Archive for December, 2011

31/12/2011

Overweening ambition

It was about this time last year, I believe, when I declared that my ambition for 2011 was to “get the hell out of the 17th century”.

Yes, yes. Feel free to point and laugh.

A number of factors, positive and negative, contributed to my lack of chronological progress this year. On the sad side, 2011 turned out to be (not to put too fine a point upon it) a real crap factory of a year, where between insane work pressures and recurrent illnesses I ended up neglecting all of the things I’d rather be doing. And really, the only reason this blog was able to trundle forward at all is because of thirty minutes each way on the train each work day, which allowed for reading and note scribbling. We’d have been in serious trouble without this time sanctuary, particularly during the last three months of the year when, whenever I sat down to read or watch something, I ended up falling asleep instead.

But—there have been nicer reasons for the slow movement forward. This year the chronobibliography was more frequently interrupted by random novel reading, which brought to light some very interesting (and some hilariously bad) works. If 2011 had a message, it’s that there was really no such thing as “the typical Victorian novel”.

And if I didn’t quite manage to finish writing them up, I did finish reading all four-and-a-bit volumes of The English Rogue, which frankly I consider no mean feat. However, this too seriously interrupted the flow of the chronobibliography, since my cowardly refusal to just read the damn thing volume by volume in the first place, as they were published, meant I then had to backtrack from 1688 to 1665. On a more positive note, that last, spurious, add-on volume handed me one of my biggest laughs for the year, for reasons I’ll eventually get around to sharing.

And now, as we look to a new year and fool ourselves into believing that everything will be magically different as soon as the clock ticks over at midnight—what can we expect – what do we hope for – in 2012?

Well, for one thing, I’ve severely reined in my ambition for the year, which I hereby declare to be—to see the back of James Stuart. In other words, to get the hell out of 1688. This isn’t as small a task as it might initially appear. One of the first signs that James was in real trouble was that the bizarre and outrageous political writing that (as we have seen) had been such a feature of his easy-going brother’s reign, but which had dried up under the dangerously humourless new monarch, suddenly came roaring back. This propaganda attack (some of it orchestrated by William of Orange) dealt James some serious blows in the lead up to the “Glorious Revolution”.

One of the few writers to stay loyal to James was Aphra Behn, who entered the propaganda war on the incumbant side. More importantly, however, 1688 also saw the publication of Oroonoko, a work whose virtues even those people most eager to denigrate its author are usually forced to concede. So one way and the other, we’ll be seeing quite a lot of Aphra this year.

On top of that, we’ll be hearing more from our highlighted authors, as well (I hope) as unearthing still more interesting 18th and 19th century texts.

And as always, my umbrella ambition is to get into a regular rhythm with my reading and writing, but after the slap-down that was 2011, I think I won’t say too much about that…

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank-you to everyone who has taken the time to drop by and read my ramblings, and particularly to those who then stuck around for some conversation. I appreciate your support more than I can say.

Fingers crossed for a much more productive 2012!

29/12/2011

Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector (Part 1)

Every moment this day, which Julia could obtain for reflection, was now dedicated to Fitzroy; and not, as Mrs Goodwin apprehended, to painful, unavailing retrospections.—She had been, most unexpectedly, told by Fitzroy,—the amiable Fitzroy!—that he aimed at her affections, and wished to present her to his father as the wife his heart had chosen; and the mournful tone of his voice, when he said—“If you send me from you, I shall be miserable,” still vibrated on her ear. From the idea of making him miserable, her grateful heart recoiled… And then, too, he was so generous, and disinterested, to think of making her his wife, when, with his expectations and attractions, he might, she thought, command the affections of almost any woman in existence.—and she was portionless, deserted, unclaimed by her father’s family…

When an enemy of the elderly Mrs St. Clair sends the bailiffs to arrest her for debt, the shock kills her—upon which, they try to sieze her body instead. The ensuing confrontation draws a crowd which blocks traffic in the street, including the carriage of a young man who, when the reason for the delay is explained to him, immediately goes to see if he can help. The young man is profoundly affected when he learns from a servant that Mrs St. Clair’s death has left her granddaughter, Julia De Clifford, all alone in the world. Leaving a sum of money sufficient to pay the debts and support the orphaned girl, he then slips away without revealing his name…

Although the Goodwins, the family with whom Julia and Mrs St. Clair were boarding, express their willingness to help the girl, she knows that cannot afford to support her and is determined to find a position. Mr Goodwin, a bookseller and stationer, sees an advertisement for a companion to the Countess of Delamore and immediately calls to inquire. Told that Lady Delamore is too ill to see him, he writes a letter in which he declares all he knows of Julia’s history and character; and later that day, Julia receives a summons to Grosvenor Square.

However, when she calls as ordered, the bewildered Julia finds herself the target of ridicule and insult by the Lady Selina Southerland and her satellites who, as she later discovers, placed the advertisement in order to amuse themselves by sporting with those who came in answer to it. Mortified, Julia is about to leave when she is unexpectedly rescued by Mr Horatio Fitzroy, who berates his heartless cousin Selina for playing such a prank while her mother lies ill. Fitzroy leads Julia to the family’s housekeeper, Mrs Beville, and asks her to escort Julia back to the Goodwins’. Julia is startled when she realises that Fitzroy bears a strong resemblance to her dearest friend, the former Cecilia Hume, now Lady Storamond, and concludes that the two must be related.

