27/02/2015

The Mysteries Of Paris

Sue4b“You know my ideas on the subject of the good which a man ought to do who has the knowledge, the will, and the power. To succour unhappy, but deserving, fellow creatures is well; to seek after those who are struggling against misfortune with energy and honour, and to aid them, sometimes without their knowledge,—to prevent, in right time, misery and temptation, is better; to reinstate such perfectly in their own estimation,—to lead back to honesty those who have preserved in purity some generous and ennobling sentiments in the midst of the contempt that withers them, the misery that eats into them, the corruption that encircles them, and, for that end, to brave, in person, this misery, this corruption, this contagion, is better still; to pursue, with unalterable hatred, with implacable vengeance, vice, infamy, and crime, whether they be trampling in the mud, or be clothed in purple and fine linen, that is justice; but to give aid inconsiderately to well-merited degradation, to prostitute and lavish charity and commiseration, by bestowing help on unworthy and undeserving objects, is most infamous; it is impiety,—very sacrilege! it is to doubt the existence of the Almighty; and so, he who acts thus ought to be made to understand.”

I have long and sorely neglected my investigation of the roots of modern detective fiction, but now it is time to return to the murky depths of 19th century crime fiction. In an earlier post, I examined Catherine Crowe’s 1841 novel, Adventures Of Susan Hopley, which I described as a literary bridge between the Newgate Novels of the 1820s and the sensations fiction of the 1860s. The main thread of the novel describes the efforts of various characters to solve the murder of a Mr Wentworth, and to clear the name of his manservant, Andrew Hopley, whose disappearance has led to an assumption of his guilt. Around this anchor plot is built a dizzyingly complicated narrative with a myriad of intersecting plots and numberless characters with multiple identities.

“A dizzyingly complicated narrative with a myriad of intersecting plots and numberless characters with multiple identities” also describes the next important entry in the timeline of detective fiction, Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris. Sue himself was something of a contradiction, a young man born into the upper middle classes and with aristocratic, even royal, connections – his godparents were Prince Eugène de Beauharnais and the Empress Joséphine – but who became an impassioned and vocal socialist. After a varied career as a naval surgeon, Sue settled in Paris and found work as a journalist with the liberal press, in time acquiring various publications himself and becoming an early “press baron”. He began writing fiction in the early 1830s, attracting readers with his exotic settings and scandalous plots. His fame today, however, rests chiefly upon his work for the feuilletons.

A “feuilleton”, meaning “leaf” or “scrap of paper”, was a supplement in a polical newspaper or magazine, offered in addition to the news and political editorialisation. In the earliest use of the term, it often referred to an arts or cultural section; later, usually to a work of fiction. Most popular of all were lengthy serial stories published over months or even years, such that “feuilleton” eventually became another word for “serial”. Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris appeared in Le Journal des Débats from June 1842 to October 1843.

Les Mystères de Paris was wildly popular, and not just in France. It was reprinted all over the world (sort of, as we shall see), and inspired a barrage of copycat publications, including two that we shall also be examining in this series of posts: Les Mystères de Londres by Paul Feval, another important figure in the development of crime and detective fiction, and its direct competitor, The Mysteries Of London / Mysteries Of The Court Of London by the king of English pulp fiction, George W. M. Reynolds. Another of Les Mystères de Paris‘s immediate offspring was Alexandre Dumas’ Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, while its use of interlocking plots and interconnected characters, its sprawling, often undisciplined narrative and its use of fiction as a vehicle for social criticism were a significant influence upon Victor Hugo in the writing of Les Misérables.

Les Mystères de Paris was, as I say, republished all over the world, but in many different forms: there really is no such thing as a “definite edition”. However, conversely, some releases are to be avoided at all cost. Abridged versions are common, while certain English editions were also significantly bowdlerised. To the best of my knowledge, the Project Gutenberg version, based upon the 1899 6-volume Boston edition, is complete, and probably the safest copy to access. In this form, Les Mystères de Paris is 1,384 pages long.

I started out comparing Les Mystères de Paris to Adventures Of Susan Hopley and I’m about to do it again, inasmuch as I am going to declare it similarly impossible to summarise: it is, likewise, the kind of thing that demands either six blog posts or only one, and the interests of everyone’s sanity, I’ve decided on just one. Rather than really trying to convey its multitude of plots, I want to concentrate instead on some of the most striking aspects of this work, and in particular how it differs from contemporary English writing in the same field, which is shown up as shamefully timid by comparison.

The main character of Les Mystères de Paris is a certain M. Rodolph. The opening section of the novel finds its hero intervening between a young girl of the streets and a former convict known as “Le Chourineur” (the butcher), the latter a local terror for his violent temper, his enormous strength, and his history as a killer who served fifteen years in the hulks for murdering a soldier while in the grip of what we might today describe as a psychotic break. It is not entirely clear what Le Chourineur intended to do to the girl – he later insists he only meant a bit of rough fun, though we’re inclined to doubt it – but Rodolph does not wait to find out. A desperate fight between the two men ends with the Chourineur thoroughly vanquished—which earns Rodolph his respect and admiration.  Le Chourineur insists upon both Rodolph and the girl accompanying him to a nearby “tapis-franc” – a thieves’ haunt, where liquor and food is served – where over a rough dinner Rodolph persuades the other two to tell him their stories.

In many ways Les Mystères de Paris is an extremely peculiar book. It serves up any amount of sex, violence, intrigue, plot and counterplot—while every now and then halting the action so that Eugène Sue, either through Rodolph or via his omniscient narrator, can deliver a lecture on the prevailing social conditions, unjust laws, the responsibility of the rich to the poor, the selfish immorality of the aristocracy, the state of the prison system, or some other personal bugbear. The result is what might reasonably be described as “socialist-sensation fiction”.

Eugène Sue’s main thesis is made crystal clear at the outset. Although the streets of Paris swarm with criminals, although for many theft, fraud and even murder are a way of life, there are others who hold fast to a moral code and try to live a decent life. These are the people, Sue contends, to whom the rich have a duty; who should be sought out and rewarded for their tenacious honesty. It is this cause to which Rodolph has devoted himself.

Most critically, however, and most praise-worthily, Sue believes in redemption. The people who Rodolph helps are not only those who have stayed honest all along, but those who have repented their sins and are trying to make a new start. He spends much time decrying the conditions that make this almost impossible, either because someone who has been in jail can’t get a job, or because of the sheer inadequacy of the wages offered by most employers. Temptations to crime are everywhere, encouragements to stay honest few and far between.

Unexpectedly, one of those who is trying to stay clean is Le Chourineur, whose personal code will not allow him to stoop to theft—even though he would live better either as a robber or a convict. Here we hit another of Sue’s red buttons, the fact that people are often better off in prison than they are in the world at large, there having at least a roof, a bed, food, and the chance to earn a little money (although that said, he’s not happy about prison conditions, either). Rodolph is struck by this aspect of Le Chourineur’s history:

    “You were cold, thirsty, hungry, Chourineur, and yet you did not steal?”
    “No; and yet I was horribly wretched. It’s a fact, that I have often gone with an empty bread-basket for two days at a time…but I never stole.”
    “For fear of a gaol?”
    “Pooh!” said the Chourineur, shrugging his shoulders, and laughing loudly… “An honest man, I was famishing; a thief, I should have been supported in prison, and right well, too! But I did not steal because—because—why, because the idea of stealing never came across me; so that’s all about it!”

Rodolph is moved by this rough honesty into declaring Le Chourineur to have both “heart” and “honour”, which in turn serves to attach the former convict to him with dog-like devotion.

The “unconscious rectitude” of Le Chourineur’s code, as it is called, highlights another of Sue’s beliefs. Although he was hostile to the Catholic church as an entity, he was nevertheless religious, and this display of conscience where it might be least expected is a recurring theme. It is a display which tends to happen more amongst the working-classes than the aristocracy, we note; and yet—and yet–

For someone writing in 1842, Eugène Sue’s views seem not merely progressive, but often startlingly so—but they are undercut (at least to modern eyes) by a taint of classism. In spite of his socialist tendencies, it is clear that Sue did not believe in genuine equality; further, that he believed that there were actual, ingrained differences between the nobility and the common people, as is shown most distastefully in two of the most shocking of the novel’s many subplots, both of which feature a young girl being drugged and raped—one because she resists the advances of her employer, the other as the fastest route into a life of prostitution.

The terrible vulnerability of poor girls is another of the novel’s many concerns. The latter victim is the girl whom Rodolph saves from Le Chourineur, and who is also – although with reluctance and shame – persuaded to tell her history. Her name is Marie, known as Fleur-de-Marie for her delicate appearance, once called “La Pegriotte” (little thief) and now “La Goualeuse” (the sweet-voiced one, for her singing) – like I said, everyone here has at least two names – and her short life has been one of misery and abuse.

Abandoned on the streets of Paris when little more than a baby, she was taken in by a vicious hag known as “La Chouette” (the screech-owl) and subjected to all sorts of deprivation and violence. Running away at the age of eight, she was picked up as a vagabond and spent the next eight years in prison—being released when deemed “an adult”. Subsequently she fell into the hands of the owner of the tapis-franc, “the Ogress”, who also happens to be pawn-broker, a fence—and a pimp. Fleur-de-Marie has been only six weeks on the job when she comes to the compassionate attention of Rodolph.

Mind you—you have to do some mighty fine reading between the lines to take in the full story of Fleur-de-Marie at the first reading. Here’s how her rape and her brief career as a prostitute are described:

“At this moment I met the Ogress and one of her old women who I knew where I lodged, and was always coming about me since I left prison. They told me they would find me work, and I believed them. I went with them, so exhausted for want of food that my sense were gone. They gave me brandy to drink, and—and—here I am!” said the unhappy creature, hiding her face in her hands.

Compare this to the frank recitation of Louise Morel, daughter of a working-class family, who is taken into service by one of the novel’s leading villains, M. Ferrand, a notary, a thorough-going hypocrite with a public reputation for rectitude and piety and a private life steeped in vice and crime. One of Ferrand’s main amusements is bringing young girls into his household, ruioning them, them casting them aside. In Louise’s case, her father is in debt to him, and will be imprisoned at a word from Ferrand, meaning that Louise’s mother and numerous siblings will be left to starve. She herself is subjected to violence, and restrained and starved, but nevertheless holds Ferrand off, until he finally goes to extremes:

    “This lethargic feeling,” continued Louise, “so completely overpowered me, that, unable any longer to resist it, I at length, contrary to my usual custom, fell asleep upon my chair. This is all I recollect before—before— Oh, forgive me, father, forgive me! indeed, indeed, I am not guilty; yet— I know not how long I slept; but when I awoke it was to shame and dishonour, for I found M. Ferrand beside me…
    “My first impulse was to rush from the room, but M. Ferrand forcibly detained me; and I still felt so weak, so stupefied with the medicine you speak of as having been mingled in my drink, that I was powerless as an infant. ‘Why do you wish to escape from me now?’ inquired M. Ferrand, with an air of surprise which filled me with dread. ‘What fresh caprice is this? Am I not here by your own free will and consent?’ ‘Oh, sir!’ exclaimed I, ‘this is most shameful and unworthy, to take advantage of my sleep to work my ruin; but my father shall know all!’ Here my master interrupted me by bursting into loud laughter, ‘Upon my word, young lady,’ said he, ‘you are very amusing. So you are going to say that I availed myself of your being asleep to effect your undoing. But who do you suppose will credit such a falsehood? It is now four in the morning, and since ten o’clock last night I have been here… What, in Heaven’s name, can you tell your father? That you thought proper to invite me into your bedroom? But invent any tale you please, you will soon find what sort of a reception it will meet with…’.”

M. Ferrand proceeds to blast Louise’s reputation, wailing to anyone who will listen to him about his horror at discovering that he, the very personification of virtue, has being harbouring a whore under his roof; and subsequently, when Louise’s baby is born dead, he has her arrested on charges of infanticide and so facing the guillotine. But luckily for the Morel family – and most unluckily for M. Ferrand – by this time Rodolph has interested himself in their affairs…

The resolutions of the twin plots of Louise and Fleur-de-Marie differ as radically as the telling of their sad histories. Louise, though suffering horribly, refuses to take any guilt upon her own shoulders and sensibly gets on with life; while Fleur-de-Marie, who is filled with guilt and shame when we first meet her, only becomes more so over the course of the novel, until it literally subsumes her. The unfortunate implication seems to be that while a working-class girl might be able to survive such a trauma, this is a task beyond anyone with the sensibilities of “a lady”—even if she doesn’t happen to know she is “a lady”…

At the conclusion of Fleur-de-Marie’s account of herself, we are given the following:

    Rodolph had listened to the recital, made with so painful a frankness, with deep interest. Misery, destitution, ignorance of the world, had weighed down this wretched girl, cast at sixteen years of age on the wide world of Paris!
    Rodolph involuntarily thought of a beloved child whom he had lost,—a girl, dead at six years of age, and who, had she survived, would have been, like Fleur-de-Marie, sixteen years and a half old. This recollection excited the more highly his solicitude for the unhappy creature whose narration he had just heard.

Immediately, of course, a knowing grin starts to slide across the face of the experienced sensation-reader; but Eugène Sue has a surprise in store for us. Before the first volume of Les Mystères de Paris has concluded, he gives us the following blunt statement:

At this moment, we will content ourselves with stating, what the reader has no doubt already guessed, that Fleur-de-Marie was the fruit of the secret marriage of Rodolph and Sarah, and that they both believed their daughter dead.

It is, however, about a thousand pages further on before Rodolph finds out the truth. By withholding this information from the characters but not from the reader, Sue adds a fiendishly tortuous quality to his telling of the many, many subsequent travails of Fleur-de-Marie.

If Fleur-de-Marie is actually a lady, then of course Rodolph, despite his working-class disguise and the ease with which he moves through the various levels of Parisian society, is a gentleman. In fact, he is rather more than that. The novel is only a few pages old when Rodolph’s companion is softly calling him “Your Highness”, and not much older before Eugène Sue has revealed his hero to be no less a person that the Grand Duke Gustavus Rodolph of Gerolstein, a (fictional) German principality. After being taught a variety of painful life-lessons by a series of tragedies, the Grand Duke left Gerolstein for France where, after adopting the persona of M. Rodolph, a simple workman, he made it his mission to seek out and secretly assist the worthy poor—while also punishing (sometimes with startling violence and even cruelty) the worst of criminals. Meanwhile, in his own persona, Rodolph moves freely amongst the French aristocracy, where a whole series of parallel subplots unfold.

As I have already intimated, and as must already be clear even from this brief overview, the plot of Les Mystères de Paris is too insanely complicated even to begin trying to summarise it; so instead I’ll simply try to give you an idea of its main threads:

First, of course, there’s Rodolph himself. He was only a teenager when his father, the previous Grand Duke, committed the fatal blunder of putting his education in the hands of a certain Doctor César Polidori, “a renowned linguist, a distinguished chemist, learned historian, and deeply versed in the study of all the exact and physical sciences”—but also “atheist, cheat, and hypocrite, full of stratagem and trick, concealing the most dangerous immorality, the most hardened scepticism, under an austere exterior”—and a very ambitious man. Polidori makes it his business to encourage all the worst features in Rodolph’s character, in particular encouraging in him to neglect his duties; foreseeing a time when he might be the power behind the throne in Gerolstein.

(Polidori turns up in various guises, involved in various nefarious plots, all the way through Les Mystères de Paris.)

Meanwhile, Rodolph also falls victim to an even more insidious danger. Sarah Seyton, a beautiful young Scottish girl, the daughter of a baronet, had become obsessed with the thought of making a royal marriage even since having her fortune told to that effect. Sensibly not setting her sights too high, Sarah targets the inexperienced but hot-blooded young heir to the Grand Duchy of Gerolstein; further assisted in this plan by her late father’s political connections, which secure her an introduction to the Gerolstein Court. After ingratiating herself with the susceptible Grand Duke Maximilian, Sarah then gets to work on Rodolph, finally inflaming him to such a degree as to draw from him a proposal of marriage.

