Archive for July, 2011

28/07/2011

Oops, I did it again

“It” being getting caught in a loop of catching up my outstanding reviews, and then celebrating the fact by plunging into an orgy of reading that leaves me in more of a mess than ever. I did it after Romance Of The Pyrenees, which took us all the way through to Rookwood; and then immediately fell into the same trap, of which the final episode was Joan!!! The gap between the reading and the writing impacts upon my memories of the works and the points I meant to make, which isn’t good for my reviews. It’s a annoying situation none the less exasperating for being entirely self-inflicted.

So, I’ve decided to crack down on myself, and be much more disciplined about my reading; a decision that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that – ulp! – I’ve finally run out of excuses to put off tackling The English Rogue.

As we discussed way back when I first started digging my heels in, The English Rogue is a compilation work with a rather strange history. After being published in 1665 it went on, by all accounts, to become the most popular and successful of all the rogue’s biographies, with which the literary marketplace of the time seems to have been awash. (According to Charles Hinnant, second place was held by The London Jilt.) The story seems to have autobiographical aspects, and Richard Head went out of his way to identify himself with his tale’s anti-hero, Meriton Latroon: a tactic that blew up in his face when the reading public took him at his word and treated him like the scoundrel they assumed he was.

The magnitude of The English Rogue‘s success had its publisher, Francis Kirkman, clamouring for a sequel; but smarting from the backfiring of his plans, Head declined—so Kirkman wrote one himself, publishing it in 1671. By this time, Richard Head’s financial difficulties were urgent enough for him to put aside his hurt feelings, and he and Kirkman subsequently collaborated on two more volumes, published in 1674 and 1680. Then, in 1688, after the death’s of both Head and Kirkman, the rights to The English Rogue fell to another publisher. An anonymous hand wrapped up the project with a brief, epilogue-like “final volume”, and the five parts were reissued as a single work.

So I’ve started on the reading, and I’ve already decided—part of that new discipline, you know—to treat the five volumes as five separate works. To be frank, I can take only so much of this kind of writing at a time. That said, I’ve acquired from my academic library the 1928 (!) edition of The English Rogue, which contains the first three volumes. It also reproduces the figures and has cleaned up the text—typographically, that is, not scatalogically—by correcting the spelling errors, substituting the standard ‘s’ for the long, and providing footnotes: an approach that is facilitating the reading process, in spite of the size and weight of the volume.

Now— You can tell what a mess I’ve gotten myself into with my reviews by the fact that it’s been weeks since I even thought about Reading Roulette. However, I have managed to acquire and read Lily The Lost One; or, The Fatal Effects Of Deception, a piece of hardcore didactic literature that manages to be interesting almost in spite of itself.

I’ve also returned to the random number generator for my next pick: The Gilberts And Their Guests by Julia Day, from 1858. I haven’t been able to find out much about Miss Day. She seems to have been best known as a poet; although she did publish one other novel: The Old Engagement: A Spinster’s Story, in 1852. I guess I’ll let you know.

Elsewhere, Authors In Depth takes us back to Mary Meeke, whose third novel, Palmira And Ermance, was published in 1797. This was also the year that Meeke adopted the pseudonym “Gabrielli”, which she is supposed to have appended to her “racier” novels – gasp! I’m rather looking forward to finding out if that’s true.

Speaking of Meeke, I mentioned at the outset that there is a novel called Madeline Clifford’s School Life that has been attributed to her, but which no-one who has written about her has taken very much notice of. I discovered the other day a second novel bearing the name Mary Meeke that also pre-dates Count St. Blancard, which is called Marion’s Path, Through Shadow To Sunshine. Both of these works appear to be stories for girls, and a much more appropriate field of endeavour for the prim wife of an English minister – wouldn’t you think? Significantly, neither book was published by William Lane; and, I confess, I’m getting a lot of evil enjoyment from the mental picture of Meeke, having tried and failed at writing “proper” novels, then throwing her hands into the air in disgust and starting to write pseudo-Gothic sensation novels instead; a pursuit which, I need hardly remind you, brought her a tidy income over some twenty-five years…

24/07/2011

Joan!!! A Novel (Part 2)

“…Lady Jemima began, before she could summon her privy counsellor, to deliberate on her next manoeuvre. Her ill success, though it distressed, did not discourage her; her spirit rose under oppression, and her only difficulty was to find some usurper to set up. She could contemplate with philosophic temper the circumstances of her two daughters; one was, she concluded, dead; the other, perhaps, was ruined; for the experienced matron had little faith in Hymen’s purple and yellow; but the greatest of all misery was, that she had not the means of imposing on Sir Clifford; and without that, she considered it impossible to cheat him.”

Joan!!! is, as I have mentioned, an odd book that goes in unexpected directions; and turning this post into a two-parter is simply a matter of not selling it short. I certainly don’t want to oversell this novel, which is anything other than a “lost classic”; but nor do I want to skip over its strange charms; and when I found my word-count creeping up towards the dreaded 3000 mark, without having said half of what I intended to, it seemed the best idea to cut things short and start fresh.

This is a long novel, and is so chiefly because its point of view keeps changing, with a range of different characters becoming its focus at different times. It also dispenses with one heroine and takes on another, as Joanna recedes into the background of the tale and we follow the shifting fortunes of Elizabeth instead. Yet in the end, neither of these two is the novel’s most memorable character. This is instead Lady Jemima

As the story progresses, Lady Jemima’s behaviour becomes a startling mix of the immoral and the illegal; yet in place of the expected angst and hand-wringing, the language and tone in which all this is described to us gives the distinct  impression that the author was getting some wicked enjoyment out of writing a character so outrageous. This is another place where the 18th century novel separates itself from its descendents: I wouldn’t advise any of you to hold your breath waiting for the next time that a novel’s “bad woman” would be treated as a figure of fun.

[SPOILERS]

The first unexpected thing to happen here, however, is the rapid passing of the time. Nine years flit by without a significant event, until the death of Lady Armathwaite both frees and enriches her husband:

He was now at liberty, and in a state of superior affluence; but he was miserable; for Joanna, though still constant in her attachment to him, and urged by both him and her friend to take a legal opinion on the point of annulling her marriage, was too scrupulous, and too completely disgusted with the idea of a fresh search after happiness, to suffer any step towards this end to be taken. His lordship, therefore, finding the quiet of home unfriendly to him, interested himself in the bustle of army politics; and procuring a military appointment, went abroad…

Joan!!! then follows the fortunes of Elizabeth, brought up in the belief that she is Byram’s bastard. Not surprisingly, the “marriage” between Byram and Lady Jemima is a total disaster; the reader may well take a grim satisfaction in the punishment that Byram brings on himself. Jemima is selfish, extravagant, fashion-mad and flirtatious – “flirtatious” – being the polite word for it – and leads her husband a dog’s life. (Jemima’s conduct brings about an estrangement between herself and her brother, Lord Armathwaite, which ironically prevents any chance of him learning of the whereabouts of Elizabeth.) The marriage produces two daughters, who favour their mother in that they are both thoroughly nasty bits of work. A member of the family by the merest sufference, and immured in the depths of the country while her relatives live a fashionable life in the city, Elizabeth’s life is also an unhappy one:

There was a cloud spread, as it were, by the hand of Nature, over Elizabeth at her birth, and which every circumstance of her existence, as it unfolded itself to her perception, seemed to increase. The first sentiment she could remember, was that of fear of Lady Jemima: she soon was aware that her father was kind to her only by stealth: she had been ill-treated by her half-sisters, and uniformly confined to a solitude which every expanding idea convinced her was not the common lot of daughters…

The misery and strain of Byram’s life ruins his health, and he dies young. At the last, he makes an attempt to tell his daughter the truth about herself, but his failing strength prevents it. He does manage to give Elizabeth a locket containing her mother’s picture, promising it will prove her identity. Elizabeth’s lonely despair is subsequently crowned by a conversation with her father’s Irish servant, Dennis, who repeats to her some unguarded words spoken by Byram not long before his death: “Ah, Dennis, that swate crature in the north, that I call my naitral daughter, is no more my naitral daughter than she is yours.” Under the circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that Elizabeth entirely misinterprets the point of this declaraction…

Lady Jemima, meanwhile, is utterly unmoved by her husband’s death, except as it might affect her income. She is deep in debt through gambling, and already facing the necessity of a second marriage, when she arrives in the depths of Ireland to see what might be salvaged from the estate. There she finds Elizabeth, much to her annoyance; the encumbrance of a third daughter she does not need. She immediately begins considering ways and means to get the girl off her hands, not merely to save expenses, but in the fear that otherwise Sir Clifford Byram will learn of her existence.

The foolish Sir Clifford has had time and plenty to recover from the infatuation that compelled him to push his only son into marriage with Lady Jemima, and has long since learned to see his daughter-in-law for exactly what she is. In her financial extremity, Lady Jemima begins scheming ways to worm herself back into Sir Clifford’s favour, and makes disposing of Elizabeth her top priority, lest she prove a rival for Sir Clifford’s fortune:

She had, it is true, but one point to carry—this was to secure as much as possible of her father-in-law’s property to herself and her children. To this the exclusion of Elizabeth appeared necessary; for it never entered her crooked imagination, that a generous protection of an injured girl, and an appeal to Sir Clifford’s justice and humanity, would have had just as good an effect, and by much shorter means. Cunning loves a labyrinth, and leaves the high road for wisdom.