Although they hear nothing more from the Delamores, over the next few weeks the Goodwins’ fortunes mysteriously improve: Mr Goodwin suddenly has more business than he can manage on his own, and an offer is made of a place for the eldest boy, Charles, provided he is willing to go to India. A relieved Mr Goodwin expresses to Julia his belief that her anonymous rescuer is responsible. Soon afterwards, Mrs Goodwin receives an invitation from her sister, Mrs Hargrave, for herself and Julia to visit her home in the country and observe an upcoming election. As the travellers draw near their destination, Mrs Goodwin and Biddy, the maid, who share a fear of carriages on steep hills, choose to walk some way, but find themselves surrounded and accosted by a rowdy and intoxicated group of men. Another man comes to their rescue. From the carriage, Julia recognises Fitzroy, who is one of the candidates in the election; although he does not see her.

At the Hargraves’, Julia finds a friend in the person of the elderly Dr Sydenham, a benevolent clergyman, who is drawn by her beauty, simplicity of manner and openness of temperament. Less congenial are Dr and Mrs Hargrave, who are affected and condescending; while the daughter of the house plays a cruel trick that leaves Julia and another young guest, Miss Penrose, unprotected in the main street of the village. They are extricated from their predicament by Fitzroy and his friend Lord Francis Loraine, who accept the grateful Julia’s invitation to call at the rectory.

Over the next few days, Julia and Mrs Goodwin are invited to several entertainments in the neighbourhood, at which Fitzroy’s attentions become marked; and Mrs Goodwin begins to indulge splendid visions of her young friend’s future when she learns that Fitzroy is heir-presumptive to his great-uncle, the Duke of Bridgetower. It is revealed that, earlier, Fitzroy offered himself as a boarder at the Goodwins’, and that although at the time the family were in great need, in the role of Julia’s guardian Mr Goodwin cautiously rejected the offer. Furthermore, the young man becomes visably confused when Mrs Goodwin suggests that he is the family’s anonymous benefactor. At this juncture, Fitzroy makes an unguarded declaration of his hope of gaining Julia’s affections, and from this moment makes no attempt to conceal from the world his feelings for her.

Fitzroy is successful in the election, and a public ball is held to celebrate the outcome. When Julia arrives, Fitzroy joins her instantly, explaining that as the “lion” of the evening, he will not dance after opening the ball with his hostess, Lady Gaythorn, for fear of giving offence by singling certain ladies out. Julia assures him that she understands, confessing blushingly that she has never been at a ball before and has no idea of the forms to be observed. Impatiently, Fitzroy declares his intention of returning to her as soon as the opening dance is finished, but Julia insists that he must do his duty.

Having gained a seat upon an elevated bench with Dr Sydenham, from where she can see all that goes on, Julia is shocked by the arrival of a beautiful young woman who is covered in jewels and scandalously dressed in a diaphanous gown that reveals almost all of her figure. Worse, it is soon discovered that the young woman is Lady Enderfield, whose husband has only recently died. Julia is summoned away from the ballroom when Lady Gaythorn is taken ill, and from that lady learns to her horror that Lady Enderfield was Fitzroy’s first love, and once betrothed to him; but that, Fitzroy’s cousin then standing between himself and his great-uncle’s dukedom, she jilted him to marry the elderly but wealthy Lord Enderfield. Lady Gaythorn also admits that out of jealousy of this woman, once her friend, she herself was lured into jilting the man she loved, a second son with a moderate fortune, and marrying instead—his father, Lord Gaythorn. Lady Gaythorn warns Julia that Lady Enderfield can have come for one purpose only, and urges her to save Fitzroy from imminent danger. Julia, however, is unable to believe that Fitzroy could now feel anything for Lady Enderfield but contempt.

But to Julia’s profound sorrow and mortification, when she returns to the ballroom it is to find Fitzroy dancing with Lady Enderfield, and seemingly oblivious to the shocked attention of those around them. Later, however, having parted from his former love, Fitzroy seems as if awakened from a dream; and when both Julia and Lady Enderfield narrowly escape injury when a chandelier falls, it is Julia to whom he flies. He apologises for what he calls his “infatuated desertion” of her, and begs her to walk with him the following morning, at which time he promises to explain everything.

That night, Julia reflects upon the events of the evening, and from the tumult of her emotions, finally admits to herself that she loves Fitzroy. The next morning finds her ascending a swell of ground near the Hargraves’ rectory, which commands a view of the road—and from where she sees the approaching Fitzroy accosted by Lady Enderfield. As she rushes towards him, she trips, clutching at her ankle, compelling Fitzroy to help her away. Conceding that he had no choice but to assist, Julia turns away, pacing around as she waits for Fitzroy to return and keep his appointment with her—and waits—and waits…

[SPOILERS]

Published in 1806, Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector is a real “Catherine Cuthbertson Experience” – by which I mean it is entertaining, surprising and exasperating in about equal measure. In structure it resembles its sister-novels, being untenably lengthy, with half a dozen wandering plots woven loosely about one another and a dizzying cast of characters whose names, titles, relationships and marriages are almost impossible to keep straight. In spite of its commercially astute title, with its suggestion of monastic horrors, in reality this is a domestic novel much closer in spirit and content to Rosabella than to Romance Of The Pyrenees, confirming my suspicion that Cuthbertson was no real devotee of the Gothic; and like Rosabella it has a young, innocent, “insulated” heroine who spends the novel moving from household to household, being buffeted by fortune and winning both unshakably devoted friends and dangerously jealous enemies, before a momentous secret about her true identity is revealed.