Rodolph, though dizzy with his first serious passion, is only too well aware of what his father’s reaction will be to such a mésalliance, and presses upon Sarah the absolute necessity for secrecy. She agrees and, with the connivance of Polidori, with whom Sarah has entered into a partnership of exploitation, the two are married. Sarah has no intention of staying in the shadows a second longer than absolutely necessary, however, and as soon as her pregnancy is sufficiently advanced, she begins dressing so as to reveal it…

The consequences are tragic, and very nearly fatal, as in the inevitable violent confrontation between Rodolph and the Grand Duke, the young man is provoked into drawing his sword upon his father—saved from parricide only by the swift intervention of Sir Walter Murphy, the blunt, painfully honest Englishman to whom Rodolph’s physical education has been entrusted. In the subsequent fallout, Polidori is arrested. To save his own skin, he proves that the marriage isn’t legal, and also sells out Sarah, producing one of her letters to her brother and accomplice, which he took the precaution of acquiring earlier, in which her schemes against Rodolph are spelled out in the most cold-blooded terms—and in which she hints at the possible disposal of the Grand Duke Maximilian.

Overwhelmed with grief and remorse, Rodolph did everything he could to expiate his guilt, leaving Gerolstein for a time at his father’s command, and later obediently marrying a bride chosen for him. During his absence, Sarah was banished from the country and the whole business hushed up. At that time, Rodolph’s deep bitterness and resentment did not leave him much feeling for his child, but later, when he heard that Sarah had remarried – or married – he found himself yearning for his daughter. He tried to contact Sarah, in order to beg for custody of the girl, by then four years old, but for two years was unable to gain any word of the child—and when he finally hear from Sarah, it was to inform him that their daughter was dead…

One of the novel’s surprises is that Sarah, too, genuinely believes her daughter dead; it isn’t just another scheme, or at least, not on her part. As part of her preparations for her marriage with the Count Macgregor (I’m not sure how anyone gets to be “Count Macgregor”, and the novel isn’t telling), she farms the girl out and arranges for her to be raised on the proceeds of a trust fund. Unfortunately, the people who have charge of Amelia (aka Marie) decide that such a nest egg would be wasted on the child and appropriate it for themselves, covering up the business with a fake death and an equally fake investment failure: a transaction facilitated by our old friend, the notary M. Ferrand.

When first sent away by his father, Rodolph swore a solemn oath:

“From that hour I have been a prey to the deepest, the most acute remorse. I immediately quitted Germany for the purpose of travelling, with the intent, if possible, of expiating my guilt; and this self-imposed task I shall continue while I live. To reward the good, to punish the evil-doer, relieve those who suffer, penetrate into every hideous corner where vice holds her court, for the purpose of rescuing some unfortunate creatures from the destruction into which they have fallen,—such is the employment I have marked out for myself.”

Such he did until summoned back to Gerolstein to marry, and such he begins doing again after the death of his wife. One of the first recipients of his assistance is a certain Mme Georges, real name Mme Duresnal, a connection of some close friends of his family, who he found in great distress in Paris, and removed to his model farm in the countryside. Mme Georges has the misfortune to be married to a man who, although well-born, has become one of the most vicious and feared of the Parisian criminal element. Many years earlier, Duresnal not only left his wife destitute, but stole away their only child, a son, with the aim of raising him to follow in his own footsteps. Unfortunately, from his father’s point-of-view, the boy took after his mother; and when as a mere youth he was placed in a bank with the sole purpose of facilitating a robbery, he blew the whistle on his father and his associates. Swearing bloody vengeance on his son, Duresnal was sentenced to life imprisonment—but subsequently escaped…

Rodolph’s plunge into the Parisian underworld is in hope of finding some hint of the fate of the boy, who after living under a series of false names, and moving from job to job, has disappeared—having either gone into hiding, or having fallen victim to his own father. The only clue to his identity that his grieving mother was able to offer Rodolph is that the last time she saw her child, he was wearing “a small Saint Esprit, sculptured in lapis lazuli, tied round his neck by a chain of silver”.

Various plots and manoeuvres bring Rodolph into contact with a notorious criminal known, for his superior education, as the Schoolmaster; his partner in crime (among other things) is none other than Fleur-de-Marie’s old nemesis, La Chouette. Rodolph is trying to lure these two vile criminals into a trap when he makes two startling discoveries: they have knowledge of Fleur-de-Marie’s origins, and La Chouette is wearing the lapis lazuli keepsake of Mme Georges’ son. The Schoolmaster is known as an escaped convict, one who has gone to length of horribly disfiguring his own face in order to conceal his identity: it occurs to Rodolph that he may be none other than M. Duresnal.

So begins a violent conflict that forms one of the main threads of the novel, as Rodolph counters and thwarts the criminal pair, earning their deadly enmity and finding himself in ongoing danger of his life, all while trying to discover what exactly the Schoolmaster and La Chouette might know about Fleur-de-Marie and the missing youth, and also protecting Fleur-de-Marie herself, against whom La Chouette nurses a venomous hatred. One of her favourite fantasies involves throwing vitriol into the girl’s lovely face… And horrifying as this is—we must observe that the punishment which Rodolph eventually inflicts upon the Schoolmaster comprises the novel’s most shocking moment.

Meanwhile, Rodolph is not the only one who has been widowed. A free woman again, Sarah is back on his track, more obsessed than ever not just with the thought of marrying royalty, but of drawing Rodolph back into her web. At this time Sarah does not know that Rodolph saw her incriminating letters, as so fools herself that she might be able to make him love her again. She follows him, spies upon him, weaves schemes around him…and sees that he is in love with another woman, and a married woman at that, who becomes the target of her secret emnity as a consequence. (I’m not even going to touch that incredibly convoluted subplot.)

Finally Sarah decides that the only way she can possibly recapture Rodolph and the crown of Gerolstein is through their daughter; their dead daughter. She has marked Rodolph’s protection of, and deep affection for, Fleur-de-Marie, and realises that she has identified his most vulnerable point. Were their daughter still alive, she could surely persuade him into a marriage that, however little he wanted it personally, would legitimise the girl. Sarah begins plotting to impose a fake Amelia upon Rodolph—deciding also to simultaneously remove an unwanted complication and increase Rodolph’s emotional vulnerability by having Fleur-de-Marie murdered. It is not until after she has set her plot in motion that Sarah finds out who Fleur-de-Marie actually is

.

Sue7

31/01/2015

A Duchess And Her Daughter

mason1b    Even in far off Spain, when the news of the Duke of Valenzuela’s death reached there, a year after the event, the King and the Spanish Cardinals tucked away in a corner of their minds the question of the future husband of the new Duchess. Now the question of the future husband had emerged from its corner and was beginning to occupy the centre of the stage. King and Cardinals weighed the merits—more often the demerits—of a score of young noblemen who burned with chivalric zeal to make the young heiress—and themselves—happy. Two or three of these young men slipped out of Cadiz and were already on the high seas bound for Caracas. Also on the high seas was the King’s order that the marriage of the Duchess should await the Royal decision. And then—
    And then a rumour, a fantastic story, an impossible tale, crept along the Orinoco in canoes, plodded over the plains and climbed the Andes on mules, galloped through the streets of Caracas on horses. It was first whispered, then said, then shouted that while King and Church and State were deciding who was to marry the Duchess of Valenzuela, that headstrong girl had decided the matter for herself; had married; and had married a nobody…

If I were “the best woman in the world, M. K. W. M.”, I don’t know that I would be particularly flattered by having Alfred Bishop Mason’s A Duchess And Her Daughter dedicated to me: this is a strange and rather unpleasant work of historical fiction; “historical” in that it is set in the past, anyway—predominantly in 18th century Venezuela, a choice unusual enough to make it somewhat disappointing that the novel is not really “about” that, with the Spanish colony simply providing an exotic backdrop for the characters. As for the characters themselves, as far as I have been able to determine they are entirely fictional, which makes the whole exercise seem a little—well, pointless.

This is, as its title suggests, the story of a mother and daughter; but not their lives together: A Duchess And Her Daughter is a novel of two halves. The first half is tough going indeed, partly because Dolores – the Duchess of the title – is such a nasty bit of work, and partly because of the degree of violence in the story, including sexual violence. The second half, focusing upon Alegra, the daughter, is more interesting in a number of ways – Alegra is a far more engaging individual than her mother – but just because we do like her, the direction of the narrative is difficult to take.

A Duchess And Her Daughter begins in the middle of the 18th century, when the Conde de Arcetri is banished from Spain to the wilds of Venezuela for the heinous sin of marrying a woman “as good as she is beautiful”—but not noble. The two have a child, the fair and lovely Dolores, who grows to young womanhood chiefly under the care of the servants, and puts her own spin on her mother’s character by being as selfish and wilful as she is beautiful. When she is sixteen her parents die as a result of a spotted fever epidemic, and Dolores falls into the clutches of the Duke of Valenzuela.

On the principal of it being better to rule in hell than serve in heaven, the Duke of Valenzuela chose to exile himself to Venezuela after being ruled against in a matter of court precedence, his family deemed to rank below that of Medina-Sidonia: “The heralds-at-arms had been bribed and bought.” (This is the Duke’s point of view: the real family of Medina-Sidonia holds the oldest dukedom in Spain, whereas the dukedom of “Valenzuela” is fictional; although the family name of the marquisate of Villasierra is “Valenzuela”.) The Duke is an unhappy man for many reasons, not least his wife’s failure to give him the son and heir he craves. His only minor consolation is that he has succeeded in acquiring “a younger son of a younger son” of the family of Medina-Sidonia as his chaplain, gaining a morose satisfaction out of Father Josè’s subordinate position in his household.

So far from the government seat in Caracas, the Duke’s power is absolute, and there is no-one capable of interfering when he takes an interest in a woman – with or without her consent; a father who tries is tortured to death. When the death of her parents leaves Dolores alone, the Duke turns up in the guise of a respectful mourner and potential guardian, bringing an invitation from his Duchess that Dolores should make her home with them. Longing to escape from her lonely existence and ugly surroundings, Dolores accepts—and soon realises that she has made a terrible mistake. The Duchess is not at home, nor is she expected for some days…

After the first shock, Dolores takes her rape surprisingly well; disturbingly well. She is more upset by having to confront the Duchess when she returns from her visiting. The Duke, however, has already had a word with his wife:

    “You were a fool to come here without knowing I was here. A man must have his diversions. Mother-of-God, what else could pay him for living in this dreary country? Make the best of it. He is mad for a son of his own. If I could have given him one , he would have been as good a husband as a great gentleman can be. Bear him a son. The boy will be baptised as mine. Then we will adopt you as our daughter. You can go back to Spain with us and I will make a great match for you there. It is hard to follow my advice? He will make you follow the first part of it. Stop your silly sobs. Remember your race. Be proud that you are to mother the next Duke of Valenzuela.”
    The great lady leaned back in her chair of state, languid and silent. The Duke had told her what to say and she had said it. She did not wish to be further bothered with the affair…

And so Dolores becomes the third point of a ménage à trois. The Duke grows increasingly obsessed with her, sexually and as the potential mother of his son; but as soon as his fixation upon her gives her the ascendancy, Dolores grows bored with him. Instead she turns her eyes in quite another direction:

    Amid all his flock, Don Josè felt akin only to this flower-like girl and his very soul was shaken by the thought of her sin. She had, indeed, been forced into it, but was she really repentant? She had confessed the sin, but in a strange way. She had asked for absolution. He had told her he must think it over. Outside the confessional she had pouted over the delay. She was really adorable when she pouted. At this point in his pastoral meditation, Don Josè made a gallant, but unsuccessful, attempt to remember that he was not a man, but a priest.
    The confession had been rather startling, not only in substance, but in detail. Priest and penitent were separated as usual in the confessional, but they saw each other many times a day and perforce knew each other well. Even with a pierced plank between them, they were acutely conscious of each other as man and woman, young man and young woman. And when the penitent seemed to assume that the priest was a sexless Methusaleh and went into amatory detail with a frankness that left nothing unsaid, Father Josè had had a terrible tussle with Don Josè…
    Dolores had much enjoyed that confession. It was piquant to talk to a man about such things, especially to a man as handsome and as well-born as Don Josè. If the Duke were only like Don Josè, she mused…

Father Josè is devoutly religious and committed to his calling. He is also a man of great courage, which earns him the respect – and more importantly, the restraint – of Juan Paez, the local bandit chief, the son of an Indian woman and a runaway slave, who encourages the practice of “the old religion” and leads period raids against the Spanish settlers. But in battle with Dolores, Father Josè stands no chance. The girl stalks him, teasing and tormenting him until he is almost driven mad with his desire for her. He tries to avoid her, praying constantly for strength and even locking himself in his cell; but the end is inevitable:

The third night—it was four days before the Duke and Duchess were due—she came softly into his sala, put her finger on her lip, held him back with her left hand, and turned into the chapel. He followed as if he had been her dog. The moonlight fell upon the altar and across the ledge of stone in front of it, the ledge with the rich Moorish rug. In front of the altar she kissed him. In front of the altar she let fall her outer garment. In front of the altar her glorious arms and her marvellous breasts gleamed. She lay herself prone of the altar-rug…

The affair continues for some weeks but finally the tortured Father Josè tears himself away, withdrawing  from the Valenzuela household, retreating to an isolated Dominican monastery. In answer to the Duke’s request for a new confessor, he sends Fray Federigo, “a fat and aged friar”—much to Dolores’s amusement. Already certain she is pregnant by the priest, she announces the glad tidings to the Duke and Duchess; glad tidings for both, he because of his yearning for a son, she because the end of her Venezuelan exile seems finally in sight. But fate has other things in store for both…

Upon entering the Valenzuela household, Dolores is reunited with her foster-sister, Maria, an Indian girl, who was sent away when Dolores was ten and taken into the service of the Duchess—whom she hates. She learns to hate her even more for Dolores’s sake. Maria’s grandmother was a medicine woman, who was burned at the stake for witchcraft, but not before passing on her knowledge. Just before Dolores is due to give birth, the Duchess is taken violently ill and dies. Torn between her horror of what Maria has done and her soaring ambition, Dolores insists upon the Duke marrying her immediately and legitimising their child. Almost before the cowed and frightened Fray Federico can complete the hurried ceremony, Dolores is in labour. The child is—a girl.

The Duke is not really disappointed: the title and estates of Valenzuela may be inherited directly by a daughter in her own right, and if the right husband is found the title of Duke can be bestowed upon him. The Duke, indeed, is devoted to the lovely Alegra. When the child is five, Sister Isabel of Santa Clara, a convent in the town of San Fernando, arrives bearing credentials from the Archbishop of Caracas. The warm-hearted Alegra soon loves her instructress, and begins calling her “tia”, “aunt”—to which Dolores takes exception, on the grounds that they know nothing of the nun’s antecedents:

    The sister picked up the gage of battle that had been flung at her feet. “Before I made my vows,” she said, “I was the Countess of Estramadura; I was born a Medina-Sidonia; I am the sister of a holy man, formerly a priest, now a Dominican monk, who used to be chaplain here. It was probably before Your Grace’s time. He was Father Josè when he was at San Fernando.”
    Sister Isabel said this with a placid saintliness of face and of manner. There was no suggestion in her beautiful eyes of any hidden knowledge of the past. But the Duchess changed colour…

For five years life continues placidly; too placidly for Dolores, who longs to be queening it in Caracas instead of trapped in the middle of nowhere; she is bored with her life and doubly bored with her husband. However, the Duke is an old man now and reluctant to take his beautiful young wife into society, as so keeps reneging on his promises about visiting Caracas. The Duchess is just beginning to lend a willing ear to Maria’s dark counsel regarding her marriage when all plans become redundant. Juan Paez and his followers are on the warpath, sweeping across the Spanish settlements in an orgy of bloodshed and torture. Before the raiders reach San Fernando, Alegra and Sister Isabel are successfully concealed in a secret room in the church; but after their resistance is overborne, both the Duke and Duchess meet a gruesome fate…

Juan Paez, too, is killed during this final confrontation, and subsequently there is peace in the district. Alegra, now Duchess of Valenzuela and owner of vast wealth and estates both in Venezuela and Spain, continues to live in her father’s house under the care of Sister Isabel. As she grows into womanhood, she takes upon herself the management of her property and of the many branches of her trading businesses, by which she sends her goods to all corners of the globe, and by which she becomes almost unimaginably rich. She also devotes herself to the welfare of her peons—although the church firmly dissuades her from schemes for their education.