Meanwhile, Lord Armathwaite has seen the news of Byram’s death and arrives on Mrs Halnaby’s doorstep in a state of near-hysteria, demanding that Joanna marry him. She, worn down by so many years of loneliness and uncertainty, proves unenthused by the thought of a second marriage, much to Armathwaite’s hurt and dismay; but she does still care for him, and feels moreover that his fidelity deserves its reward. Armathwaite then comes up with an offer than Joanna cannot refuse: he will seek out Elizabeth and restore the girl, now a young woman, to her mother; he will be a father to her. At this, Joanna gives her promise. Armathwaite sets out on his mission immediately, his first stop for information being the sister from whom he has been estranged so many years.

Of course—it isn’t only Elizabeth that Lady Jemima wants off her hands: her own daughters are no more to her than an expensive encumbrance; and when Armathwaite makes his purpose clear to her, Lady Jemima has a blinding flash of inspiration…and she passes her own eldest child off on her brother as the long-lost Elizabeth.

And what a child she is!—her mother’s child in every respect, except that she is stupid and stubborn, as well as selfish, venal and superficial; her favourite occupations being reading trashy novels and flirting with the footmen. The journey in her company is a nightmare to Lord Armathwaite, only too acutely aware of the overwhelming blow in store for his beloved Joanna, who has built her missing daughter up to an impossible pitch in her imagination:

    Joanna’s grief was not to be restrained any longer than till the cause of it was out of hearing; nor was it in the power of Lord Armathwaite or Mrs Halnaby to offer her any other consolation than a hope that a new mode of treatment might retrieve the unfortunate girl.
    “But,” said Joanna, “what ground is there for hope? She has not only shewn her total want of every external recommendation, but she has no heart—no morality.”
    “Let us, however, wait a few days,” said the Earl, “and see whether these deficiences, which perhaps are more in appearance than in reality, may not be in some way supplied.”
    “They can never be supplied,” answered Joanna emphatically. “The girl who at seventeen has no heart, is very little likely to find one.—Good God! what will my future life be?”
    “Happy it would be, could I make it so,” said Lord Armathwaite.
    “Of that I am convinced,” said Joanna; “but this is a misfortune we could not expect.”
   
“Let us share it together, and it will be lessened,” he said.

And so Lord Armathwaite gets his reward…although not exactly in the way he’d been imagining for the past eighteen years.

Lady Jemima, meanwhile, has disposed of her younger daughter, Arabella, by placing her in a cheap boarding-school in Dublin (although, cheap as it is, she has no intention of paying more than the first necessary bill); and she turns her attention to ridding herself of the real Elizabeth once and for all, thus freeing herself to pursue her fortune. Lady Jemima’s first impulse is to do what so very often was done with unwanted females at the time, and pack Elizabeth off to the marriage-market in India. The girl is bewildered by this proposition and, once it is explained to her, horrified. She refuses point-blank, and Lady Jemima promises that she will not have to go; a promise that she has no intention of keeping…

In pursuit of this end, Lady Jemima manages to have Elizabeth taken in by a “dear friend”—soon to be romantic rival and deadly enemy—called Mrs Haccombe, who lives in London, and whose companion Elizabeth believes she is to be, until she is able to find employment and the means of supporting herself. Going out into the world with no name to call her own, Elizabeth chooses one for herself; and although we are privy only to the very improving literature that makes up the bulk of her study, it’s just possible that a trashy novel or two may also have come her way:

“I was thinking, madam, to take the name of Peregrina Lamorne… I think it is descriptive of my situation; for Peregrina, you know, is a wanderer; and Lamorne would just suit me; for I am sure I shall be sorrowful…”

And so Elizabeth makes her entry into the world under an assumed identity; an identity that means, should anybody with any knowledge of her real history encounter her—for instance, her own mother—that they will not know her.

The household into which Peregrina is received consists of its master and mistress; Sir Edward Bergholt, a ward of Mr Haccombe who is recovering from a severe breakdown; and Mrs Barnby, Mr Haccombe’s widowed niece, with whom Sir Edward had “an understanding” prior to his illness, but who now barely seems to remember her. Sir Edward, who is given to extravagant emotional outbursts and wild speech, evokes both terror and pity in Peregrina, and she avoids him whenever she can; but she is deeply grateful to the others for what she perceives to be their selfless kindness towards her…and completely oblivious to the ulterior motives that surround her.

In the first instance, Mrs Haccombe is supposed to manoeuvre Peregrina onto a slow boat to India. This plan is thwarted, however, and by this time there has been a falling out between Mrs Haccome and her “dear friend” Lady Jemima, the bone of contention being Lord Surchester—that same Lord Surchester who once tried to buy Joanna Doveridge from her guardian—on whom Lady Jemima has set her sights. Unfortunately for her, the maritally-disinclined nobleman turns out to prefer a more irregular connection with Mrs Haccombe; and he abandons Lady Jemima to follow her “dear friend” to London.

With the need to distract her husband from what is going on in his household, Mrs Haccombe takes in Peregrina, knowing her husband well enough to know that the lovely young girl will catch and hold his attention—as she does. But Mr Haccombe is not otherwise as blind to his wife’s activities as she supposes; while the presence of Peregrina in the house has consequences that Mrs Haccombe does not anticipate. Mr Haccombe in fact becomes so obsessed with the girl that—quickly realising that dishonourable propositions will get him nowhere—he begins to contemplate ways and means of ridding himself of his wife; her death being preferable, but divorce also an option. While this is going on, Peregrina also catches the wandering interest of Lord Surchester, who cools towards Mrs Haccombe as a consequence, much to her fury. That slow boat to India suddenly seems like an excellent idea…

And Peregrina?

Kept therefore ignorant of her own powers, and the weakness of others; inclined to believe whatever was seriously told her, and supposing all the world infinitely better than herself, she was fitted to become its dupe. She had indeed read of fraud, villainy, and passion; but how difficult is it to apply the experience of books to the living world!—She had no confidence in her own judgement, no distrust in her nature, no guile in her heart, no hypocrisy on her tongue, and therefore no caution.

With disaster looming on all fronts, the friendless Peregrina is initially alarmed when she begins to receive anonymous letters warning her of the dangers that surround her. At first she cannot believe what they say; but although she is innocent, she is not stupid; and her increased watchfulness soon informs her that the letter-writer is only too correct in what he says. With no money and nowhere else to go, Peregrina can only endure what she now considers to be the horrors of the Haccombes’ household, while she continues to heed the cautions and follow the advice of her “good genius”, whose identity becomes an increasingly entrancing mystery to her as his letters  begin to reveal rather more than a purely disinterested concern for her welfare…

Thwarted in her pursuit of Lord Surchester, Lady Jemima has no recourse but to try and reinstate herself in Sir Clifford Byram’s good graces. This proves no simple matter, as Lady Jemima must overcome not only the damage done by her years of extravagance and carelessness of her reputation, but a wholly unexpected barrier in the form of an upstart attorney called Lassiter, who has beaten her to the punch by battening upon the ailing Sir Clifford, intending to siphon from his estate every penny that he can.

In pursuit of this end, Lassiter has gathered and used every scrap of information about the Byrams, and succeeded in convincing Sir Clifford that, on one hand, Lady Jemima is Lord Surchester’s mistress and, on the other, that his rumoured grandchild is no such thing, not Lambert Byram’s daughter but merely his ward; and that, in any case, she is in India and married.

However, a nemesis of sorts appears on the scene in the form of one Mr Broome, a minister—the very man, in fact, who married Lambert and Joanna, and who knows that any child of that marriage must be legitimate. When Sir Clifford challenges Lassiter with Broome’s assertions, the attorney counters by admitting he knew of the marriage, but kept it concealed because of the bad character of the late Mrs Byram; adding that any child born of the marriage was not necessarily Lambert’s.

His quick talking serves him for the present, but Lassiter recognises in Mr Broome a dangerous enemy—one moreover who has nothing to gain from the situation but the hope of doing right—and in his desperation he makes an ally of his former enemy, Lady Jemima. The idea of another grandchild has taken possession of Sir Clifford’s imagination, and Lassiter persuades Lady Jemima that it would be in their mutual best interests to produce one.

Lady Jemima, supposing the real Elizabeth in India, is forced to fall back upon the false Elizabeth currently ruining the lives of Lord and Lady Armathwaite. Her idea is to have Sir Clifford’s fortune secured to the girl and thus ultimately in her real mother’s control – minus Lassiter’s cut, of course. Her plans fall to pieces when, after sending a courier to the Armathwaites to secure the faux-Elizabeth for “a visit”, she receives a message from her brother informing her that the girl lies at the point of death…her reckless determination to escape from the “confinement” of sedate and proper living having ended in a night-time escapade and a severe fever.

It is at this dreadful juncture, with their plans in seeming ruins and a grieving mother to comfort, that Lassiter is brought to a proper appreciation of the powers and capacity of his co-conspirator:

    Lassiter began to talk of the universality of death, his own resignation to the loss of his wife, &c. &c. He was proceeding most piously. “For Heaven’s sake,” interrupted the lady, “hold your tongue, Mr Lassiter; I should not care a rush about the girl’s situation, but she cannot come—think what is now to be done.”
    Lassiter was outdone—he was awed—he felt small, for he had once lost a child, and he had sorrowed for it. The lady’s voice and philosophy rallied his fugitive wits, but he could only repeat, “Ay, what is now to be done?”
    “Sir Clifford’s letter must be put off no longer,” said her Ladyship—“it must be answered; I could perhaps in it make such an apology as would procure me time enough to send over to Dublin for Arabella; she might answer the purpose as well.”

And so another false Elizabeth—not quite as unsatisfactory as the other, but no prize, either—is imposed upon another deceived relative.

