarely seems to recognise dickish behaviour when it sees it, and Ermina’s repeated forgiveness of her lover’s distrust, tantrum-throwing and selfishness grows ever more exasperating.

While it will turn out to play the most minor of roles in the story, aside from its symbolic value —“cottage” is a signifier for a sentimental novel in the same way that “abbey” is for a Gothic novel—Ermina Montrose does open at the titular cottage; while the language – and the occasionally infelicitous grammar – used in these opening paragraphs let us know clearly what we’re in for over the next 700 pages or so:

    Embosomed in the deep romantic valley of Riversdale, stood the habitation of Colonel Montrose. Simple was its structure, being little superior to the cottages of the neighbouring rustics. Yet, with all its simplicity, dear was this abode to his feeling heart; for it had sheltered his beloved Ermina from the storms of life, and witnessed her flight to those regions of happiness, which the superior virtues of her mind rendered her worthy of attaining. The soft harmony of her voice, the æthereal sweetness of her smile, all dwelt on his imagination with forcible and pained remembrance.
    Oh! souls of sympathy, cannot ye picture to yourselves the poignant anguish which overwhelms to agony a mind of sensibility, when it has lost a tenderly beloved friend and companion? What is the grief of common souls compared to theirs, who wear not only the semblance of sorrow, but its keenest shafts penetrate their lacerated bosoms; and objects that formerly created pleasure, serve only to bring the mournful recollection, that, alas! the chief source of delight is fled for ever?

If anything has the power to divert us from our attempts to make sense of that last sentence, it is the text’s apparent revelation that this novel’s heroine is dead—but of course, this turns out to be Ermina Montrose Sr. She and Colonel Montrose married without the permission of her father, Lord Belvidere, “a haughty, imperious nobleman”, who responded not merely by disinheriting her, but by actively persecuting the young couple, who finally fled to their isolated cottage to escape his vindictive wrath. Six years of happiness which included the birth of their only child followed, but now Colonel Montrose has been widowed and left the raise his daughter alone. The narrative skips lightly over this, content with observing matter-of-factly that, Each year, as it rolled away, brought some accomplishment in Ermina nearer to perfection, until she is fourteen, at which time the Colonel decides to place her in a convent in France for two years, so that she can perfect her French.

Like many sentimental novels of this period, Ermina Montrose chooses to behave as if the French Revolution never happened; though it goes its competition one better by forgetting, evidently, that its characters aren’t Catholic, and having Ermina decide to become a nun (it is clear later that she hasn’t converted). But while they occupy a fair chunk of the first volume, Ermina’s convent experiences and friendships – and hints at interesting back-stories for several of the nuns – ultimately turn out to have nothing to do with anything; except to make me suspect, in conjunction with what happens to her once she gets out of the convent, that Emily Clark originally intended writing a much more Gothicky novel, but for some reason changed her mind and instead sent her narrative in a domestic direction over the succeeding two volumes.

Neither Ermina’s sojourn in the convent nor her entering upon her novitiate prevents every man who sees her from falling in love with her. Victim #1 is the Count de Valcour, a volatile (to say the least) young Frenchman, who goes so far as to break into the convent in order to get up close and personal with her; Victim #2 is Father Eustache, a young Benedictine monk (!!), who starts repenting his vows the moment he lays eyes on her; and Victim #3 is Lord Henry Beauchamp, the son of the Earl of Darlington, who saves Colonel Montrose from bandits. The latter is invited to accompany the Colonel on one of his visits to the convent, and the damage is done. Here, however, we get damage in the other direction too:

…she was then as much charmed with his manners as with his appearance. She thought him learned without pedantry, sensible without affectation, and animated and witty without being frivolous or a coxcomb; and she admired him mostly for not being the least vain of his person (as handsome men in general are), but apparently unconscious of possessing more beauty than what falls to the usual lot of the male part of creation…

As it turns out, it’s just as well he’s got his looks to depend upon.

Lord Henry lays indirect siege to Ermina via poetry and then, as the time for her to take the veil draws near, declares himself in frantic smuggled letters, begging her to marry him. She is moved and confused, but still intends to take her vows when her father’s health collapses—because he can’t stand her becoming a nun, as he might have wanted to mention about a year ago. Ermina decides to leave the convent, and she, her father and Lord Henry become the guests of de Valcour.

The convent may be a thing of the past, but we’re not done being Gothicky just yet:

At supper the count introduced them to Father Anselmo, a monk, his friend and confessor. Ermina felt something repugnant to her feelings in his appearance; for though his sallow countenance was always dressed in smiles, yet under those smiles she fancied lurked cruelty and deceit… He easily perceived he was no favourite with her, as he had a great deal of penetration; and the glances he sometimes gave her from his yellow eye balls were replete with venom and ill-nature…

De Valcour regrets inviting Lord Henry to his chateau from the moment he gets a good look at him. His fears are well justified, as we learn with amusing casualness that—

…this animated party had been three weeks together at the chateau, which had passed on such silken wings that it appeared but as one. In this happy interval Lord Henry had again offered himself to Ermina, who, with the sanction of her father, had accepted his addresses…

…provisional upon Lord Henry receiving the approbation and consent of his father: this probably wasn’t intended as a pot-shot at her own parents, but it sure does read that way. Lord Henry is then abruptly called back to England, to the bedside of Lord Darlington, who is seriously ill, and must part from Ermina:

A cold shiver came over him…and his eyes were dimmed with tears as he entered the carriage… He could not shake off an uncommon depression of spirits, which he feared presaged some misfortune to himself, or (who was dearer to him) his innocent and beauteous Ermina.

He’s right about that, of course; although ironically he himself is the main misfortune which strikes her.

In Lord Henry’s absence, Ermina takes to wandering the grounds of the chateau alone, and on one of her expeditions comes across a lonely cottage occupied by a young Englishwoman and an elderly Frenchwoman. This, of course, is the cue for an interpolated narrative. Long story short, Adeliza’s intended marriage to de Valcour was prevented by the revelation of him being already married, so he abducted and eventually seduced her.

Shocked by her discovery of de Valcour’s true nature, Ermina begins to consider how to help Adeliza escape, but is diverted when Colonel Montrose’s health collapses. On his deathbed, he succeeds in extracting from de Valcour all sorts of promises about Ermina’s welfare; but no sooner is he dead than the count begins laying siege to her, intercepting her correspondence with Lord Henry, refusing to let her return to the convent, and finally imprisoning her, refusing to release her until she promises to marry him. Ermina withstands all this, and at length even persuades de Valcour to let her walk in the grounds, on the score that her health is suffering from confinement. On one of these expeditions she discovers a grotto, with a cave that has been turned into an apartment in its depths. Here she overhears a terrifying conversation between Father Anselmo and another monk:

    After something that Anselmo had said, the other monk replied in an agitated voice, “Hold, ’tis cowardly to assassinate a woman, poison would be better.”
    “No,” rejoined Anselmo, “she may then by some means escape, and suspicion be infused into her bosom. She shall no longer stand between me and my interest; for, were she disposed of, I could do whatever I pleased with de Valcour, and his fortune. Call it not murder.” Here he raised his voice, his countenance assuming a more diabolical expression, which she plainly perceived, as the cowl he wore concealed but half his face. “Is it not a religious act to stab an heretic, who, wedded to the count, will raise a brood of others? Here, mark me! take this dagger, steal to her chamber in the dead of night, and point it to her breast: for I’ve decreed it; ere three days more shall pass, she dies: France shall not another week contain alive the hated offspring of Colonel Montrose.”

At this point I had high hopes of Ermina Montrose, on the level of entertainment if not as literature, exactly; but sadly from here it’s downhill all the way. The present situation resolves itself when Adeliza’s outraged brother finally catches up with de Valcour and kills him; Adeliza dies of grief; Anselmo flees, never to be seen again (alas!); and Ermina returns to the convent to recover and sort out her life. There she becomes acquainted with Lady Julia Vernon, in retreat while mourning her husband (a short interlude that gives Ermina a completely false idea of her character), who offers to carry her back to England.

From here we settle into the wash-rinse-repeat aspect of the novel. Invited to stay with Lady Julia for a time, Ermina does in the hope of finding out why Lord Henry is not responding to the letters she is now certain he is receiving. Despite her disinclination, she feels obliged sometimes to accompany Lady Julia into society, and one night is taken to Ranelagh, where a certain Mr Devereaux becomes smitten with her.

From this point, Emily Clark strives in Ermina Montrose for the kind of social satire and character types with which Frances Burney’s novels abound, but her efforts are feeble, and occasionally embarrassing (as, for instance, when she stops to explain to us that any person with a disability or some sort of deformity, or is simply not physically attractive, will invariably prove to be “deformed” on the inside, too). All sorts of eccentrics wander in an out of the narrative, in scenes that are generally tiresome, rather than amusing as they are intended to be.

Clark is on firmer ground with the endless scenes of her heroine being persecuted; and we return to this dominating theme when, as Ermina walks with Devereaux, someone steps on the train of her gown:

The intended apology died away in confused murmurs on Lord Henry’s lips, the glow of surprise faded to an ashy paleness, and instead of returning the animated smile, he received from her, with the same look of pleasure, or accepting her proffered hand…he surveyed her with a repulsive gravity, uttered in a faultering voice, a few incoherent words of congratulations on seeing her in England, coldly bowed, and left her.

Get used to it, people: scenes like this comprise most of what this novel has to offer by way of “a love story”; when, that is, Lord Henry isn’t ranting at Ermina for being a whore. (My word, not his; but that’s the gist of it.)

When she can extricate herself from Lady Julia, Ermina returns to “the cottage of the vale” and is happy there for a time, reuniting with old acquaintances, until she receives word that the bank in which her small inheritance was placed has failed, and the banker fled. Forced to find work, Ermina requests her various friends to find her a position as governess, and is taken into the country house of Sir John and Lady Assop: near neighbours of the widowed Mrs Helderton, another person who, at this time, she considers a friend. For a time all seems well: the Assops are kind, Ermina’s young pupils well-behaved, the surrounding countryside beautiful. The first reversal of fortune comes when Mrs Helderton makes it very clear that her “friendship” for Ermina has altered with the girl’s circumstances.

But if Mrs Helderston dislikes Ermina as a governess, she positively hates her when she sees that her handsome cousin, Sir Charles Melrose, is immediately attracted to her. Mrs Helderton has no intention of remaining a widow, and Sir Charles is one of the two marital prospects she is assiduously pursuing, though only her second choice. The first happens to be Lord Henry Beauchamp…

By one of those capricious chances, in which fortune delights, a friend of Lord Henry’s and Mrs Helderton’s told her in confidence (unsuspecting her designs), of the hold Ermina still had on his affections, notwithstanding he was convinced of her unworthiness, though in what manner she had improperly acted Lord Henry would never tell his friend. Enraged, that she should be slighted for this insignificant girl (as she styled her), she vowed to do every thing in her power to mortify her…

And in this respect, at least, Mrs Helderton is a woman of her word; and her machinations and their consequences will b e at the root of much of what Ermina suffers over the following two volumes.