Naturally, Alegra represents a marital prize of the first order. She is herself aware of this—and also that it is only a matter of time before a husband is forced upon her by the King of Spain, eager to keep a grip on her vast possessions. Unless, of course, she can find a way of forestalling her fate…

Alegra begins to make frequent visits to the tiny village of Yriarte, which is near to the river-port town of Angostura, one of the centres of Alegra’s business interests. Overtly she is calling upon a native of Yriarte, a woman called Juana who, though clumsy and unattractive, has a rare skill for embroidery. Sister Isabel grows suspicious of these visits, certain that Alegra is up to something but unable to imagine what—and what could she be up to in a muddy hole like Yriarte? Like everyone else at San Fernando, Sister Isabel is staggered and disbelieving when Alegra finally does return home—because she does not come alone:

The nun seized the wedding-certificate, read it, looked with amazed eyes at the winner of this matrimonial prize, tried to congratulate her ward, broke down and left the room. The groom, meanwhile, had stood in awkward silence. He was, thank God, of unmixed Spanish descent, but there all thankfulness ended. He was almost as plain as his wife was beautiful. Despite his size, he did not look at all manly. His tiny moustache was no larger than many Spanish women had then and have now. A peasant and a very lout.

Sister Isabel is so profoundly offended by the marriage, the fact of it and Alegra’s secrecy, that she makes it her excuse to withdraw and return to her convent, in spite of Alegra’s pleas that she stay:

    When she said good-bye, the Duchess clung to her and cried, but the nun’s chill aloofness never left her. So long a companionship between two noble souls ended. So the love between them seemed to end, at least on Sister Isabel’s side. But love has its “ashes of roses” and within those ashes embers may live long, and may sometimes be fanned into flame again.
    There is no record of the nun’s first meeting with her brother, Don Josè de Medina-Sidonia, prior of the Convent of St Dominic, at Caracas…

News of Alegra’s marriage to Juan de Mendoza travels across Venezuela like an earthquake, and explodes like a bomb at the Court of Spain—but what can they do? – a marriage is a marriage, no matter how scandalous. As for the happy couple— Alegra goes back to running her estates and her businesses, while Juan fills much of his time in hunting up in the mountains; an acceptable pursuit for a man in his position. Eyebrows are raised, however, and tongues begin to wag, when during his time at home, he takes up embroidery.

The main difference in Alegra’s life brought by her marriage is that she is able to receive many more guests into her home. The world outside is changing; more visitors come every day to Venezuela, and those that arrive in San Fernando and in Angostura inevitably call upon the beautiful and gracious Duchess. Some are invited to stay. One of these is John Winthrop, the owner of a thriving commercial concern based in Salem, who has decided to spend some time in command of one of his own trading sloops.

The attraction between the handsome young American and the beautiful Duchess is immediate and deep, but of course the entire situation is impossible, as they equally recognise: she is a married woman, and he is a heretic. Winthrop is well aware he should leave, but day by day – then month by month – he lingers in Angostura. Meanwhile, Winthrop’s second-in-command, Henry Lyman, strikes up an unexpected friendship with Juan de Mendoza; the two begin taking lengthy hunting trips together up into the mountains, staying away for weeks on end. From one of these trips, Lyman returns in a panic, urging Winthrop to leave Angostura—then revealing that he must leave, and not alone:

He hesitated a long time, then let out a torrent of words. “This Don Juan, the Duchess’s husband, as you think and as everybody thinks, isn’t her husband, or anybody’s husband. He couldn’t be anybody’s husband. He’s a woman. And he—she—is with child by me. I must take her home and marry her and make an honest woman of her. And to do that we must start straightaway.”

As Lyman’s urgency indicates, he has in fact delayed his departure with Juan – Juana – past the point where it is safe for anybody; and although Winthrop immediately arranges for the couple’s departure, Juana goes into labour before they are well clear of the territory and Lyman must dock the ship and go in search of a midwife. Naturally, the news gets out. And if the story of the Duchess’s scandalous marriage rocked both Venezuela and Spain, it was as nothing compared to the fallout from this belated revelation about her “husband”. But before anyone has even had a chance to absorb the implications of the situation, yet another shockwave emanates from Angostura: the Duchess of Valenzuela has married a heretic…

To John Winthrop’s way of thinking, the revelation about Juana clears his path to Alegra, but for her the matter is hardly so simple. Winthrop, though he cannot promise conversion, does promise that he will study the matter; further, that he will never interfere with Alegra’s own religious practice, and that their children may be raised in the Catholic faith. Even so, Father Felipe, Alegra’s confessor, refuses to marry them—at least at first. The headstrong Duchess, having already bullied one frightened priest into “marrying” her to Juana Godina, now resorts to blackmail: she will either be John Winthrop’s wife or his mistress—Father Felipe may choose. Knowing Alegra, the priest also knows this isn’t a bluff. Consoling himself with the reflection that, occasionally, exceptions have been made and such marriages permitted, he does as the Duchess demands:

A year passed by. The lovers knew well the recipe for a happy marriage, to go on making love after marriage as before it. They practiced the recipe. Only those few happy souls who have known a great love can imagine what that year was. Its joys were worth more than all the sorrows that followed it…

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with A Duchess And Her Daughter: twelve months of marital bliss are skipped over in five sentences, and then we return to our previously scheduled ugliness and violence.

Alegra and John get their year simply because both communication and decision-making are slow processes. While the Duchess’s first marriage was a scandal, and the circumstances of its subsequent dissolution grounds for ribald laughter and obscene jokes, her marriage to a heretic – and the danger of her vast property passing into the hands of that heretic – is an outrage not to be borne. Spain begins to make plans for dire retribution, and gets as far as having the marriage annulled via a papal decree; but before it can take further action it is forestalled by Caracas, where the Inquisition holds ultimate power. Without warning, John Winthrop is arrested and imprisoned; a token trial ends in a unanimous vote that he be burned at the stake during the upcoming auto-da-fè. The Grand Inquisitor at this time is none other than our old friend, Don Josè de Medina-Sidonia.

Despite her many transgressions, Alegra maintains her standing as a Grandee of Spain, and on this basis she obtains a private interview with the Grand Inquisitor. She offers him a bargain: if he will save John Winthrop’s life, she will enter a convent and  donate her entire possessions to the Church. At length Don Josè accepts, conniving at Alegra’s scheme to fool Winthrop with the lie that she will join him in a few days: she knows he will not leave otherwise. By the time he learns the truth, she will be beyond his reach forever.

Of course, there’s just one problem with this plan: the people of Caracas have been promised the burning of a heretic. Not to worry:

    The chief role in the procession, a role that eclipsed even those of the Grand Inquisitor, the Archbishop and the Governor, that of John Winthrop, English heretic, was played by a man as amazed as he was scared, a certain low-class Spaniard, Juan Galapagos by name, who had been awakened that morning from a sound sleep and advised to dress quickly, breakfast quickly and confess quickly, because he was to be burned alive. As the offence imputed to him had been only that of presenting himself with unclean hands at the communion service, it had never occurred to him that he ran the slightest risk of such a fiery doom. In fact, it was another man whom the Grand Inquisitor had remembered as a truculent ruffian…
    When he realised from the maledictions showered upon him that he was supposed to be Winthrop, hope came back to him, poor fool that he was. It was all a mistake; he would explain it and be set free. His manacled hands forbade the tearing off of the yellow bonnet with a peaked top that hid his face, but he began shouting: “I’m not the Englishman! I’m Spanish! I’m Juan Galapagos! Let me out! It’s a mistake! I’m not the Englishman!”
    A lay-brother deftly gagged him with a long scarf. When he threw himself upon the ground, he was prodded to his feet by sword-pricks, while the crowd roared approval and cursed the English heretic for his cowardice. A moment later he was bound to the stake that had awaited Winthrop. It so happened, doubtless because the foreign heretic was the wickedest of all the victims, that when the tiny flames were but beginning to crackle at the feet of the others, they had crept to his shoulders. When the mounting fire licked away the scarf that had gagged him, his screams and blasphemies made the exit of the heretic Englishman to hell deeply gratifying to the pious folk of Caracas. “I did not know the Englishman knew so much Spanish,” said the Governor laughingly.

The circumstances of their separation are more easily borne by Alegra, who is sustained by her faith. Over the years that follow she becomes celebrated for her tireless work amongst the poor and the sick—“Santa Alegra”. She dies loved and mourned by multitudes. But she has one last shock in store, one final act of defiance:

    When she was being arrayed for the great function of her burial, her shocked sister nuns found affixed to the back of the crucifix she always wore the miniature of a man, of a man who had been condemned to the stake for heresy and who, they thought, had died at the stake. They sent in haste for Don Josè de Medina-Sidonia, prior, bishop and Grand Inquisitor, and showed him the awful thing. “What shall we do with it, Reverend Father?” they asked.
    “Do with it? Leave it as it is and bury it with the saint who wore it.”

It is some time before John Winthrop can accept that he has lost his wife forever but, after several bouts of near-fatal illness, and some equally dangerous attempts to see Alegra, he finally tears himself away from Venezuela. He returns to his old life in Salem, but he is not the same man. His business thrives but emotional life he has none. His experiences have left something inside him crippled.

Many years later, Salem is startled by the arrival of a monk—and even more so when the monk takes up residence with John Winthrop.  Unable in his pride to keep the secret of his relationship to “Santa Alegra”, Don Josè has been stripped of everything and exiled. He carries to Winthrop the news of Alegra’s death, and her last message to him—her plea that he convert so that they might meet again. As he promised Alegra he would while begging her to marry him, Winthrop begins to study her faith.

It is very difficult to be sure how the concluding stages of A Duchess And Her Daughter are supposed to be taken. The novel is shot through with anti-Catholicism – the “narrow-mindedness” and “bigotry” of the characters is mentioned again and again, while the plot repeatedly turns on what is presented as the “moral flexibility” offered by confession and absolution; and that’s before we start dwelling on the horrors of the Inquisition – and yet the story concludes with its hero’s conversion; albeit that we get here one of the few glimmers of humour to be found in this grim tale:

Then came the event that startled Salem as the old town had never been startled before. John Winthrop made a public profession of his new faith in the little Roman Catholic chapel in a by-street of Salem. It was a thunder-clap. Friends of a lifetime fell away from him. Widows and maidens stared aghast upon this lost soul. It was suggested that the community should cease to do any business with him. The two banks of Salem, in the first flush of the shocked hostility, agreed not to lend him any money, but they did not tell him so, partly because he had not borrowed any money for years and partly because each feared the withdrawal of the ample funds that stood to his credit on its depositors’ ledger. He was a merchant prince who financed his own ventures. Moreover his Midas touch did not seem to have deserted him. The grim New England God seemed to hesitate about punishing a Winthrop…

And what are we to make of what we must assume to be John Winthrop’s vision of his reunion with Alegra?

In the chapel to the right of the great doorway of the cathedral at Caracas…John Winthrop lies in peace, his skeleton feet some eighteen inches from Alegra’s, awaiting the Last Trump, when he and she are again to spring up triumphant, face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart, throbbing with love, pulsating with joy…

Really? Granted, I’m no expert; but I always thought of the afterlife as being a lot less—well, fleshy. Then it occurred to me to wonder—is that what Don Josè told John Winthrop to get him to convert?

27/01/2015

A life in piecemeal

Hey, it’s Reading Roulette! Remember Reading Roulette?

Wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. The latest selection, A Duchess And Her Daughter by Alfred Bishop Mason, from 1929, proved frustratingly hard to get hold of, albeit that copies were out there. (And a big shout-out to my friend Will, for facilitating my belated acquisition.) The author of A Duchess And Her Daughter is also proving a bit elusive—likewise out there, but not in any comprehensive way.

Alfred Bishop Mason was born in 1851, the son of Roswell B. Mason, who was mayor of Chicago at the time of the Great Fire. He attended Yale Law School (and was a member of Skull and Bones), and subsequently wrote and translated various works on law, political economy and history. Otherwise, Mason is best known for his “Tom Strong” series, historical stories written for boys, in which a namesake representative of each succeeding generation of the Strong family manages to be present for the most important events in America’s history. A Duchess And Her Daughter seems to be Mason’s only other work of fiction.

In 1893 Mason pops up in the case of Harriet Hubbard Ayer, the cosmetics entrepreneur whose family took advantage of her depression to have her institutionalised. At that time people were compelled to pay for their own incarceration (even if it was involuntary), and Mason was court-appointed to manage the sale of Ayer’s assets. In 1889 he was the guest of Grover Cleveland at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St Augustine, Florida. He must have enjoyed his trip to Florida, because according to the New York Herald Tribune he returned to the Ponce de Leon four years later: “At St. Augustine the weather has been perfect and there have been innumerable sailing parties and picnics besides the usual round of receptions and dances. Mr and Mrs Alfred Bishop Mason recently arrived with a party of guests aboard their private car…”

The same 1889 article refers to Mason as “Vice-President of the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad”; by 1895, he was President of the company. In 1903 we hear of him in association with the Vera Cruz and Pacific Railway. Mason was granted a concession by the Mexican government for the building of a railway line between Cordoba and Santa Lucretia. In an article published by Mason himself on “Mexico And Its People“, he speaks paternally of “my railway”. Evidently the project came to grief, however: William Schell’s study, Integral Outsiders: The American Colony In Mexico City, 1876-1911 reports that, “In 1904, when his road ran into financial difficulties and was taken over by the government, Mason became a promoter of coffee and rubber plantations.” It also refers to Mason as a member of, “This tropical mafia camarilla.”

Mason was married twice. His first wife – who annoyingly I can only find referred to as “Mrs Alfred Bishop Mason” – sounds like a bit of a firecracker. Towards the end of the 19th century she was active in anti-Tammany politics in New York, urging women to use their “influence” on their menfolk and working to galvanise the immigrant population into political action. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Call reports that, having always been interested in machinery, in 1895 she took advantage of her husband’s presidency of the Florida railroad company and learned how to drive a steam train. Eventually, “She could take an engine from the Atlantic to the gulf of Mexico as well as an old engineer.” Mason’s second wife – who earned recognition in her own right and therefore got to keep her name – was Mary Knight Wood, a pianist, composer and song-writer.

And – to bring this blather back to something resembling “the point” – it was Mary to whom Mason dedicated A Duchess And Her Daughter

24/01/2015

A Forger’s Tale

savery4b    Most Australians would struggle to name the country’s first published novelist. Prior to researching this book that number would have included its author. While other literary pioneers are luxuriantly memorialised, Henry Savery seemed destined to dwell in obscurity – an author lost in the literary backstreets. Not for our Henry the glory of Henry Lawson Drive, with its postcard-perfect views over Sydney Harbour from McMahon’s Point. Nor anything approaching the mass adulation and leafy avenues accorded a whole anthology of English poets that can be found in Melbourne’s bayside ‘burb of Elwood.
    No, our writer’s name is cemented in history by an entirely nondescript street on the urban fringes of Canberra – and even this is a mere tributary of a larger road commemorating that more sentimental literary bloke, the poet CJ Dennis. At Point Cook in Victoria a tiny cul-de-sac bearing the maverick’s moniker pales into insignificance beside its more glamorously named neighbour, Miles Franklin Boulevard. But at least some history-savvy surveyor appears to have had the wit to call this little dead-end a court, a place in which our unhappy first novelist spent much time…

It turned out that one of my libraries held a copy of Rod Howard’s 2011 publication, A Forger’s Tale: The Extraordinary Story Of Henry Savery, Australia’s First Novelist, so I thought before moving on in my overview of Australia fiction I would take a look at this non-fiction work to see if the representation of Henry Savery in my examination of Quintus Servinton was accurate, and if any more information on his life had come to light since the publication of Cecil Hadgraft’s biography of Savery in 1962.