Well— It’s been fun, and all—and make no mistake about it: there is no doubt at all that the author was getting quite a kick out of these awful people and their increasingly outrageous schemes—but as the end of the fourth volume begins to draw near, convention demands that things be set to rights: that the real Elizabeth is reunited with her mother and finally able to take her rightful place in society; that the long-suffering Joanna, and the even more long-suffering Lord Armathwaite, can finally be happy; and that the conspirators are unmasked and punished. Lady Jemima in fact attracts a double punishment: not only has she, in her desperation, contracted a secret marriage with Lassiter, but her eldest daughter survives her illness and recovers—and returns to her mother’s “care”.

And then there’s the little matter of who has been writing those anonymous letters to the bewildered but captivated “Peregrina”…although the reader may not find this mystery as difficult to solve as our innocent young heroine does.

Ultimately, the most intriguing thing about Joan!!! is the casual way that most of its characters go about committing cruel, immoral and illegal acts. This is something we’re used to seeing in the Gothic novels of the time, where dark schemes and violent deeds are all in a day’s work; but there’s something unnerving about seeing these things transferred from “foreign lands” and “the past” into a completely contemporary, domestic setting…and I admit, reading this novel I found myself wondering what kind of things did go on in society at the time.

Particularly interesting is the sexual misconduct rampant in the Haccombe household, with Mrs Haccombe’s adulterous affair, and Mr Haccombe’s disinterest in it—except as far as he can use his wife’s infidelity to his own advantage. It’s a situation with a nasty ring of truth about it. Before the conclusion of this story, bigamy, adultery, fraud, embezzlement, attempted kidnapping and the 18th century version of identity theft will have passed, one after the other, before the reader’s startled eyes. It may be a sad commentary upon the human condition that evil deeds are so much more credible than selfless ones, but the fact is that the matter-of-fact way in which  so many of this novel’s characters set about being wicked makes the happy ending awaiting the few good ones seem by comparison even more than usually contrived.

23/07/2011

Joan!!! A Novel (Part 1)

“A stupor seized the senses of Joanna when she found how cruelly her credulity had deceived her: the character of Byram stood before her imagination in the blackest colours; and she dreaded him as a monster, a savage creature, who made innocence his prey, a deceiver who put on the mask of virture only to serve the most vicious purposes.—Perhaps she was as unjust in her censures as in her applauses—she would have verged nearer to the truth had she supposed him only facile and unpitying, prone to indulgence…a cowardly, selfish being!—Was she not then correct in fancying him a monster?—alas! the term implies infrequency, and therefore suits not a character so common…”

Lambert Byram, being sent word of his father’s serious illness, reluctantly pries himself away from his London amusements and sets off for Bath; caring little for his father, but concerned about his patrimony. After a weary day’s travel, Byram encounters an acquaintance of his father’s, the Reverend Anselm Rufford, who persuades him to stop for the night at his home and complete his journey in the morning. Byram is soon sorry he accepts this invitation, as it becomes clear that it was offered to throw the young man together with the daughter of the house, the ill-mannered and ignorant Sarah. Byram’s only thought is how to escape from the Ruffords’ house—until he becomes aware of another, and very different, female occupant: a lovely young woman called Joan, who Byram assumes from the Ruffords’ treatment of her is a servant, but who he discovers to his astonishment to be the Honourable Joanna Doveridge, the near-penniless orphan daughter of Lord Doveridge, and Mr Rufford’s ward.

Byram attends a local ball, where he is further surprised and pleased to discover that Miss Doveridge is held in high regard by certain great ladies of the neighbourhood, who deplore her circumstances. One of them, Mrs Halnaby, hopes to marry the girl to her son, Charles.

Evading the Ruffords’ lures, Byram travels on to Bath, where he finds his father recovering. He begins to plot ways to become better acquainted with Joanna, while evading the obvious lures of Sarah Rufford. His task is further complicated when his father, Sir Clifford Byram, determines on a match between his son and the Lady Jemima Fawley, the sister of the Earl of Armathwaite, and stubbornly refuses to entertain any other. Byram, however, continues to pursue Joanna. As he does so, he becomes aware of a certain tension between her and Lord Armathwaite, who recently and quite unexpectedly married a much older woman for her money. Byram writes to Joanna and declares himself to her. She is grateful, but declines both his offer and the correspondence.

Byram’s flat refusal to marry Lady Jemima ends in his expulsion from his father’s house. In his desire to see Joanna again, he accepts another invitation from the Ruffords. During the time of this visit, Joanna finds favour with the usually ill-tempered Lady Armathwaite, which provokes the jealous Ruffords into treating more callously than ever. At this crisis, Mr Rufford receives a letter from a dissolute nobleman, Lord Surchester, in which he openly offers to buy Joanna from her guardian. Learning of this, the outraged Byram is only too willing to deliver to Lord Surchester Mr Rufford’s reply, which he assumes to be an indignant refusal—until a grinning Lord Surchester enlightens him. Byram rushes back to Joanna to protect her from any possible coercion, only to discover that after a terrible scene between herself and Miss Rufford, the girl has run away.

Byram searches frantically for Joanna. By luck he finds her, exhausted, penniless and frightened, having tried and failed to find even the most menial employment by which to support herself. Byram begs her to marry him, and in her misery and desperation Joanna agrees—upon which Bryam must explain apologetically that the marriage will have to be kept secret, on account of his father’s stubbornness with regard to Lady Jemima. Byram carries Joanna to the north of England where he has a friend holding a small living, and there they are privately married after living quietly with the vicar, Mr Broome, and his sister long enough for the banns to be called.

Byram takes his bride back to London, where they must live in straitened circumstances; and after a time Joanna grows peaceful and almost happy, in spite of the secrecy of her marriage and the consequent isolation of her life. After a year, a daughter, named Elizabeth, is born. Up to this time, Byram’s love for Joanna has endured, and he has lavished his slender income upon her; but at length Byram begins to chafe at the thought of all he has given up: his position, his friends, and a fortune—were he willing to take the brazen Lady Jemima with it. He begins to absent himself from home for longer and longer periods, to show bad temper when he is there, and to drink to excess; although what hurts Joanna most is his indifference towards the child. The final blow comes with the death of Mr Rufford, when it is discovered that he embezzled and wasted his ward’s small patrimony. In the wake of this, Byram deserts his wife and child—sending a letter in which he declares that the marriage was never valid. Shortly afterwards, he marries Lady Jemima…

[SPOILERS]

This is one weird novel.

The British Library listing for this 1796 publication suggests that the name of its attributed author, Matilda Fitz John, is a pseudonym, but gives no hint why it thinks so or who the lady might have been—a pity, because the style is unusual and distinctive enough to make me interested to know if she ever wrote anything else.

It’s hard to know how to approach a review of a novel like Joan!!!, which is not only long and rambling, and multi-plotted in a way that makes it difficult to do justice to any one thread, but features a pattern of jarring shifts in tone, with one half of the novel (that dealing with its dual heroines) written as romantic melodrama with overtones of didacticism, and the other (dealing with most of the other characters) in a tone of wry, even cynical satire.

The melding doesn’t always work, but it does always hold the attention. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this approach is the growing sense that while our author may have felt that didactic romantic melodrama was what she should be writing, cynical satire was where she felt at home—to the extent that even her handling of her perfect heroines becomes tinged with irony. For all that the text overtly supports its “good” characters against its “bad”, and ultimately—at the very end of four long volumes, that is—rewards them, if Joan!!! does have a moral it is certainly that no good deed goes unpunished.

It is significant that Joan!!! opens in its satirical voice, with a brief sketch of Lambert Byram, one of the many callow young men who occupy rooms in “the Temple” and pretend to be studying law while passing the time in drinking, gambling and socialising. When news of his father’s illness reaches him, Byram simply shrugs it off, until a more wide-awake friend points out that he doesn’t want to risk a last-minute change of Will:

“His friend, rather less dead to prudence, though perhaps equally uninfected with the supersitions of duty, having first kindly cursed Lambert for a fool, in suffering the old man to die without securing his own interests by his presence, insisted on his setting out instantly for Bath…[and] saw him set out from the Temple, not without a hope that his friendly exertions would be repaid by the good effect this apparent filial piety might produce on the state of a purse, he often, notwithstanding his natural apathy, was used to apply to…”

On his way to Bath, Byram falls in with the appalling Ruffords—and the lovely Joanna. It is entirely typical of this novel’s odd attitude not merely that it should resort to the use of attention-grabbing triple exclamation marks in its title (hey, worked on me!), but that its heroine’s name should turn out not to be Joan at all.

For most of the first volume, the plot suggests that this is a tale of a young man redeemed by love—so the selfish cruelty of Byram’s abandonment of his secret bride comes as a considerable shock, as does his attempt to convince her – and himself – that their marriage was never legal. The psychology of this episode is acute. Byram’s love for his bride, inflamed in the first place by the barriers between them, withers and dies under the twin pressures of the removal of the barriers and life on a restricted income. Meanwhile, Sir Clifford continues to dangle the prospect of luxury and ease in front of his son, in the form of marriage with Lady Jemima.

Byram aleady blames Joanna for ruining his life, and spends longer and longer periods away from home. He cannot quite bring himself to leave her altogether, however, until she furnishes him with an excuse. Believing during Byram’s first extended absence that he has abandoned her, Joanna grows seriously ill. Terrified for her child’s future, she writes an “in-the-event-of-my death” letter to the Earl of Armathwaite, begging him to provide for the baby. When a drunken Byram unexpectedly returns, he finds it—and chooses to put his own interpretation on the contents.