For a time Ermina is oblivious to the evil currents that are beginning to swirl around her; but one evening she overhears an enlightening conversation between Mrs Helderton’s maid and the Assops’ nursery-maid:

“Sir Charles may amuse himself with her as a mistress, but she will never be any thing more honourable to him. For my part,” continued Bridget, “if I was such a noble, handsome, rich gentleman as Sir Charles…I would never take up with other people’s hangers-on… Only to think now, that this wicked Miss Montrose enticed away my dear lady’s lover Lord Henry Beauchamp, when he was in France. She spent almost all his fortune, and then ran away with another gentleman, whom she intrigued with beforehand, which broke her poor father’s heart. There’s a wicked hussy for you, when she knew my lady was engaged to Lord Henry…and the poor gentleman, who was as beautiful a man as ever the sun shone on, is now wasting to a shadow: for nobody thinks he’ll live, it hurts him so, to think of her bad conduct; and I’m sure I wonder such a good woman as your mistress keeps the naughty creature in her house. Now you can’t be surprised that my lady hates her; and then to think, that she should make Sir Charles in love with her too! I do believe her to be a witch.”

This speech is a good example of the kind of talk that follows Ermina throughout the rest of the novel, always a framework of circumstantial truth surrounding the worst possible interpretation of events. But while it may be understandable that people who don’t really know Ermina may begin to lend an ear to the constant denigration of her character, there is no excuse for the people who are supposed to know and love her.

Annoyingly enough, the main thing that Ermina carries away from her enlightening eavesdropping (she does that a lot, though the narrative takes pains to find excuses) is the bulletin about Lord Henry’s failing health. This possibility preys upon her mind, affecting her spirits and her health so that everyone notices—including Sir Charles, who is so moved by her evident distress that he impulsively proposes marriage. Caught between her lingering feelings for Lord Henry, her awareness that he now despises her, and her gratitude for the generosity of Sir Charles, whom she likes and admires, Ermina wrestles with herself but finally accepts his proposal. News of the engagement spreads quickly, pleasing the Assops and causing everyone but Mrs Helderton to treat Ermina with increased respect.

Soon after this, however, Ermina is walking out when she is accosted by a gipsy—who turns out (for reasons not worth getting into) to be Lord Henry in disguise. She is taken so much by surprise that she stays to hear what he has to say for himself. As she suspected, their letters were intercepted; and Lord Henry knew nothing concrete until the news of Colonel Montrose’s death was reported. Shortly afterwards, still trying to bring his father (who objected to Ermina’s all-but-penniless state) to consent to their marriage, Lord Henry received further word of Ermina through a French friend of Lord Darlington’s, who mentioned to him a certain beautiful Englishwoman who was known by common report to be the mistress of the libertine Count de Valcour:

“I now attributed your neglect of me to a passion for my rival; and rage, jealousy, and contempt for your depraved conduct and infidelity, seized complete possession of my soul…”

Then the meeting at Ranelagh: he wondered at seeing her with Lady Julia—but assumed she had deceived her, too; he noted her mourning—and concluded it was for de Valcour… And so on. Finally he tore himself away from London and went wandering, ending up by pure chance at The Cottage Of The Vale, where Ermina’s maid, Therese, told him what had actually gone on in France:

“But, oh heavens! when she related in those simple unadorned terms, which so forcibly convey the truth, the various miseries and misfortunes in which you had been involved by the treachery and deceit of your worthless enemies, I execrated my credulity and unfeeling behaviour, reflecting with remorse that I ought, before I had condemned, to have heard your justification, and enable you to defend yourself against every calumnious aspersion.”

On the back of this, Lord Henry confronts the gossipy Baron de Belmont:

“…whom I brought to a confession that he had been instigated by Lord Darlington (whom de Valcour had treacherously informed of our attachment, and at the same time suppressed our letters) to invent those falsehoods of you, having himself never seen, or even heard of you and de Valcour, and would not for any consideration have aided such a scheme, if my father had not represented you as a girl of infamous character, who wished to seduce me to marry her.”

Now—you’d think an experience like this might have taught Lord Henry a thing or two, but you’d be very wrong: he spends the rest of the novel listening to anyone who has a bad word to say about Ermina; when, that is, he isn’t busy behaving like a dick of monumental proportions.

When telling Ermina’s story, Therese also informed Lord Henry of her engagement to Sir Charles Melrose; and now, though she forgives him for his distrust of her, Ermina insists that honour forbids her to break with the baronet. Lord Henry begs and pleads, but she is adamant; which produces this outburst:

Almost frantic at the idea of losing her, Lord Henry implored her compassion, intreating her not to sacrifice their happiness to a vain phantom of honour. This she steadily refused; and, irritated, abandoned to passion by the stings of disappointed affection, he exclaimed: “Then you have never loved me, deceitful girl, if I am to be resigned for the empty opinion of the world! You must prefer Sir Charles; but I swear by God, that I will not live to see you his wife—either one or other of us must fall. I will hasten instantly to him and demand satisfaction.”

Ah! – the always charming and by no means a sign that you are dealing with a narcissistic sociopath if-I-can’t-have-you-no-one-will gambit! (Which was last seen around these parts in Barford Abbey.) I must admit, though, to being intrigued by Lord Henry’s casual dismissal of “honour” as a mere excuse, given how many novels of this period have their characters tying themselves in knots over merely perceived demands of honour, let alone a case as clear as this one.

Ermina manages to calm Lord Henry down, admitting that she still loves him, and pleading with him neither to risk his own life nor Sir Charles’s. Finally they part—forever, as far as Ermina is concerned. Preparations for the wedding continue, and the entire party travels from the country to Sir John’s house in London, where the ceremony to to take place. All is well until a few days before, when Sir Charles’s behaviour towards Ermina suddenly changes. He offers no explanation, however (of course not!), and Ermina is at a loss until the party attends a play: so emotionally caught up in the miseries on stage that she nearly swoons, Ermina is just recovering when…

…the first object she saw was Lord Henry Beauchamp contemplating her with an air of the deepest dejection, apparently regardless of every one but herself, whilst Sir Charles surveyed him with a fierce and sullen countenance…

Sure enough, the threatened duel takes place, though at Sir Charles’s seeking, and on the morning of his wedding-day!—and it is Sir Charles who gets the worst of it, being carried back to the Assops’ covered in blood and not expected to live. Mrs Helderton has been in the mix lately, so we are not much surprised at this, even if Ermina is; and in a state of guilt and shock, contemplating Sir Charles’s death on one hand and Lord Henry either under arrest or fleeing the country, she flees herself, slipping out of the house unseen and making sure no-one knows where she has gone (and that no-one will be able to find her, should things prove not quite so grim as anticipated, sigh).

Under the name of “Miss Smith” (no really), Ermina finds lodgings – poor, but with a kind landlady – and work, being employed to do fancy needlework by a French modiste. Though tormented by not knowing whether Sir Charles is alive or dead, and Lord Henry consequently safe, under arrest or on the run (it doesn’t occur to her to buy a newspaper), Ermina settles into her new, narrow existence until discovered by the dissolute Sir Patrick O’Neil, to whom she was introduced at Lady Julia’s. He informs his good friend, Mr Glencarnock – “an ugly, little, hump-backed man” – and the two begin persecuting her, both determined to obtain her in one capacity or another. Glencarnock, indeed, finally proposes marriages—provided Ermina is willing to keep it a secret.

In the face of this harassment, Ermina starts regretfully making plans to change her lodgings; but this is forestalled by an offer of work as a live-in seamstress for a certain Colonel Rivers. She accepts this offer with relief, only to be shocked by the discovery that – duh! – she has been decoyed into a trap by Glencarnock. To her credit, Ermina shows some backbone and makes several unsuccessful attempts to escape, failing narrowly only when she suffers a bad fall, before Glencarnock unwisely gets into a physical confrontation with her over the key to her room and is left sprawling with a head injury. Ermina takes to her heels and is fortunate enough to find someone willing to help her, one “Zemin Linmore”.

Here erupts one of Ermina Monstrose‘s most absurd subplots; though its absurdity cannot compensate for its bad taste. Linmore turns out to be the son of a Native American chief – no, really – who has been handed over to one Captain Linmore to be raised and educated as an English gentleman. The narrative goes on and on about how handsome Zemin is, how good, how generous, how high-principled, how accomplished…before shaking its head over how sad it is that he isn’t white, without which the rest means nothing. Zemin falls in love with Ermina, of course, and equally of course knows it’s futile, since he isn’t white. He finally leaves the country to try and get over his hopeless passion—and when a newspaper reports that his ship sank with all hands lost, it is accompanied by a straight-faced suggestion that an early death was a fate to be desired, considering that he wasn’t white, and therefore could never be happy. (Too bad for the rest of the passengers and crew…)

Anyway— Zemin cannot prevent Ermina being dragged back by Glencarnock’s servants, but he arranges her escape and places her with friends of his, Quakers called Mr and Mrs Fairfield. Here the wash-rinse-repeat cycle starts again: Ermina is safe and happy for a time, until the Fairfields carry her to London, on a visit to their far less unworldly son and daughter-in-law. Against her will, Ermina is taken out into society, usually under the chaperonage of a Mrs Ballenden, where she attracts the attention of an elderly nobleman, the Earl of Valency, to whom she is also drawn for reasons she cannot articulate. (Jane Austen alert!) Other consequences are less pleasant, and include an encounter with Mrs Helderton. Soon enough, the daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, is asking pointed questions about Sir Charles Melrose, and excoriating Ermina for abusing the trust of the Fairfields:

“I have already spoken to them,” replied the quaker, “and it has occasioned a misunderstanding between them, my husband, and myself; for thy arts, of which I have been fully informed, have blinded them to believe any thing thou doth choose to advance. Verily, it was not well done of Zemin Linmore to introduce his mistress under the roof of our respectable parents, whose ill-placed charity in protecting thee, must bring disgrace on all their family.”

In the wake of this, Ermina has an excruciating encounter with her former employer, the modiste, who in front of Elizabeth addresses her as “Miss Smith”—which leaves her with nothing to do but run away again. This time she cannot find employment, and sinks into real poverty before being discovered and rescued again, this time by the same Mr Devereaux whom she met at Ranelagh, before her first encounter with Lord Henry. Devereaux finds a position for her as companion to his aunt, the eccentric Mrs St Austin. Before she leaves London, he begs her to allow him to escort her to the theatre. She feels that she cannot refuse the invitation—but of course is made to regret her decision:

…she perceived to her extreme consternation, Mrs Helderton and another lady of a most unprepossessing appearance, looking at her with a sneer on their countenances, and talking at the same time, apparently about her, to a gentleman who seemed very much interested in what they said… Suddenly, however, he turned round to seat himself by Mrs Helderton, and, overcome with joy, surprise, and terror, Ermina felt ready to faint, when their eyes at the same moment meeting, she discovered the man whom she had so long regretted, whom she fancied to be wandering, forlorn, unhappy, and anxious for her fate, far from his native country, to be now before her; for it was indeed Lord Henry…

…who behaves towards her exactly as we expect; and for a few glorious moments, Ermina reacts to it as she should:

When at liberty to reflect on the conduct of Lord Henry, she felt keener resentment against him than she could ever have thought it possible for her to feel for any person, particularly one who had so often vowed his affection for her was interwoven with his existence…How sincerely did she regret the loss she had sustained in the alienated affections of Melrose, whose faith and truth were so much more valuable than the fickle passion of Lord Henry… She regretted bitterly, that he should have prevented an union in which the greatest felicity would most probably have been her lot… She even worked up her imagination to a belief, that the story he had told her at their last interview in Devonshire, was a fabrication to exculpate himself…

Well—it’s nice while it lasts, anyway.