In some ways, A Forger’s Tale is rather an odd piece of writing. It is biography, but told very much from Henry Savery’s own point of view; and it draws very heavily upon Quintus Servinton—to the point of taking various passages in the life of “Quintus”, which were of course based upon passages in Henry Savery’s own life, and turning them back into passages from Henry Savery’s life. In fact, for a few horrid moments at the outset I really thought I was going to be reading Quintus Servinton all over again (and I may say that Rod Howard seems to take it for granted, perhaps not unreasonably, that the reader of A Forger’s Tale has not read Quintus Servinton); but at length these fears were relieved. What Howard does here is call upon the historical record where there is an historical record, but where there is not, he allows Henry Savery to speak for himself.

Overall, A Forger’s Tale does three crucial things: it reveals the real people and places hidden behind Quintus Servinton‘s pseudonyms and fudging; it clears up the business of the guilty plea; and it offers an explanation for the persecution of Henry Savery following his arrival in Tasmania, which – much to my surprise, I admit – turns out to have been every bit as unjust and brutal as represented; although Henry himself was not (as he suggests in his novel) the real target: he simply had the misfortune to get caught in the middle of a political shitstorm.

As a consequence of these revelations, A Forger’s Tale offers a far more sympathetic portrait of Henry Savery than Cecil Hadgraft’s rather snippy biography; in some ways, perhaps too much so…

Understandably, A Forger’s Tale skips fairly quickly over the early years of Henry Savery’s life—that is, the first two volumes of Quintus Servinton. (There seems to be consensus on that point: Rod Howard quotes the review of the novel that appeared in the English magazine, The Athenaeum, which declared that only the third volume was worth reading, “…and even that might have been infinitely better.”) The story picks up at the point of Henry’s near fatal decision, in the wake of having been financially burned himself, to pass a forged bill; it reproduces the dinner-table conversation in which the horrified Henry learns that putting imaginary names on a bill is the same under the law as literal forgery. The person making this unwelcome revelation was an attorney named Watson, a colleague of Henry’s brother.

Two things are emphasised at this point: the amount of publicity given the arrest, trial and execution of “celebrity forger”, Henry Fauntleroy, and the attitude of Robert Peel. The newspapers did so well out of the Fauntleroy case that, it seems, they tried to exploit Henry Savery in the same way, turning his false £500 bill into merely the tip of a forgery iceberg and insisting that he spent the proceeds of his untold crimes on wine, women and song. Meanwhile, we learn that two years previously, Robert Peel himself had been the victim of a forger, who managed to elude the law and skip the country; it is suggested that he was particularly harsh upon forgers as a consequence, in addition to his loathing of “gentleman-criminals”. Evidently the judges of the time understood what Peel wanted in forgery cases and usually gave it to him; Quintus Servinton indirectly cites the case of John Wait, who was executed in spite of his jury’s recommendation to mercy.

Indeed, the more we learn about the circumstances, the more miraculous it seems that Henry did escape with his life.

The first suggestion of a guilty plea, introduced by Edward Protheroe (“Mr Rothero”), the former mayor of Bristol and a partner in the defrauded Copper Company, seems to have emanated from John Kaye, the solicitor for the Bank of England who was responsible for the bank’s forgery prosecutions, including that of John Wait. Kaye evidently told an associate of Protheroe, Levi Ames, that Wait should have entered a guilty plea.

Furthermore, Ames and his business partner, Stephen Cave, met with Protheroe and pressed upon him the wisdom of Henry Savery pleading guilty, citing not only the condemnation of Wait (who pleaded not guilty) but the case of Francis Greenway, who was told by his judge that he would have been hanged if he had not admitted his guilt. (Greenway, ironically, became a convict success story, gaining both reputation and wealth as a designer of public buildings in New South Wales.) Cave – who was a friend of Eliza Savery’s family, the Olivers – then called upon Henry and urged him likewise. He added that a certain Alderman Daniel had told him that, “Since Bristol was made a city there has been no occasion when the recommendation of the aldermen has been ignored.”

There are still some mysteries in this part of Henry Savery’s story, in particular this business of the aldermen being consulted (Ames and Cave were both aldermen, as well as Daniel), which simply seems not to have happened. Neither Cave nor Daniel had attended the trial, and afterwards Cave denied he had advised Henry to plead guilty: an assertion contradicted by Henry’s jailer, who had overheard their conversation. It also came to light that before the trial, Cave had confronted a solicitor called Bigg, a cousin of Eliza Savery, over the letter written by Henry to his father-in-law, Lionel Oliver, in which he summed up the pros and cons of the advice he was given: after reading the letter, Cave did not repudiate any of its contents.

Charles Savery petitioned Lord Gifford, the judge, but he was unmoved. Charles then undertook the thankless task of petitioning Robert Peel, only too well aware of how slender Henry’s chances were in that quarter. By then the part played by Stephen Cave had been exposed: Charles emphasised both this and, conversely, the grounds for acquittal, backing his legal petition with an actual petition for clemency carrying over two thousand signatures – including those of Henry’s plaintiffs. Henry’s great-uncle, Lord Manvers, also intervened. Finally – and very reluctantly – Robert Peel gave in, commuting Henry’s death sentence to transportation for life. But the whole business infuriated him, so that he never forgot the name “Henry Savery”…

An explanation is also provided in A Forger’s Tale for Henry’s preferential treatment before and during his journey to Australia—a rare instance in this story of someone paying his debts. While Henry was the proprietor of the newspaper, the Bristol Observer, he had dabbled in politics, coming out in strong support of a campaigning politician called Richard Hart Davis, who was duly elected. It was Hart Davis who used his influence to get Henry removed from the hulks to the hospital ship prior to his transportation, and saw that he was permitted to retain his ordinary clothing and mingle with the paying passengers, rather than being confined below decks with his fellow-convicts, during the journey to Tasmania. He also wrote to a friend, Major-General Ralph Darling, asking him to look after Henry following his arrival. However, Darling either forgot or couldn’t be bothered.

Despite this, Henry’s business and financial skills helped him land on his feet. He was immediately seconded for government duty, and devoted his leisure time to quietly doing work “off the books” for various local businessmen, earning a great deal more in that way than he did via his official employment. Eventually he entered into a business partnership with one Bartholomew Thomas, whose Cressy Company had won the exclusive contract to supply “the colony” with horses.  He also leased himself a small cottage, and started getting his life in order generally. So when Henry wrote to his wife, Eliza, talking up his position and urging her to join him, he wasn’t just blowing hot air.

With the shifting of the scene to Tasmania, the story told in A Forger’s Tale takes on a new air of confidence, for obvious reasons. From this point onwards Henry Savery’s own account of events is supported by a written record – newspapers, letters and journals that throw light on his numerous travails. In particular, we have the personal papers of Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, to whom Rod Howard devotes a chapter of his book. Though Arthur’s full story need not concern us, he arrived in Tasmania in 1824 a deeply disgruntled man, with enemies slandering his name in England and a hostile reception waiting for him. His predecessor, William Sorell, was popular locally – chiefly due to his complete failure to actually do his job – and Arthur’s arrival was greeted with anything but an outpouring of joy. Disgusted by the state of the sloppily run penal colony, the puritanical, hard-line Arthur landed on Hobart Town like a ton of bricks.

And Hobart Town – led by Andrew Bent, proprietor of the Hobart Town Gazette (a convicted thief), his offsider, Robert Murray (a convicted bigamist), and local businessman, Anthony Kemp (a former soldier and habitual mutineer) – fought back.

For a variety of reasons – predominantly politics, profit, and sheer bastardry – these three men waged a destructive campaign against George Arthur; one which, in the long run, crippled him. The war was at its height in December of 1825, when Henry Savery arrived in Hobart Town—and found himself caught in the crossfire.

Henry’s very sensible plan for working through his sentence was to pull his head in, keep his mouth shut and stay not only out of trouble, but out of the public eye. He was assisted by his own snobbery: the “upper classes” of Hobart, who he thought of as his social equals, would have nothing to do with him, a convict, and he wanted nothing to do with his fellow-transportees. When he wasn’t working, he kept to himself. Consequently, his dismay upon opening the Colonial Times (renamed after George Arthur founded a government-sponsored newspaper and also called it the Hobart Town Gazette) and finding himself mentioned in a hostile – and largely inaccurate – article may well be imagined. Drawing parallels between him and the much more famous Henry Fauntleroy, the article highlighted Henry’s preferential shipboard treatment, drew attention to George Arthur’s appropriation of his skills, and claimed (wrongly) that Arthur had arranged another “soft berth” for him, in the shape of a superintendentship at the Colonial Hospital.

We need not follow the entire campaign that ensued. Suffice it to say that the account of Henry Savery’s persecution in Quintus Servinton is accurate—except that Henry saw himself as the target, whereas in reality he was just a stick to beat George Arthur with; but in any event, the two men’s names became inescapably linked. Arthur’s appropriation of Henry’s particular skill-set, which was at a premium in the struggling colony, infuriated its embryo business community and seems to have been the catalyst for much of what followed. Again and again, Henry was represented in the press as doing George Arthur’s dirty work, while a variety of false claims were made as to the nature of his government appointment(s)—it was reported, for instance, that he was the editor of Arthur’s version of the Hobart Town Gazette. In reality he was doing straightforward accounting and clerical work, first in the Colonial Secretary’s office, then at the Treasury.

In time the constant slanders had the inevitable effect: people began to look askance at Henry Savery and assume him to be in the wrong. In particular, when the Cressy Company failed – mostly due to Bartholomew Thomas’s mismanagement – it was assumed that Henry was really to blame; that in short, he’d been cooking the books. Finally Henry acquired a real and dangerous personal enemy in the shape of local solicitor, Gamaliel Butler, who was eventually responsible for his imprisonment for debt.

But always George Arthur was the real target. The accusations made against him were transmitted to England, with articles originating in the Colonial Times reprinted in the London papers and constant written complaints directed to the Home Secretary, Lord Bathurst. For reasons that are unclear (beyond Arthur’s personal unpopularity), these reports were accepted at face value. A disbelieving Arthur received letters from Bathurst angrily rebuking him for his conduct, and in particular for his promotion of Henry Savery; an activity in which Lord Bathurst was joined by the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, to whom the thought of Henry Savery receiving privileges was anathema.

Meanwhile, Eliza Savery was on her way to Tasmania. When Henry wrote encouraging her to come, he was gainfully employed, had saved quite a sum of money, and was busy turning his little cottage into a home. By the time she arrived he was destitute, unemployed, and on the verge of a prison sentence.

I have a bit of a problem with A Forger’s Tale‘s attitude to Eliza Savery, wherein Rod Howard takes it for granted that Eliza had an affair with Algernon Montagu. Obviously I don’t believe Henry Savery’s romanticised depiction of his wife as an angel upon earth in Quintus Servinton; but there seems to reason to assume the worst, either. Certainly Montagu had an agenda, and interfered disastrously between Henry and Eliza; but he might well have done that to leave Eliza with no-one else to turn to, rather than because she was his mistress. There is no actual evidence of an affair, only a lot of gossip; yet Howard refers to Henry as “the cuckolded convict” and Eliza as “the adulterous wife”. It seems rather unfair, particularly given the fact that Howard just takes Henry Savery’s word for his own fidelity.

On the other hand, A Forger’s Tale gives an excellent and interesting account of the writing of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, Henry’s first venture into print. Since I will be examining this earlier publication in due course, we will not touch that part of the story now. I may say that The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land sounds altogether a more interesting work than Quintus Servinton turned out to be, and apparently includes all the local colour that the novel conspicuously lacks.

The final section of A Forger’s Tale deals with the sad conclusion of Henry Savery’s life. After he emerged from prison in 1831, things went better for Henry—for a time. He was employed as a private tutor in the New Norfolk district, and in 1832 he won his ticket of leave; although it was later rescinded for reasons that really weren’t his fault. Eventually he tried farming; but here he began to get back into financial difficulties. That said, his eventual conviction for passing forged notes seems to have been on pretty flimsy evidence. But perhaps the evidence had less to do with it than the fact that the judge before Henry appeared was none other than Algernon Montagu—while on the jury were two individuals who had been skewered in The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land. Perhaps it is not altogether surprising that his sentence was that, “…you be transported beyond the seas for the term of your natural life.”

The final mystery of Henry Savery’s life concerns his death. Decades after the event, Henry Melville, the printer who saw to the publication of Quintus Servinton, called Henry’s death suicide; while David Burn, a Scottish poet and journalist, in the course of a bizarre, tourist-brochure-like piece of writing called An Excursion To Port Arthur, describes his encounter with a physically shattered Henry Savery, making reference to “the scarce-healed wound of his attenuated throat”.

Rod Howard accepts this as evidence that Henry Savery died, eventually, after cutting his own throat a second time. Cecil Hadgraft, conversely, in his biographical sketch in the 1962 edition of Quintus Servinton, dismisses Melville’s assertion as the effect of confused memories so many years later, and thinks David Burn was referring to the scar from Henry’s first suicide attempt: he concludes from the description of his general condition that Henry had suffered a stroke.

Either way, Henry Savery died from the complications of something, on the 6th February 1842, and two days later was buried in an unmarked grave on The Isle Of The Dead. His fate is known because the minister who oversaw his interment made a note of it in his journal; the minister’s rider, “His end was without honour”, tends to support the suicide theory.

So—there turns out to be far more truth in Quintus Servinton than we initially supposed; the only real fudging comes with Henry’s description of his relationship with Eliza, and in his parallel efforts to praise George Arthur, and make excuses for Algernon Montagu; none of which we can blame him for—and none of which did him the slightest bit of good. Given the extent to which Savery was in reality a victim, his critical self-analysis in his novel takes on an extra, and most interesting, dimension.

The pity of Quintus Servinton is that it is just not a well-written book; in spite of its importance you can’t really recommend it. However, even if his novel will never be more than a footnote in literary terms, at least Henry Savery’s place in the timeline of Australian literature has, albeit belatedly, been recognised and acknowledged.

savery7A

An excerpt from the preface of Quintus Servinton; and the official commutation of Henry Savery’s death sentence (both scanned from A Forger’s Tale, no specific sources given).

11/01/2015

Quintus Servinton (Part 2)

savery1bLike many others, he had read unmoved in the hour of his prosperity, the tales of suffering, endured by criminals at their various places of punishment; he had glanced slightly over occasional paragraphs in the newspapers, connected with those floating prisons, the hulks, but intelligence of this sort had passed him unheeded, and he had never thought of acquainting himself with any other than general information, respecting their internal management and condition. Little dreaming that it might ever fall to his own lot to acquire such knowledge by personal experience, he had merely felt, as is commonly the case, that bad as they might be, they were quite good enough for their inhabitants, and had troubled himself no farther about them. Hitherto he had endured few of the pangs of imprisonment beyond the loss of liberty. He had been allowed an unrestrained intercourse with his friends, had been kept separate and apart from other unfortunates, had been free from all distinguishing emblems of his condition, all which circumstances had greatly tended to mitigate the severity of his fate. But, as the carriage that was rapidly conveying him to Woolwich, approached the Arsenal, and he saw crowds of men in irons, all dressed alike, some dragging carts filled with rubbish, some up to their middle in water, labouring by the river side at excavations, some carrying timber or other burthens, others in saw-pits, or employed upon different sorts of artificers’ work, but observed that every gang or set was closely attended by soldiers, with muskets and fixed bayonets, and that here and there a task-master was watching a party, apparently under his immediate charge, an apprehension crept over his mind, that all distinction between himself and others, was now at an end…

But something did save his life; just.