What is most exasperating about this novel – and we might as well get “exasperating” out of the way at the outset – is also one of the things that is rather interesting about it, at least in an historical context. In this course of reading we’ve already come across the curious phenomenon of the novel of sentimentalism, of which Valentine is a particularly amusing example. In novels of that school, it was always a simple matter of emotion for the sake of emotion, with the characters’ sufferings an end unto themselves. Santo Sebastiano, published some two decades later, belongs to the next generation of sentimental novels, and what we find here is something rather different: emotion in the service of didacticism, with the “sensibility” of the characters used as a moral yardstick. The better the character – the higher and more refined their sense of duty – the more frequently they suffer emotional collapses.

And what collapses! As you may recall, it was while reading Santo Sebastiano that Thomas Macaulay was inspired to keep a tally of just how often in the novel someone fainted – 27 times in total – including one or two appearances from our old friend, the death-like swoon. But those were only the actual faints; the Compleat Faints, if you like. If Macaulay had included in his survey the almost faints—the times that someone felt faint, or was taken faint, or had to sit down to avoid fainting—well, I shudder to think what the total would have been; certainly into three figures.

And then there’s the crying, which is of a frequency and volume that truly boggles the mind. It’s not so much a case of “cry me a river” as “cry me an inland sea”. No wonder the characters in this novel are always calling for glasses of water: they must go through life in a state of chronic dehydration. 

And even beyond all this, we have repeated instances of characters falling ill, contracting “dangerous fevers”, almost dying of the strength of their own emotions. And they don’t just do all this on their own account, but in sympathy with other people’s suffering—a single upsetting event thus being sufficient to set off a chain reaction of emotional breakdowns.

Of course, from a novel-reading perspective, what this means is, the more the author intends us to like and admire a character, the more thoroughly tiresome we are likely to find them; and really, we can only sympathise with Jane Austen’s impulse to hold this sort of thing up to mockery—and be grateful to her for helping to kill this particular trend by imbuing the concept of “sensibility” with a permanent sting in its tail.

So, yes—as I said of Rosabella, it is necessary to do a lot of “wading” to get to the good parts of this novel; but there are many good parts – some clever plot turns, and some extremely interesting treatments of novelistic conventions. It is true enough that Cuthbertson’s ideas are stronger than her writing – that she is not quite talented enough to do justice to her own concepts, besides having an unfortunate tendency to write her plot-points into the ground. My feeling is that if she had been held by her publishers to three volumes only, compelled to rein herself in, she would have been a better novelist; but as it is, over the course of the five meandering volumes of Santo Sebastiano she still expresses enough unexpected or unconventional opinions – particularly within the framework of the sentimental novel – to hold the reader’s interest, and to incline us to forgive her various excesses.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Santo Sebastiano is its treatment of the relationship between Julia De Clifford and Horatio Fitzroy. At the outset of the novel, nothing could appear more thoroughly conventional. Fitzroy, handsome, high-born, emotional, given to extravagant gestures and declarations, appears in every respect the model of a sentimental hero, and it seems merely a matter of how the author will manage to keep perfect hero and perfect heroine apart for five volumes. I think it’s safe to say that when the cracks start to appear in the character of Fitzroy – when he is at length revealed as having feet not merely of clay, but of something very like manure – it is as great a shock to the reader as it is to Julia. This is not the way things usually go in the sentimental novel:

“My good sir, what is it you can expect? I fear, by this most premature despondence, the women have spoiled you; and that it has hitherto been, ‘Ask, and you shall have;’ not, ‘Seek, and perchance you may find.’ Can you expect, the moment you feel an inclination for the affections of such a woman as Miss De Clifford, that she is at your nod, to throw them to you? If such was your hope, you lightly estimated her. She will give her heart with caution, believe me; for where she gives, the gift will be for ever.”

One the the most cherished tropes of the sentimental novel was that of “first love, last love”. It was a convention that spilled out from the realm of the strictly sentimental, where a disappointment invariably meant a broken heart and then death, into the more mainstream works, where it was not infrequently implied that a woman who could love a second time, or who ceased to love the first object of her affections, whatever the circumstances, was not quite “nice”.

There are any number of novels I could use to illustrate the point I’m making here, but the one that keeps coming to mind is Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds in which, after becoming engaged at the outset to the heroine – who is, like Julia, poor and obscure and forced to work to support herself – the alleged hero then neglects her for the rest of the book, exposing her to all sorts of unpleasantness, while he dallies with a wealthy widow and contemplates marrying her for her money. In the end, the widow’s bad behaviour frightens him into scurrying back home, where he is received with open arms by his fiancée, his mother and his sister, who not only refrain from uttering a word of criticism, but doggedly pretend that he’s done nothing wrong – all of which is presented, quite without irony, as “correct” female behaviour.

Not surprisingly, opinions on the subject of first and second love, and of the proper response to a disappointment, tend to split down gender lines; and I am pleased to be able to report that here we find Catherine Cuthbertson following on from so-called “radical” novelists like Charlotte Smith, and suggesting that the correct way for a woman to react to serious wrongdoing on the part of a man is not to look the other way, but to kick his ass to the kerb.

Although perhaps they don’t phrase it quite like that.

(Charlotte Smith, by the way, is a very interesting novelist, and one I intend to take a proper look at…one of these years…)

Indeed, the resemblance between Fitzroy and the anti-hero of Smith’s Emmeline; or, The Orphan Of The Castle may be more than just coincidental. In any event, both novels have their young heroines outgrowing an early, unhappy experience and finding enduring love with a man who has proven himself both honourable and steadfast. However, while Fitzroy’s behaviour does eventually kill Julia’s love for him, and while she does at last find another, true love, her journey is slow, painful, and full of self-doubt. No less than the average mainstream novelist does Julia feel that she has a duty to stay loyal to her first love – they are never, by the way, formally engaged – and for a long, worrying phase of the novel, even after she has faced the fact that she no longer loves him, Julia cannot free herself of the feeling that it is her duty to marry Fitzroy anyway, and to try and reclaim him. It takes Fitzroy committing a truly unforgiveable sin before Julia washes her hands of him once and for all, and admits her feelings for another man.