Nothing makes us resent someone more than the knowledge that we have been unjust to them, and Byram caps his spurning of Joanna with a still more monstrous act. Having “married” Lady Jemima, Byram tries to justify himself to himself by arguing that Joanna probably was Armathwaite’s mistress…or if she wasn’t then, she is now…which makes her an unfit parent. Consequently, he has his daughter kidnapped, to remove her from Joanna’s “contaminating” influence. Confessing only to having kept a mistress, Byram has the child removed to a distant property in Ireland – part of his wife’s dowry – and brought up in ignorance of her mother; beyond knowing, of course, that she must have been a very bad woman.

As for the real relationship between Joanna and the Earl— No-one in this novel, not even Joanna herself, suffers quite as much as Armathwaite, thanks to his overly refined sense of the duties of friendship. His abrupt marriage to a much older, rather nasty, and extremely wealthy woman is the result of an unthinking oath taken to do anything – anything – to repair the fortunes of his dear friend Charles Halnaby, who has plunged himself ruinously into gambling debt, and whom Armathwaite finds one day on the verge of suicide. Having made his reckless promise, Armathwaite then realises there is only one way he can keep it; a way that puts an impossible barrier between himself and the woman he truly loves; but he grits his teeth and goes through with it—and has the satisfaction of looking on as his dear friend Charles pockets his fortune, pays off his debts, laughs at him for a fool and returns to his self-destructive way of life.

One of the fascinating things about Joan!!! is its heroine’s refusal to act up to what we might be inclined to call the conventions of the romantic novel. When she marries Byram, Joanna does not love him, as she makes quite clear. She is grateful to him, and her personal circumstances are desperate; and so she accepts his proposal. Her sense of duty is strong, and so she tries to quell the remnants of her love for Armathwaite; a task made somewhat easier by what she can only believe to be his venal betrayal of his vows to her. Byram’s generosity and kindness in the early months of their marriage engenders affection in his wife, and she comes to feel a kind of love for him as the father of her child; but she never does succeed in banishing the Earl from her heart.

Byram’s cruelty, on the other hand, swiftly kills whatever affection Joanna has for him. Her reaction to his spurning of her is everything that convention tells us that “good” women do not feel: anger, resentment, scorn—and a desire to put a spoke in his selfish wheels. No less surprising is that her impulse towards revenge is halted by her love for a man not her husband; an emotion the novelist dares to designate as “worthy”:

“Joanna’s temper was meek, but it was not abject; and she resented too deeply the indignity offered her, to accept it by replying to it.—She believed not the invalidity of her marriage; but to whom could she have recourse against her husband? To Lord Armathwaite alone—here she was certain of a defender against the intended cruelty; for she knew a discovery of her marriage would thwart Byram’s plans, but as the scale which contained her love for Byram rose, that more worthily filled preponderated, and fearing that Byram might revenge her application by divulging her attachment, and thus bring down added misery upon Lord Armathwaite, who was wholly in his wife’s power, she preferred suffering in silence.”

The matter is taken out of Joanna’s hands when Armathwaite tracks her down. There have, over the course of it, been rumours about Byram’s marriage; and while some people—including the Lady Jemima Fawley—prefer to believe the young woman in question to be merely Byram’s mistress, the Earl knows better than that. Though not denying his enduring love, Armathwaite begs Joanna to let him help her purely as a friend; and again the novel surprises us with its heroine’s practicality. She won’t let Armathwaite go public and force Byram back to her, because she doesn’t want him back—and anyway, what kind of future could they have together?—and nor will she be persuaded to attempt to get an annullment, because while that would free her, it would also bastardise her child.

Armathwaite loses his head here, and says a great many things which only strengthen Joanna’s determination not to accept his help; her sense of right balanced bolstered by her fear of wrong:

“But neither the past nor the future, however fertile the one had been in sorrows, or however barren the other seemed of hope, could so occupy her thoughts, as to exclude her own almost natural sentiments for Lord Armathwaite. To her love and esteem was now added, not only her pity, but her anxious fear lest the constancy of his passion for her should add to the wreck of all his wordly happiness, that of his intellects. She dreaded, lest human fortitude should not be able to support wounds never suffered to heal, but which hourly cruelty made rankle afresh; she feared too, lest the human heart could not be so nicely balanced as not to lean to the side of frailty:—she feared she must not trust him.”

And in fact, we’re beginning to gather an interesting picture of what was allowable in the novel of the late 18th century, as opposed to the rigid morality of the Victorian novel. It’s not that novels of this period permit their heroines to sin and get away with it; but rather, they are willing to admit that even a thoroughly good woman can experience temptation; that “duty” is often a grim and cheerless business; and that a clear conscience does not necessarily bring happiness. Like its contemporary, Milistina, Joan!!! simply accepts that you cannot always control your feelings, only your actions; and even that is no easy matter.

(Also like Milistina, Joan!!! has a distinctly female authorial voice; if “Matilda Fitz John” was a pseudonym, it hid a woman and not a man. It might make an interesting study to compare what men were saying of acceptable female conduct in novels of this period with the surprising things we’re gleaning from those written by women.)

All this is of course before the abduction of Elizabeth, which nearly destroys her mother. One final letter from Byram lets her know he is responsible, and why he has done it; or rather, how he justifies having done it. All of Joanna’s efforts to convince Byram of her innocence and to recover the child prove useless, and in the end the bereft mother—spurning Lord Armathwaite’s assistance one final time—takes refuge with her old friend, Mrs Halnaby, living with her in the role of companion; and there we leave her for a considerable stretch of the novel.

[To be continued…]

17/07/2011

A criminal matriarchy

A nasty combination of work and flu has kept me from either reading or writing much lately. However, while my chronic case of fuzzy-brain may well keep me from wrapping up my one outstanding review this weekend, it hasn’t stopped me from a little mindless poking around amongst obscure novels – in the course, of which, I discovered something rather intriguing.

Back when I reviewed Wilkie Collins’ The Law And The Lady, we had some discussion about the fact that the novel’s heroine, Valeria Brinton Woodville Macallan, was quite widely regarded as the first female detective in literary history. That was in 1875. Further research on the subject indicates that although his Valeria is undoubtedly a remarkable creation, declaring her “the first” may have been giving Collins a bit too much credit.

Interestingly, the world’s first real female detective – Kate Warne, employed by Pinkerton’s in 1856 – pre-dates her fictional sisters by a good seven years. There’s is some confusion out there about who the “first” may have been. It is generally agreed that she is the heroine of a penny-dreadful written by “Edward Ellis” (almost certainly a pseudonym) called Ruth The Betrayer; or, The Female Spy, which was published in 51 (!) parts before being collected into a single volume early in 1863. However, different accounts have her as Ruth Traill and Ruth Dowling. In the former, she is an actual detective, “a sort of spy we use in the hanky-panky way when a man would be too clumsy”; in the latter, she is a British agent sent to entice state secrets out of the Kaiser (!). While there is some overlap here, these two versions of the story don’t seem to be talking about the same woman. Ruth Dowling, for one thing, is an aristocrat of whom you cannot imagine the expression “hanky-panky” being used…even if hanky-panky is, in fact, exactly what’s she’s up to. I wonder if there’s any chance of hunting down a copy and finding out for sure..?

The first female detective about whom there is no doubt appeared in a series of stories later collected as—appropriately enough—The Female Detective. Andrew Forrester Jr (a pseudonym for James Redding Ware, who also wrote under his own name), posing as merely his stories’ editor, recounts the adventures of a female police detective, some fifty years before women were actually admitted to the British police force in any capacity. The detective in question, who tells the stories in the first person, also operates under a pseudonym, calling herself both Miss and Mrs Gladden and refusing to reveal either her true identity or her marital status: separating the “the woman” from “the detective”. M/s Gladden’s methods are those of science and logic; rarely does her success depend on either her luck or her gender. Intriguingly, the one criminal who eludes her is also a woman—the detective knows she is guilty but cannot bring her to justice.

Six months after this saw the publication The Experiences Of A Lady Detective (also known as The Revelations Of A Lady Detective), by W. Stephens Hayward. These stories also a female police detective—and the last such fictional character for many, many years. This time our heroine is one Mrs Paschal, in whose world the female detective is rare but not unique, and who belongs to a certain British organisation which has followed the European example of employing female operatives. Mrs Paschal is newly widowed at the outset, and takes up her untraditional role both as a means of supporting herself, and as a way of putting to good use her “unusual common sense”. Like M/s Gladden before her, Mrs Paschal tells her stories in the first person. She relies more upon intuition than her predecessor in the solving of her cases, and once in the course of her adventures she faints—but only after the criminals have been apprehended. On the other hand, in one story she needs to climb into a drain to follow a lead, and promptly divests herself of her cumbersome petticoats in order to do so.

Sadly, these quite revolutionary works proved something of a dead end. It was fully ten years later before Wilkie Collins’ Valeria Brinton appeared on the scene, with another long gap in our history after that. The real breakthrough—at least in England—did not occur until 1894. Catherine Louisa Pirkis was a successful novelist in her day, but her works have not survived—except one: The Experiences Of Loveday Brooke: Lady Detective. Pirkis’ Miss Brooke is thirty and unmarried, but indifferently so: her focus is purely on the profession via which she supports herself after being left “penniless and all but friendless”. Her choice of career cuts her off from those few remaining friends, and allows her to be entirely autonomous.

Miss Brooke was followed three years later by Dorcas Dene: Detective, written by George R. Sims, and a year after that by Dora Myrl: Lady Detective, by M. McDonnell Bodkin. George Robert Sims was a journalist, a playwright and a poet as well as a novelist; he was a crime buff, a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle and, in some quarters, considered a likely Jack the Ripper. Matthias McDonnell Bodkin was an Irish nationalist and an MP, a barrister and a judge, a journalist and a novelist. His detective character, Paul Beck, is a gentleman amateur who has been described as “an Irish Sherlock Holmes”. One of the Beck stories featured Dora Myrl, who broke out to become a detective in her own right. Bodkin then achieved a first in the genre by marrying off his detectives (not so very Holmesian, then!), and having them produce a son, Paul Jr, who later carried on the family business. At the same time, sadly but probably inevitably, marriage and motherhood put paid to Dora’s own career.