It is not at all clear who advised Henry Savery to plead guilty, but since his account of his trial and its circumstances in Quintus Servinton is in accordance with the public record in every checkable detail, it is reasonable to accept his version of events in this respect, too. We find Quintus in receipt of tortuously conflicting advice: while “the first counsel of the day” highlights variously legal technicalities as grounds for acquittal and advises him to plead not guilty on that basis, a Mr Stephens, “one of the Aldermen of the City”, visits him for the purpose of urging the guilty plea, in which he is supported by Mr Rothero, a partner in the business defrauded but, more pertinently, the former Lord Mayor of London:

“…before the sentences are passed, the Aldermen and Lord Mayor of the day are always consulted, and the majority of their opinions is invariably attended to. I have been through it myself, in my own mayoralty and must know. Several cases have occurred, where such a course has been attended by the effects I state, and it has never once failed. Look at how many of the prosecutors are members of the corporation! they have no vindictive feeling… They want a conviction for the sake of justice, but nothing farther…”

Except in this case, it seems, no such consultation occurred.

Quintus Servinton takes an exasperating turn at this point, as we are told over and over again how terribly sorry everyone feels for Quintus, how much they like him and how terrible they think it is that such things are happening to him—all because he’s a gentleman. This strain of writing carries us from Quintus’s arrest through his trial and condemnation, the last-minute commutation of his sentence, his time in the hulks and his transportation; during which everyone he encounters goes out of their way to help him and to keep him separated from the other convicts—with whom, of course, no gentleman should have to associate.

It all gets a bit sickening, frankly; although it is not without its ironic side, since it appears that it was Henry / Quintus’s position that made the then-Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, so reluctant to commute his sentence—and that of others like him—on the grounds that gentlemen ought to know better. In this instance, however, the bad advice over the guilty plea from (it appears) someone who might expect to be listened to tipped the scale, and the sentence of execution was altered to one of transportation for life. But it took almost every minute between Henry / Quintus’s condemnation and his scheduled execution to obtain this outcome: it is fact, not merely novelistic melodrama, that the commutation arrived less than twenty-four hours prior to sentence being carried out.

It is possible, I suppose, that “white-collar” criminals were always treated a bit differently; but the description of Quintus’s early days as a convicted felon, with its self-comforting undertone of, Everyone could see that I was special, takes some swallowing. He is allowed to wear ordinary clothes, he is removed from the hulks on a specious diagnosis of ill-health, he is given the best possible shipboard accommodation, and he is separated from the mass of the convicts and permitted to associate with the ordinary passengers instead.

The most significant detail here (not that Savery could have known it was) is an account of a meeting between Quintus and one of the passengers, a “Presbyterian divine of the Scotch kirk”. As Cecil Hadgraft points out, this is undoubtedly John Dunmore Lang, who (very briefly, and among many other things) subsequently worked tirelessly for the abandonment of transportation, the introduction of local representative government, and the establishment of Australia as an independent nation. He was also the grandfather of John Lang, one of Australia’s first home-grown novelists, who we shall undoubtedly meet in due course.

Once Quintus arrives in Australia – New South Wales, not Tasmania; it is likely, I think, that the law suit over The Hermit Of Van Diemen’s Land frightened Henry Savery away from his home turf – Quintus Servinton takes an odd turn, with the self-exculpatory tone becoming predominant and a greater gap opening up between the facts and the novel’s interpretation of those facts.

Evidently Savery spent his time in Australia lurching from one kind of trouble to another. Not all of it was his fault. Savery got caught in the middle of a feud between various local interests and Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, chiefly because he was seconded to government service immediately upon his arrival: an appointment that infuriated the burgeoning local settlement where business and financial skills such as Savery’s were in urgent demand. Typically, this situation is turned around in the novel, with Quintus himself the target of these attacks and increasingly (though for reasons that are never entirely clear) dogged by enemies both local and back in England.

In reality, however, it seems that most of Savery’s troubles stemmed from his refusal – or his inability – to accept that the rules applied to him.

The focus of the final volume of Quintus Servinton is the relationship between Quintus and his wife, Emily—recapitulating, at least in outline, Henry Savery’s relationship with his own wife, Eliza. The basic facts of the story are remarkable enough: Eliza Savery’s first attempt to join her husband in Australia almost killed her, as her ship was caught in a violent storm and wrecked without getting any further than Plymouth. Despite this, a few months later she embarked again, undertaking the gruelling four-and-a-half month journey from England to Tasmania, and arriving in Hobart in October of 1828.

And then, in February of 1829, she turned around and went back to England.

There were various ways in which convicts could be joined by their wives. In the ideal scenario, a government certificate would be issued if the husband had shown exemplary conduct during the first year of his sentence and could demonstrate his ability to support his wife (naturally this system favoured convicts with marketable skills, who would be hired like normal employees), and the wife could provide letters of recommendation attesting to her own unblemished reputation. This strictness was at least partly because when these conditions were met, the wife’s passage was paid for by the government; it was a way of bringing a better class of woman to “the colony”. When the wife arrived, her husband would be “assigned” to her as a servant, allowing them effectively to live a normal life together until the end of his sentence. Husbands and wives not meeting these conditions could still be reunited, but at their own expense and their own peril.

While we cannot doubt Henry Savery’s devotion to his wife, it was his longing to be reunited with her that first led him into trouble with the authorities. Before he had been in Hobart a month, he was making application to have Eliza brought out. An understandable inquiry into how he managed to obtain the necessary certificate so quickly revealed that he hadn’t. Rather, a statement from the Colonial Secretary, that he should bring his wife out if possible, had been twisted by Savery into permission to do so—although whether this was a misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation is unclear. This incident was, however, the first of many occasions upon which Savery succeeded in earning the ire of the local authorities. It also set the tone for the rest of his time as a convict, in which he repeatedly attracted accusations of dodgy business practices and false representation.

Thwarted with respect to the certificate, Henry Savery continued to plead with Eliza by letter to join him at her family’s expense, until as we have seen she began making her arrangements late in 1828. It seems, however, that partly in his desperation to see her again and partly out of the same over-inflated opinion of himself that had led him into trouble in the first place, Henry Savery had sent his wife exaggerated accounts of the state of Hobart itself, and of his own importance in the colony. Instead of what she had been led to expect, Eliza arrived to find a struggling community built around a penal colony, with all its attendant deprivations, and her husband in such financial straits that he was not only unable to provide a home for her, but on the verge of being imprisoned for debt. Furthermore, barely had Eliza set foot in Hobart than she was threatened with having her own scanty property confiscated to pay off what her husband owed: an outcome that would have left her homeless and destitute.

While it is not hard to imagine the scene that must have followed, its climax is still shocking: a week after his wife’s long-anticipated arrival, Henry Savery attempted suicide by cutting his own throat; although prompt medical assistance saved his life.

While Savery was recovering, the local authorities tried but failed to arrange some sort of accommodation regarding his debts; and in December 1828 he was imprisoned. Eliza Savery, meanwhile, was urged to protect herself and her property by leaving the colony, which she did the following February.

Now—consider the events I have just outlined, and then consider this passage:

Already, therefore, had hope dispelled much of the recollection of the past, and in the flattering picture it drew for the future, little else than happiness appeared to await him. Notwithstanding the doom under which he had been banished from his native land, instances were of every day’s occurrence to justify the expectation, that in a few years he might be in a situation to return to England, should it be his desire to do so; in the mean time, he was in one of the finest climates on the globe – had conquered numerous difficulties by his energy and activity – had made many powerful friends – and had been altogether void of offence, either in his compulsory duties, or in his private relations. Every letter to Emily was full of the many agreeable subjects, connected with this state of things – he described in glowing colours, the beautiful scenery that surrounded the residence he had provided for her – pourtrayed in fervid language, the individuals who had been most kind to him – descanted upon his pleasing prospects, so far as worldly concerns went…

(Those references to “the finest climate on the globe” and “the beautiful scenery” are all we get by way of Henry Savery describing his surroundings.)

The final section of Quintus Servinton is all about Quintus’s relationship with Emily, and manages to be touching, painful and rather embarrassing all at once. As by this time we would expect, the facts are all there in outline but the circumstances and motivations have all been reworked, until the narrative strikes us as a mixture of romanticism and sheer denial.

In the novel, Emily Servinton is the very embodiment of the perfect nineteenth-century wife: loving, devout, self-sacrificing, endlessly patient, forgiving and forbearing. It is she who is determined at all cost to be reunited with her husband. However, by the time she arrives Quintus’s enemies have succeeded in putting him in an invidious position, accusing him both of illegal business practices and threatening him unjustly with imprisonment for debt.

Furthermore,  all unknowing, Emily herself has become an object of more than usual interest to one Alverney Malvers, who is travelling to Hobart to take up a judgeship, and who was given the task of looking after her on shipboard. Although Malvers does not misread Emily’s character so far as to think he has any chance with her, he takes at face value the slanders of Quintus’s enemies and becomes unable to tolerate the thought of her living with such a man; resorting to increasingly desperate, even dishonourable, actions to separate her from Quintus:

Emily continued unwilling to hear her husband spoken of reproachfully; but so assailed, she was in a measure compelled to sit and listen to a long train of his alleged misconduct – in the course of which, things, true in themselves, were so distorted, arising from the sources through which they had reached her informant, as to lose all semblance of reality. Mr Malvers told her, in its worst colours, the orders received from England for his removal into the interior – painted the utter hopelessness of his prospects – strongly insinuated that he had so comported himself, as to be again amenable to the laws – conveyed rather more of a suspicion of other delinquencies – mentioned the intention on the part of a person, whom Quintus had appointed trustee over some property, on account of his civil disabilities, of instantly seizing every thing she had brought from England, upon the ground that it now belonged to her husband, and became, therefore, vested in him; and concluded by saying, that Quintus would, in all probability, be torn from her in the course of the day, either under an arrest for debt, or as a consequence of the interposition of Government.

This passage very much captures the peculiar tone of Quintus Servinton, spelling out the facts but presenting them as exaggeration and slander.

(“Malvers” is based upon Algernon Montagu, who did travel out to Hobart in company with Eliza Savery. There was some ugly gossip about the two of them, although it may well have been just gossip. It seems that in the first instance Malvers offered financial assistance for Savery, in order to help Eliza, but when he discovered just how much of a mess he was in he washed his hands of it, apart from advising Eliza to leave as quickly as possible.)

Emily, of course, doesn’t believe any of this; but when Malvers tells her that she is hurting Quintus by staying with him – that his arrest leaving her destitute will reflect upon him – that the protection of a lady of high reputation will elevate her and Quintus by association – she begins, reluctantly, to heed him. She agrees to leave Quintus’s cottage for the Hobart house of a Mrs Cecil – regretting her decision almost as soon as it is taken. Malvers, however, having achieved his end, has no intention of allowing contact between Emily and Quintus and strives to keep them totally separated.

Consequently, Quintus returns to his cottage to find that, evidently, only a week after their reunion, Emily has deserted him. It is a blow he cannot withstand:

With a terrible foreboding, did Mr Leicester turn towards the spot, and his anticipations, gloomy as they might have been, were shortly more than realised. Stretched upon the floor of one of the rooms, weltering in a sea of blood, perfectly unconscious, and life’s stream, if not already exhausted, rapidly ebbing from its source, lay the man to whom, through good report and evil report, he had proved the firm, undeviating friend…

While Quintus is being nursed back to health by Emily, he and his friends try to hit upon the best course of action. In the first place, Emily appeals personally to the Governor of the colony (not George Arthur, since this isn’t Tasmania, though obviously based upon him). He tells her that Quintus’s only hope is for her to return to England and make a similar personal appeal to the Home Secretary who, though immovable by letter, may be influenced by Emily in person. Assured that this is the only way, Emily resolves to follow the Governor’s advice; steeling herself for the task of breaking to Quintus the news that they are to be separated again:

    His countenance altered, a deathly paleness succeeded the faint colour that had now resumed its place on his cheek, and which, Emily observing, continued, “Do not look so – I cannot bear to see it. I know what is passing in your mind,” and sinking into his arms as she spoke, “I will never leave you again for a single day, unless you desire me.”
    “Then, my love, you will remain with me until I close your eyes, or you do the same sad office for me – but I hope you do not think I mistrust you, for believe me, I have the most unbounded confidence in your good sense, your correct principles, and your affection.”

And at length Quintus agrees to Emily’s departure. Before it can be arranged, however, the person to whom Quintus is in debt has him imprisoned. Quintus has had his property placed in trust specifically to prevent this outcome, and the resulting legal tangle is one more reason for Emily to plead his case in England. As it happens, there is a ship in the harbour that is shortly to depart. Emily must make up her mind to go at once:

    “Do not fancy for a moment, my dearest Quintus, that I regard myself, or my own happiness, in urging upon you the wisdom of my embarking by the Zara. I can never be happy separated from you – and I solemnly pledge myself, that my absence shall not be one day longer, than is necessary for obtaining such a mitigation of the cruel orders now in force, as may prevent the probability of our living together, free from such storms as have latterly befallen us… I once more solemnly assure you, that if God spare my life, I will rejoin you; and that, no longer delay shall take place in your again seeing me, than is absolutely unavoidable. Let me only once gain the point I have in view, and I will never relinquish the pursuit till it be gained, you shall see how long it will be, ere I am again on the water to join you…”
    The two or three days that intervened, until the Zara would be ready for sea, were wholly devoted to her husband – and when, at length, the morning arrived that was to witness her departure from a spot, her arrival upon whose shores, only three months previously, had long been associated with many visionary scenes of happiness, the signal from the vessel had been more than once made, until she could tear herself from the last fond embrace of one, with whom she was leaving an undivided, a truly affectionate heart – and again and again did she say, “One kiss more, my dearest, dear husband – think of me, and pray for me, for you will be in my constant thoughts and prayers, and, if I live, we will soon see one another again,” ere this excellent, devoted woman could summon courage to leave the place – when, presently embarking, a prosperous wind soon wafter her far, far away from the unfortunate Quintus.

In Emily’s absence, Quintus remains in prison, treating it as a chastening exercise that will assist him in eradicating from his character those flaws that have been at the root of so much evil. Emily, meanwhile, devotes herself to pleading her husband’s cause to the Home Secretary; and although the process drags out over years, in the end she succeeds in winning for Quintus exoneration of the (trumped-up) charges against him and some mitigation of his original sentence. The two are reunited and, after several more years of quiet, honest conduct, Quintus has the rest of his sentence revoked. He and Emily return to England, retiring to a quiet corner of Devonshire—where the framing narrator of this novel (remember him?) discovers them many years later.

Though of course—that’s not how the story really ended.

Quintus Servinton was written and published, we recall, during 1830 and early 1831, while Henry Savery was first in prison and then an assigned convict labourer. He received his ticket of leave in 1832, and immediately wrote to Eliza, begging her to join him. She did not respond, and he never saw or heard from her again.

We recall that Quintus Servinton was published in Britain in 1832—and can only speculate as to whether Eliza read it – and if so, how she felt about it – and whether it influenced her decision. In particular you have to wonder how close to reality the parting scenes between Quintus and Emily might have been. Not very, we suspect. It is a matter of record that the colony of Hobart was shocked by the situation in which Eliza Savery found herself in upon her arrival. George Arthur himself commented in a letter:

This lady, it appears, is most respectably connected in England, and, allured by the gross misrepresentations of her Husband as to the comfort of his situation in this Colony, she, unfortunately, ventured to join him. Wounded by the shameful duplicity which had been practised upon her, some domestic misunderstanding took place immediately after her debarkation…

(“Domestic misunderstanding”—master of the understatement, our Lieutenant-Governor.)