The slow reveal of Fitzroy’s real character is cleverly done by Cuthbertson. At first it is merely a matter of behaviour which, however wounding to Julia’s sensibilities, might stem from the kind of extravagant love that delights in making a spectacle of itself, but which over time looks to the reader more and more like selfishness, and a lack of proper regard for Julia’s reputation. His defection to the side of Lady Enderfield might be mere weakness, and indeed is explained and excused by his friend, Lord Francis Loraine, as due to “the siren”‘s knowledge of the vulnerable points in his character; and even when, Julia and Mrs Goodwin having ended their visit to the Hargraves without hearing one more word from Fitzroy, the newspapers carry an announcement of his engagement to Lady Enderfield, he is generally perceived as a victim:

“If this Mr Fitzroy is a worthy man, I most sincerely pity him: if an undeserving one, he will, even in this life, meet with ample punishment, in the wife he has chosen, for every crime he may or can commit. I knew this Circe well; I was at Venice when her husband died: was murdered, I scruple not to say, by the agent of a ruined Venetian count, a favourite of this vile woman’s, with whom I afterwards saw her at Paris, under the auspices of that licentious court, where her conduct could only be equalled by those who countenanced her.”

But it is clear to the reader long before it is to Julia or his relatives that Fitzroy is a real piece of work, and the fact that Cuthbertson’s novel was written in the early years of the 19th century allows her to be frank about his various misdeeds in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades later. Cuthbertson tries to make Fitzroy a tragic character, a potentially great man who becomes a victim of his bad upbringing and (above all) his lack of religion; and while it doesn’t entirely work, it’s never less than interesting.

One detail I’ve never seen before, even in a novel of these comparatively lax times, is that Fitzroy is the child of sinning parents: his mother and father had an affair while the former was married to another man and finally ran away together. Cuthbertson even allows herself to be sardonic rather than outraged in her telling of this tale, as the narrative remarks that if the adulterers had kept it all a secret just a little while longer, they could have had their cake and eaten it: the cuckolded husband broke his neck fox-hunting not long after his wife’s elopement.

(We are given another salutary reminder that this is a Regency novel, not a Victorian novel, when it is the young Lady Theodosia Southerland, second daughter of the Earl and Countess of Delamore, who recounts to Julia all the scandalous details about Fitzroy’s parents. Who told her, I should like to know!?)

As it was, with the scandal an open one, even though the sinners subsequently married they were no longer “received”, and were therefore forced to reside “on the Continent”, where their son was raised; the root, we are solemnly told, of all his evil. (Note that earlier reference to the “licentious” Paris court.) We are repeatedly assured that Fitzroy’s love for Julia is quite genuine, and that when he is with her, her influence is absolute; but for Fitzroy it is out of sight, out of mind, and whenever he is away from Julia he invariably passes the time in another dalliance – or another seduction.

But then, what can you expect from a man brought up amongst Catholics and atheists?

Santo Sebastiano is, it must be said, an incredibly bigoted novel, in a way that would be obnoxious if it weren’t so funny. Cuthbertson gets herself into quite a tangle trying to explain away the fact that her heroine is delicate and refined and profoundly religious in spite of the fact that she was – just like Fitzroy – raised in a thoroughly immoral household “on the Continent”. Unlike many English novels, for Cuthbertson the problem is not that “the Continent” is Catholic, but that it hasn’t much religion of any kind; and again and again, France and Italy, the scenes of Julia’s upbringing, are sketched as a moral cesspool, from which only the truly religious (i.e. Protestants) have a chance of escaping with soul intact.

The general tone of this aspect of the novel is best illustrated in a letter from the Earl of Ashgrove to his sister, Lady Delamore. In his youth, Ashgrove’s dearest friend was Frederick De Clifford; and while the friendship survived De Clifford’s marriage to the girl that Ashgrove also loved, the Lady Adelaide Montrose, when De Clifford remarried only a short time after his wife’s horrifying death in a fire, Ashgrove was so deeply offended that he turned his back upon his friend. However, belatedly becoming aware that De Clifford left a daughter from this second marriage, the embers of his boyhood friendship inspire the Earl to appoint himself the orphaned girl’s guardian. Detained in the Mediterranean on naval duties, Ashgrove asks Lady Delamore to take charge of Julia – but not without warning her that of the potential dangers:

“But now to the cause, my Emily, of this late confidence. De Clifford left a child, a daughter, by his second, and to me obnoxious marriage. His widow did not long survive him; and the unfortunate child fell to the care of the diabolical beldam, Mrs St. Clair… The poor child has been thrown upon the protection of strangers, in some gloomy sepulchre of the living—a dreary monastery, where neglect she has always experienced, and too often unkind treatment; and, even more dreadfully still, my sister, has, I fear, that terrible woman injured the child of poor De Clifford; an injury most direful. This woman—no, no, I insult the sex by classing her amongst them—this monster was—aye, shudder, Emily, for well you may—an avowed atheist; and this poor, pretty babe in her clutches; and, bred amongst ignorant and superstitious priests and nuns, is either a rank Catholic, or, oh! horror of horrors! has no religion at all!”

