Philip And Philippa: A Genealogical Romance Of To-Day

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting when I embarked upon this “genealogical romance”. Well – in a way I do: to be honest, something a bit creepily eugenic. But Philip And Philippa (1901) never wanders into that territory, thankfully, despite its unabashed belief in “family” and various references to “our race”. The emphasis turns out to be not upon “genealogical”, but upon “romance”.

This sole, self-published novel by John Osborne Austin tells the story of Philip Faulconer, a young American who is the last representative of his branch of the Faulconers. When his father, also Philip Faulconer, realises that his own death is imminent, he tells his son their history. Of an old English family, the Faulconers divided in 1645 when the younger of twin brothers, Richard Faulconer, emigrated to America.

(I may say that I was rather put off this novel at the outset by the discovery that the title in the Faulconer family was a knighthood – which Austin evidently believed to be hereditary. I suppose he meant “baronet”, or even “knight baronet”. Confusion of this nature is common enough in American writing, but it seems an odd mistake for a genealogist to make.)

Since that time, the two branches of the apparently not very fecund Faulconers had run in parallel, with the last of the male English Faulconers, one of many Sir Philips, dying some nine years before the opening of the story, in the same year as American Mr Philip’s wife. The only remaining member of the English branch, a five-year-old girl named (surprise!) Philippa, had subsequently been taken to New Zealand by her mother’s aunt.

Learning that around the time of the last Sir Philip’s death, Faulconridge, the ancestral home of the Faulconers, had burned down, destroying most of the family heirlooms and leaving Philippa with very little, Mr Philip Sr travelled to England, where he bought the lodge attached to the estate, refurbished it, and installed a housekeeper to look after it, intending it as a refuge for Philippa. However, knowing that he will not have time to find the girl himself, Philip Sr bequeaths this quest to Philip Jr, begging him to seek out his distant cousin, now aged seventeen, and convey her “home” to England.

(Ever noticed how characters in sentimental novels are always independently wealthy? Nothing inteferes with the pursuit of a romantic ideal quite so much as the need to earn an income, I guess.)

After his father’s death, Philip – the last Philip, thankfully – travels first to England, visiting the lodge and meeting its caretaker, Elizabeth Brown, and touring the ruins of Faulconridge, where he is inspired by his family’s history. Courtesy of Mrs Brown, he learns of a thwarted romance between two of his ancestors, Richard Faulconer’s great-grandson, Godfrey, and the third Sir Philip’s daughter, Philippa, who died before the marriage could take place. Also courtesy of Mrs Brown, who becomes convinced that the young Philippa must be the image of her grandmother, the seventh Lady Faulconer, whose portrait is one of the very few to survive the fire, Philip conceives a romantic infatuation for his as-yet unseen relative. He sets out for New Zealand, intending both to fulfil his father’s last wish and to unite the two distant branches of the family.

Arriving in Auckland, Philip learns that Philippa’s great-aunt has died, and gains only the vaguest clue to her present whereabouts. Swearing to find her no matter what it takes, he walks through a local park, where the very first person he runs into is his cousin – who he recognises instantly because she just happens to be a dead ringer for her grandmother.

I guess this is how things work in the world of the  “genealogical romance”.

Persuading Philippa to accept his father’s legacy, Philip escorts her to England. His feelings for his cousin move rapidly from infatuation to love, but since he is essentially in the position of her guardian, he decides that he must not declare himself until she is securely within her own home. The bulk of the remaining story consists of Philip’s inability to read Philippa’s feelings, his efforts to control himself in a string of tempting situations, and the possible dangers of staying silent. The latter manifests itself in the form of two potential interlopers: Ethel Mayberry, Philip’s childhood sweetheart, who may have a view to being something more; and Jack Spaulding, a young stockbroker from London who is instantly smitten with Philippa.

Will the Faulconer family history repeat itself? Will Philip’s feelings for Philippa turn out to be only infatuation after all? Will the advantages of outbreeding win out over a genealogical attraction? Will a member of the Faulconer family prove capable of loving someone whose name doesn’t contain a variant of “Philip”? Well, you’ll just have to read Philip And Philippa and find out, won’t you? – but since I apparently own the only second-hand copy still in existence, good luck with that one. (Hey, happy to lend…)

I guess the really interesting thing about Philip And Philippa is that it begs the question – when did it stop being okay for a man to write like this? John Osborne Austin makes no pretence whatsoever of his novel being anything other than a love story. The only thing that at all separates it from its fellows is that it is told from the point of view of the man. It is deeply sentimental in both content and tone, and not ashamed of being so. On the contrary: the preface reads, in part, The same old story of love’s young dream? Yes, prescient reader, the world never tires of it; and have you found anything better to dream of or work for? In addition, Philip stops from time to time to lecture us on the same theme, speaking pityingly to those who act or think slightingly of love: This is not a book of travel. but of love experiences; a theme large enough for most, if too restricted for a few. Unhappy few!