After Henry Savery’s release from debtor’s prison, he worked for the newspaper, the Tasmanian, and again got mixed up in a libel suit; and although this incident really wasn’t Savery’s fault, it cost him his ticket of leave. Subsequently he tends to fall out of the public eye, although it is known that he developed an interest and some skill in agriculture, leasing farms and working to improve methods of cultivation.

However, he also got more and more into debt; until at last – believe it or not – he resorted to passing false bills. He was again exposed, arrested, and convicted. His sentence was “Transportation beyond sea for life” – which for someone in Henry Savery’s circumstances meant incarceration and hard labour at Port Arthur. But “life”, as it turned out, was only another fifteen months: Henry Savery died, apparently of a stroke, in February 1842. He was buried on what  is known as “The Isle Of The Dead”, an offshore cemetery.

Savery was rescued from this oblivion in 1978, when the National Parks & Wildlife Service placed a stone reading:  In Memory Of Henry Savery, Australia’s First Novelist, Who Died At Port Arthur In 1842 One Of Many Convicts Buried Here In Unmarked Graves. In 1992, on the 150th anniversary of his death,  the Fellowship of Australian Writers replaced this with a memorial that – fittingly, I think – equals Savery’s novel in its frankness about the vagaries of his life:

savery2

Footnote: My remark that “not much is known about Henry Savery’s early life” may have been premature: this exercise has brought to my attention A Forger’s Tale: The Extraordinary Story of Henry Savery, Australia’s First Novelist by Rod Howard.

09/01/2015

Quintus Servinton (Part 1)

savery3Still, what was he to do? for the only other alternative, that of staying and facing the storm, seemed to him still worse than flight. At times he felt disposed to unbosom himself unreservedly to Emily; but again his courage failed him, for he could not endure the thoughts of thus contemplating his own picture. So hideous is vice, when seen in its true colours—so frightful the spectre even to ourselves, that we are driven from one position to another, seeking to avoid it, although, after the first wrong step, only to increase its power. We forgot also, how grievously we afflict others, at the same moment that we are ruining ourselves, by enlisting in its service; for our experience of the world tells us, that there are many, who are much more keen and sensitive, respecting the faults of others, than of their own – many, who view the same transaction in different lights, according to its actor – who think that, a beautiful flower, when belonging to themselves, which is esteemed a frightful weed, if growing in their neighbour’s garden – in a word, who measure their own and other peoples’ corn by different bushels. Not so however, was it with Quintus, in respect to the relative connexion between himself, and the affectionate friends by whom he was surrounded. Could he have summoned resolution to have poured into Emily’s ear, some of that contrition, by which his soul was distracted, and which, being suppressed, added twofold to his misery, he would have found in her, and in her relations, powerful and kind auxiliaries. Could he indeed, have brought himself to divest his mind of a portion of its care, by laying the burden upon one, who was most ready to share it with him, the subsequent excellence of her conduct gave full assurance, that he would have reposed his confidence, where it was well deserved; and both might have been spared years of sorrow…

When Henry Savery’s Quintus Servinton: A Tale Founded Upon Incidents Of Real Occurrence is called “the first Australian novel”, we are much closer to the truth than is often the case when dealing with anointed “firsts”. The novel was published in Hobart, with volumes I and II appearing late in 1830, and volume III early in 1831. It received favourable notices in the local newspapers, which also noted that the novel was printed for “transmission to England”, and that consequently only a few copies would be “retained for sale in the Colony”.

These circumstances help to account for the extreme rarity of the first edition of Quintus Servinton, only three copies of which are known to exist. That held by the Mitchell Library, the main Australiana collection of the State Library of New South Wales, was used as the basis of the first local reprinting of the book, the Jacaranda Press edition of 1962. Vitally, this edition also carried a biographical introduction prepared by Cecil Hadgraft, which draws together what is known about the life of Henry Savery (and to which I am deeply indebted for much of what follows). Two subsequent editions, from the New South Wales University Press in 1984 and the University of Sydney Press in 2003, essentially reproduce the Jacaranda Press edition, including Hadgraft’s introduction; although the former, for inscrutable reasons, altered the title of the novel to The Bitter Bread Of Banishment.

It is perhaps not altogether surprising to discover that Quintus Servinton is more important than good; although to be fair, some of the reasons that the novel is likely to disappoint the modern reader lie in false expectations. While this novel is invariably referenced in terms of its author’s experiences as a convict, in fact these are reflected only in the third of the three volumes, the other two of which are devoted to getting its title character to the point of the (we are assured) single transgression that resulted in his transportation.

Furthermore, nothing in the novel addresses the convict experience generally, nor is there any description of the surroundings in which this phase of Quintus’s life is played out. This can be partly ascribed to the fact that, while Quintus serves his time in New South Wales, Henry Savery was transported to Tasmania. However, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the real reason we are given so little hint of what is going on around Quintus is that this narrow focus reflects the complete self-absorption of his author.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Quintus Servinton is not just that it is partly autobiographical, but the extent to which this is so: everything that is on the public record about Henry Savery appears in this novel. What differs between the reality and the fiction is the motivation and the tone. Although it is impossible to get away from the act of forgery that caused his conviction and transportation (and nearly got him executed), Savery’s Quintus is more sinned against than sinning, a victim of circumstances and of outside malice. However, when we consider the facts of Savery’s life, it is hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that he brought most of his troubles on himself—not least from never knowing when to quit. As Cecil Hadgraft puts it:

It is not too harsh to suggest that apart from successful ingenuity and a practised bravado he had many of the qualifications of the confidence-man.

Not much is known about Henry Savery’s early life. He was born in 1791, the son of John Savery, a well-respected Bristol banker. The Savery family boasted descent from the Norman de Servingtons, and often gave “Servington” as a middle name. Henry was the family’s sixth-born son, but an elder brother died in infancy making Henry in effect the fifth (“Quintus”). As a young man he lived in London, and there married Eliza Oliver. The couple moved back to the west of England, and Henry went into business for himself. His first venture, in sugar refining, went bankrupt. He next changed horses and operated a newspaper for some two and a half years; it is not known why he gave up on the venture. While still publishing the newspaper, Henry took over an insurance and brokerage form, but this doesn’t seem to have lasted either. In 1822 he went back into the sugar-refining business—and that’s when things went wrong. Or at least, that’s when we know things went wrong: when Henry Savery was arrested in 1824, one newspaper report of it commented that there had been previous instances of “painful filial misconduct”, which perhaps suggests that John Savery had saved his son’s skin on other, less serious, occasions.

He could do nothing for Henry this time, however. While it has been suggested that Henry had been guilty of fraudulent practices on a large scale and over time, all we know for certain is that in 1824, he passed a false bill for £500—apparently because, without the knowledge of his business partner, he had committed their company beyond its means and had to find a way of covering the gap. The bill was not a forgery in the sense we might expect, inasmuch as it was entirely false—being “endorsed” by non-existent people, rather than carrying false signatures of real and trustworthy individuals.

Via Quintus, Henry Savery claims not to have known that this sort of bill fell under the contemporary statutes against forgery. However, the high-profile trial and execution of convicted forger, Henry Fauntleroy, may have taught him differently. In any event, he panicked and ran, but was apprehended as he was trying to leave the country. Seeing himself trapped, Savery jumped overboard and nearly drowned. Subsequently recovering, he was held in prison until his trial. During this period, it seems that certain prominent individuals convinced him that the only way to save his life was to plead guilty. He did so, persisting in his plea even against the strong advice of the court recorder, only to have his judge immediately assume the black cap.

Clearly some terrible miscommunication had occurred, since not merely Henry Savery reacted with shock and horror to this outcome: even George Smith, who had brought the charges against Savery, pleaded for mercy—to no avail. Savery was committed to prison, the date of his execution set for three weeks’ distance. In the meantime, frantic efforts were made on his behalf; and with less than twenty-four hours left, Savery’s friends succeeded in having his sentence commuted to transportation for life. He spent about six weeks in the hulk Justinia at Woolwich, and left England forever in mid-August of 1825 on the Medway, arriving in Van Diemen’s Land, as it was then known, early in December.

Henry Savery’s time as a convict and a ticket-of-leave man was one of ups and downs; mostly, for one reason or another, downs. The period that most concerns us, that between December 1828 and March 1830, finds him imprisoned for debt. During the second half of 1829, Savery began to fill his time by writing, producing The Hermit Of Van Diemen’s Land, a series of sketches about Hobart life that appeared in the Colonial Times, and beginning work on Quintus Servinton. Upon his release, having exhausted the patience of the authorities and, in particular, Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, Savery was dispatched as an assigned labourer to the farmlands of one Major Macintosh, in the New Norfolk district west of Hobart, where he stayed until receiving his ticket-of-leave in June of 1832. During his time in New Norfolk, he completed and arranged for the publication of Quintus Servinton.

(The Hermit Of Van Diemen’s Land attracted a libel suit from one of those sketched. However, the suit was directed against the publisher, not the author, and just as well: at the time there was a strict legal edict against convicts writing for the newspapers in any capacity, and had Savery’s authorship been made public, another criminal conviction would certainly have been the consequence. However, the sketches had originally appeared as by “Simon Stukeley”, and it is only because of an annotation by the printer Henry Melville appended to the copy of The Hermit Of Van Diemen’s Land now held by the British Museum, that Savery’s authorship is known.)

Quintus Servinton is a very odd book. On one hand it shows a clear understanding by Savery of the character flaws that led him into trouble, and makes no bones about his guilt in the matter of the forgery; though unlike his fictional counterpart it does not seem that Savery ever learned anything from his experiences, in spite of his literary consideration of the benefits of suffering and the inevitable consequences of transgression. But even while, via Quintus, he is admitting his culpability in the troubles that befell him, every contributing incident is twisted to make it someone else’s fault, with Quintus for one reason or another (jealousy, resentment, financial gain, or just plain bad luck) attracting malicious attacks from a surprising range and number of people. The result is a work that manages to be bluntly honest and totally dishonest at the same time.

But while there is certainly some psychological interest to the analytical self-portrait that comprises Quintus Servinton, as a novel it is a fairly gruelling read. It is easy to understand how Henry Savery might have been led into such an examination of his own life, but for the reader the circumstantial account of the first half of Quintus’s life becomes extremely tedious—not least because Savery has a tendency to write his subject matter into the ground. We learn early on that a combination of overweening self-confidence and impatient ambition, along with a certain way of thinking summed up as “cunning”, are responsible for leading Quintus astray; but this isn’t enough for Savery, who has to illustrate his point over and over, via incidents that no doubt happened to him (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), but which really aren’t necessary for the reader to hear about in such minute detail. Nor do we need to learn quite so much about Quintus’s school-days, or his abortive calf-loves. It is not until deep in the second volume, when the events leading up to the forgery begin to fall into place, that the novel’s level of interest lifts.

Consequently—I’m going to skip over most of those early stages, since the paragraph above tells you most of what you need to know.

Quintus Servinton is framed by a short narrative involving an unnamed young man who is injured while on a walking tour of Devonshire, and taken into the house of an elderly but still loving couple, who show signs of past suffering. The trio become attached, and towards the end of the young man’s stay, his host reveals to him the story of his life—offering it as a cautionary tale.

The novel proper begins in 1772, with Quintus’s birth being marked by a gypsy prophecy regarding his life, which reveals that he will know both great happiness and great sorrow and warns that the years between thirty and forty will be “the commencing years of his disasters”. This early phase of the novel is mostly interesting for the radical attitude of Mrs Servinton: Quintus is her eleventh child, and she is less than thrilled when the gypsy tells her to expect seven more. She greets Quintus’s birth with the following:

“I’m sure Mr Servinton, mine is a dreadful life – no sooner one child can walk, than there’s another in arms – I’m sure I hope none of my daughters will ever marry – they little know what they would have to go through.—We have another boy.—I really thought four were quite enough, and I don’t know what we shall do with any more…”

Mrs Servinton continues to ring changes on this theme throughout the following chapters, while Mr Servinton talks a lot about the dispensations of Providence but (as we may infer from the seven subsequent arrivals) never thinks of keeping it in his pants.

The elder Servinton brothers disappoint their father by getting ideas above their station and refusing to go into business, so Mr Servinton determines to raise Quintus quite differently, sending him away to school and, indeed, cutting him off from his family completely for a period of five years. At seventeen Quintus is placed in a London business, while also brushing up his manners and behaviour by associating with his relatives (his mother is related to an earl). We follow Quintus as he develops an aptitude for business, makes friends and connections, fancies himself in love, and generally grows up for a few years. He also begins to display some alarming tendencies that don’t, at this stage, offer much scope for damage, although the potential is clear. In particular, Quintus gets impatient, tending to prefer progressing quickly, by reckless leaps, to taking cautious steps.

All this occupies the first volume of Quintus Servinton, from which the only other passage I feel moved to quote is this:

Afterwards, addressing his conversation more particularly to Mr Burton, he said, “You were speaking of rustic games this morning, but did not mention golf…” Quintus accordingly went on to describe, that it was a game played by two persons, in an enclosure about seventy feet long, by twenty broad. In this, close to the sides, is a walk portioned off from the centre; and about nine feet from each end, a small pillar is erected, about three feet high. Two balls are used, stuffed, but rather hard; and each player is also furnished with a club or stick, one end of which is strengthened by brass or iron, in the shape of a racket bat. The players stand together, at one end of the enclosure. He who commences, drives his ball towards the pillar at the other extremity – the other afterwards doing the same. He of the two, whose ball rolled nearest the pillar, has now the first blow. They then strike alternately, and the skill and object of the game, consist in making the ball strike one pillar, and then so rebound, that it shall strike the other. He who succeeds in this, scores one; and eleven is the game…

At the beginning of the second volume, Quintus is introduced to the Clifton family—devout, cultured, honourable, but having fallen into some monetary difficulties. He is immediately drawn to the eldest daughter, Emily, but between their mutual financial situations, Emily’s youth, and his own past experiences, Quintus determines to do what he never does in business, and take a slow-and-steady approach. At length the two do marry; they are very much in love and very happy, while Emily, an exemplary wife, repeatedly presses upon Quintus her belief that a wife’s leading duty is to share her husband’s troubles and worries as well as his successes, urging him always to confide in her.

For a time Quintus does exactly this, but as he grows ever more ambitious in his business, and as he begins to associate with London acquaintances whose ideas and practices are considerably less refined than those imbibed by the Cliftons, there are periods of neglect stemming from a combination of concealment, guilt and impatience—but invariably, there is reconciliation and recommitment, too, and on the whole he and Emily are very happy together.

Nevertheless, trouble is brewing:

It is a singular feature in the formation of some minds, that they can exhibit an almost total indifference, where important stakes, involving perhaps, their entire fortunes, are concerned, and yet, show the utmost anxiety about trifles. Quintus was one of this description. His sanguineness enabled him to speculate deeply in business, rendering a trade, proverbially fluctuating, still more hazardous, by his mode of conducting it; and yet he could never bring himself, when cards or other games of chance were introduced at parties, to risk a stake that could in any manner, exceed a few shillings. Gambling of every description he professed to abhor – forgetting now nearly allied to this vice, are improvident speculations in trade…

In is in passages of detached self-analysis such as this that Quintus Servinton is at its strongest.

The initiating event of the defining crisis of Quintus’s life comes when he is the victim of what is, only too clearly, a false bankruptcy. Having paid out as little as possible to his creditors, the “failed” tradesman closes one business and opens another in a space of months upon the proceeds, guarded and assisted by an attorney specialising in loopholes in the law. Quintus gets his fingers badly burned in this transaction, particularly by ending up with a handful of endorsed bills that turn out to be fake (“kites”, as they were known), and therefore worthless. The experience has the effect of engendering in him a resentful, “everyone’s doing it” attitude towards sharp business practices; particularly when his own business strays into difficult financial waters.