It should be mentioned that Sims’ Dorcas Dene is married, too—but her husband is blind; detection is how she supports him, and is thus “acceptably” womanly. (Compare this situation with that of Collins’ Valeria, who also turns detective to help her husband.) Marital status, and the possible effects on marital status, was a knotty problem that authors continued to wrestle with even while their characters were getting a foot in the door in the realm of private detection. In 1910, Marie Connor Leighton, a prolific novelist, published Joan Mar, Detective: a work full of bewilderingly mixed messages, in which the final response to Joan’s brilliance as a detective is the fervent hope of another character (a conventional female to whom Joan has lost the man she loves) that she will, “Marry someone worthy of her who [will] make her happy.” It is probably not surprising, all things considered, that for many decades the most popular variety of woman detective was the spinster.

On the other side of the Atlantic, it was 1878 when Anna Katharine Green published the first detective novel written by a woman, The Leavenworth Case. It was a huge best-seller. Green continued writing mysteries for the next forty years. In her early works, her main detective is a police inspector called Ebenezer Gryce. In 1897’s That Affair Next Door, Gryce is assisted by a spinster called Amelia Butterworth, who appeared in two more of Green’s novels and is a clear forerunner to Miss Marple. (Agatha Christie admitted Green as an influence.) Towards the end of her career, Anna Katharine Green achieved another sort of breakthrough by writing a series of short stories featuring Miss Violet Strange, a society debutante with a taste for mysteries, who succeeds chiefly because no-one suspects her for a moment of being a detective.

In the meantime, throughout the early 1880s a private detective called Donald Dyke appeared in a series of popular stories in the Boston Globe. In 1883, however, Dyke was relegated to supporting character in a novel called Clarice Dyke, The Female Detective, in which Donald’s wife proves herself every inch her husband’s equal – if not his better – when he is abducted by a criminal gang. Clarice Dyke was published under the house name “Harry Rookwood”; no-one knows who wrote this novel, or the Donald Dyke stories – or even if they were written by the same person.

Another American, Mary Roberts Rinehart – possibly best known these days for creating “the Bat”, one of the inspirations for Batman – began publishing mysteries in 1908. The Circular Staircase features Rachel Innes, a maiden aunt who finds herself with a murder on her hands. Subsequently, Rinehart created Letitia Carberry, “Tish”, another spinster-detective, who became a staple of the Saturday Evening Post; and Hilda Adams, aka Miss Pinkerton, a nurse who collaborates with the police in several investigations. Adams, at thirty-eight, is the youngest of the bunch by a stretch – and even she is considered “middle-aged”.

The world’s most famous spinster-detective, Miss Jane Marple, appeared in 1926, to be followed two years later by Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Maud Silver. A reaction of sorts then took place, with Gladys Mitchell (for whom Agatha Christie was something of a “negative inspiration”, it seems) creating the twice-married Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley in 1929. Mrs Bradley does, however, fit the prevailing profile another way, being fifty-seven at the time of her debut. (Which did not stop her appearing in another sixty-odd novels over the next fifty-odd years.)

It seems to have been Agatha Christie who first followed Anna Katharine Green’s lead and bucked this trend, albeit tentatively, by having various young women involve themselves in crime – Prudence Beresford, Eileen Brent, Lady Frances Derwent. But the trend-buck to end all trend-bucks occurred in 1930, when the impossibly perfect sixteen-year-old detective Nancy Drew first appeared on stage. The evolution – and revisionism – of this character over the following decades constitutes a sociological case-study par excellence.

Of course, these are only the major headings. There were certainly other female detectives out there during all these years, in novels that have since fallen somewhat by the wayside, and not all of them middle-aged spinsters—at least, so we infer from Dorothy’s Sayers’ complaint about novels that featured females detectives who were “too young, too beautiful, too interested in marriage, and too often prone to walk into physically dangerous situations”. While there’s no doubt that at least in the early days, the female detective was often purely a novelty item, I suspect it’s also true that a chronological look at these works, with an examination of what these characters were and were not “allowed” to do, would be fascinatingly informative.

09/07/2011

Rookwood: A Romance

“‘Tis said, that the first of the race from which you now claim descent, Sir Ranulph Rookwood, slew his dame, in jealous indignation for imaginary wrong. Her prayers, her tears, her adjurations of innocence—and she was innocent—all her agony, could not move him. He stabbed her thrice. He smote the bleeding corse, and as life was ebbing fast away, with her fleeting breath she pronounced a curse upon her murderer, and upon his race. She had invoked all the powers of mercy, and of goodness, to aid her. A deaf ear had been turned unto her agonised entreaties. With her dying lips she summoned those of hell. She surrendered her soul to the dark Spirit of Evil, for revenge; and the revenge was accorded her. She died—but her curse survived.”

Following the death of Sir Piers Rookwood, the young Luke Bradley, who ekes out a precarious living as a woodsman and a poacher, learns from his grandfather, the sexton Peter Bradley, that Sir Piers may in fact have been married to his mother, Susan; and that far from being the despised bastard he always believed himself, Luke may be the true heir to the titles and estates of Rookwood. Although the history of the Rookwood family is dark and bloody, Luke instantly swears that he will find the proof he needs to establish his identity, but knows that in doing so he will find an implacable and dangerous enemy in the widowed Lady Rookwood, mother to the heir-presumptive, Ranulph.

The late Sir Piers and his wife led a turbulent and unhappy life together, one of the consequences of which was the departure of Ranulph for Europe, where he had lived for over a year at the time of his father’s death. Word of his succession was sent to Ranulph, but was not expected to reach him for days. To the astonishment of the household, however, Ranulph arrives at Rookwood in time for the funeral. To Dr Small, the local vicar, Ranulph confesses the real reason for his sudden departure from home, namely his father’s furious reaction to the discovery that his son had fallen in love with Eleanor Mowbray, his cousin, the daughter of Sir Piers’ sister, who had been banished from the house and family carrying her father’s malediction after marrying against his will. Ranulph also recalls a puzzling threat made by his father in the event of Ranulph’s persistence in his suit—a threat of disinheritance, although Rookwood is entailed. Finally, most reluctantly, Ranulph reveals the secret of his unexpected return: a terrifying encounter with a ghostly apparition that resembled his father, at what he now learns was the exact hour of Sir Piers’ death…

Meanwhile, Lady Rookwood is reading a letter found amongst Sir Piers’ papers—a letter which she casts into the fire as she curses her husband’s memory. She finds also a miniature of a young and lovely woman, bound up with a marriage certificate…but these she keeps and conceals. Barely has she done so than Luke Bradley almost forces his way into the house, demanding to see Lady Rookwood. During the scene that follows, Lady Rookwood stuns Luke by admitting his legitimacy—then challenges him to prove it if he can, with wealth and power and position ranged against him.

In a fury, Luke then makes his way by secret passages, the existence of which were revealed to him by his grandfather, to the room where his father’s embalmed body lies in state, forcing Lady Rookwood at pistol-point to accompany him. Upon their sudden entry, however, Luke and Lady Rookwood are equally astonished to find Ranulph standing beside the coffin. During the confrontation that follows, Luke openly declares his claim to Rookwood—and Ranulph is forced to remember his father’s mysterious threats of disinheritance. His ghostly experience weighing on his mind, Ranulph horrifies his mother by conceding that Luke may be telling the truth.

Before any resolution is reached, several of the family retainers burst into the room, capturing Luke and threatening him with an outstanding warrant for poaching and the assault of the Rookwood gamekeeper: capital offences. When Ranulph tries to intervene, the furious Lady Rookwood takes him to one side and threatens him with her own curse, warning him also that if he surrenders Rookwood, Eleanor Mowbray can never be his wife. Shaking her off, Ranulph promises Luke that he will be freed from his bonds if he will pledge his word of honour not to try and escape, but a defiant Luke will promise nothing.

Still in fetters, Luke is locked into a small room and placed under guard. However, behind the room is another secret passageway, and through a small gap in the woodwork Luke overhears a plan for an attack upon Lady Rookwood and a robbery of the house, to be committed by a band led by a man who visits the house under the name of Jack Palmer—but who in reality is the highwayman, Dick Turpin. Though the robbery is thwarted, Turpin takes possession of the marriage certificate that can prove Luke’s claim, intending to sell it to the highest bidder.

His sympathies with Luke in spite of these mercenary plans, Turpin helps him to escape. The two make their way to a gypsy encampment, ruled over by Queen Barbara Lovel, an ancient woman of strange powers whose only earthly affections are wrapped up in her lovely granddaughter, Sybil, to whom Luke has long been plighted. It is with horror and dismay that Sybil learns of Luke’s birth, convinced in spite of his ardent protestations that his pride will not permit him to marry a mere gypsy if he is in truth Sir Luke Rookwood. Sybil’s worst fears are confirmed when it is subsequently revealed that the Rookwood title alone is entailed: the lands and money are held outright, to descend to whomever their owner chooses. Luke then discovers that the only way he can take full possession is by marrying the woman to whom by right they now belong—Eleanor Mowbray…

[SPOILERS]

Although, apparently, not much remembered these days, there was a time when William Harrison Ainsworth was a true lion of the English literary scene, his novels best-sellers, his company courted by his fellow writers, and the magazines declaring him to be “the heir of Sir Walter Scott”. Ainsworth’s career began as many literary careers did in those days, it seems—that is, as the preferred occupation of a man vacillating between publishing and law as a means of earning a living, but enthusiastic about neither. At the start he wrote poetry and short stories, sometimes under a pseudonym. His first attempt at a novel was done in collaboration with John Partington Ashton, a clerk in his father’s law office. Sir John Chiverton was a great success, but one attended by controversy over the relative contributions of its two authors. These days the novel is all but impossible to get hold of, so we are unable to judge it for ourselves.