[To be continued…]

14/12/2011

Be still, my heart

Last year I obtained a copy of James R. Foster’s 1949 work, History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England (a library discard – shame on you, Ohio University!); and, while I did go through it, it would be too much to say that I read it: the book is a dizzying compendium of forgotten novelists and obscure novels, and what time I gave to it was spent transferring information from the printed page to The Wishlist.

This time around, however, I sat down to take it all in properly, and was immediately overcome by a case of the warm fuzzies. While there are few things so difficult as working through a non-fiction book whose viewpoint is at severe odds with your own, when the reverse is true – when you stumble over an unexpected kindred spirit – it’s like being given a hug.

So you can imagine how I felt when in his preface, James R. Foster stated his position thus:

    In general the attitude toward the bulk of pre-romantic novels has been rather depreciatory. Admittedly, they cannot compete with the wit and verve of the realistic novel, yet in their day they entertained and even charmed their readers. Besides, they helped shape the novelistic genre in its formative years. They preached the religion of the tender heart, stirred the emotions and the imaginations, and planted in many a breast the desire for higher ideals, tolerance, and benevolence.
    The scholar, who must admit the importance of minor works, cannot afford to ignore these pre-romantic novels, even though few of their authors were geniuses. Nor can he, like those Victorian critics who strongly disapproved of certain trends of the “Godless” eighteenth century, refuse to free himself from his own fashion of thinking and feeling and so measure by arbitrary standards. Without a sympathetic understanding of what the eighteenth-century novelists were trying to say, the critic cannot judge whether what they said was said well or not.

Amen, brother.

The only slightly worrying thing I’ve encountered in this book so far is a rather antagonistic reference to the early 20th century critic George Saintsbury, who, as you might remember, caught my attention a while back by simultaneously saying nice things about Aphra Behn and extremely rude things about Richard Head; and whose 1913 work, The English Novel, is next cab off my reading rank. Foster essentially accuses Saintsbury of elitism, which may mean (in spite of his apparent credentials) that he’s not a critic after my own heart after all. Not that I’m not an elitist, I just tend to be one in the opposite direction.

Anyway – as I always seem to end up saying at the end of these short pieces – we’ll see.

02/12/2011

The English Rogue (Part 3)

    “I must confess,” said Mistress Mary, “that in the recital I made you of my actions I only recounted to you those things that did pertain to my own story, as thinking it impertinent to relate any others; but if I had thought it pleasant, I could likewise have told you of some such robberies and cheats as some of my acquaintance were engaged in.”
    “It is not too late to do it now,” I said to her; “and seeing Mistress Dorothy is not yet pleased to continue her story, I pray you therefore to let us know some of your experiences in this nature.”

So, who did write this third part of The English Rogue?

With conflicting stories and scanty evidence, assigning authorship for this publication and for the fouth part of the story is no simple matter. What we do know is that at some point there was a falling out between Richard Head and Francis Kirkman, and that Head publicly refuted the suggestion that he had had anything to do with the two volumes of the continuing story that appeared simultaneously during 1671, three years after the publication of the second volume, which was written by Francis Kirkman alone.

Most bibliographers and commentators today seem to accept Head’s contention, listing Kirkman as sole author—but I think they may be wrong. The current belief in Kirkman’s sole authorship stems chiefly, I suspect, from the fact that it is not the original 1671 publication of this work that has survived, but the 1674 reissue. By that date, Head and Kirkman had gone their separate ways; the reissued work has a preface signed by Kirkman alone, and carries a portrait of him as its frontispiece.

However, contemporary records indicate that the preface of the 1671 edition was signed by both Head and Kirkman, and early bibliographic records list both men as its authors; so either both of them were involved in the project – or Francis Kirkman signed Richard Head’s name to his own work. We know that Kirkman, like most of his fellows in the book-selling trade at the time, was not above illegal practices like copyright infringement; the question is whether he would resort to open fraud—and beyond that, whether it really would have been worth it for him to take such a risk. It seems to me more likely that, strapped for cash, Head did involve himself in the continuation of the story, and later regretted it.

An examination of the internal evidence is, for the most part, inconclusive, since most of what could be interpreted as proof of Richard Head’s involvement in the project could equally be interpreted as Francis Kirkman trying, after the commercial failure of Volume 2, to link this third volume to the successful original work. For example, this volume carries the same subtitle as the first one, Comprehending The Most Eminent Cheats Of Both Sexes, rather than that of Kirkman’s own work, Comprehending The Most Eminent Cheats Of Most Trades And Professions; and as you would consequently predict, its story takes place predominantly within the criminal milieu, rather than in the world of trade, and features much sexual manoeuvring. 

This volume also repositions Meriton Latroon as chief narrator (although other people do most of the actual talking), not merely pushing aside Gregory, so prominent a figure in the second volume, but dismissing him from the story with no more than a few passing references, one of them frankly contemptuous – “I advised the scrivener, drugster and Gregory (their hanger-on)…” This last, in particular, feels to me more like the work of Richard Head than of Francis Kirkman. And finally – and for those of us who know the particulars of Head’s career, this is as good as a signature – the concluding section of this volume contains what looks very much like a piece of plagiarism.

So while I can’t prove it, my feeling is that Head was involved in the creation of this work – though perhaps chiefly as a kind of consultant. Even as reading the first two volumes of The English Rogue gave me an impression of the distinct personalities of Richard Head and Francis Kirkman, while I was reading this one I got a mental image of Head kicking back in an armchair, sipping a glass of wine, and throwing out suggestions for content, while Francis Kirkman jotted them down. I don’t, indeed, have much doubt that Kirkman wrote most if not all of this volume, because although it features the kind of criminal and sexual activities that we associate with the original work, its “voice” is very much that of the second volume.