By this time Quintus is charge of his own business, in partnership with a man who brought capital to the enterprise but no particular business knowledge; so there is no-one to check him or even recognise what he is doing when he starts to take ever-greater risks—finally crossing the line into illegality:

    It was about a month after the fatal resolve had been so taken, that Quintus met his friend Mr Trusty in the street, one morning, and was accosted by him, “I was on my road to call upon you. We hold an acceptance of yours, for a thousand pounds, in favour of Rothero & Co. due next Thursday, the twelfth, and if you wish it, running bills on discount, will suit us quite as well as cash.”
    No man could be more on the alert, than he ever was, to catch at any prop, or support to the credit of his house, and yet to make things wear the best possible face. He always bore in mind the adage, about being, and singing poor; and although, at this very moment, he had been somewhat uneasy, respecting the provision of this very thousand pounds, it was not his policy to admit to Mr Trusty, the full extent of the accommodation offered him…
    When the twelfth arrived, he provided himself, among several small country bills of exchange of great respectability, with a fictitious note for five hundred pounds, the drawers and endorsers of which, were creatures of his own brain, having no existence… After looking them all over carefully, Mr Rothero fixed upon the five hundred, along with others, of smaller value, and accompanying Quintus to the counting-house, directed the clerk to calculate the discount, and give up the other bill. The money thus raised for the occasion, was entered by Quintus, in the books of the house, as a loan, but without specifying from whom; and although for a few days, he was in a state of constant fear and trembling, nervously excited almost at his own shadow, and full of apprehension every time he saw his office door opened, his alarm by degrees yielded to his satisfaction, if it can be so called, that he derived, from having successfully accomplished his dangerous purpose…

Quintus’s satisfaction, muted as it is, lasts only until a conversation with some business acquaintances, regarding the upcoming execution of a convicted forger:

    This led to a discussion, upon the question, how far the punishment of death, was proper for this particular crime; and in the course of it, Mr Gordon observed, “Forgery is an offence, much more frequently committed, than most people are aware, but the punishment is the same in all cases. There is one branch, which I believe is daily practised with impunity, and almost without notice – I mean the circulation of fictitious bills, or using the names of persons having no existence; which is as much a forgery in the eyes of the law, as the offence for which poor — is doomed to suffer.”
    Quintus was thunderstruck at this doctrine, but managed to reply, “You surely do not mean, Sir, that it can be a forgery, to issue paper bearing the names of persons who never existed.”
    “Most unquestionably it is,” said Mr Gordon. “The Legislature makes no distinction between real or imaginary names; the offence and the punishment are alike in both cases.”

This aspect of the story would appear to be both true and self-serving. Certainly at the time a lot of people got away with forgery, either outright or of the kind practised by Henry / Quintus, because of a reluctance to prosecute (as was the case with respect to most capital crimes short of murder); generally forgers only suffered when the amounts involved were very large (as in the cited case of Henry Fauntleroy), or they did something to draw attention to themselves. However, if convicted, they were almost invariably executed.

It seems rather incredible that Henry / Quintus would not even have considered this aspect of his illegal transaction, although he certainly maintained that position, presumably as an illustration of his unfamiliarity with criminal transactions (only to be confronted, of course, with the inevitable retort that, Ignorance of the law is no excuse). In any event, instead of galvanising him into urgent action, this new knowledge seems to have had the counterintuitive effect of paralysing him. Whatever his own financial position, there were certainly those who would have helped him, either by covering his dereliction or by preventing the prosecution, had he been able to bring himself to confide in them. Instead, he stayed still and silent, making no effort to retrieve to counterfeit bill, despite several opportunities to do so, and allowed events to play out until his exposure.

Hauled out of the water following his abortive escape attempt and nursed back to health, Quintus faces trial for forgery. One of his brothers, Charles, represents him. During his preliminary imprisonment, various important and knowledgeable personages impress upon Quintus that his best chance of saving his life is by pleading guilty and throwing himself on the mercy of the court. At the same time, Quintus is aware that there is a chance of his being acquitted on a technicality (Mr Trusty making a mistaken assertion with respect to his own handling of the bill in question). Weighing up his options, Quintus finally decides to take the expert advice pressed upon him:

    The Recorder himself seemed horror stricken, or appalled – but presently addressing the victim of an outraged, but disgracefully sanguinary law, said, “Prisoner at the Bar!” (what a sound!) “You have pleaded guilty to the indictment with which you have been charged, but your plea is not recorded.—Consider the awful situation in which you have placed yourself, and let me entreat you to withdraw your plea, and to take your trial. I trust no false expectations have induced  your present course – I assure you, that any hopes you may have founded thereon, will prove delusive.”
    Quintus gave no appearance of attending to these words, full of import as they were, until the Recorder had finished speaking; when, again uncovering his face for an instant, he said, with infinitely more composure than before, “Guilty, my Lord!” The Judge was now evidently distressed – the expression of his features bore a mixture of persuasiveness with half displeasure , as he replied, “Quintus Servinton, be advised by me, withdraw your plea, and take your trial – indulge no false hopes – your present course can do you no good whatsoever – consider ere too late – for if your plea be once recorded, nothing can save your life…”

[To be continued…]

29/12/2014

One last thing…

Yes, yes. I’ll shut up in a minute, I promise.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of my blog visitors for sticking by me in what has been an even more than usually erratic year, and particularly those of you who have taken the time to comment.

I should know better by now than to make promises, so I will confine myself to hoping for a more regular posting routine in 2015.

I’ll also hope to see you all there!

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29/12/2014

Like a hole in the head

Even though I need more things to write about like I need an aperture in my cranial equipment, for the past several months I’ve found myself becoming increasingly fixated upon the idea of taking a look at the development of the Australian novel. This area of study, like its American counterpart, offers one significant advantage over the Chronobibliography that comprises the main thrust of this blog—namely, that it is possible to identify a finite starting point.

More or less.

Truthfully, when it comes to identify “the first”, there are probably few areas of literary study that offer more ground for argument than the Australian novel of the 19th century—where we have novels written in Australia but published in Britain, and novels written in Britain but published in Australia; novels about Australia written in Britain, and novels about Britain written in Australia; authors born in Britain but publishing in Australia, and authors born in Australia but publishing in Britain; authors who lived all their lives in Australia, authors who emigrated to Australia, authors who emigrated from Australia, authors who wandered through for a space of months or years, and authors who never in fact set foot in Australia but wrote about it anyway. We even have a few – just a few – of those rarae aves, authors who were born, lived and published in Australia.

There are, consequently, as many “firsts” in the history of Australian fiction as even a complete obsessive like me could possibly desire.

The dogma (of which, by now, I have learned always to be deeply suspicious) is that “the first Australian novel” is Quintus Servinton: A Tale Founded Upon Incidents Of Real Occurrence by Henry Savery, which appeared in Tasmania in the early months of 1831. It was certainly “the first novel” written and published in Australia; its author, however, was born in England. Henry Savery was convicted of forgery in 1825 and sentenced to transportation after having his initial death sentence commuted. He wrote his novel – a semi-autobiographical and rather self-serving tale of convict life – while working as an assigned labourer in the New Norfolk district west of Hobart.

There appear to be three challengers for Quintus Servinton‘s crown. One of them is another, earlier work by Henry Savery: The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, which was published in 1830. This is not, however, a novel, but a series of sketches about Hobart life and its prominent citizens, which appeared first as separate stories in the local newspaper, The Colonial Times. It is also, in a sense, a roman à clef since, although without any political motive, its characters are based on real people, with a key to their identities being appended to the single-volume publication.

The other works highlight the difficulties in this area of study. Mary Leman Grimstone was already established as a poet and novelist when she accompanied her sister and brother-in-law to Australia in 1825. It seems that her second and third novels, Louisa Egerton and Women’s Love, were written during her stay in Tasmania, thus pre-dating all of the other contenders—but they were published in England, appearing in 1830 and 1832, respectively. Furthermore, as far as I am aware (I guess we’ll be finding out!), both are set in England as well.

We should also make mention of another 1830 publication, Arthur Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers. Although originally believed to be the work of the English writer, William Howitt (and is still listed in some sources as such), this children’s fiction has been attributed to a Mrs G. Porter, another English writer who never visited Australia, but drew upon Robert Dawson’s non-fiction work, The Present State of Australia : A Description of the Country, Its Advantages and Prospects, with References to Emigration: and a Particular Account of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of its Aboriginal Inhabitants for her story—which is, in any event, the first work for children to be set in Australia.

Taking all this into consideration, Quintus Servinton still seems a sensible place to start—although knowing myself, I suspect that the other works mentioned (and perhaps Mary Grimstone’s first novel, The Beauty Of The British Alps) will also be putting in an appearance.

29/12/2014

Vale, Aphra

epitaph1In her dedication of The Lucky Mistake to “George Greenveil” (George Granville, Baron Lansdowne), published the year of her death, Aphra Behn comments:

…the Obligations I have to you, deserves a greater testimony of my respect, then this little peice, too trivial to bear the honour of your Name, but my increasing Indisposition makes me fear I shall not have many opportunities of this Kind…

The last years of Aphra Behn’s life were a constant struggle against increasing ill-health. Most cruelly, it seems that she suffered from an arthritic complaint that made it painful, if not impossible, for her to write, and thus to earn an income. It is also easy to imagine that the overthrow of James II in 1688 took a simultaneous toll on Behn’s spirits. It is sad yet strangely fitting that her death almost coincided with the coronation of William and Mary in April of 1689.

Whatever her public reputation, Behn had friends and admirers who organised for her burial in Westminster Abbey; and while the epitaph on her gravestone is often taken as an expression of public disapproval, there are many who believe that Aphra wrote it herself—one last joke at her own expense.

Despite the increasingly punitive morality that would see Aphra Behn expunged from the English literary canon from the mid-18th century until her revival in the early 20th, in her lifetime and the decades that followed her writing was extremely popular – and profitable, for her publishers if not so much for herself. It has been pointed out that Behn was the first English writer of fiction to have her works collected and reissued, with William Canning publishing Oroonoko, The Fair Jilt and Agnes de Castro together in 1688 as “Three Histories“. Then, in 1696, Charles Gildon issued another collection under the title, The Histories And Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn—following this two years later with, All The Histories And Novels Written By The Late Ingenious Mrs Behn, and two years after that with, Histories, Novels And Translations.

And this is where things get awkward. The last volume was sold under the assertion that its contents were, “The greatest part never before printed.” It certainly offered under Aphra Behn’s name various short works not published before…but where did they come from? Charles Gildon, who declared himself to be Behn’s “literary executor”, insisted that they had fallen to his lot after her death; but this hardly explains why he waited eleven years to publish them, particularly given Gildon’s perpetual hand-to-mouth existence and his frequent forays into debt.

Not surprisingly, debate about the origin of these works still continues. There seems to be strong scepticism about their authenticity amongst the experts on Aphra Behn, with most prepared to go no further than to suggest that Behn may have left certain writings unfinished at the time of her death, and that Gildon, or someone paid by him, completed them and published them under her name. Others reject altogether the assertion of her authorship.

And on this basis, I have finally decided not to include these posthumous publications in my consideration of the oeuvre of Aphra Behn…which means that with The Lucky Mistake, we have reached the end of our journey through her works of fiction.

Furthermore, we have also finished our examination of the fiction of 1689—a point I hoped to reach by the end of this year (though for once I had more sense than to jinx myself by saying so out loud). The beginning of 2015 will see us tackling the works of 1690: a year in which I would expect at least a measure of politics to re-emerge, given the events that culminated in the Battle of the Boyne; but which, at least on the basis of a superficial glance, seems to have been a period of consolidation for the English novel.

I’m likewise hoping (ever hopeful, me!) that 2015 will be a year of consolidation for this blog. I did try to get back on track recently with “Authors In Depth”, but ended up lengthening the list rather than making significant headway with our established writers; while “Reading Roulette” came to a halt when a certain book took some dogged tracking down. (It’s on its way now, though!)

Now, between those categories of reviewing, plus my examinations of the roots of the Gothic novel and early detective fiction, you might think I had quite enough to be going on with; yet as I sit here in the waning days of 2014, I find myself in anticipation of founding yet another category of reviews; even though I need more things to write about like I need…um…

29/12/2014

The Lucky Mistake

LuckyMistake1Atlante was now arriv’d to her thirteenth Year, when her Beauty, which every day increas’d, became the discourse of the whole Town; which had already gain’d her as many Lovers as had beheld her, for none saw her without Languishing for her, or at least but what were in very great Admiration of her, every body talkt of the young and charming Atlante, and all the Noble Men who had Sons (knowing the smallness of her Fortune and the lustre of her Beauty) would send them for fear of their being Charm’d with her, or to some other part of the World, or exhorted them, by way of precaution, to keep out of her sight: Old Bellyuard was one of these Wise Parents, and by a timely prevention as he thought of Rinaldo’s falling in Love with Atlante, perhaps was the occasion of his being so; he had before heard of Atlante and of her Beauty; but it had made no impressions on his Heart, but his Father no sooner forbid him Loving, than he felt a new desire Tormenting him, of seeing this lovely and dangerous Young Person…

The Lucky Mistake was published in 1689, the year that Aphra Behn died at the age of only forty-nine. The tragedy of her early death is exacerbated when we consider that this short fiction seemed intended to mark a new phase in her extraordinary literary career. In her study on Behn, Aphra Behn’s Afterlife, Jane Spencer points out that the actual text of this work is sub-headed “The First Novel”, and suggests that Behn had entered into an agreement with the publisher Richard Bentley for a series of such fictions. If such a plan there was, it ended upon the 16th April that year.

Whatever may have been the larger plans for Behn’s fiction, in its own right The Lucky Mistake is clearly a transitional work. It is, for one thing, the first of Behn’s fictions that she announces as “a novel”. Up to this point, as we have seen, Behn tended to call her fictions “histories”, reflecting the fact that they were either based upon true stories, as was the case with Oroonoko and The Fair Jilt, or claimed to be so, as with The History Of The Nun. Neither the dedication nor the text of The Lucky Mistake makes any such claim; in the former Behn says simply:

…all I shall say for it, is, that ’tis not a Translation but an Original…

As I commented with respect to The Rival Princesses, 1689 was apparently a watershed year for the English novel, the point at which writers ceased to fret over the moral implications of “fiction” and began writing stories for the stories’ sake. (Of course, if Behn had been aware that 250 years later her “histories” would lead to her being publicly denounced as a shameless liar, she probably would have started writing “novels” a little earlier.) And in addition to categorising her work as “a novel”, Behn sets it in a country other than England, another common tendency amongst English writers of the time; although in fact, all of Behn’s fictions are set in other countries, possibly as a side-effect of her reading fiction in other languages in her quest to find suitable publications to translate.

Whether it was a conscious act on its author’s part or not, Behn’s “novel” separates itself from her earlier “histories” with respect to both its content and its tone. A fairly straightforward love story, The Lucky Mistake is by far the gentlest of Behn’s works, lacking the cynicism and black humour that mark the earlier short fictions; it even has a happy ending. The tension of the story lies in the conflict between the self-interested and mercenary views of the older generation, and the honest feelings of the younger. One of Behn’s enduring concerns, namely, young girls being forced into either a convent or a marriage against their wills, is a significant plot-point, but without editorialisation on her part and for once without a tragic outcome.