I don’t know about you, but I find myself glad that the obviously mushily romantic Mr Austin didn’t live to see a world where stories like his would end up branded with that most oppobrious of literary putdowns, chick-lit.

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24 Responses to “Philip And Philippa: A Genealogical Romance Of To-Day”

  1. I can see how it becomes a positive feedback loop – the idea that only women buy romances [in the modern sense], so men are embarrassed to read them, and male authors of the things use female pen-names – but like you I don’t know how this particular idea got started.

    Looking at “Romance novel” in Wikipedia suggests that Mills & Boon in the 1930s may have had something to do with it.

  2. What bothers me is the level of, not just contempt, but automatic contempt, that attaches to romances. There are plenty of novels of all genres out there that have no more (or less) claim to literary merit, yet none of them attract the same level of negative judgement. I personally don’t see why a formulaic romance should be regarded as a lower form of life than, say, a formulaic spy story.

    And of course, the same thing happens with movies: a “chick flick” is automatically worthless in a way a film about people blowing each others’ heads off isn’t. To me they’re pretty much the same, two forms of disposable fantasy. Neither is my cup of tea, but I feel no need to sneer at the people who enjoy either one.

    And at the other end of the literary spectrum we have the brawl over the critical dismissal of female novelists…which coincidentally enough happens to be the subject of the AbeBooks editorial that landed in my inbox this morning:

    http://www.abebooks.com/books/freedom-franzen-jodi-picoult-jennifer-weiner/women-fiction.shtml?cm_mmc=nl-_-nl-_-r00-ar101106A-_-main

    It’s all a bit depressing, really.

    Apropos, do you know the film Paperback Hero?

    • There are plenty of novels of all genres out there that have no more (or less) claim to literary merit, yet none of them attract the same level of negative judgement.

      I’m not entirely sure that’s true. There seems to be a lot of contempt out there for fantasy and science fiction, as well. A somewhat different kind of contempt, maybe (they’re seen to be the stereotypical province of reclusive, asocial nerds and fat, bearded SCA members rather than of weepy, sentimental women), but not quantitatively less.

      • Though, I should add, the contempt also comes from different quarters. Many fans of science fiction and fantasy may be especially contemptuous of romance, and vice versa. (Though not all, of course; I understand paranormal romance is a lucrative subgenre at the moment. Though if Twilight is the best-known standard-bearer of the subgenre… well, maybe some of the contempt isn’t entirely incomprehensible…)

      • Annnd now I see that science fiction has already been mentioned, and discussed fairly extensively, in other comments below. Whoops; guess I should have read all the comments before commenting myself.

        Though fantasy doesn’t seem to have been mentioned, and that’s another genre that tends to be looked down on. Although — and I say this as a fantasy fan and aspiring fantasy writer myself — I think fantasy, unfortunately, still is lodged in formula to a greater degree perhaps than these other genres are. Not to say there aren’t some fantasy books that break the formula, of course (and I’d like to think the one I’m working on for NaNoWriMo is an example), but, while by no means do all fantasy books involve the Chosen One questing for the one thing that can break the hold of the Dark Lord over the land, that specific plot still does represent a larger proportion of the fantasy output than it probably should.

      • (Though part of the reason for this — and I promise this is the last comment I’ll make for now — is that fantasy, as a separate literary genre, is much newer than these other genres, and maybe hasn’t time to come into its own. Contrary to what many people believe, Tolkien didn’t invent the fantasy genre; there were many authors before him who wrote what we would now consider fantasy. But it was the success of Lord of the Rings that precipitated publishers considering fantasy as a separate genre. So, in that sense, the fantasy genre maybe simply hasn’t been around long enough to diversify as much as these others. Again, this isn’t to say that all fantasy novels really do fit the Tolkien-ripoff stereotype; there are many that are much more original and do break the mold. But the genre as a whole still sticks closer to the stereotype than it perhaps should…

        Eh, I’m rambling, and I’ve gotten way off topic, and I’ve posted way too many comments here. I’ll shut up now.