Ermina travels to Mrs Austin’s country estate, where she is safe and happy for a time; until—

Do I really have to say it?

First, however, Ermina interests herself in the situation of a peasant family living on the estate. Long story short (again), the beautiful daughter became the object of the lustful interest of a Squire Brandon, who to pave his own way to her, had her soldier-fiancé transferred to a regiment about to be sent overseas on active duty, while forcing Helen and her grandmother off their farm in order to deprive them of their income. Ermina relieves the immediate wants of the unfortunate women, but worries that Helen’s illness may be fatal. She and Dame Primrose agree to present an account of the circumstances to Edward’s commanding officer, in the hope that he will undo the young soldier’s transfer if he knows why it was brought about. Ermina writes a letter, stating everything she knows and asseverating her belief in the good character of all three, and Dame Primrose carries it to Carlisle. She manages to see the regimental colonel, and he does indeed read the letter—and is so affected by it that even the hopeful grandmother is surprised.

And here we get the novel’s one successful touch of humour as, thanks to Dame Primorose’s extreme country accent, Ermina does not recognise who she means when she speaks of “Lord Bochon”.

Sure enough, Lord Henry soon rocks up. He is scrupulous in assisting Dame Primrose, Helen and Edward; but when he sees Ermina, we start all over again:

“Fool, mean-spirited madman that I am, not all your infidelity and ill usage can eradicate the fatal passion you inspired, which has been my ruin… Yes, wretched woman, you have been my destruction, blasted every prospect of my happiness, and forced me to seek in battle an oblivion of my sorrows; as the fatal remembrance of your cruelty has denied me peace in this world. In a few months I quit England for ever; and in far-distant Eastern climes will bury all recollection of the falseness and treachery with which you have required my faithful love.”

He then has the gall to promise “always to be her friend”, if she will “return to the paths of honour”; warning her however that “the loss of [her] innocence is never to be recovered”.

Ermina is not unnaturally stunned by this outpouring, but as he starts to leave she insists on being heard; and again she says exactly as she should—except for not sending him on his way with a hearty wish of a close encounter between himself and a cannon-ball:

    “That you should harbour suspicion after the explanation that took place between us in Devonshire, appears to me beyond belief; for having once made me suffer from your credulity, it is certainly unpardonable of you to err a second time. I have not much to say on the subject, because I feel myself perfectly undeserving of reproach, and know not who are my accusers; but in talking of injuries you totally mistake the affair, as it is myself, and not you, that is the injured person. I compassionate, however, the weak credulity of your disposition… Perhaps you will find a pleasure…in the reflection that you have insulted a woman you pretended to love with the most gross suspicions…”
    “I would fain believe you innocent,” replied Lord Henry, “and what you affirm overwhelms me with fresh doubt, but will listen no more; warned by those, who know you and your power over me, not to attend to your fascinating voice…”
    “Alas! I see but too plainly,” exclaimed Ermina, “the extent of my misfortunes. Not any assertions of mine will make you believe me innocent, and to combat with prejudices so rooted is quite useless. And now, Lord Henry, I take my leave; yet the time I hope will come…when you will repent your too easy belief, but it will then be too late, as from this moment I obliterate all traces of you from my remembrance; and be assured, that wounded pride and injured virtue will make the task far from difficult.”

And, oh!—if only she’d meant it! If only she had married Devereaux – who is in love with her, of course – or Charles Melrose – who isn’t dead, of course. I’d’ve quite liked this novel then, or at least liked it better. Buuuuuuuut, no; and sadly, Catherine Cuthbertson’s Santo Sebastiano remains the only novel of this era I’ve yet discovered to have its heroine respond to mistreatment by breaking with a man who doesn’t deserve her and finding one who does.

Around this time we finally get some explanation of the chain of gossip which has pursued Ermina, and how Mrs Helderton managed to rope the Earl of Darlington, the Baron de Belmont, Mr Glencarnock and even Sir Charles into her plots against the girl; convincing the latter that she was Lord Henry’s cast-off mistress, and calling various “witnesses”, including her maid, Bridget, who overheard the conversation betweem Ermina and Lord Henry in Devonshire (translated into a “secret assignation”), to back up her story.

In the latter Mrs Helderton overreached herself, having certainly not meant for Sir Charles and Lord Henry to try and kill each other; and great was her exasperation upon discovering afterwards that although she had succeeded in ruining Ermina with both men, neither of them showed the slightest increase of partiality for her. Her malice then pursued Ermina to the Fairfields, where to the existing stories another involving Zemin Linmore was added; while later, applied to by Lord Henry, who knew her only as a connection of the various interested parties, after Ermina’s disappearance from the Assops’ house, she added to the mix the assertion that her reduced circumstances forced Ermina to become the mistress of Sir Patrick O’Neil; after which she taken under the protection of Mr Devereaux.

Mrs Helderton overreaches again, this time fatally, when she sends an anonymous letter denouncing Ermina to Mrs St Austin: the latter shows the ugly epistle to its subject, and Ermina recognises the handwriting. She tells as much as she understands of the sorry tale, which isn’t that much (as she knows nothing of Mrs Helderton’s personal plans for Lord Henry and/or Sir Charles), and Mrs St Austin persuades her (or orders her) to travel to London, to seek out those to whom she believes she has been calumniated by Mrs Helderton, and to show them the letter and the handwriting. Ermina obeys, but finds everyone she needs to talk to out of the country.

Forced, reluctantly, to wait in London for their return, Ermina is at least moved to send Mrs Helderton a satirical letter, thanking her for all her good offices (not that she knows the half of it!). This is a tremendous shock for Mrs Helderton, whose guilty conscience brings on hysterics, which eventually reduce her to a convenient state of shattered health, and put her into an even more convenient mood for confession.

But that is some time in the future. First (through circumstances too dumb to be dwelt upon), Ermina goes through one more round of lonely destitution; this time being rescued by the long-forgotten Earl of Valency, who turns out to be – surprise! – her grandfather, who inherited another title after he was introduced to us as the “haughty, imperious” Lord Belvidere. His lordship has long since repented his cruel treatment of his daughter and son-in-law, and wants to make amends of sorts by re-establishing Ermina.

After that, things fall into place pretty quickly, the process being greatly assisted by Bridget who, after being sacked by Mrs Helderton, retaliates by telling the truth to the Assops; while Mrs Helderton, literally dying of shame, as we are asked to believe, calls for Lord Henry and tells him the truth. This sends him flying to Ermina, and to her feet, to beg forgiveness.

So we would hope.

And yet there is still time for one more outbreak of dickishness from Our Hero, when the altogether too forgiving Ermina rightly “determine[s] to punish him just a little for what he had caused her to suffer”, by telling him:

    “…your present confession, though it cannot restore my love, which your ill treatment of me quickly effaced, yet gains you my esteen and friendship”; and as she uttered these last words, with an assumed coldness and indifference, she held out her hand to him.
    So well did she dissemble, that with an angry and mournful air mingled with surprise, Lord Henry rejected her proffered hand. “Cruel, insulting woman,” said he, “I will not accept your friendship; your love I require or nothing. Oh! had I ever been truly valued, you would not thus have wounded my feelings by such cold language, but would eagerly have forgiven errors for which I have been sufficiently punished.”

That’s right, folks—SHE has been cruel to HIM. And, yup, SHE ends up apologising:

Lord Henry now drew from the blushing Ermina a reluctant confession, that, notwithstanding the reasons she apparently had to detest him, he had always continued dear to her…

Woman—you ought to blush…

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16/01/2017

A royal liar

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There’s a much more interesting story behind my latest Reading Roulette pick, Emily Clark’s Ermina Montrose; or, The Cottage Of The Vale, than we find between its covers.

That reference on the title page of this sentimental novel from 1800 to “the late Colonel Frederick” is shorter and more discreet than that which graces the title page of Clark’s earlier novel, Ianthé; or, The Flower Of Caernarvon, where the author’s grandfather is boldly announced to be “son of Theodore, King of Corsica”: all in all, a statement which for all its brevity contains a considerable amount of misleading information.

Theodor Stephan Freiherr von Neuhoff was a German soldier of fortune who, in the course of a career dabbling in political intrigue all over Europe and the Mediterranean, convinced a group of Corsican rebels that he could help them overthrow the Genoese rule of their island—and promised to do so in exchange for being crowned king of Corsica. Somehow von Neuhoff managed to acquire military backing from the Bey of Tunis, and landed on the island in March, 1736. The locals held up their end of the bargain and had the adventurer crowned as Theodore I of Corsica, but the conflict against the Genoese forces was a failure. Theodore fled Corsica in November, ostensibly to raise more support and funds: a project which ended ignominiously when he was imprisoned for debt in Amsterdam.

Somewhat surprisingly, Theodore did not give up his efforts, but arranged to supply the rebels with arms, and himself returned to the conflict on several occasions; but the rebels made no headway against the incumbent forces. Theodore’s next stop was England, again with the aim of raising support—and where again he ended up in debtors’ prison, where he was confined for some six years. This time he did give up, freeing himself by declaring bankruptcy—and by making over his kingdom to his creditors (!). He died only a year later, in 1756, having been supported to the end by various friends, including Horace Walpole.

In 1750, shortly after King Theodore was imprisoned in London, a certain Colonel Frederick appeared upon the scene. He too was German, and had served in the army of Frederick II of Prussia, before entering the service of the Duke of Württemberg. When Theodore died, Colonel Frederick began publicly mourning his father and calling himself the Prince of Capera; establishing his position more firmly by publishing Memoirs of Corsica, Containing the Natural and Political History of that Important Island in 1768.

Over the following years, the Colonel managed to manoeuvre his way into high society, becoming an intimate of the royal princes (for whose benefit he tried, but failed, to raise loans on the Continent); but at length his life began to unravel. For many years he had been sustained – just – by a pension paid by the Duchess of Württemberg; and when this was stopped his situation became desperate. He began to show signs of mental instability and to talk of suicide—and in 1797 he acted on his threat, shooting himself outside Westminster Abbey. A kind coroner’s jury ruled that he had been of unsound mind, and he was buried in the churchyard of St Ann’s Church in Soho—next to his “father”. Friends who had failed to assist him while he was alive arranged for a plaque near his grave, declaring Colonel Frederick to be indeed the son of Theodore, and, A finished Gentleman; in honour, honesty, and truth, he was princely.