Set in France, evidently in contemporary times, The Lucky Mistake introduces two noble families of contrasting fortunes. Count Bellyuard has retired from court voluntarily, tired of the intrigue and the constant bustle; he gives himself over to the tranquillity of country life and focuses his energies upon his only son:

…call’d Rinaldo now grown to the Age of Fifteen, who having all the Excellent Qualities and Grace of Youth, by Nature; he would bring him up in all the Vertues and Noble Sciences, which he believed the Gayety and Lustre of the Court might divert: he therefore in this retirement spar’d no Cost, to those that could instruct and accomplish him, and he had the best Tutors and Masters that could be purchased at Court: Bellyuard making far less account of Riches than of Fine parts…

Which is easily said when you have riches. In the estate next door is the Count De Pais, of an old and distinguished family, but without the means of maintaining what he feels to be his proper place in the world. He has, therefore, also retired to the country, but not in the same spirit as Count Bellyuard:

And as it is most Natural for great Souls to be most proud, (if I may call a handsome Disdain by that Vulgar Name) when they are most deprest, so De Pais was more retir’d, more estrang’d from his Neighbours, and kept a greater distance, than if he had Enjoy’d all he had lost at Court, and took more Solemnity and State upon him, because he would not be subject to the reproaches of the World, by making himself familiar with it. So that he rarely visited, and was as rarely visited; and contrary to the Custom of those in France, who are easy of excess, and free of conversation, he kept his family retir’d so close, that ’twas rare to see any of ‘em…

As with Count Bellyuard, most of Count De Pais’ attention is focused upon his children, although again, not exactly in the same spirit:

The old Count had two only Daughters, of exceeding Beauty, who gave the Generous Father ten thousand Torments, as often as he beheld them, when he consider’d their Extream Beauty, their fine Wit, their innocence, Modesty, and above all, their Birth; and that he had not the Fortune to marry them according to their Quality; and below it he had rather see ‘em laid in their silent Graves, than consent to…

Behn’s use of the word “generous” to describe Count De Pais is a rare note of overt sarcasm in The Lucky Mistake, in which the representatives of the older generation progressively show themselves as monsters of selfishness, uninterested in their children’s happiness, and seeing them only as the means to their own aggrandisement.

The Count De Pais has one friend in the country:

…Count Vernole; A man of about forty Years of Age, of low Stature, Complexion very black and swarthy, lean, lame, extream proud and haughty; extracting of a Descent from the Blood Royal, not extremely brave, but very glorious; he had no very great Estate, but was in Election of a greater, and of an Addition of Honour from the King, his Father having done most worthy Services against the Hugonots, and by the high Favour of Cardinal Mazarine was represented to his Majesty, as a man related to the Crown, of great Name but small Estate; so that there was now nothing but great Expectations and Preparations in the Family of Count Vernole to go to Court, to which he dayly hop’d an invitation or Command.

In the meantime, Count De Pais and Count Vernole discover that they have things in common:

…whenever they went abroad, they club’d their Train, to make one great Show, and were always together, bemoaning each others Fortune; that from so high a Descent, as one from Monarchs, by the Mothers side, and the other from Dukes of his side, they were reduc’d by Fate, to the degree of Private Gentlemen.

Count Vernole spends much of his time with Count De Pais’ family, and finds himself drawn to Atlante…even though she is at that time only eight years old.

The extreme youth of the heroine of The Lucky Mistake is likely to cause modern readers some squirms, although it reflects the reality of Behn’s world, in which girls were considered marriageable as soon as they began to menstruate. It is not Atlante’s age per se that bothers Behn, but the age gap between herself and Count Vernole, who begins to think of the girl as his future wife when he is forty and she is barely out of the nursery.

Atlante herself very naturally has no such thought. Her feelings towards Vernole are mixed. She does not like him personally, but learns to appreciate some of his qualities. Vernole has no idea how to talk to children, and so addresses Atlante as a young woman; likewise conversing with her as if she were much older, and on the only subjects he knows: Vernole is no mean scholar. This odd approach actually does Vernole more good than any other could have. It appeals to Atlante’s precocious intellectualism, and wins him her respect and gratitude. In his vanity, Vernole takes her interest in his conversation as a sign of a budding affection—this evidence of her good taste giving him an even higher opinion of her:

Sir, I find the Seeds of great and profound Matter in the Soul of this Young Maid, which ought to be nourish, now while she was Young, and they will grow up to very great Perfection; I find Atlante capable of all the Noble Vertues of the Mind, , and am infinitely mistaken in my Observations, and Art of Physiognomy, if Atlante be not born for greater things than her Fortune does now promise…

By which he means, of course, she will become his wife. Considering Count Vernole’s “descent” and his expectation of being recalled to Court any day, Count De Pais looks upon him as infinitely superior to anything the family’s ruined fortunes entitles him to expect for his daughters; his age and his lack of physical attractions are, or course, irrelevant, as are Atlante’s feelings. Still, Count De Pais is uncomfortable at being unable to provide Atlante with a suitable dowry. He therefore decides to force his younger daughter, Charlot, into a convent, so that he may strip her of the moiety she is entitled to and concentrate what fortune he has in Atlante.

The two men are not so lost in their plans for the future, however, that they do not realise some time will first have to pass. Atlante is allowed to live unmolested until she is thirteen, at which time her fortunes take a dramatic turn…

In spite of the retirement in which she lives, Atlante’s transcendent beauty becomes the talk of her neighbourhood, and either because they have caught a glimpse of her at church or have heard the ravings of someone who has, the young men of the district become obsessed with the thought of her, spending their time scheming to gain access to the reclusive beauty. But while the young men think only of Atlante’s physical attractions, their alarmed elders see no further than her lack of fortune. Appalled at the mere thought of a daughter-in-law without a dowry, however splendid her other qualities—which in this case are mental and moral as well as physical—the fathers of the neighbourhood begin despatching their sons to other parts of the globe on a variety of pretexts.

And among the panicky parents is Count Bellyuard who, although Rinaldo is the apple of his eye, has no intention of allowing the boy any free will in the matter of his marriage, but is already calculating various suitable alliances for him according to the birth and fortune of the respective parties. As it happens, Rinaldo is perhaps the only young man in the neighbourhood who has not fallen under the distant spell of Atlante; but of course, as soon as his father tells him he is forbidden to approach her, approaching her becomes the only thing in the world he wants to do…

Which is easier said than done. One of the few reasons for which Atlante and Charlot are permitted to leave the house is to attend services. Rinaldo begins to haunt the local church, keeping watch on all the young women who come their to worship, certain that he will know the transcendent Atlante when he sees her. And he is right:

…one day he saw a young Beauty, who at first glimps made his Heart leap into his Mouth, and fell trembling again into its wonted place, for it immediately told him that the young Maid was Atlante, she was with her Sister Charlot, who was very handsom, but not comparable to Atlante. He fixt his Eyes upon her, as she kneel’d at the Altar, which he never remov’d from that charming face as long as she remain’d there, he forgot all Devotion, but what he paid to her, he Ador’d her, he Burnt and Languish’d already for her, and found he must possess Atlante or Dye…

Certainly later on, but perhaps even by the time of The Lucky Mistake, one the most useful conventions of English fiction and drama was the pair of contrasting sisters—usually an older, more beautiful, more saintly one, and a younger, less beautiful, less rigidly moral one, the latter often blessed or cursed with that most awkward of female acquirements, a sense of humour. Very often the younger will, in effect, act as her sister’s proxy, saying and doing things that the “good” girl cannot, and encouraging her to listen to her heart rather than her conscience.

So it is here. Atlante notices Rinaldo, but immediately avoids his eye and tries to focus on her religious duties. Charlot, meanwhile, takes a long, appreciative look at the handsome young man, observes his fixation upon Atlante, and immediately begins scheming to bring the two together. Rinaldo starts following the sisters home, but is shy and tongue-tied and unable to take advantage of the situation until Charlot intervenes. It is she who makes most of the conversation, and who, upon recognising the livery of Rinaldo’s servants, declares them to be neighbours and asks the young man to see them home. Along the way, Rinaldo works up the nerve to make a passionate declaration of his feelings. Atlante is simultaneously moved, embarrassed, and angry with herself for giving him encouragement, but feels that he is sincere.

From here, with Charlot acting as their go-between, the two begin a secret correspondence. They do not meet again in person for some time, until at length Rinaldo contrives to carry the sisters away from a supposed visit to church, and takes them out upon the river in his private boat. Rinaldo begs Atlante to marry him secretly, so that whatever happens they cannot in the future be wholly separated. She is sorely tempted but cannot bring herself to agree to marry without her father’s consent. She also fears, should the marriage result in Rinaldo being disinherited, that he will come to blame and resent her. In the end the two settle for exchanging solemn vows never to marry anyone else.

The sisters cover their extended absence with a story about being invited on a short pleasure trip by a lady of their acquaintance, met at church, but Count Verlone’s jealousy is awakened and he decides it is time to secure Atlante as his bride. Suspicious of Charlot’s influence, he first presses De Pais to go ahead with his plan to place her in a convent, which he does. It is a measure of how Atlante’s priorities have shifted that, while she misses her sister, her thoughts are focused on how she will now correspond with Rinaldo. In the end the two resort to the time-honoured tactics of Romeo and Juliet: not only are their parents’ estates contiguous, but Atlante’s rooms have a balcony opposite the balcony of an attic room in Rinaldo’s house. The two begin to meet, spending the nights talking or, when talk isn’t safe, passing letters back and forth across the gap by means of a pole with a split in the end.

The Lucky Mistake here offers something very rare indeed in fiction of this era, in that, after being drawn together initially purely on the strength of their personal attractions, Rinaldo and Atlante are then kept physically separated, their relationship subsequently developing emotionally and intellectually over a period of time.

Unfortunately for our young lovers, it eventually occurs to Count Bellyuard to wonder what Rinaldo finds to occupy him in the upper rooms of their house. When he discovers the truth he is absolutely furious but, learning from the outcome of his last attempt to forbid Rinaldo anything, he pretends ignorance and makes arrangements to send the boy away to finish his education in Paris. This request is too reasonable for Rinaldo to disobey, though he is struck with dismay at being separated from Atlante. In their mutual desperation, Atlante agrees to allow Rinaldo to climb up into her room:

…he throws himself at her Feet, as unable to speak as she, who nothing but blusht and bent down her Eyes, hardly daring to glance ‘em towards the dear Object of her desires, the Lord of all her vows, she was asham’d to see a Man in her Chamber, where yet none had ever been alone, and by Night too; he saw her fear, and felt her trembling, and after a thousand sighs of Love had made way for Speech, he besought her to fear nothing from him, for his Flame was too sacred, and his passion too Holy to offer any thing, but what Honour with Love might afford him…

And the night is passed chastely in declarations of love and promises of fidelity. Come the dawn the two can still hardly bear to part, and are so tardy that Vernole – on the alert since the boat incident – convinces himself that he hears a man’s voice in Atlante’s room, and charges to the scene. Fortunately, what he has heard is Rinaldo leaving:

…the Count turning the Latch, entered halting into her Chamber, in his Night Gown clapt close about him, which betray’d an ill favour’d shape, his Night-cap on, without a Periwig, which discovered all his lean wither’d Jaws, his Face pale, and his Eyes staring, and making altogether so dreadful a Figure, that Atlante who no more dreams of him, then of a Devil, had possibly rather have seen the last, she gave a great shreek…

Atlante is able to take the high ground here, violently berating Vernole for daring to intrude upon her, and for the insult offered to her honour by the suggestion there was a man in her room. He is so cowed by her that for a time he withdraws into himself, changing his mind about formally proposing for her to Count De Pais; but only for a time:

‘Twas now that Atlante, arriv’d to her Fifteenth Year, shon out with a lustre of Beauty greater than ever, and in this Year of the absence of Rinaldo, had carry’d her self with that severity of Life, without the youthful desire of going abroad, or desiring any Diversion, but what she found in her own retir’d thoughts, that Vernole wholly unable, longer to conceal his Passion, resolv’d to make a publication of it, first to the Father and then to the lovely Daughter, of whom he had some hope, because she had carried her self very well towards him for this year past, which she would never have done, if she had imagin’d he would ever have been her Lover…

Atlante is overcome with horror and disgust when the marriage is proposed to her. Her father, surprised by the violence of her reaction, is at first dismayed and then infuriated by her refusal, threatening her with various reprisals if she will not obey. Atlante is forced to play for time, asking for some days to consider the matter, which her father allows. He then has to report to Vernole, who he knows is not expecting a refusal:

De Pais after some consideration resolv’d to tell him, she receiv’d the offer, very well; but that he must expect a little Maiden Nicety in the case…

In the meantime, word of the “engagement” is broadcast through the neighbourhood, Count De Pais hoping that the pressure of public expectation will help bring Atlante into a compliant state of mind.

Here the narrative of The Lucky Mistake pulls back a bit, showing us that there is no real reason in the world why Rinaldo and Atlante should not be married. Her birth is excellent, even if she has no fortune; while he certainly has sufficient fortune to make her lack unimportant. But both fathers refuse to budge, Count De Pais because he has sworn that Vernole will marry Atlante, Count Bellyuard because he has sworn that Rinaldo will not:

…and thereupon he told his Father all his passion, for that lovely Maid: and assur’d him if he would not see him laid in his Grave, he must consent to this Match: Bellyuard rose in a fury, and told him he had rather see him in the Grave then in the arms of Atlante, not continued he, so much for any dislike  I have to the Young Lady, or the smallness of her Fortune, but because I have so long warn’d you from such a passion…

Meanwhile, next door, Atlante is also revealing her secret; though in desperation she tells her father she is Rinaldo’s wife, rather than merely promised to him:

…if her Father storm’d before, he grew like a Man distracted at this Confession, and Vernole hearing them lowd, ran to the Chamber to learn the Cause, where just as he entered, he found Count De Pais Sword drawn and ready to kill his Daughter…

Vernole’s fury distracts De Pais from his own. Too much of a coward to do his own dirty work, Vernole hires a band of bravos to murder Rinaldo, who holds his own in the running battles, but is finally badly wounded. Ironically, the person who intervenes to save his life, and has him carried into his house, is Count De Pais, who from this incident learns to admire Rinaldo’s courage and honesty, while acquiring a feeling of contempt towards Vernole. Nevertheless, he still can’t bring himself to go back on his promise, considering that a worse breach of honour than forcing his daughter to marry a man she doesn’t love and who he doesn’t respect. After some awkward conversation, De Pais reiterates that Rinaldo cannot marry Atlante, but (with his eye on Rinaldo’s fortune) adds that, well, there is another sister…

De Pais decides to place Atlante in the convent, partly to keep her safe until things cool down and partly to (as he perceives it) bring her to her senses. He does not do this openly, but sends her to “visit her sister”, sending also a secret message to have her confined. Count Bellyuard, for one, is thrilled with this development, while Rinaldo, confident that Atlante will never consent to becoming a nun, begins to plot ways to carry her off. It occurs to him that he has a conspirator already in place in the form of Charlot, and that he might be able to use Count De Pais’ proposal of his marrying the younger sister to gain access to Atlante.

There’s just one problem…

Actually, there’s two. Her probationary year has been more than sufficient to teach Charlot that she was not, repeat NOT, cut out to be a nun; and during her time acting as go-between for Rinaldo and Atlante, she developed her own passion for the young man. When she learns that her father has suggested a match between them she is delighted, and sees no reason why she should sacrifice herself for her sister’s benefit.

Not that she tells Rinaldo and Atlante that…

On the basis of Aphra Behn’s other fictions, we tend to expect an unhappy outcome here, if not a full-on tragedy; but for whatever reason – quite possibly her own situation at the time of writing – this final “novel” finds Behn in a more generous and forgiving mood; and she takes pity on her young lovers. Her story concludes with flurry of plots and counterplots and people acting at cross-purposes, all of which creates a smokescreen of confusion that leads two of the characters into making a mistake that not only determines their own futures, but those of the other parties involved.

All things considered, I think we might call it a “lucky mistake”…

It must only be guest by Lovers, the perfect joy these two received in the sight of each other, Bellyuard received her as his Daughter, and the next day made her so with very great solemnity, at which were Vernole and Charlot; between Rinaldo and him was concluded a perfect Peace, and all thought themselves happy in this double Union…

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