Then, too, despite occasional eruptions of real ugliness, overall the story takes place in the slightly gentler world of Francis Kirkman: a world where, if everyone is dishonest, not everyone is violent; where victims of crime tend to take their troubles to a magistrate or a constable, and let the law take its course; and where, if someone is cheated in a sufficiently clever way, their reaction is likely to be, not savage personal revenge, but a shrug and a laugh—as with these two shoemakers, each of them diddled out of a single boot:

At the time appointed both the shoemakers came, so justly together that they that they met at the gate each of them with a boot under his arm. They both asked for our gentleman, but hearing he was fled and gone, they both looked blank upon the matter. Mine host was present, and understanding the story laughed heartily at it; they knew not whether they should be angry or pleased, but being both brothers of a trade and both served alike, they resolved to laugh too, though it were but with one side of their mouths; and so they sat them down and drank together.

Despite appearing three years later, Volume 3 opens exactly where Volume 2 left off, with Dorothy describing how she managed to make all three of her lovers pay for her pregnancy. There is no reminder to the reader of who any of the characters are, including the “I” who encourages Dorothy to resume her narrative. Almost immediately, we fall back into the puzzle-box format of the second volume, as Dorothy’s narrative becomes that of “an old crone” (she must be forty) with whom she falls in on her way to an isolated spot in the country, where she plans to give birth.

The crone offers Dorothy a way of profiting even more from her pregnancy, and wins her confidence by recounting her own life—or rather, puts it into Dorothy’s power to ruin her by confessing to a string of crimes that make the reader’s hair stand on end, including having, before the age of eighteen, borne and smothered to death two inconvenient babies. Along with the second of these, the child of “a blackamore” (with whom she was dallying rather in the spirit of Lily Von Schtupp), the future “crone” manages likewise to rid herself of an equally inconvenient husband, he and the blackamoor fighting and running each other through with their swords simultaneously; a highly improbable manner of death that will become something of a motif in this volume.

What likewise becomes a motif, as it was in Volume 2, is whoever happens to be talking at the time being compelled to go on with their story whether they really want to or not. Here, Dorothy feels she has said quite enough about the crone, only to have her auditors – Latroon himself, and his other discarded mistress, Mary – beg her for more:

    “Thus,” said Mrs Dorothy, “did the old hag give me an account of her mischievous beginning; and indeed, in the prosecution of her story, she acquainted me with so many horrible actions that I was aghast; and wondered that the earth did not open to swallow up a wretch so monstrously wicked. But I think,” said she, “by what I have said, I have told you enough to know her, and therefore shall pass over the rest of her actions in silence.”
    “Nay,” said I, “Mrs Dorothy, since you have begun to give us so fair an account of the foul actions of this your wicked acquaintance, I shall desire you to take the pains to proceed therein.”
    “Truly,” said Mrs Mary, “although I have known many wretched people in my days, yet I never heard the like of the like; and I suppose by what you have already recounted, that all you have further to say will be both remarkable, admirable, and pleasant (if we may account that pleasant which is so mischievously and wickedly witty); and therefore I, as well as our friend here, desire you to continue your relation; and if you will take the pains, we will have the patience to hear you to the least particular.”

The moral hesitancy in this – the hypocrisy, if you prefer – “It’s horrifying! Tell me more!” – is rather interesting. We’re certainly a long way from the tone of The English Rogue, which wallowed unapologetically in its own nastiness. Here there is at least an acknowledgement of wrong, even while the text leaves room for a reader so inclined to just “enjoy” the story. This uncertainty may be the result of a divided authorial voice, or it may be indicative of a shift in social mores—which is a point we’ll return to at the end of this piece.

The crone eventually acquires a second husband, an innkeeper; bears him two children, a boy and a girl; and as a family they embark upon all manner of criminal enterprise. Dorothy re-enters her own story when the crone is called upon by an acquaintance of hers, a gentlewoman whose husband can only inherit an estate if she bears him a son, to help perpetrate a fraud. It is for this that the crone recruits Dorothy, who enters into a scheme to allow the gentlewoman to fake a pregnancy, gives up her baby, a boy, to her, and walks away considerably heavier in the pocket. She then takes up residence at the inn, and as a spectator rather than a participant is able to give an account of the illegal doings of her adopted family.

Amusingly – and perhaps this is another indication of Richard Head’s involvement – it turns out that its author, or authors, have again forgotten exactly when this story is supposed to be taking place. It was, as you might recall, 1650 when Meriton Latroon was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to transportation (although this in itself was a chronological blunder, as Latroon was born in 1637); but suddenly, during the parallel story of Gregory and his friends, it was the Restoration. Here, however, we’re back in “the time of the Rebellion”; and the story suddenly becomes genuinely interesting as we get a brief sketch of life during the Civil War, with different towns occupied by the opposing factions and the people forced to behave according to the prevailing authority. The innkeeper and the crone are residents of a Roundhead town, and aren’t particularly happy about it – and not just because it’s costing them money:

…all observations of Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, or any holy-days, were by the factious accounted superstitious, especially any observation of Christmas. Therefore, the more to cross the desire and humour of those who would observe the feast of Christmas, the men then in power commanded a strict fast to to be on that day kept and observed, with penalties on all those who should dress ay victuals; and although the town, and especially our house, was of another persuasion, yet such was the prevalency of the faction that it was strictly observed, and it was given out that the officers of the town would search houses, to find and punish offenders…

Dorothy’s narrative meanders on, taking up a ridiculous proportion of the volume, and eventually shifting from being the story of the crone and her husband to being that of a soldier of fortune with whom Dorothy takes up. When Dorothy eventually (understandably) runs out of steam, Latroon himself picks up the narrative, adding to her stories of the various criminal enterprises which she observed or was told about an account of some of his own adventures as part of a gang of highway-robbers – adventures he evidently forgot to tell us about in Volume 1. And finally, at the urging of her companions, Mary picks up the baton by repeating stories told to her by one of her regular customers when she was an inmate of a London brothel.