However, The European Magazine; and London Review, reporting the story, appended to it a statement from “a Gentleman who was for many years on terms of intimacy with him”, who declared his royal heritage a fabrication, but agreed that he was very like Theodore in being also a German adventurer:

“He arrived much about the same time that Theodore died, and finding the people take a kind of interest in the hapless fate of a man who they were told was a King, Mr Frederick hit upon the expedient of passing as his son, and it succeeded. The assertion could not easily be contradicted. The fact did not merit investigation, and it was everywhere believed that he was the son of Theodore… Excessive vanity was the weak point of Colonel Frederick’s character, but in almost every other point of view his qualities were of the most estimable kind.”

Aside from describing Colonel Frederick’s personal tragedy, the magazine report makes mention of the fact that he left behind, A daughter and, we believe, four grand-children. One of the latter was Emily Clark, already earning money as a painter of miniatures, and whose work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799. Like so many other women across the 18th and 19th centuries, Clark also tried to supplement her family’s slender income by writing. She published Ianthé in 1798, by subscription: the reviewers were kind, if not effusive, and subscribers – including the royal princes – were generous. When she tried the same expedient two years later, however, she was less successful; no doubt the story had worn a little thin. She continued to publish, writing poetry and three more novels over the following twenty years; but the truth is, she wasn’t a very good writer, and no-one took much notice.

Nothing much else is known about Emily Clark, although her situation and her attempt to address it via subscription publication was referenced in Peter Garside’s essay, Subscribing Fiction in Britain, 1780–1829, which brackets her with the unfortunate young widow, Lady Leigh, who published her husband’s Munster Abbey by subscription after his premature death.

Alas! – would that Ermina Montrose were half as entertaining as Sir Samuel Edgerton’s Leigh’s magnum opus

Though the subscriptions themselves dropped off, and princes and members of the aristocracy are largely conspicuous by their absence in spite of the novel’s dedication to the Countess of Shaftesbury, there is one name of interest on the list which prefaces Clark’s novel—though we may suspect it is there out of charity rather than judgement:

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(I’m guessing those are the same Dashwoods who subscribed to Munster Abbey.)

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12/01/2017

Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose

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To date we have seen the various tropes that would finally come together to form the Gothic novel appear in fits and starts, usually putting in only brief appearances within the framework of the sentimental novel. The next fictional step in the process was a mere fragment of prose, an experimental piece of writing that appeared amongst a number of non-fiction essays and critical writings that comprise 1773’s Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose.

John Aikin was a qualified doctor who practised for some years in the north of England before relocating to Norfolk and finally to London, where he gave up his medical career to concentrate on writing. Initially Aikin was known for his pamphlets of social criticism and his views on the liberty of the conscience, but later he became the first editor of The Monthly Magazine.

Anna Laetitia Aikin, now better known by her married name of Barbauld, is an important figure in late 18th century literature, until her political opinions (viewed as “radical” and “unpatriotic”) killed her popularity in the early 19th century, and saw her largely expunged from the record; although various feminist writers are now attempting to re-establish her. At the outset of her career, she worked as a teacher while publishing treatises on childhood education and stories for children; her theories on education were widely adopted. She was one of the first female literary critics, and later the editor of an anthology of 18th century British novels; she was also a poet and essayist of note. In conjunction with her brother, John, across 1792-1795 she wrote and published Evenings At Home, a set of writings intended to encourage family readings, particularly amongst the newly literate, which were hugely popular all over Europe.

However, John and Anna Laetitia Aikin first published together in 1773. Their Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose is exactly what its title suggests, a collection of writings of various themes and approaches, but mostly focused upon how art and literature achieve their effects. It has been asserted that Anna Laetitia wrote the bulk of these pieces, and while no justification for this view has been forthcoming, I’m inclined to agree with it for reasons of my own. Reading these essays close together, it is evident that there are two different voices within the writings, and that the major contributor (i) is familiar with the state of English popular fiction; and (ii) has a sense of humour.

Though only a sliver of this volume is relevant to our purposes, here is a brief overview of the rest of the contents:

On The Province Of Comedy: – an essay describing the functioning of “the ludicrous” in plays, and distinguishing between the effects achieved through character, and those achieved through incident.

The Hill Of Science, A Vision: – an allegorical sketch (populated with symbolic characters, a la John Bunyan) differentiating the pursuit of fame and the pursuit of happiness.

Seláma; An Imitation Of Ossian: – a florid tale of medieval conflict and doomed love. Although this passage doesn’t get highlighted in discussions of this collection (possibly because of the still-ongoing debate about “Ossian”), it too presents a number of the themes and situations that would later sustain the Gothic novel.

Against Inconsistency In Our Expectations: – a philosophical essay arguing for reasonable expectations and ambitions as the basis of happiness and content (and warning about the reverse).

The Canal And The Brook. A Reverie: – a romantic piece defending the irregular beauty of the brook against the sterile utility of the canal (with both bodies of water speaking for themselves).

On Monastic Institutions: – an essay arguing that despite the inherent failings of the whole Catholics-and-monks arrangement (the Aikins were Nonconformists), monasteries played an important role in education and the preservation and propagation of fine literature and art; and were also important in a broad moral sense.

On The Heroic Poem Of ‘Gondibert’: – the toughest piece of the lot, an overlong examination of the criticisms made of William Davenant’s epic poem, Gondibert, and an equally overlong defence of it.

A Tale: – another allegorical story, about the coming to earth of the children of the gods: Love, Joy, Hope, Sorrow, etc., etc.

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The remaining three pieces need to be examined in more detail, as they both shed some light on the peculiar mindset which we have noticed in many of the novels of this period, and point forward to the further development of this branch of writing.

On Romances, An Imitation is an essay commenting upon the peculiar place occupied in society by the writer of popular fiction, pointing out that while the products of most professions (concrete or theoretical) reach only a limited and pre-defined audience, the writer of fiction can reach almost everyone. It then segues into the question (so very pertinent in the second half of the 18th century, when the sentimental novel was at its peak and the Gothic novel on the horizon) of why reading about other people’s miseries should be so attractive to so many:

It is, indeed, no ways extraordinary that the mind should be charmed by fancy, and attracted by pleasure; but that we should listen to the groans of misery, and delight to view the exacerbations of complicated anguish, that we should chuse to chill the bosom with imaginary fears, and dim the eyes with fictitious sorrow, seems a kind of paradox of the heart…

(“Complicated anguish”—goodness me, what a perfect summation of 18th century fiction!)

An Enquiry Into Those Kinds Of Distresses Which Excite Agreeable Sensations is an examination of a phenomenon which we have noticed often enough at this blog: the tendency of sentimental novels to pile on the misery, not infrequently to the extent of a thoroughly unhappy ending, and featuring scenes wherein other people’s sufferings are not only treated as a kind of performance art, a perverse “entertainment”, but as a source of empathetic emotion so strong that it can induce crying and fainting in the other characters: which is, however, tacitly viewed as a desirable, even pleasurable, outcome. The underlying implication is that readers would, likewise, find scenes of misery pleasurable:

It is undoubtedly true, though a phenomenon of the human mind difficult to account for, that the representation of distress frequently gives pleasure; from which general observation many of our modern writers of tragedy and romance seem to have drawn this inference, that in order to please they have nothing to do than paint distress in natural and striking colours. With this view, they heap together all the afflicting events and dismal accidents their imagination can furnish; and when they have half broke the reader’s heart, they expect he should thank them for his agreeable entertainment…

(“Afflicting events and dismal accidents”— Note to self: write an analysis of 18th century sentimental literature and publish it under that title.)

Anna Laetitia (and I’m quite sure this is Anna Laetitia talking) goes on to reprove contemporary authors for overdoing it; or at least, for being indiscriminate in the kinds and degrees of miseries that they pile into their novels:

The view or relation of mere misery can never be pleasing. We have, indeed, a strong sympathy with all kinds of misery; but it is a feeling of pure unmixed pain, similar in kind, though not equal in degree to what we feel for ourselves on the like occasion; and never produces that melting sorrow, that thrill of tenderness, to which we give the name of pity. There are two different sensations, marked by very different external expression. One causes the nerves to tingle, the flesh to to shudder, and the whole countenance to be thrown into strong contractions; the other relaxes the frame, opens the features, and produces tears…

Of the latter she then goes on to add:

…there must be some other sentiment combined with this kind of instinctive sympathy, before it becomes in any degree pleasing, or produces the sweet emotion of pity. This sentiment is love, esteem, the complacency we take in the contemplation of beauty, of mental or moral excellence, called forth and rendered more interesting, by circumstances of pain and danger. Tenderness is, much more properly than sorrow, the spring of tears; for it affects us in that manner whether combined with joy or grief; perhaps more in the former case than the latter. And I believe we may venture to assert that no distress which produces tears is wholly without a mixture of pleasure…

While she is speaking in the context of the novel, we note that Anna Laetitia is here referring to the social theories expounded by the Deists (which we considered in detail with respect to James R. Foster’s History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England), who contended that the indulgence of positive emotions – those name-checked here, love, esteem, pity, tenderness – made the individual a better, a more moral person. (The downside of this is that the pursuit of “sensibility” produced a lot of ridiculous posturing, both fictional and in reality.)

The essay then goes on to argue that in this arena, the novel has a great advantage over the drama, because it is able to focus upon the small and the delicate, whereas plays have to strive for big effects. Yet it is the following criticism of where novels tend to get it wrong that really grabs the attention:

Tragedy and romance-writers are likewise apt to make too free with the more violent expressions of passion and distress, by which means they lose their effect. Thus an ordinary author does not know how to express any strong emotion otherwise than by swooning or death; so that a person experienced in this kind of reading, when a girl faints away at parting with her lover, or a hero kills himself for the loss of his mistress, considers it as the established etiquette upon such occasion, and turns over the pages with the utmost coolness and unconcern…

More ‘Advice To Aspiring Writers’ follows:

Scenes of distress should not be too long continued… It is…highly necessary in a long work to relieve the mind by scenes of pleasure and gaiety; and I cannot think it so absurd a practice as our modern delicacy has represented it, to intermix wit and fancy with the pathetic, provided care be taken not to check the passions while they are flowing… Those who have touched the strings of pity with the finest hand have mingled light strokes of pleasantry and mirth in their most pathetic passages. Very different is the conduct of many novel writers, who by plunging us into scenes of distress without end or limit, exhaust the powers, and before the conclusion either renders us insensible to every thing, or fix a real sadness upon the mind…

…or induce uncontrollable giggling, as the case might be.