    • Er… okay, I said I would shut up now, but I just read the abebooks editorial you linked to, and there’s just one more thing I wanted to mention.

      There’s at least one significant name missing in the list there of female science-fiction and fantasy authors. My father was a fantasy fan and had piles of paperbacks, and of course as a child I’d read many of them myself. So it was that I read a lot of books by one of my father’s favorite authors, sci-fi/fantasy author Andre Norton.

      Wasn’t till years later I discovered that Andre Norton, an author widely respected in the speculative fiction community, eponym of the Andre Norton Award for outstanding work in the science fiction and fantasy young adult market… wrote under a pseudonym. The author’s real name was Alice Mary Norton…

  3. Even my girlfriend was reluctant to believe me about amatory fiction – it hadn’t been mentioned on the (otherwise quite good) lit. course she did just ten years ago, which took the traditional position of Richardson inventing the novel out of whole cloth.

    As for the contempt-for-romances, I think there are different reasons for it. The only book production process that’s even approached the level of formulaism of the old Mills & Boons was probably westerns, and that market is basically dead now. Sure, the spy story may have a lot of boring old tropes, but nobody’s saying “a guy has to get shot on page 15, and the hero seduces someone on page 30” the way old M&B writers’ guidelines talked about when the first kiss should happen. II know, they don’t do it any more, but reputations take a long time to get rid of; and anyone who likes books in general is I think justified in being at least mildly suspicious when they come out at a high pace and rarely remain in print for long.

    (I’m a fan of Heyer, mostly; I haven’t found many other romance authors I enjoy, though Janet Evanovich can be quite fun. I’m more inclined to “romance-and-” – quite a lot of the modern cozies [a style of detective story] could as easily be filed under romance…)

    And as for other genres… science fiction gets easily as much contempt as romance from people who like to think of themselves as “literary” or even “mainstream”. See “As Others See Us” in Ansible (.co.uk), every month; “sci-fi” is assumed by the media world to be the domain of spotty girlfriendless social failures. It’s not just stuff for women that suffers.

    I don’t know the film, except by skimming the WIki of a Million Lies. Is this a recommendation?

    • Romance publishers today still use very specific formulae. Harlequin, having bought out a lot of competitors, now has like fifteen separate lines, each with its own formula. There’s even one line where every single book is a romance story about a modern lady in her thirties who is struggling with doubts about her faith in Jesus.

      I once read a little memoir by an author who got a job writing a formula historical romance… it was peppered with phrases like “It was at this point that I started drinking heavily.” I wish I could remember the lady’s name.

      As for science fiction, Norman Spinrad once wrote a very interesting piece about how people within the literary-establishment bubble dismiss science fiction, but sometimes when one of their own writes something that’s more or less science fiction, they go gaga over it. It doesn’t even have to be good science fiction — having no idea of what the form is capable of, they can have their little minds blown by even a poor specimen.

      As for the genealogical romance… ick. I’m all for a rebirth of manly love fiction, but damn, a long-distance fantasy predicated on low-level incest? Kill me.

  4. It’s certainly a well-known experience among SF readers that some literary darling announces that he has written (gasp stare) Science Fiction, but unlike all that other rubbish his is good. Usually this means that he’s got into his head some idea that was new and daring in SF fifty years ago, and hasn’t read any of the dozens of other books dealing with it, so has nothing new to say, but says it very slowly with lots of overblown emotion and stereotype taking the place of characterisation (a field in which, admittedly, SF has traditionally been weak). (Example most recently in my mind because of the film: Kazuo Ishiguro and Never Let Me Go. But Margaret Attwood has also done an awful lot of this.)

    And then of course we get people like William Gibson who now claim that they have never written science fiction. So what was Neuromancer, eh, Bill?

  5. Well (as my old friend Supersonic already knows), I’m a science nerd as well as a woman, so you can just imagine the amount of abuse I take. 🙂

    To me, it simply comes down to the fact that there is good writing and bad writing – and terrible writing – in all genres, but that some genres get judged by their lowest manifestations more than others. You’re both quite right with what you say about science fiction.