Between the three narratives, we run the gamut of wrongdoing from abduction and murder, to robbery with violence, and the ways in which professional thieves try to avoid detection and capture, to instances of fraud, to the myriad ways in which a visitor to an inn might be cheated, to a series of practical jokes, most of them perpetrated in the course of an ongoing feud between a boy and a maidservant employed at the inn; although there is also the tale of a judge who hires a pickpocket to teach his careless nephew a lesson. And it probably goes without saying that this last portion of the story contains a scene, mercifully a brief one, in which someone loses control of his bowels.

By the time we manage to wade through this reeking bog of criminality, we are no less than 85% of the way through the volume; at which point we abruptly revert to “the present”, which as you may or may not recall is set in India, with Mary’s own meandering narrative interrupted by, The return of the captain, drugster, and scrivener, and Gregory. The captain then learns of Latroon’s sexual history with both Dorothy and Mary, and a bizarre battle of wits ensues between Latroon and Mary, who exchange pot-shots at the inherent “frailties” of each other’s sex:

Quoth Latroon: “Several of your sex when married are but a parcel of crab trees, walled in at great charge. As for thy part, thou art like a honeycomb with a bee in it, which infallibly stings him that tastes thereof. To be short, ye have fair tongues and false hearts; fine faces, but foul consciences; pride prompts ye to all manner of prodigality, and lust leads ye to that looseness which ruinates thousands in the destruction of yourselves. To conclude, I could love thee, but that thou art female, and would never have married, but that I thought it best expedient to bring me to repentance.”

This, mind you, from the man who once made both a business and a hobby out of seducing and abandoning virgins – including the woman he’s addressing. Mary is understandably nettled by this, and hits back smartly:

“…and for your likening us to fruit soon ripe, and as soon rotten, I dare confidently aver that we might remain a long time on the tree did not such unhappy boys as you throw stones at us. Lastly, you say our sweets are accompanied with stings; I know not what you mean, but I am sure you stung this gentlewoman and myself in that manner that the swelling lasted nine months… To conclude, with what force can you condemn us for inconstancy, when every new face you see shall change your affection, variety shall be as so many winds to blow your amorous pretences to more points than are contained within a compass? When you have had, after a long siege, the town you sat down before surrendered, you fall a-plundering instantly, and it may be, after this, ungratefully set the garrison on fire; if not, at leastwise curse the time and money you spent in your conquest, throwing it off as a thing not worth the managing and keeping.”

Well—it took nearly three volumes, but finally we have a woman resenting Latroon’s behaviour! Alas – and, I’m inclined to think, not coincidentally – shortly after this outburst, Mary comes to an extremely sticky end…

At this point, Latroon’s Indian wife – “my black she-devil”, as he likes to call her – re-enters the story, conceiving an uncontrollable lust for the two young Englishmen with whom her husband is spendig most of his time – that is, “George” and “William” – and pursues them avidly. Unsurprisingly to us, at least, the young men rebuff her advances—which requires literally fighting her off—while Latroon has a hearty laugh at his wife’s expense, enjoying the absurd courtship too much to explain her mistake, and pausing to philosophise a little more upon the female sex, and the destructive nature of female desire. And here again we have the 17th century notion of woman as the insatiable sex:

For in my time I have observed at least an hundred examples of this nature; women whom I am confident might have ran the race of their lives in the way of modesty and honesty, had they not been chafed or over heated at first by the ostentatious humour of their hot-brained bridegroom, striving to outdo himself that he might purchase the esteem of being a lusty man excelling others in strength and vigour; but when the wife shall find the satisfaction of her desires discontinued, she will be apt to think her husband was too prodigal at first, and so became Nature’s spendthrift, and now thinks of no other thing than how she will be supplied by others…

Latroon tells his wife that she shall have as much of George and William’s company as she likes, providing that she does not wrong him. She agrees to this, but in their presence she is unable to control her lust. They fight her off again, using their determination not to cuckold their friend as an excuse; but their continued rejection of her turns her desire to rage, in which she is driven by, The implacableness of her revengeful spirit, which is an inmate properly not only in her, but in all the Indians her country people. So explains Latroon who, as you might recall, spent much of Volume 1 taking violent or scatological revenge upon anyone he suspected had wronged him. Latroon’s wife brews a bowl of poisoned punch, and on the pretence of a peace-offering, gives some to both “young men”, before stabbing herself to death:

I had no sooner entered the doors but my ears were entertained with the doleful groans of my two disguised Amazons, who lay upon a mat on the ground, foaming at the mouth… As soon as I saw them, I knew they were poisoned, having seen several in the like condition (a common practice among them upon the least suspicion of an injury designed, or an offence already received) but knew not what remedy to apply; and whilst I was in consultation with myself what was best to do, I saw Mall’s teeth drop out of her head, and Gregory going to raise her head, the skin and hair with it came off in his hands like a periwig, so did the hair of the other. So strong was the poison administered that Mall died in less than half an hour after the reception thereof; but Dorothy escaped by a miracle.