Interestingly enough, the essay concludes by suggesting that the over-indulgence of “sensibility” tends to blunt the capacity for sympathy and pity, rather than augment it—as was contended by many of the Deists, who viewed the novel as a sort of training exercise, to be used to keep the emotions flexible when no real circumstances of misery were available. Specifically, it is argued, novels raise virtuous emotions without offering an outlet for them in action, and this in turn blunts and inhibits those emotions. Furthermore, by making misery too “pretty”, novels tend to give people a disgust of the real thing, killing the charitable impulse.

But the best novels do exactly what they are intended to do, make people better for reading them:

Yet there is a species of this kind of writing which must ever afford an exquisite pleasure to persons of taste and sensibility; where noble sentiments are mixed with well fancied incidents, pathetic touches with dignity and grace, and invention with chaste correctness.

Alas! – no examples are offered. Instead, the allegorical A Tale follows.

But while these views on the state of literature, circa 1770, are fascinating, what we’re really here for is a related essay.

One of the most influential pieces of writing published during the 18th century was Edmund Burke’s 1757 essay, A Philosophical Enquiry Into The Origin Of Our Ideas Of The Sublime And Beautiful, which first argued for the inherent pleasure of apparently negative situations and emotions. His arguments, much more thoroughly and emphatically argued, are generally those we have just seen used by Anna Laetitia in her contention that, No distress which produces tears is wholly without a mixture of pleasure. Burke, too, is the origin of the argument for two different physical reactions to different kinds or degrees of misery: One causes the nerves to tingle, the flesh to to shudder, and the whole countenance to be thrown into strong contractions; the other relaxes the frame, opens the features, and produces tears.

Here, however, we are concerned with the first reaction. It was Burke’s belief that:

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature…is Astonishment; and Astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.

Critically in respect of the development of the Gothic novel, which seized this idea and ran with it, Burke further contended that the ruling principle of the sublime was terror—that is, the sublime could be so overwhelming as to induce a fear that was nevertheless pleasurable.

This is the point picked up in On The Pleasures Derived From Objects Of Terror. Having considered in the previous essay the pleasures of misery, this one considers the still more perverse pleasures of terror, at least in the realm of literature. An argument is made here that the power of the tale of terror—one shared by all fiction, to a greater or lesser extent–is its capacity to create suspense and raise curiosity:

We rather chuse to suffer the smart pain of a violent emotion than the uneasy craving of an unsatisfied desire. That this principle, in many instances, may involuntarily carry us through what we dislike, I am convinced from experience. This is the impulse which renders the poorest and most insipid narrative interesting when we once get fairly into it; and I have frequently felt it with regard to our modern novels, which, if lying on my table, and taken up in an idle hour, have led me through the most tedious and disgusting pages, while, like Pistol eating his leek, I have swallowed and execrated to the end. And it will not only force us through dullness, but through actual torture…

(Hey, we’ve all been there!)

But is this really sufficient to account for the willingness, eagerness, of readers to be scared?

    This solution, however, does not satisfy me with respect to the well-wrought scenes of artificial terror which are formed by a sublime and vigorous imagination. Here, though we know before-hand, what to expect, we enter into them with eagerness, in quest of a pleasure already experienced. This is the pleasure constantly attached to the excitement of surprise from new and wonderful objects. A strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps it on the stretch; and where the agency of invisible beings is introduced, of “forms unseen, and mightier far than we”, our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid open to its view, and rejoices in the expansion of its powers. Passion and fancy co-operating elevate the soul to its highest pitch; and the pain of terror is lost in amazement.
    Hence, the more wild, fanciful, and extraordinary are the circumstances of a scene of horror, the more pleasure we receive from it…

(So the next time someone asks me why I like horror movies, I’ll have an answer.)

In this context, we are given some examples—One Thousand And One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights), in particular the stories of Aladdin and Sinbad; The Castle Of Otranto (naturally); and a particular segment of Tobias Smollett’s Ferdinand, Count Fathom:

…where the hero, entertained in a lone house in a forest, finds a corpse just slaughtered in the room where he is sent to sleep, and the door of which is locked upon him…

But is not this essay in itself which qualifies Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose for a place in the timeline of the Gothic Novel, but the fact that it is appended by an attempt at the sort of writing just described.

Sir Betrand, A Fragment finds its eponymous hero lost on the moors with night closing in. He is close to despair when he hears a tolling bell, and sees too a distant light. He follows these welcome signals to the edge of a moat surrounding a desolate and crumbling castle. He ventures across the draw-bridge into the courtyard, and finally works up the courage to knock upon the massive doors of the castle proper; even as the faint light comes and goes, sometimes plunging him into total darkness:

A third time he knocked, and a third time all was still. He then fell back to some distance that he might discern whether any light could be seen in the whole front—It again appeared in the same place and quickly glided away as before—at the same instant a deep sullen toll sounded from the turret. Sir Bertrand’s heart made a fearful stop—He was a while motionless; then terror impelled him to make some hasty steps towards his steed—but shame stopt his flight; and urged by honour, and a resistless desire of finishing the adventure, he returned to the porch; and working up his soul to a full steadiness of resolution, he drew forth his sword with one hand, and with the other lifted up the latch of the gate. The heavy door, creaking upon its hinges, reluctantly yielded to his hand—he applied his shoulder to it and forced it open—he quitted it and stept forward—the door instantly shut with a thundering clap. Sir Bertrand’s blood was chilled—he turned back to find the door, and it was long ere his trembling hands could seize it—but his utmost strength could not open it again…

Forced to go onwards, Sir Bertrand finds more strange and terrifying adventures awaiting him, including an encounter with a ghostly figure with a bloody stump instead of a hand. He makes his way into a huge room occupied only by a coffin:

At the same moment the lid of the coffin flew open, and the bell tolled. The flame still glided forwards, and Sir Bertrand resolutely followed, till he arrived within six paces of the coffin. Suddenly, a lady in a shrowd and black veil rose up in it, and stretched out her arms towards him…

And so on…but, critically, to no conclusion. Sir Bertrand, A Fragment is just a fragment, with no beginning or end, and no explanation of its events—and it is precisely this, the context-free and therefore disorientating nature of Sir Bertrand’s adventures, that gives it its power. (Whereas the later Gothic novels, feeling obliged to explain themselves, very often fall apart at the last.) This piece of short fiction, only 1500 words long, packing into its narrow confines an amusing plethora of touches later to become tropes, has long been recognised as an important step in the evolution of literary horror in Britain: no other piece of writing at this time is so intent upon horrors for their own sake.

We should note too that Sir Bertrand’s behaviour mirrors that attributed to readers by the author when explaining the attractions of the horror story, wherein he chooses to enter the castle rather than flee by, A resistless desire of finishing the adventure. Knowing, however terrifying, is better than not knowing.

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17/12/2016

The Holy Lover

holylover1b    John Wesley received Oglethorpe’s order with an emotion in which astonishment mingled with a wild and heart-shaking joy… The flood of his happiness almost succeeded in drowning his uneasy clericalism. For a brief, enchanted interlude, a sunlit pause, John Wesley was become like other men, a very human lover, quivering with the joy of being alone with his beloved.
    When he had threshed and winnowed his conscience, he yet had a good hope that he would be delivered out of this sweet danger, this perilous joy, since it had not been his own choice that had brought it upon him; and he coddled the notion that he still perceived in himself his old desire and intention to live celibate. Further, he tried to believe he believed Sophy’s statement, which all young girls make to all men at the beginning of their more intimate acquaintance, that he resolve was to live unmarried. He wished to believe that this resolution of hers would hold fast even though his own wavered. So much he understood a girl’s heart; so much he understood his own!
    The thought of Sophy invaded him even at his prayers. She appeared, a tender and seductive vision, with sweet, persuasive lips and ardent eyes; and this occasioned him so profound a pleasure that he was terrified. He knew it for a snare of the devil, and redoubled his prayers. But as if the heavens were deaf, he was unable to quell the passion that shook and tormented him. He forgot that he was at high noon and high tide, son of a cleric who begot nineteen children, grandson of another who begot twenty-five. And he was afraid. He was dreadfully afraid.

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We know from the very first sentence of Marie Conway Oemler’s 1927 novel, The Holy Lover, that we’re about to be confronted with a very different kind of book from the religiously-themed novels previously examined at this blog:

“Sukey!” his father once shrieked to his mother in a fit of exasperation, “I profess, Sweetheart, I don’t believe our Jack would attend to the most pressing necessities of nature, even, if he couldn’t give a reason for it!”

This up-front reference to its central character’s bodily functions serves two purposes, although only one of them is immediately apparent: to wit, to alert the reader to the possibility that this biographical novel might not contain an altogether flattering portrait of its subject. The other, evident only in retrospect, is to foreshadow the fact that The Holy Lover is, to a significant degree, about the bodily functions of John Wesley—or rather, the lack thereof.

All of which immediately begs the question of what audience this novel was intended for?—certainly not for the admirers and followers of Wesley, who would likely be angered and offended by it; though those opposed, for whatever reason, to Methodism might get an unkind kick out of its merciless exposure of Wesley’s early-life feet-of-clay. Ultimately this is a book perhaps best read from an historical point of view, for its description of the early days of Georgia, and of the challenges faced by those who ventured into what was, even in its more “civilised” regions, a wilderness.

Briefly, in 1733 James Oglethorpe founded a British colony in Georgia, which was intended to provide a military buffer between the English settlements in the Carolinas and the Spanish settlements in Florida. Oglethorpe’s plan was create an agrarian society on a principle of equality, and to populate the region with “the worthy poor”, in particular basically honest people who had fallen foul of England’s harsh laws against debtors. Oglethorpe carried cotton seeds to the region, and played an important role in the establishment of the South’s cotton-based economy, even while declaring slavery illegal in the colony (a decision which would finally bring about his downfall, when “the worthy poor” wiped their feet on the principles of equality and demanded slaves to work their land grants). And finally, Oglethorpe wanted the civilising influence of religion—and thus invited four members of Oxford’s “Holy Club” to Georgia, to undertake ministries and work at the conversion of the local Native Americans. These men were John Wesley; his brother, Charles; Benjamin Ingham; and Charles Delamotte.

History has generally condemned John Wesley’s mission to Georgia as an almost total failure; Methodist writers have tended to interpret this period as a time of chastening, preparing Wesley for the great “revelation” that would precede his founding of the Methodist Church. However, there has been some revisionism in this area in recent times, a suggestion that the perception of failure was based mostly on Wesley’s harsh judgement of his own performance.

The Holy Lover, however, goes to the other extreme, highlighting the lack of proportion, the thin skin and the ignorance of the world that, the novel contends, made Wesley’s failure almost an inevitability. It also takes a distinctly female view of the behaviour of John Wesley—arguing tacitly that believing you have a hotline to God is no excuse for wrecking a young woman’s life.

Much of this novel rests upon Wesley’s own words, supporting its contentions with quotes from his journal and letters, and those of others—but the material is used in a self-evidently highly selective way. Whether Marie Conway Oemler’s own Catholicism influenced this choice (the Oglethorpe colony explicitly welcomed people of all religions but Catholic), or whether Wesley’s treatment of Sophia Hopkey earned her ire, is difficult to judge. At the very least, however, this novel goes some way towards restoring the reputation of the unfortunate Sophia, who has been roughly treated by a number of Methodist historians, and viewed indeed as a “catch” and a “snare” for the holy Wesley.