About Ainsworth’s second venture into fiction there is, however, no doubt at all. Rookwood was published in 1834 to huge success, multiple reprintings and not a little critical acclaim—but this work, too, caused quite a lot of controversy, although of a very different kind.

Rookwood is very undisciplined novel, crammed with more incidents and twists than it can comfortably hold and with the melodrama cranked up to an untenable degree. From the point of view of this blog, I also have to say that Rookwood is a very typical novel—inasmuch as we yet again find ourselves struggling with an incredibly convoluted family tree further confused by multiple marriages and assumed identities. The Rookwood habit of reiterating family names doesn’t help, either. However, the sheer enthusiasm of the project carries it over a lot of rocky ground; and whatever the literary shortcomings of this novel, historically we can see that this is a very important work, for two distinct reasons.

Firstly, Rookwood forms a clear bridge between the Gothic novel and the modern horror story. Indeed, Ainsworth himself regarded it as “a home-grown Gothic”, with English settings and character types substituted for the usual European scenes. The reality of the curse upon the Rookwoods plays itself out over the course of the story, while Ranulph’s Hamlet-like encounter with his dead father is never explained away. However, perhaps of more importance is the novel’s ghoulish dwelling upon body-horror, which marks it as a descendent of the Lewis-Maturin school of writing and points to increasingly grim future tales. A remarkable number of its scenes take place in underground crypts, with the characters surrounded by coffins and dead bodies. We even get a wedding in such surroundings! There are also lengthy descriptions of corpses in various states of preservation; while Luke Bradley acquires his dead mother’s mummified hand – a wedding-ring on the third finger – and takes to carrying it around in his inner breast pocket.

Here are some excerpts from the novel’s tone-setting opening sequence:

Within the deep recesses of a vault, the last abiding place of an ancient family—many generations of whose long line were there congregated—and at midnight’s dreariest hour, two figures might be discovered, sitting, wrapt in silence as profound as that of the multitudinous dead around them…

    A thunderous crash resounded through the vault. One of the coffins, which Luke had dislodged from its position, tumbled to the groud; it alighted upon its side, splitting asunder in the fall.
    “Great heavens! what is this?” cried Luke; as a dead body clothed in all the hideous apparel of the tomb, rolled forth to his feet.
    “It is thy mother’s corpse,” answered the sexton. “I brought thee hither to behold it; but thou hast anticipated my intentions…”

Insensible as he was, Luke had not relinquished the hold he maintained on his mother’s hand. And when Peter lifted the body, the ligaments, connecting the hand with the arm, were suddenly snapped asunder… The first thing [Luke] perceived, upon collecting his faculties, were the skeleton fingers, which he found twined within his own…

Rookwood is in many ways a very odd novel. It certainly sits very comfortably beside Vanity Fair under the descriptor, “a novel without a hero”. The Rookwoods are an old family whose men have a deadly and well-deserved reputation for marrying in haste and murdering at leisure.  In the early stages of the tale, Luke Bradley is a sympathetic character; but as soon as he knows for certain that he is a Rookwood by birth as well as by blood, the ancient curse begins to play its part and he becomes a true son of his ancestors, willing to do anything to claim his inheritance, no matter who he has to hurt – or marry – or kill. 

When Sybil Lovel hears the truth of Luke’s birth, she shrinks from him in horror, knowing only too well the fate in store for the first Rookwood bride of each generation. Sybil herself is the very embodiment of Maggie Tulliver’s dictum about “all the dark unhappy ones”; although in this case her fair counterpart, Eleanor Mowbray, seems no less doomed to be a victim. Of the men, both Ranulph Rookwood and Eleanor’s brother, Major Mowbray, are for the most part on the side of light, especially the former; but neither one of them is a vivid enough character to disperse the story’s overriding sense of  foreboding.

One of the most interesting things about Rookwood is that, in spite of its hugely complicated central plot, this is a novel that very nearly ends up being overwhelmed by its subplot. This brings us to the secondary historical importance of Rookwood, its place among the school of writing that came to be known as “the Newgate Novel”.

The first decades of the 19th century saw a sharp increase in what many social commentators considered an unhealthy interest in the details of crime and criminal lives. During the time the Newgate Calendar, which had originally been published during the 18th century and which consisted of biographies of famous and infamous criminals, was revived, and achieved great popularity. Novelists began to draw upon the Calendar for their plots, treating their anti-heroes with what critics believed to be unforgiveable leniency—or even worse, admiration. This tendency not confined to minor writers. Perhaps its most famous exponent was Charles Dickens, a number of whose early works contain vivid and not entirely negative descriptions of the criminal milieu. On the other hand, one of the genre’s most vocal critics was William Makepeace Thackeray, whose Catherine, published in 1839, was intended as a vicious satire of this particular school of writing. To Thackeray’s exasperation, his novel was frequently misinterpreted, often being classed with the very works it was written to attack.

William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, also published in 1839, is generally considered the ne plus ultra of this form of novel-writing, and was probably the the work that provoked Thackeray into literary retaliation. Rookwood, however, is also a Newgate Novel in fact if not in original intention, with its extended portrait of Dick Turpin, who emerges from the fringes of the plot to very nearly become the novel’s central character, earning the book both enthusiastic praise and angry condemnation at the time of its release

From its second edition onwards, copies of Rookwood carried prefaces penned by its author, who wavers between defiance and self-exculpation in the face of the various attacks upon his novel. As far as answering accusations of misplaced admiration of Turpin and his highwaymen brethren goes, however, Ainsworth didn’t have a leg to stand on. The enconiums upon Turpin’s character and the descriptions of his life on the road become increasingly rapturous as the tale progresses, until at last the narrator openly mourns his passing and that of a certain time in history, a certain way of life – while shaking his head over This Modern Age:

Dick Turpin was the Ultimus Romanorum, the last of a race which (we were almost about to say we regret) is now altogether extinct. Several successors he had, it is true, but no name worthy to be recorded after his own. With him, expired the chivalrous spirit which animated successively the bosoms of so many Knights of the Road; with him, died away that passionate love of enterprise, that high spirit of devotion to the fair sex… It were a subject well worthy of inquiry, to trace this decline and fall of the empire of the Tobymen, to its remoter causes—to ascertain the why and the wherefore, that with so many half-pay captains; so many poor curates; so many lieutenants, of both services, without hopes of promotion; so many penny-a-liners, and fashionable novelists; so many damned dramatists, and damning critics; so many Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviewers; so many detrimental brothers, and younger sons; when there are horses to be hired, pistols to be borrowed, purses to be taken, and mails are as plentiful as partridges;—it were worth serious investigation, we repeat, to ascertain why, with the best material available for a new race of highwaymen, we have none, not so much as an amateur.

Almost regret; yes.

During the latter stages of this novel, the exploits of Dick Turpin and his criminal comrades actually force the Rookwoods off-stage for an extended period of time. Here Ainsworth really does get carried away, almost burying his story under a deluge of gaolhouse ballads and thieves’ cant – both of which come accessorised by a plethora of explanatory footnotes. The former grow increasingly tiresome, with Dick & Co. singing at each other for page after page after page; the latter is more interesting, if only because it becomes increasingly apparent that whatever effort Ainsworth himself may have put into accumulating this wealth of linguistic information, subsequent generations of novelists with similar needs resorted to the simpler expedient of plundering Rookwood:

Wonderful were the miracles Dick’s advent wrought. The lame become suddenly active, the blind saw, and the dumb spake; nay, if truth must be told, absolutely gave utterance ‘to the most vernacular execrations’. Morts, autem morts, walking morts, dells, doxies, kinching morts, and their coes, with all the shades and grades of the Canting Crew, were assembled…

However, not even Ainsworth’s sternest critics were able entirely to withold their admiration for Rookwood‘s great set-piece: its breathless, chapters-long description of Dick Turpin’s legendary overnight ride from London to York on his gallant mare, the famous Black Bess. The passion and the energy of this sequence, the vividness of imagination on display, was something that almost everyone felt compelled to praise, in some cases even while the choice of subject matter was being decried:

Dick’s blood was again on fire. He was first giddy, as after a deep draught of kindling spirit; this passed off, but the spirit was still in his veins—the estro was working in his brain. All his ardour, his eagerness, his fury returned—he rode like one insane, and his courser partook of his frenzy. She bounded—she leaped—she tore up the ground beneath her—while Dick gave vent to his exultation in one wild prolonged halloo. More than half his race is run. He has triumphed over every difficulty. He will have no further occasion to halt. Bess carries her forage along with her. The course is straightforward—success seems certain—the goal already reached—the path of glory won. Another wild halloo, to which the echoing woods reply, and away—! Away!—away!—thou matchless steed!—

Matchless steed, indeed. It is not too much to say that Black Bess is the real heroine of Rookwood. She spends as much time before the reader as either Sybil Lovel or Eleanor Mowbray, and is described in terms perhaps even more glowing: her beauty, her strength, her courage, and her loyalty and devotion to her master are dwelt on time and again.

But alas, Bess no less than Sybil herself is one of the “dark unhappy ones”, being likewise doomed by man’s love and man’s selfishness. While it is impossible not to respond to the description of Turpin’s ride, these days I suspect the reader’s enthusiasm is likely to be tempered by the grim reflection that what we actually have here is a graphic, blow-by-blow description of Dick Turpin deliberately riding his horse to death.