In the wake of this, Latroon liquidates his estate, while the captain and the others load their boat with cargo; and they depart India for other climbs. A travelogue section follows, which is interrupted when the party falls foul of pirates. A bloody battle ensues, in which our protagonists are at length victorious, but not without cost:

Gregory standing by and seeing what had passed, though something scared, yet would not discover any fright, and to hide it the better, commended the brave resolution of the man. And as he was laughing at the oddness of his conceit, poor fellow, a shot came and took away one side of his face, so he died instantly.

The scrivener and the drugster, meanwhile, although they escape with their lives, are both exposed as cowards in the course of the battle—and so shall suffer all who presume to take the focus away of this story from Meriton Latroon!

More travelogue follows, as well as more seafaring encounters including a violent storm that the already damaged boat barely survives, eventually limping its way to Surat. All through this section there is precise latitudinal and longitudinal reporting of the travellers’ positions, which significantly enough is also a feature of Richard Head’s twin hoaxes, The Western Wonder and O-Brazile; and if we needed further evidence of his involvement in the writing of this volume, we have in the fact that the geographical descriptions of the journey seem to have been plagiarised—and from, of all things, Historiae Alexandri Magni, an account of the life of Alexander the Great by the Roman historian, Quintus Curtius Rufus.

Richard Head always did like showing off his classical education.

The travellers are welcomed and entertained by the president of Surat, in company with the captains of various other European ships also anchored in port. Now, all this time Latroon has had no woman to amuse himself with, poor Dorothy still recovering from her brush with death; so naturally it’s time for him to stumble across another old acquaintance. This time – also masquerading as a young man, the “servant” of a Dutch ship’s captain – Latroon finds himself confronted by the victim of perhaps his cruellest act of perfidy:

As I was about to speak he prevented it, by calling me base, faithless, perjured man. I starting up, laid my hand on my sword. “Nay, hold, sir,” said he, “think not to expiate your offence by murdering the person against whom they were committed.” So pulling off his periwig he discovered some short red hair. “Do you know this colour,” said he, “which once you told me you loved beyond any other? Here is the same dimple in the chin, and mole on the lip, and the same skin (stripping open his doublet) which you have unreasonably praised for its excelling whiteness. These were the flatteries you used to delude a poor credulous maiden, whom you not only shamed but ruined. You cannot forget your matchless treachery in seducing me aboard a Virginia ship, in whom I was carried thither and sold, you hoping by that villainy to have been for ever rid of me and mine.”

That’s right—it’s the first victim of Latroon’s program of enforced emigration, who at the time figured in his thoughts as, “The cow and her calf.”

At this point in the narrative I had a glorious vision of Latroon actually being made to pay for his bastardry; of this girl – seduced, abandoned, shipped off alone to another country, her baby dying, sold into bonded labour, forced to support herself by prostitution – producing a knife and shoving it into her betrayer’s gut. But it lasted barely a moment:

I asked her forgiveness, acknowledging all my unworthiness to her, and protested if she durst trust me once more I would make her amends for all. At which she smiled (for she ever loved me too well to be angry with me)…

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Excuse me; but really

We get Jinny’s story here, in which after various sufferings she is decoyed with a false promise of marriage and ends up having to pose as the manservant of her latest betrayer. She agrees to throw in her lot with Latroon and his companions, pausing only to rob her keeper (who mysteriously she is much angrier with than the man who ruined her life in the first place), and the travellers set out again.

And if you think Volume 2 came to an abrupt and unexpected ending, that’s not a patch on what Volume 3 serves up by way of an exciting conclusion:

On the third of September, in latitude 16. d. 33 the wind at south-east, we saw the Island of St. Helena, to the westward of the chapel thereof we anchored a mile distant. The captain caused the skiff to be hoisted out and so my Jinny, the scrivener, drugster, and doctor &c. we landed at Lemon Valley. Here with some guns we carried with us we killed hogs and goats, otherwise it is hard to take them, running at the sight of us up inaccessible craggy rocks. In ranging through the isle, our men found divers oranges and lemon trees but no fruit thereon; the Dutch having been there as we suppose, had gathered them, as appeared by their names on certain stones and trees. We caught here Mackerel, Breams and Borettos good store.

The end.

Yes—you may well blink.

Although this third volume of The English Rogue is not without its disgusting aspects, there is a significant difference between it and the original work—and in this respect we turn to the preface of the 1674 edition, that signed by Kirkman alone:

What I have done is well intended, and is the product of a painful Experience, Travel, and Expence; and if you will have a little patience, you shall find (in the winding up of the bottom by the conclusion of this Story, in a fifth and last Part, which is suddenly intended) that no crime shall go unpunished , no particular Person who hath been guilty of these vicious Extravagancies but shall have a punishment suitable to their crimes…

Of course, Richard Head’s The English Rogue carried this sort of a disclaimer, too, which in that case was a bare-faced lie – but which is not quite so here, where the main characters are conspiculously less likely to be committing crimes themselves than they are to be recounting crimes committed by others; and in fact, most of the criminal histories described end either with a reformation, or a hanging. The open gloating at getting away with it that was such a feature of the first volume is largely absent in this third entry; and if Latroon himself is never punished as we might wish – i.e. a knife in the gut – he is repeatedly confronted by the victims of his perfidy, and at least never does dirt to the same person twice.

Now, it’s possible, of course, that all this is simply the result of the differing world views of Richard Head and Francis Kirkman; but on the other hand, there’s the fact that the entirety of The English Rogue was – let’s face it – written in the service of profit, not art, and meant to appeal to the paying public. It seems probable that a shift in mores was taking place, and that what was acceptable in 1665 was less so by 1671; by which time, perhaps, if people still liked reading about crime, they also liked reading about punishment.