The Holy Lover opens with a sketch of life at the Epworth parsonage in Lincolnshire, placing “Jacky” amongst his bustling family and emphasising the lifelong influence of Susannah Wesley upon her youngest and favourite surviving son—but emphasising too a legacy from his mother that would cause John and those around him considerable grief at a later date: the lack of a sense of humour. These early scenes highlight both the positive and negative qualities that would shape Wesley’s life: his profound faith, tireless labours and self-sacrifice on one hand; on the other, his convenient ability to see “God’s will” in whatever it suited him to do.

The same mingling of positive and negative is seen in John’s conduct at Oxford, where he draws followers with his faith and dedication, building a group that achieves much good, particularly amongst the prison population; but ultimately alienates the majority through his assumption of superiority, his demands for a damaging personal austerity, and his unshakeable conviction of his own essential rightness.

It is at this point that John Wesley is introduced to James Oglethorpe, on the lookout for young men willing to undertake missionary work in Georgia, and offered a position. After much heart-burning, Wesley accepts and sets out on the long and dangerous sea-voyage to Oglethorpe’s colony with his three companions, all surviving members of his Holy Club.

Overtly the most important consequence of this trip was that it served to introduce John Wesley to some brethren of the Moravian Church, travelling to Georgia to become part of an established settlement. The Moravians were, historically, the first Protestant missionaries, and in America the first to gain a converted congregation of Native Americans (although their success in interacting with the Mohicans drew accusations that the Moravians were, sigh, secretly Jesuits recruiting for the French, and got them expelled from New York). The narrative of The Holy Lover reproduces the famous shipboard incident wherein, confronted by a violent storm and the apparently inevitable foundering of their ship, the English passengers (clerical and lay) gave way to panic and the terror of death, while the Moravian congregation stayed calm, singing hymns together in the teeth of the gale:

    “But were you not afraid?” Wesley asked one of the Moravians.
    “I thank God, no.”
    “But were not your women and children afraid?”
    “Brother, no.” And the German added, with a gentle smile: “Our women and children are not afraid to die.”
    Women and children…not afraid to die! Wesley had no answer to that. These humble folk had something which he, with all his intellect, his logic, his learning, his fastings, prayers, formulas, rituals, had not attained. They had some emotion of the spirit, some instinct of the heart which he had missed… He was afraid: afraid of life, of death, of God, of circumstances, of men, of women, of himself…

Subsequently, the Moravians’ quiet practicality and common sense form an amusing contrast to the extreme emotionalism of everything connected with Wesley. They also, alone of the Georgia settlers, manage to keep patience with Wesley, even as he uses them as an ongoing sounding-board for his increasing woes, constantly pouring out his troubles to them and begging for advice which (since it doesn’t happen to coincide with his own wants) he never takes.

(But it was after John Wesley’s return to England that the Moravians exerted their most significant influence upon him. He and his brother Charles were accepted by a Moravian congregation, and were counselled by Peter Boehler, a young Moravian missionary about to depart for Georgia himself, whose ideas about faith and grace had a profound effect upon Wesley’s own thinking. [A future bishop, Boehler was instrumental in founding the Pennsylvanian towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth.] It was while attending a Moravian meeting in London that Wesley underwent his great “revelation”, which altered and crystallised his views on personal salvation, and which planted the seed for the creation of the Methodist Church. But all of this is beyond the scope of this novel.)

Wesley’s interaction with the Moravians highlights what is, at this point in his life, his most significant failing as a minister of God: a total lack of love for humanity. Looking around, Wesley sees only sinners, damned by their failure to practice religion as he practices it. Of course, a deeper failing lies beyond this: Wesley has no love of God, either, just a deep and abiding fear. Much of his behaviour at this time resembles that of someone he would no doubt designate a “heathen”, trying to placate an angry spirit by sacrifice.

Throughout the journey to Georgia, Wesley and his companions pursue their fellow-passengers: not merely conducting services but attempting to bring the others to their own way of thinking and believing and acting, and doing so with unrelenting energy. There is nowhere for the passengers to run:

Their zeal kept the passengers in a chronic state of exasperation. For John wouldn’t feed them as babes with the milk of the Word; already he was cramming them with great raw collops of theology, and drenching their unwilling stomachs with the sour wine of High Church formalism… That he honestly practiced what he preached made him all the more infuriating, since it left no saving doubt to soften his rigid righteousness. There was no love in him; only the horrid zest of sacerdotal selfishness which urged him, for the saving of his own soul, to save other souls willy-nilly. Quite as though there were a bounty on souls, redeemable by Deity. The wonder is that some exasperated sinner didn’t quietly heave Mr Wesley overboard some dark night.

One of the exasperated sinners—though less so than the rest, since he alone has the option of withdrawing himself—is James Oglethorpe, who early on sees signs that his future work with Wesley will be no easy collaboration. Though the soldier views the priest with amused tolerance, the priest is constitutionally incapable of returning the favour, instead taking advantage of his calling to lecture Oglethorpe on various aspects of his conduct, particularly the nature of his interactions with the female sex.

But ironically, it is not Oglethorpe but Wesley who gets into trouble with the female passengers. Susceptible to female beauty, though wary of it, Wesley is drawn to Beata Hawkins, the wife of a surgeon, who, seeking some new form of amusement on the dreary sea-voyage, expresses a great desire to be instructed in religion. The minister is no more than a new sort of toy for her, something to test her theory that men are just men. Wesley, in turn, becomes obsessed with “saving the soul” of the pretty young wife, stubbornly ignoring the warnings of his companions, who see only too clearly that she is playing with him, and who have heard the shipboard gossip about her conduct—gossip that is now encompassing him. Over his friends’ strenuous objections, Wesley takes his infatuation to the extreme of administering Holy Communion to Beata Hawkins: an act which will have bitterly ironic echoes in his future life…

Did he really believe he had converted Beata Hawkins? Or was the wish father to the thought? Or was it that she attracted him more than he himself knew? To a temperament like his, sex-attraction was dangerously troublesome. He must repress it, stamp it out, become a celibate, a eunuch of the spirit. Sex to him stood for sin, so that when a woman intrigued his imagination and threatened the control which he wished to achieve and maintain over his natural impulses of a man, his immediate reaction was to desire to save her soul, shift his sex-emotion to the religious plane, and thus placate and enlist God, whom he was convinced his natural passions offended, and of whom he was afraid.

After a long, tedious and often dangerous journey, the Simmonds arrives safely in Georgia. John Wesley assumes his ministry in Savannah, with Charles Delamotte to assist him, while Charles Wesley and Bejamin Ingham travel on with James Oglethorpe to the island township of Frederica, a much rougher and less civilised settlement of Oglethorpe’s own making, and vital to his plans for the area. For a few brief, glorious weeks all seems well, the future bright:

Everything promised plenty. The people who greeted him so cordially seemed to him good and happy. And of the Indians he had not seen enough to dampen his ardour and dispel his illusions. He shared the curious notions of his age as to the Indians, picturing them as childlike souls panting for conversion, and with no preconceived errors of doctrine to keep them from ardently embracing the faith once delivered to the saints—his faith. They were clean, empty vessels into which should foam the pure milk of the Word. So he came to Georgia with his heart singing hymns in his breast.

But the narrative that follows is one of good intentions appallingly executed, for reasons jointly accounted for by the peculiar nature of the settlement and the ingrained nature of John Wesley.

Despite the clash of their personalities and morals, James Oglethorpe had high hopes for John Wesley’s contribution to his colony, recognising his honesty, his capacity for hard work and – where his own emotions and beliefs weren’t involved – his judgement. The austerity of his religious practice and his inflexibility did give the soldier some considerable concern, yet Oglethorpe’s hope was that the realities of life in Georgia would bring the minister to a more reasonable state of mind.

But in this respect, Oglethorpe was too optimistic. Much good John Wesley certainly tried to do—he was active in fighting the growing demand for slaves in the new colony, for instance, and he did sterling work in the founding and operation of schools—but his capacity for rubbing people the wrong way made him enemies at almost every turn, many of whom opposed his efforts out of personal dislike:

Oglethorpe wanted a colony for England, as against Spain. The colonists wanted everything they could get, including ease and pleasure. The Holy Club wanted a theocratic State, with God as Governor, John Wesley as Grand Vizier, and Charles, Ingham and Delamotte as Chief Deputies. These diverging aims brought them all one thing in common: Trouble.

Wesley’s fantasy with regard to the conversion of the local tribe is the first casualty. Whatever illusions the new minister may have cherished about them, the natives have met white men before and are under none whatsoever:

    This was the Holy Club’s first contact with the red men they had come out to convert—and didn’t. Wesley never had any closer contact with them. When Tomochichi was urged to become a Christian, the fine old Mico said vehemently:
    “Why, those Christians at Savannah! Those are Christians at Frederica! Christians lie! Christians steal! Christians beat men! Me no Christian!”

The new minister’s good opinion of his own parishioners soon undergoes revision too, with his initial positive outlook suffering from the contrast he cannot help drawing between the godly Moravians and his secular parishioners. Many and varied are the clashes between John Wesley and his congregation over the next two years, some provoked by his conduct, some by theirs, but all playing their part in the minister’s eventual downfall.

Meanwhile, Charles Wesley, too, is busy making enemies in Frederica, where his solemn condemnation of of anything secular is particularly offensive to the settlement’s female contingent. Charles Wesley, it is concluded, has to go…

On shipboard, even as John tried to “save” Beata Hawkins, Charles backed his own judgement about women by similarly adopting a Mrs Welch. At that time the women were bored enough to welcome even male attentions that came in the form of religious instruction and lectures about the state of their souls; but now in Frederica, Charles has become an intolerable nuisance. Both women, with unsatisfactory husbands and too much time on their hands, are pursuing James Oglethorpe: an amusement which the persistence of the Wesleys is making impossible. Well aware of the ministers’ credulity and their willingness to believe the worst of everyone, the two women put their heads together and come up with a daring plan: one which involves a public falling out and Mrs Welch’s assertion – made to Charles in the strictest confidence – that Beata Hawkins is in fact James Oglethorpe’s mistress; this on the back of the women complaining to Oglethorpe that the Wesleys’ pursuit of them isn’t entirely about religion.

The escalating trouble caused by the women and their circulating rumours and gossip finally drives Charles Wesley away: the Holy Club needs someone to return to England and report on conditions, and he is only too glad to go—and James Oglethorpe to see the back of him.

