Miss Misery Guts

Ah, the horrors of the cautionary tale!

Having wrapped up Milistina, I rewarded myself with a quick game of Reading Roulette, and hit upon a novel by a completely obscure writer called Miss K. M. Weld. I have been able to find out nothing about the lady herself, beyond the fact that she wrote at least these three novels:

  • The Rat Pond; or, The Punishment Of Disobedience (1873)
  • Bessy; or, The Fatal Consequences Of Telling Lies (1876)
  • Lily, The Lost One; or, The Fatal Effects Of Deception (1881)

Are we sensing a trend here?

Of these three novels, the only one available is Lily, The Lost One. The good news is, that’s where this spin of the random number generator landed me. The bad news is, it’s a GoogleBooks edition, so heaven only knows what I’ll find when I actually try to read it. We shall see.

I tell you, though – I’m simply desolate that the rat pond one isn’t available…

Edited to add:  After reviewing Milistina, I was inspired to have one more go at finding out something, anything, about its anonymous author; but the only detail I’ve been able to turn up is the fact that the novel was translated into French and published as Milistina; ou, La Double Intrigue.

I bet there were a lot of disappointed French readers.

Edited yet again to add:  GASP!! – I’ve just found an online copy of Miss Weld’s Bessy!!!! But alas, alas, still no sign of The Rat Pond. O UNIVERSE, WHY MUST YOU TAUNT ME!!??

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16 Comments to “Miss Misery Guts”

  1. Seriously, how could anyone learn that there was a novel entitled The Rat Pond without feeling at least a passing urge to read it at once?

  2. Oh, so it’s not just me? Cool!

    It isn’t just the rat pond bit, though – it’s the combination of “rat pond” and “punishment of disobedience” that makes it so alluring…

  3. I just tried googling “the rat pond”, and this post is already hit #8… the rest being her other books with “by the author of The Rat Pond” on them.

  4. I just read the beginning of Bessy… at least it’s short.

  5. They certainly sound like the normal Victorian moralising tract – which generally takes much more joy in showing you the gory punishments of Bad People than in talking about the virtue rewarded that is its nominal purpose. Much like a slasher film, really…

  6. Is this on your list? The Mummy! by Jane C. Loudon. This interests me as it sounds like a genuine attempt at science fiction in 1827.

  7. I am pleased and proud to say it is, yes.

    If I ever catch up my reviews (only two behind! whoo!), perhaps I’ll introduce a “review requests” category.

  8. Speaking of the origins of science fiction, I recently learned that someone named Felix Bodin wrote a “Novel of the Future” in 1837, in which his intent was explicitly to create a prototype for a new genre, of tales set in future times in which social customs have been changed by technological advances. Unfortunately for us, he wrote it in French.

    Huh, there is a translation in stock at Amazon.

  9. I’m also rereading the Voyage to Laputa, trying to determine if it can be counted as science fiction. It makes a pretty strong case.

  10. Are you thinking of writing about any of this? I’d be happy to post any comments here, assuming you didn’t have other plans for them. A study of science fiction before Mary Shelley would be fascinating.

    Speaking of which, I really must read The Last Man some day.

  11. I read The Last Man like twenty years ago… you’d better be interested in the back story, and in how this character represents Shelley and that one represents Byron etc, for it to hold any interest in the first half, because the PLAGUE that wipes people out isn’t mentioned until the midpoint of the book.

    As for a study of SF before Mary Shelley, I’m not thinking of any long term investigation, I’m just taking a brief interest in seeing if there’s anything I’d call SF before her… so far I’m finding nothing except the old genre of fantastic travel stories, of which Gulliver is, like, the culmination. The fact that Laputa deals explicitly with scientists makes it sort of science fiction by accident.

    But in the vein of fantastic travel tales, people were publishing voyages around the solar system…. Cyrano de Bergerac famously wrote a facetious one, and in France it sounds like N. Restif de la Bretonne and André Jacques Coffin-Rony published some in 1802 and 1808 respectively… I don’t see any signs of English translations so far.

    I’m now thinking that Brian Aldiss’s contention that science fiction is entirely an offspring of Gothic is an exaggeration, and it has just as legitimate roots in the travel stories.

  12. The big question in any such examination is how you define science fiction. When being formal, I define it as “fantasy that is believable to a scientifically literate audience”. Which means that it cannot exist in a prescientific context. Of course, there are degrees of literacy, which means there are degrees of science-fictionalness as opposed to fantasy, which is true enough.

    If one sets the literacy threshold low enough, in accordance with the popular knowledge of the time, the Voyage to Laputa could qualify by that definition.

  13. There’s a whole clutch of very early, mostly utopian fiction dealing with journeys to the moon, most of it based on Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde, which was published in 1657 and translated into English in 1659. David Russen’s Inter Lunare; or, A Voyage To The Moon from 1703 is one I’ve got listed. There’s also The Consolidator from 1705, which I know was the subject of debate over whether it was written by Defoe or not, but I’m not sure what the outcome of that was.

  14. Then there’s Kepler’s Somnium, which certainly contains science, but I feel it fails on being fiction. It’s just factual exposition which has been wrapped in a fantastic-travel envelope for popular consumption.

  15. Well, as you know, I’ve always gone with a very broad definition of science fiction, which encompasses pretty much anything set “in the future” or “in space” (other than certain post-1957 stuff, of course). On that basis I’m happy to let most of these texts in, while screening out purer “fantasy”.

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