Ainsworth does acknowledge the tragedy of Bess’s pointless death, but clearly he was too dazzled by his vision of Turpin’s mad ride to feel for the unfortunate animal as we might today; or, at least—I suppose I shouldn’t speak for others—as I did. Indeed, ultimately I found myself rather in sympathy with the critic from the Weekly Dispatch, whom Ainsworth holds up to mockery in his preface, who protested in his appalled review of Rookwood, “What is there to admire in the tale of a scoundrel outlaw thus torturing a noble animal to save his own rascal carcase from the gallows…?”

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Footnote:  What did I saw about being unable to escape the Stuarts and their times??—

…the espousal of the royalist party, with sword and substance, by Sir Ralph Rookwood, the then lord of the mansion (a dissolute, depraved personage, who, however, had been made a Knight of the Garter at the Coronation of Charles I) ended in his own destruction at Naseby, and the wreck of much of his property; a loss, which the gratitude of Charles II, on his restoration, did not fail to make good to Sir Ralph’s youthful heir. The young Sir Reginald had attended Charles in the character of page during his exile… One anomaly in Sir Reginald’s otherwise utterly selfish character, was uncompromising devotion to the House of Stuart; and shortly after the abdication of James II, he followed that mornarch to St. Germain…

02/07/2011

Cynthia

“I beheld her with Amazement, for never before did my Eyes behold any Thing so lovely: Yet that Amazement was accompanied with a Transport, in beholding so Rare a Creature, which brought forth a delerious Ravishment; and a Rapture of unusual Joys began to possess my Senses: So that then, and only then, I began to be wretched, and greedily began to devour that Poison I should have expell’d. This Fatal Minute was a Prologue to the Catastrophe of my Tragical Misfortunes.”

And with a mighty bound, they landed in 1687—ha-HA!!

Yeah, don’t get too excited. We’ll be hitting another political wall very shortly, just when it’s beginning to look like we might escape the 1680s. Such is my Tragical Misfortune.

Of course, the very fact that we’ve moved quite quickly through the middle years of the decade, with only a handful of fictional works coming to my attention, is interesting and informative in itself. Unlike the entire reign of Charles, the early years under James produced a literary wasteland.

Having succeeded, between the Rye House Plot and the Monmouth Rebellion, in wiping out most of his remaining opponents who had any political power or personal standing, from mid-1685 onwards James had his foot on the nation’s throat. The contradictory freedoms of life under Charles came to an abrupt halt; political writing was suddenly deadly dangerous – unless of course you were on James’s side. Plays with a message ceased to be written or produced, while those meant only to entertain were revived. Fiction became the safest form of writing. It was during these years that “the novel” took hold as a literary form. With politics out of the question, tales of the imagination had a chance to flourish – and the less any given story had to do with day-to-day reality, the better.

Into this climate came Cynthia: With The Tragical Account Of The Unfortunate Loves Of Almerin And Desdemona: Being A Novel, which was published anonymously in 1687 and proved remarkably popular. My own copy is the fifth edition from 1709, and it was still being reissued late in the 18th century. How to account for this? I really don’t know—except that Cynthia has all the staples: sex, and violence, and just a little horror, built into a framework of didacticism.

And perhaps that last is the most interesting thing about Cynthia, as well as being a hint of the direction that the novel would travel in the future. As a moral tale, Cynthia is something less than convincing; but the very fact that its author chose to sell it as such, to the extent of including a lengthy preface making exhorbitant claims for its “improving” nature, suggests that even this early, the idea of fiction as a vehicle for instruction and guidance was beginning to take root. The sub-sub-title of Cynthia promises the reader, “…both Pleasure and Profit.” In attitude even more than content, we’re light-years away from The London Bully.

Cynthia opens with a ridiculously highflown 10-page preface written in a deliberately archaic style and filled with Latin tags and quotes from the bible, presumably to illustrate simultaneously its author’s erudition and moral rectitude. Here’s just a taste:

“The Total Sum or Moral of the whole History is soon cast up, by examining it with that Saying of the Wise Man, That a Just Man falls Seven Times and riseth again, but the Wicked fall into Mischief: That is, the Upright Man is subject to many Dangers, but God delivereth him out of his Distress, making his very Misfortunes an Addition to his Joys. Oh, what Heavenly Comfort, (says an Ancient Father) do they inwardly feel, who are delighted with Remembrance of Sufferings past, with the Fruition of Joys present, and with the Expectation of Felicities to come! This Happiness is represented in the History of Cynthia and Orsamus. Wicked men are figured in the Person of Almerin, for Evil Men and Deceivers shall wax worse, their Portion shall be cursed in the Earth; and as a Fall on a Pavement is very sudden, so shall the Fall of the Wicked come hastily; because God strikes not presently the Wicked are set to do Evil; but although Heaven be slow in Punishment, yet when they strike they strike sure; for God spares the Wicked not in Mercy, but in Justice.”

Ten pages of it, folks! But if you do have the patience to wade through it, you’ll be awarded with an amusing descent into the realities of publishing life as (his language altering not a jot) our author gives us a version of a defensive reaction no less popular today than it was in 1687:

“This may serve  for a silent Emblem to excuse the Errata’s of the whole History, which in the Eyes of many may seem fair, but when an Artist comes to survey it, it will not be found without Faults, (since Nature perfected it, and not Art;) many Faults are in the Orthography, many Errors o’erpassed in the Ingrossing; therefore I accuse my self to save the Curious Critick a Labour, who finds Faults in others, yet amends not his own: Yet to the Judicious and Partial Man I submit my self, who knows how to scan and pass by Infant Faults.”

“Errata’s”??

And at length we arrive at our story proper, which I’m evilly pleased to reveal is written in the same style as the preface. For example—

“It was about the time that Sol left Watery Neptune’s Bed, and newly darted his Rays upon the Face of the Waters; Neptune walk’d proudly along with his Sweet Burthen, and Zephyrus gently courted their sails, while the pretty Fishes made pleasant Pastime, sporting themselves in the Ocean.”

In other words, it was sunrise and there was a light breeze. I’m beginning to suspect that the anonymous author of Cynthia was a lineal ancestor of Sir Samuel Egerton Leigh.

Our tale opens in Albion, at a time when separate regions had separate royalty; and Cynthia is the daughter and heir of the King of Kent, who has arranged for her a marriage with Cordello, the son of his neighbour and ally, the King of East-Anglia. However, Cynthia is secretly in love with Orsamus, her personal guard, the sole survivor of a shipwreck some years earlier, who was taken into the service of the king. Royalty being what it is, the fact that Orsamus is smarter, stronger, braver, more honest and more loyal than anyone else in the country, and that as a soldier he was wholly responsible for saving the life of the king during battle at the risk of his own, means nothing next to his presumed inferiority of birth; and when upon the announcement of Cynthia’s betrothal Orsamus breaks down and declares his love for her, Cynthia is outraged and offended at his presumption. The heartbroken Orsamus is banished.

And having taken this step, Cynthia prepares for her wedding by slipping off into the woods where she can weep in private over, “My Dear, though Absent, Orsamus!” She is caught at this Cordello, but before he can do more than inquire into the cause of her sorrow, the two of them are confronted by Orsamus, who hasn’t taken his banishment well – or indeed at all. Ignoring Cordello, Orsamus throws himself at Cynthia’s feet, and after reproaching her injustice, prepares to commit suicide. Cordello, interpreting all this correctly, is himself outraged and offended. Cordello’s entourage then catches up with him. They fall upon Orsamus, who kills about six of them but is just about to be overpowered, when—

—pirates attack! Cordello and his surviving men promptly run away, leaving only Orsamus to defend Cynthia, who of course by this time has fainted. Orsamus manages some more impressive slaughter, but is finally overwhelmed by numbers. He and Cynthia are carried onto the pirates’ boat, which sails off with them. Orsamus’s fate is to be gruesome execution, in retaliation for his pruning of the pirates’ numbers. As for Cynthia— Almerin, the leader of the pirates, takes one look and falls in love with her. He declares himself at once.

Cynthia unexpectedly steps up here, with a nice piece of quick-thinking. She claims the seriously wounded Orsamus as her brother and guardian, making it clear that if Almerin wants to get anywhere with her, he’d better take good care of him, as she could not possibly listen to any man’s addresses without his consent. The execution is therefore called off, and Orsamus nursed back to health. Cynthia is allowed private visits to his room, where she makes the role he has to play clear.

Cynthia follows this successful manoeuvre with another, a kind of Scheherazade-in-reverse. She pretends to take Almerin’s declarations quite seriously, but tells him that she could not possibly listen to any man of whom she knows so little. She insists upon hearing his life-story. Almerin is thoroughly dismayed by this, knowing that nothing in his history will help his cause with her; but as a gesture of good faith, he fatalistically agrees.

The main body of this novel is indeed made up of, “The Tragical Account Of The Unfortunate Loves Of Almerin And Desdemona”. Almerin insists throughout upon viewing himself as the victim of an unkind fate, fortune’s pawn, a tragic figure; but the plain truth is, everything that goes wrong is his own stupid fault. This poses the question of how we’re supposed to take all this – because it is not at all clear that the author is beng ironic. Perhaps he did intend the gap between his theory and his practice; or perhaps he just wasn’t good enough a writer to pull off the kind of tale he was aiming for. We’ll never know…but after due consideration, I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

We’re reminded again in Cynthia of how very different were 17th-century ideas of what was age-appropriate, compared to our own. You might remember that The Fair Extravagant, from 1682, opened with its seventeen-year-old heroine bemoaning her status as old maid. Here, out anti-hero, Almerin, embarks upon a career that ultimately embraces (and in quite rapid succession) killing, seduction, impregnation, marriage, murder, piracy and Satanic dealings at the ripe old age of sixteen.