John takes over Charles’ duties in Frederica, and finds a hornet’s nest of resentment and criticism waiting for him. Even as the Wesleys believe the worst of others, Frederica is only too willing to believe the worst of them; and John veers between being shunned and being abused. Matters reach a climax when he feels himself bound in duty to call upon Beata Hawkins, who has been busy painting herself publicly as a victim of the Wesleys’ slander—by which she means, of course, that she she didn’t count on her invented adultery being made public; but in this, she and Mrs Welch bargained without the Wesleys’ habitual indiscretion:

    “You have wronged me!” she exclaimed suddenly and violently. “I am going to shoot you through the head this minute with a brace of balls!” and bringing her hands from behind her with a jerk, she showed him in one a large pistol, in the other a pair of shears.
    The startled man caught hold of the hand clutching the pistol, then of the other armed with the shears. With a piercing shriek, she hurled herself upon him, forcing him backward on the bed.
    “Villain! Let go my hands!” she roared at the top of a pair of lungs that carried half a mile. “You dirty dog, let me go!” And she began to swear like the mate of a troop-ship, pouring into his outraged ears a torrent of personal abuse, mingled with frightful imprecations. All the while she struggled to free herself.
    “I’ll have your hair, you lousy beast, or I’ll have your heart’s blood, damn you!” howled Mrs Potiphar, straddling the meagre stomach of the unlucky Joseph and making furious thrusts of the shears at his head. Weakened by fever, almost swooning with horror, John Wesley used all his enfeebled strength to keep the shears at bay.
    He feared to cry aloud, for very shame, unwilling to make public that which for her sake as well as his own, he wished to keep private. He dared not attempt to rise, since that would have made her ride him like a nag. Indeed, she rode him all too strenuously now, gripping his flanks with her knees, and using her heels to spur his shins black and blue…
    Her two men servants now rushing in: “Hold his hands!” she yelled at them. “Come here and hold his hands for me!”
    “Take her off me!” cried Wesley. “Take me off her, and hold her!”
    But they dared do neither. And in a burst of sudden, furious strength, the woman broke Wesley’s hold upon her wrists, and seizing his hair, sheared one side of his head…

This incident, a humiliating nadir in John Wesley’s time in Georgia (because of course it cannot be kept a secret) occurs in a period of unusual happiness for the minister—for he has been introduced to Sophia Hopkey, the young niece of Mr Thomas Causton, a magistrate of Savannah, and his bustlingly social wife, to whom the quiet, gentle and deeply religious girl is an annoyance and a burden:

You thought her pretty when you met her. You thought her beautiful when you knew her. She was in the the first flower of her youth, a tall and very slender girl topping John Wesley by the head, a girl whose quiet loveliness embodied as it were the freshness of an April morning softly shadowed by clouds. Her light brown hair was full of gold, her eyes a clear hazel, her lips a pink, sweet curve, soft lips at once innocent and provocative, the lips of a woman born to be loved… There was intellect in the clear brow, and when the veiled lifted, the hazel eyes were full of light. She wore her plain dress with a simple elegance that impressed the fastidious Wesley…

James Oglethorpe has already decided that what Wesley needs to settle him down and soften his hard edges is marriage, and he is quick to sound Mr Causton on the girl’s situation. One declared lover there is, the wild, violent Tom Mellichamp, who has frightened Sophy into a promise not to marry anyone else, if she will not marry him; while another, the cautious, long-sighted and rather cold-blooded William Williamson, a man of no birth but strong ambition, has also turned his eyes in her direction. Oglethorpe soon makes his feelings on the subject known to Mr Causton, who is willing enough for the connection. There’s just one problem…

    “You would wish me to encourage this?”
    “I should regard it as helping the welfare of the colony, Mr Causton.”
    “But I must tell you that I have heard from others, and once from himself, that he has a notion to remain celibate,” said Mr Causton. And he added: “As an aid to holiness.”
    “We must trust Miss Sophy to wean him from so deluded a notion, then,” said Oglethorpe, with what in a less superior person might have been called a grin.

And it is the battle between John Wesley’s austere and self-sacrificial religious beliefs, which include a determination never to marry, and his natural passions as a man that comprise the rest of The Holy Lover.

Through the giving of French lessons, Wesley soon has the opportunity to know Sophy better; while her desire for religious instruction sees her offering him the sweet incense of submission and obedience, as she joins his pre-dawn prayer sessions, attends his services, and in every way shows herself a willing follower and a devout believer. Her intelligence, her seriousness and her faith, combined with her physical attractions, are enough – almost enough – to overcome the minister’s long-held resolutions. When Wesley falls ill, as he does at intervals due to overwork and a near-starvation regime, Sophy insists upon nursing him—much to the silent anger of one particular observer…

One of the most peculiar details in The Holy Lover—a novel consisting almost entirely of peculiar details—is its sketch of the relationship between John Wesley and his Holy Club companion and assistant, Charles Delamotte. Though inevitably expressed in terms of the “snare” represented by women, and his fears for John Wesley’s soul in the face of such a temptation, Delamotte’s resentment of Sophy and his seething anger in the face of Wesley’s growing passion for her is impossible to read as other than a jealousy sexual in nature.

The long-suffering Moravians have become accustomed to John Wesley pouring out his troubles to them, albeit without ever taking their gentle, understanding, common-sense advice. Now Charles Delamotte likewise turns to them, and gets as little joy:

    “If the maiden is as pious as she seems, and loves our brother with a holy love, she might make him the godly and modest wife that he, and all men, need,” said David Nitschman, mildly.
    “Marry him? Ye would have her marry him?” croaked Delamotte, aghast.
    “We believe in holy matrimony, my brother,” said the Moravian. “It is a help to holiness. It trains and disciplines and restrains. If the maiden be what she seems, let us sing for joy!”
    “And if she is what I think she is—?” asked Delamotte.
    “Then must ye fast and pray,” said the Moravian.
    Delamotte fasted and prayed…

It is around this time that matters reach a crisis for Charles Wesley, with his departure for England requiring John to take over his duties in Frederica. Delamotte is overwhelmingly relieved, but the conspirators are before him: Mr Causton dispatches Sophy to visit friends in Frederica, and the relationship between herself and John Wesley continues and deepens—all under the watchful eyes of a community that has learned to view everything the Wesleys do with suspicion.

Despite their growing closeness, Wesley makes no definite sign to Sophy, apparently content instead to keep their relationship wholly in terms of their religious interchange. It is not until James Oglethorpe takes a hand, arranging for Wesley to escort Sophy back to Savannah by boat that circumstances begin to overwhelm the minister’s self-command. Days and nights spent in each other’s company bring the couple’s mutual but unspoken passion to a fever pitch. Finally a declaration of passionate love escapes John Wesley—but even then, he goes so far and no further; his demand for a life together does not include a proposal of marriage. Instead, he imagines a lifelong – and wholly celibate – companionship between himself and Sophy, with (although he does no express it like this, of course) all of their sexual passion channelled into religious devotion:

Presently, as if to lay the turbulent spirit which moved him, he entered upon the topic of Holiness, which seems to obsess the Christian mind. And as the ascetic in him feared he was in instant danger of losing this fine Holiness by becoming a natural human being, he held Holiness up to the young girl as a peculiar hope and grace, using all his powers of persuasion.

To this point in The Holy Lover, Marie Conway Oemler has shown sympathy as well as understanding in her portrait of John Wesley, albeit that criticism and a certain mockery sometimes creep in too, in the face of his blindness and self-absorption. But from here there is a distinct shift in tone, in response to the selfishness of Wesley’s treatment of Sophy: a selfishness dangerously blended with ignorance of, even contempt for, the ordinary usages of the world. A note of overt anger enters the text as Oemler describes the egoism which is the foundation of John Wesley’s conviction that he has been singled out by God, and the consequent crushing of Sophy Hopkey under the wheels of his relentless chariot of self:

    Had he loved the girl less passionately, or had she been older, he would not have feared her so much; for he would not have been afraid to take an older woman in marriage, as an act of expediency, somewhat as one might have put on a flannel shirt in a chill. Had there been no passion, no glamour, there would have been no terror of sin…only two stodgy Christians ambling heavenward in a sort of second-hand celibacy.
    But as it was now, Sophy with the dew of her youth sparkling on her bright hair, threatened his God-ordained mission—whatever it might prove to be—and so endangered his freedom, and his pride of supremacy, that his colossal selfishness saw in her the Great Temptation.
    He might talk of sacrifice; but to any artist, any priest, any professional man, nothing can be a sacrifice that does not call upon him to give up his work. There is no sacrifice in letting go anything that might interrupt or endanger the work… From the day he stepped out of his cradle, John Wesley had been at work moulding and fashioning and shaping his life in his own image and likeness, in his own way, to his own ends. Against that enormous egoism, what chance had any mortal woman?

As for Wesley’s obsession with physical chastity, his belief that only so can God’s work be done:

    Celibacy, virginity, a state of physical being too overrated among sentimental unthinking Christians, is an excellent restrictive regulation, good enough when not overemphasised and unduly enforced; but it is not, per se, virtue. Nature respects continence; she is apt to fill the unploughed, unsowed, and barren field with briars.
    Steeped in clericalism, with the bones of the ancients hung around the neck of his soul, John Wesley made a fetish of celibacy. It was, he thought, the most potent means to the end he sought—the saving of his own soul. It never seemed to dawn upon him that he might be involving a young girl’s happiness; nor did his own great selfishness occur to him. Men who seek heavenly riches are too often quite as ruthless and rapacious as they who are determined to gain the more obvious wealth of the world.

Sophy herself is understandably hurt and bewildered by John Wesley’s behaviour towards her—making passionate declarations and demanding eternal fidelity one minute, the next coolly suggesting that if she is unhappy at home she might go and stay with the Moravians; but being a modest young woman there is little she can do to help herself. Mr and Mrs Causton, looking on, grow increasingly frustrated, wondering how they might bring matters to a crisis. Already there is gossip about Sophy and the long hours spent at the parsonage—hours spent in prayer and religious discourse, as we know, but who outside could believe that their interaction has gone no further? – particularly in light of the lingering doubts in the colony about the probity of the Wesleys. The Caustons begin to fear that the talk will damage Sophy’s reputation to a point where no other man will marry her, should John Wesley disappoint them all.

The hot-tempered Tom Mellichamp, having gotten into trouble with the law, is more ineligible than he ever was, though still determined to prevent Sophy’s marriage to any other if he can. Eager to get the girl off her hands, Mrs Causton has always encouraged Tom, and continues to do so—until a more viable prospect emerges in the form of William Williamson who, with an eye on Sophy’s position as the Caustons’ heiress, has watched the non-progress of her romance with John Wesley with great interest.