    No, I’m not exactly recommending Paperback Hero, but it fits rather nicely into this discussion. It’s a local comedy about a rough, tough, outdoorsman who just happens to write romance novels under a female pseudonym on the side. He becomes so successful that the media want to do a big story on “her”, so he has to find a stand-in. It’s certainly not great, but it’s good-natured and has a lot of fun with exactly these stereotypes.

  6. In The Encyclopaedia of Fantasy (which I recommend, by the way) the stock fantasy plot stuff is usually called “genre fantasy”; the compilers preferred “rotefant”, but felt it might put off those of their audience who actually liked the stuff. See also of course The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by the splendid Diana Wynne Jones; it started as a spinoff project from the EoF.

    The unfortunate thing to my mind is that it’s not just writers imitating Tolkien; it’s writers imitating the mishmash of Tolkien and Lieber and Dunsany and Vance and many others that went to make up D&D. No wonder there’s no distinctive flavour left, at that point! (And I speak as an enthusiastic role-player…)

    I’ll shut up now too. 🙂

    • The unfortunate thing to my mind is that it’s not just writers imitating Tolkien; it’s writers imitating the mishmash of Tolkien and Lieber and Dunsany and Vance and many others that went to make up D&D.

      Oh, I agree completely — well, I agree that that’s the case; whether or not it’s more unfortunate than it would be if they really did just imitate Tolkien directly is perhaps more debatable. In fact, it’s something of a pet peeve of mine when people claim that everything in the fantasy genre can be traced back to Tolkien, and I hope I didn’t give the impression that I believed that myself. When I mentioned “the Tolkien-ripoff stereotype”, I was referring partly to the false perception that Tolkien was the root of all fantasy, and partially to the general plot of Lord of the Rings, which many more recent fantasy authors have pretty much appropriated wholesale. (Terry Brooks, I’m looking at you.) You’re quite right, though; aside from that, most modern fantasy tropes owe much more to Dungeons & Dragons than to Tolkien, and Tolkien was actually a relatively small influence on D&D — it was much more influenced by Lieber and Moorcock and other sword-and-sorcery writers, some of whom, like Robert E. Howard, actually predated Tolkien.

  7. Eh, I’m rambling, and I’ve gotten way off topic, and I’ve posted way too many comments here. I’ll shut up now.

    C’mon, Read – you’re at the blog of a woman who wrote 10000 words on a forty-page book – if you can’t blather on here, where can you?? 🙂

    I’ve got another one for your list – James Tiptree Jr, alias Alice Sheldon. A particularly satisfying example, too, with respect to the famous declaration by – Robert Silverberg, was it? – that “even as Jane Austen’s novels could only have been written by a woman, James Tiptree Jr’s stories could only have been written by a man”.

  8. “(I may say that I was rather put off this novel at the outset by the discovery that the title in the Faulconer family was a knighthood – which Austin evidently believed to be hereditary. I suppose he meant “baronet”, or even “knight baronet”. Confusion of this nature is common enough in American writing, but it seems an odd mistake for a genealogist to make.)”

    Huh. You know, it never occurred to me that knighthoods wouldn’t be heritable, at least not ones that were bestowed back in the days when knights were actually expected to do something. Since it seems like the whole point of nobility was that once you got that title in front of your name, all your firstborn male descendants would be entitled to power and privilege for the rest of time, whether they had ever done anything slightly deserving of it or not, I figured even the piddling degrees of gentryhood got handed down along with the house and the expensive tableware.

  9. Now, you see, this is the kind of knowledge you acquire from reading obscure novels. 🙂

    “Knighthood” lost its military / chivalric meaning around the 16th century. They’re often still rewarded for military service, of course, but they don’t have to be. They’re a personal, ephemeral award; whereas baronetcies are an inheritable knighthood, in effect. When they were dishing out titles, baronetcies were popular because although they were inheritable, they didn’t entitle the holder to sit in the House of Lords.

    But anyway, the Labour Party effectively scrapped both baronetcies and inheritable peerages in the 60s. Usually the only people who get inheritable peerages these days are junior Royals; although they do have something called a Life Peerage that isn’t inheritable, but does allow you to sit in the House of Lords.

  10. Christopher Guest (a.k.a. the Fifth Baron Haden-Guest) was attending business in the House of Lords, and speaking up about the dumbth of hereditary (or politically appointed) lordhood as late as 1999. It wasn’t until then that they finally finished the job of abolishing hereditation.

  11. Yes, I have very clear memories of Jamie Lee trying not to laugh.

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