Almerin is the son of the Governor of Syracuse, in Sicily. His acquaintance with Desdemona begins when he one day saves her from rape. After the quotes I’ve already given you, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that communication in Cynthia consists chiefly of an exchange of declamatory speeches. Some of my favourites are those exchanged by our young lovers upon their first meeting when, let me remind you, she at the age of fourteen has just had a hairsbreadth escape from violation and seen a man killed, and he at the age of sixteen has just killed a man and fallen in love. Here are their first words to each other:

    “Sir, (said she,) this sudden and unexpected Assistance perswades me to Esteeme you as the Genius of my better Fortune, since you have by timely Redemption preserv’d what is more precious to me than that which we prize most dear. Seeing there’s no Possibility of making Satisfaction equal to the Obligation, take my Life in Lieu for a small Recompence; but continue still to preserve my Honour, which you have so bravely defended.”
    “‘Madam, I rejoice that the Destinies have made me so Fortunate in making me the happy Cause of preserving you. If I have oblig’d you in this Action I have a Satisfaction above what I could hope, and Fortune ha been kind above my Wishes; since few Minutes have pass’d when I was to seek for such an Opportunity to Manifest my Affection. O Madam! Blame me not when I reveal I love you: And prove not cruel to one that adores you. And if you think I have oblig’d you, Oh! pay it in Love and I shall soon become the Debtor: And talk not of Death when te Gods detest the Proposition; but think, lovely Creature, if so much Beauty can be without Pity, and yield no Redress to my Love, see Beauteous Lady, Death will be kinder than you, and yield a Remedy when you deny it.’ This said (with an Action wholly Passionate) I set my Sword against my Breast, saying, ‘Here, Madam, is that will yield Relief in Necessity; and seeing I cannot live without your Love, I’ll endeavour in Death to gain your Pity: And if my Love be become an Offence, this very Sword shall make Satisfaction, and destroy that Life that gave it Birth.'”

Two pages of further declamation later, the pair of them shut up just long enough for Almerin to be introduced to Desdemona’s slavishly grateful parents. An instant betrothal would seem likely, except that there’s a fly in the ointment: Almerin is already betrothed to the daughter of a nobleman, a political match arranged by his father the Governor—who is, we learn, “A Man too passionate and rash, firm in his Resolves, and not to be altered by Perswasions in his Proceedings… He was obstinate in his Humours, nor could Reason make him reverse what he had decreed; but especially those he imagined did tend to further and advance his aspiring Ambition. These were such infallible Truths as I well knew by his Consent would never be revoked.”

And this being the case, does Almerin do the sensible thing and not see Desdemona again? Of course not! He makes one feint at breaking his engagement but then, in the face of his father’s explosive rage, retreats into a weak, Oh, I just wanted to know what you’d say, assuring his parents that he intends to honour his engagement. Having done so, he takes every opportunity to see Desdemona, carefully keeping his engagement secret from her. Before long, he seduces her (so much for what is more precious to me than that which we prize most dear) and gets her pregnant. Having promised her marriage, one day he unexpectedly finds himself (thanks to the manoeuvring of his parents, hardly convinced by his assurances) standing before the altar with his betrothed, Artemesia. Almerin baulks at first, but then, confronted by the point of his father’s sword and a threat of instant death, capitulates. Meanwhile, an increasingly desperate Desdemona is insisting that he keep his solemn oath to her…

And it’s all Fate’s fault!

No, really—he honestly thinks it is. Here’s how Almerin describes his situation to Cynthia:

“…Affrighted by his Danger, he endeavours by Craft (as his last Remedy) to deceive the Beast in his Pursuit. By chance he espies a deep Pit by the Way-side, and a little below the Pit’s brim grows a Twig, which the poor Man seeing, goes and takes hold of the Twig, thinking thereby to avoid the Beast; but then casting his Eyes down to the Bottom of the Pit, he sees a number of Scorpions, Dragons, and other venomous Beasts, waiting for his Fall to devour him; then casting his Eyes up, he sees the hungry, lean-jaw’d Beast gnawing asunder the Twig that he holds by…”

Almerin does indeed “endeavour by Craft” to find a way out of his dilemma; and while he never for a moment ceases to think of himself as “the poor Man”, it is unsurprisingly everyone else who suffers. The marriage of Almerin and Artemesia is solemnised – and consummated (“Come to my Bed, my Love, (said I,) and let us see if the Night can yield us as great Felicities as the Day has begotten us Miseries”) but a reproachful letter from Desdemona makes Almerin decide that he has to do the right thing by her – and so he poisons Artemesia. She dies and is buried, but Almerin is not quite free of her yet. Soon afterwards he experiences a vision of her, in which she places a curse upon his head:

“The Remainder of your Life shall be a living Death: You shall seek for Death but you shall not find it; and when you desire to live you shall cruelly be cut off…”

Shaking off the effects of this ghostly warning, Almerin then hurries to Desdemona to keep his oath to her, only to discover that she’s committed suicide. This he learns from a servant of the family, who proves himself a worthy character in this story by winding up his four-page-long account of Desdemona’s end and her parents’ grief thus:

“Oh the Shrieks, the Moans, the Lamentations, the Sighs, the Sobs, the Tears, the Exclamations, the Griefs, the Sorrows, the Kisses, the Caresses, and the Embraces this Aged Couple bestowed on the Breathless Body of this their only Child, were numberless, and pitiful to behold! They were, Sir, such, and so many, so bitter and woful, that I want Words wherein I might express my self…”

Naturally, he then continues on for another three pages, including a page-and-a-half recitation of some of Desdemona’s very bad poetry:

Farewel the Author of my cruel Woe / Who in my Hour of Death I do forgive / Thy greatest Crimes; but Heaven only knows / It would go hard to do it were I to live.

(This individual shows up again later as part of a force sent after Almerin by King Tancredus of Siciliy, and is fatally wounded in the conflict. His dying speech runs a full six pages.)

Meanwhile, Artemesia’s family is convinced that she has met with foul play, and swears revenge; while Desdemona’s parents have found a letter from Almerin that makes the situation plain to them. The authorities closing in on all sides, Almerin’s parents contrive his escape from arrest and a flight from the country in a fully manned ship. Almerin later learns that his father was killed holding off the party of soldiers sent to recapture him, and that his mother died of grief.

Well! – I don’t see how we could possibly blame any of this death and misery on Almerin, do you? At any rate, he doesn’t—

“…none of my Crimes have proceeded from my Inclinations, but from my adverse Fate; did I practice Artemesia’s Death? Remember that Wicked Issue had a Noble Parent, Love; was I unconstant to Artemesia? Oh remember my Constancy to Desdemona!”

The most interesting aspect of Cynthia comes towards the conclusion of Almerin’s tale. Almerin and his crew head for Norway, his father’s place of birth. They arrive safely, but find no trace of Almerin’s family. They are without resources; starvation seems imminent. At the last moment, Almerin is confronted by a grotesque individual who bears him away on a flying carpet and into a hidden cave filled with the riches of the world. There his companion reveals himself:

“I am Servant to Lucifer, Lord of this World, Prince of the Air, and Arch-Duke of the River Styx, and chief King of the Infernal Shades; by him I am imployed as a Register to take the Names of all such Persons as will become his Servants; and having notice by my Intelligencers of the lost Condition you and your Men were in, by Order from my Sovereign Lord I have brought you here, where before I can give you Remedy you must with your own Blood write your Name in this Book…”

Almerin emerges from this meeting in possession of several supernatural artefacts, which permit him to control the winds and seas as he needs. He embarks upon a career of piracy, plundering and despoiling his way across Europe and Africa, and finally emerging so wealthy as to be almost respectable. The King of Norway offers him marriage with his niece; and Almerin is contemplating this match when – ha, ha! – Fate sends his ship to the shores of Albion, where Orsamus is holding Cordello’s forces at bay…

His love for Cynthia having given him a reason to live, Almerin is now rapidly dispatched as per Artemesia’s curse. It then only remains to wrap up the tale of Cynthia and Orsamus. The latter is doing what he does best and holding off the remaining pirates – “…thus he continued Triumphing in their Deaths, making himself a Barricado of their Carcases…” – when succour arrives in the shape of another ship, and Cynthia and Orsamus are rescued. Orsamus then finds himself confronted by an elderly man, Willifride, who he always believed to be his father, and who he thought had died in the shipwreck that cast him up in Albion. Willifride reveals that Orsamus is actually the long-lost second son of Oswin, King of Northumberland…meaning, conveniently enough, that not only is Orsamus sufficiently royal, but not being his father’s direct heir, he can stay in Kent with Cynthia.

And there was much rejoicing:

“Phoebus necessitated, gave a Farewel to this upper World, yet not before he had charged his Sister Cynthia to attend at Cynthia’s Nuptials, which she duly performed; for never was there seen a fairer Night, where the Heavenly Spangles were evident to the Eye, while Diana ran her career in Glory, perhaps to vie Splendor with Cynthia, whose Happiness she began to envy. The Time drew near when Morpheus with his Leaden Mace approaches, commanding to Rest; upon which Notice given, Cynthia was conducted by her Royal Attendance to her Bed, after whom followed Orsamus, accompanied by the Two Kings, who saw him lodged by her Side; and giving them the Good-night, not without the Blushes of Cynthia, left them unto their Rest, or to the Possession of those Pleasures the Stock of Mankind might envy him; and here I would rest and continue silent…”

Except, of course, he doesn’t.