Mrs Causton dislikes John Wesley intensely, but is willing enough that Sophy should marry him—partly to curry favour with James Oglethorpe, partly to rid herself of responsibility for the tiresome girl. But failing Wesley, another will do. In the spirit of getting Sophy married to—whoever—Mrs Causton undertakes the amiable task of making the girl’s home-life miserable. Having always encouraged Mellichamp herself, she now turns on Sophy for receiving from him the letters she is too soft-hearted to refuse, abusing the girl for encouraging a worthless young man and threatening to turn her out of the house. She makes sure that John Wesley is a witness to this last threat:

    “If your uncle and me did what we ought to do he’d give you a whipping for the hussy you are! Nothing but trouble with you! I am heart-scalded. Get out of my house!” she was yelling, as Wesley entered the room. “Get out of my house! I won’t be plagued with you any longer!”…
    For some minutes she continued to pour out a torrent of abuse and reproaches, mingled with threats. Then, as if becoming aware of Wesley’s presence, she turned to him:
    “Mr Wesley, I wish you would take her. Take her away with ye this minute, Mr Wesley! Take her out of my house!”
    Sophy raised her desperate eyes… She was driven to such a pitch of misery as to be careless of who saw her shame and anguish. Those uplifted, weeping eyes were full of an almost unbearable appeal. Oh, why didn’t he do something, say something, that might save her?
    If you love me, said her eyes, save me now or never! You must see how I am beset, how driven, how tormented; you must see, now, what they do to me; you must see that I am come to the end, that I can bear it no more!
    He said nothing at all. Had he allowed his heart to speak for him, he would have snatched the forlorn young creature in his arms, and rushed forth with her out of that wretched house, away from that virago. He said nothing at all…

John Wesley leaves the Causton house; and when the following day dawns, after a night of bullying, abuse and threats, Sophia has agreed to listen to Mr Williamson. She stands on a conditional agreement, however: insisting that she must have her minister’s advice and approval…

But Wesley chooses to misinterpret this:

    Mrs Causton was worrying about these stipulations now, as she looked at the clergyman. She said hurriedly as if against her will: “Mr Wesley, if you have any objection, pray speak. She is at the Lot. Go to her there. She will be glad to hear anything Mr John Wesley has to say.”
    After a moment’s reflection, he said, in a grave voice: “No, madam. If Miss Sophy is engaged, I have nothing to say. It will not signify for me to see her any more.”

And he walks away, wholly conscious of what he is doing:

She loved him, John Wesley, and because she loved John Wesley, she must know that William Williamson had no power to make her happy. He turned that thought over and over; but yet, with the obstinate man’s cruel struggle with himself, he could not make up his mind to save her by marrying her himself.

Sophy Hopkey is not the only young woman to whom John Wesley has expressed his conviction that a state of celibate devotion is the ideal one: her friend, Miss Bovey, likewise a young woman of faith, has also had the dubious benefit of his tenets—and has offended him by engaging herself to a worthy young man, a Mr Burnside. Wesley’s response is to counsel both of them to give up their plans of marriage, hectoring Miss Bovey until she loses all patience with him. The lovers agree that being married by John Wesley after this would be too absurd; they make plans to travel to Purysburg, to be married there by the town’s Swiss Protestant minister.

But there is more to this journey than immediately meets the eye. After consultation with Mrs Causton, Miss Bovey and Mr Burnside persuade Sophy to go with them, as bridesmaid; while Mr Williamson is invited to be the one to escort her home, after they have departed on their wedding-trip. But by the time they do return, thanks to a judicious but unrelenting course of pleading and pressure, Sophy has become Mrs Williamson…

The blow is almost more than John Wesley can stand:

    Sophy a wife. Sophy, in another man’s arms. Sophy, who belonged to him. He had never desired her as he desired her now… He experienced an agony so frightful that it all but deprived him of reason. He experienced a sense of desolation so immense it seemed to him he was lost, in time and in eternity.
    His imagination dragged him by the hair of his head into that bridal chamber, and though he winced, and cringed, and would have fled, it held him fast…

But when the first pain recedes, its place is taken by overwhelming anger. Here we see the very worst of John Wesley, the monstrous egoism that allows him to believe that in offending him, Sophy has offended God; by rejecting him—that’s how he sees it, she rejected him—she has rejected God. It is incredible to him that she continues to attend church, his church, as if she had done nothing wrong; without a sign of her sin upon her. He soon sees that her religious practice—that is, his religious practice, including pre-dawn prayers and regular fasting—has fallen away since her marriage, and he is glad of a concrete transgression to charge her with. The truth never crosses his mind: that she has been forbidden such extremes of behaviour by her husband, because she is pregnant. Nor would he – nor does he – consider obedience to her husband an excuse for anything, greatly as he always valued her obedience when it was at his own disposal. All it means now is that she has put another man before him God:

Sophy no longer came to him; no longer sought his advice. He doubted that she adhered to the strict rules he had laid down for her guidance. She was disobeying God and John Wesley, choosing rather to obey—her husband. Brooding on this terrible fall from grace into carnality, he began to doubt whether he would admit her to the Communion until she had, in some manner or other to be determined by himself, admitted her fault and declared her repentance…

Sophy’s faults have, by this time, achieved immeasurable proportions in his warped imagination. Her sins against him prove her guilty of countless other sins—falsehoods innumerable, misconduct with Tom Mellichamp, deliberate deception of himself right from the beginning of their acquaintance, a falling away of her duty to God… A scene conducted in the middle of the street, which ends when Sophy turns her back upon him in righteous anger, drives him to new heights of rage and jealousy.

And John Wesley’s mind begins to turn on what he does not recognise for what it is—revenge:

If angels, principalities, powers, thrones, dominions, seraphim and cherubim had said or seen or hinted otherwise, John Wesley, in the state he was then, would have rejected them all as lying spirits, false voices, evil cousellors trying to turn him aside from his plain duty: which was to punish Sophy. He had to punish Sophy. God Almighty meant him to punish Sophy. John Wesley meant John Wesley to punish Sophy.

And when Sophy next presents herself for Holy Communion, John Wesley—the same John Wesley who administered Holy Communion to Beata Hawkins onboard the Simmonds—publicly repulses her:

    His conscience licked its paws before the fire of content. He felt exalted—his punishment of Sophy had fulfilled the law… Confusing the will of God with his own will, he couldn’t see himself in the role of self-appointed harsh judge, the disappointed lover. Rather he saw himself as the Christian pastor doing his duty, nobly, unselfishly, refusing her even whom he had loved the Bread of Life, because she was unworthy to partake of it.
    The home-made robe of martyrdom is by no means uncomfortable in rough weather. Wesley wrapped it around his shoulders now and it kept him snug; it kept warm his sense of righteous superiority.
    He had, like many another, set the seal of duty to the Lord upon an act of self-will. He had been as autocratic, ungenerous, and unjust as only the godly can be in such crises. He had done exactly what he wished to do—punished and humiliated a woman who had married another man; and he did it in the name of duty and God.

Fittingly, it is this act of ungodly spite, recognised by Savannah for exactly what it is, that seals John Wesley’s fate in Georgia:

Admitting the most notorious sinner on earth to the Lord’s Table—as Jesus himself had admitted the Magdalene—would not have offended any congregation as much as John Wesley’s repelling of the girl whose only sin was that she had married someone else offended the people of Christ Church Parish.

—though the surrounding circumstances degenerate from tragedy to farce soon enough, when William Williamson brings an action for defamation of character against John Wesley, on behalf of his wife, which sees the minister summoned before the magistrates, and bound over to appear during the next session. Upon hearing the news, much of Savannah laughs in anticipation of rare entertainment—particularly when Williamson responds to Wesley being granted bail by setting up a public advertisement:

    …forbidding any person or persons to take John Wesley out of the Province of Georgia, under penalty of one thousand pounds sterling, Mr Wesley being “guilty of divers notorious offences”.
    All Savannah thronged to look at it and read it, those who couldn’t read hearing it from the lips of those who could. “Di-vers no-to-ri-ous of-fen-ces!” repeated the populous, and smacked its lips. “Eh, sirs!”

By the time the proceedings open the list of grievances lodged against Wesley is “divers and notorious” indeed, although most of them have to do with the way he does things rather than what he does. An undignified air of public brawling surrounds the entire affair, with opinions being aired on every street corner, Wesley arguing that most of the charges made lie within the purview of an ecclesiastical, rather than a civil, court, and the magistrates uncertain of their own authority and the public will—particularly with James Oglethorpe away in England. The case brings to flashpoint many of the religious and cultural dissensions with which the fledgling colony is rife, and pits faction against faction; John Wesley’s guilt or innocence soon ceases to be the issue.

Finally, the only thing left for John Wesley to do is leave—to return to England—and this he does in spite of William Williamson’s continued threats of action should be break bail, or anybody help him do so. By this time Georgia is aching to see the last of “the Holy Club”; the magistrates’ attempts to detain the errant minister are an empty gesture indeed:

    If he elected now to return to his own stamping ground, should they say him nay? But…there was the Majesty of the Law. They had to make the gesture of upholding the Majesty of the Law! Hence the Notice in the Great Square.
    It is quite possible that if any citizen of Savannah had taken that Notice seriously enough to try to prevent Mr Wesley’s departure, the magistrates would have mobbed him and then kept him in jail for the term of his natural life.

It is only at the very last that Marie Conway Oemler removes her foot from the throat of John Wesley, alluding obliquely to great deeds that would sweep away the memory of the bitter disappointment and failures of his time in America. But though the final paragraphs of The Holy Lover hint at this future, they do so without losing sight of what – and who – John Wesley sacrificed to achieve it:

Never, no matter what great hour might lie ahead; never, no matter what high destiny, what great and holy mission God might have in store for him; never, never more to know such joy, such love, such ecstasy, such high tide of ardour, and emotion, and despair…

.

12/12/2016

Equal opportunity religious agony

I’m not sure what’s going on with Reading Roulette, but my random book picker seems determined to land me on works of fiction dealing with religion. First we took a look at Low Church doctrine with Steepleton: or, High Church And Low Church by Stephen Jenner, and then we balanced the ledger with William Gresley’s High Church polemic, Bernard Leslie; or, A Tale Of The Last Ten Years. Now, it seems, it’s time to visit with the Methodists.

Sort of.

Though she was a successful and popular writer in her day, there is little information available about the life and career of Marie Conway Oemler. She was born Mary Conway in Savannah, Georgia, in 1875, and did not take up writing until she was in her mid-thirties, after marrying and having two children. Once begun, however, she was quite prolific, publishing poems and short stories regularly before publishing her first full-length work, Slippy McGee (aka The Butterfly Man), in 1917. Her first novel was also her most successful, being widely praised and twice adapted into films, in 1923 and 1942. However, Oemler continued to write fiction until the early thirties, when her health failed.

By this time, Oemler and her husband were living in Delaware, but they returned to the South in the hope of her recovery. Unfortunately, her heart condition grew more serious, and Oemler died in 1932.

Oemler was a Catholic of Irish descent, which throws an interesting light upon our next Reading Roulette selection, The Holy Lover. Published in 1927, this biographical novel is an account of the early years of John Wesley, in particular the time he spent in Georgia during the 1730s, prior to his return to England where, at one of the lowest points in his life, he underwent the personal revelation that led eventually to his establishment of the Methodist Church. However, though the novel describes John Wesley’s religious development as a young man, its focus is on the conflict between Wesley’s austere, self-sacrifice based practice, with its basis in celibacy, and the temptation towards love and marriage represented by the lovely young Georgian settler, Sophia Hopkey.