Archive for December, 2012

31/12/2012

James is kicked out of this blog!

…and with those posts about Inés de Castro (albeit that they ended up being nothing like what I originally envisioned), I have achieved my 2012 ambition of “getting the hell out of 1688” – YES!!

{holds for applause}

Honestly, I’ve been so long in reaching this point that it’s almost a physical shock. I feel slightly disorientated and panicky, but in a good way, if that makes sense. It’s one of those “time is relative” situations, I suppose, but I seem to have spent infinitely longer trapped in the three-year reign of James than I devoted to the twenty-five preceding years during which his brother was on the throne. What’s more, in contrast to the mixture of contempt and vague amusement which seems to be my prevailing attitude towards Charles, I find myself harbouring towards James a smouldering resentment that has little if anything to do with his methods of governance.

This being the case, I’ve decided that the most fitting way for me to see out 2012 is with a repeat viewing of Captain Blood, the film that marked Errol Flynn’s spectacular Hollywood debut.

For the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with the novel by Rafael Sabatini and its 1935 translation to the screen, Captain Blood opens during the Monmouth Rebellion. Peter Blood, a young Irish physician practising in England, unknowingly treats some of the wounded rebels and is arrested with them; he finds himself one of many tried during the Bloody Assizes of Judge George Jeffreys, and is condemned to death. However, his sentence is commuted to transportation and penal servitude for life when James is persuaded that simply hanging all these rebels is a waste of manpower that could be put to better use on the royal plantations in the West Indies. Peter’s fortunes improve when the Governor of Jamaica, a martyr to gout, learns that he is a doctor and engages him as his personal physician. Peter is granted certain privileges as a reward for his services, and uses his new opportunities to arrange the purchase of a ship and a mass breakout by his fellow slaves, who then embark upon a career of piracy.

The specific significance of this film in my present state of mind is not just its historical background, however, but that fact that it is bookended by two extremely rude references to James Stuart.

The first comes when Peter is originally condemned, and retorts upon Judge Jeffreys: “What a creature must sit upon the throne, that let’s a man like you deal out his justice!”

The second comes towards the end when, just as all seems lost, word of the Glorious Revolution reaches the West Indies, along with the welcome news that as a consequence, Peter and his men have been pardoned. Peter’s reaction is to leap up onto the railing of his ship and announce joyously, “James is kicked out of England!”

I know exactly how he feels.

So what lies ahead? I honestly don’t know. I’ve been so focused on getting to this point that I haven’t looked any further. I’m pretty sure that we’re in for some more political writing and romans à clef, though, since many of the people who had bitten their tongue during the three years of the dangerously thin-skinned James put pen to paper during 1689 in celebration of their new freedoms. And of course, sadly, we have the last few works of Aphra Behn, who died in April of that year at the age of only forty-nine. Beyond that, it’s all a mystery.

I’ve neglected the other aspects of this blog during my push to the finish-line, but from here I’ll be trying to get back to Reading Roulette and Authors In Depth, so we can mix it up a bit more. However, I’ve decided not to do anything so foolish again as making a definite statement of intent about where I’d like to get to next year: too much like hard work! Let’s just say that I hope to post more regularly, and leave it at that.

Finally—profound thanks as always to everyone who has visited this blog in 2012, and in particular to those of you who took the time to comment. See you in 2013!

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30/12/2012

More faces of Inés

Sorry, guys, but I put far too much time and effort into this to let you escape with a mere 3700 words on the subject!

Don’t worry, though – this is mostly images. I found a lot of cool stuff while researching Inés de Castro, which I felt like sharing.

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Fun fact: “Agora é tarde; Inês é morta” – “It’s too late, Inés is dead” – is a commonly used Portuguese saying.

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As you probably won’t be surprised to hear, the locations associated with the life and death of Inés represent a fairly significant tourist attraction in Portugal. Below is one of the more popular postcards, showing Inés and Pedro – the latter looking rather the worse for wear, so presumably this image is taken image from a portrait done after her death. This image of Inés is frequently reproduced, but I haven’t been able to find an attribution for it. A contemporary report described Inés as being “beautiful as a flower, blond as the sun, and extremely elegant.”

Ines12

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This is Inés’ tomb at Alcobaça, on which she is depicted wearing a crown and surrounded by angels. The carvings around the sides represent scenes from her life. As John Martyn points out, none of them suggest anything like a post-mortem coronation.

Ines3b

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Here we have the title pages of the three works under consideration in the previous post (or at least, the three works that were supposed to be under consideration when I was first planning it). Note the licensing dates on the translations by Peter Belon and Aphra Behn—I wonder whether this sort of coincidence was a common occurrence at the time?

Ines13b   Ines15b    Ines14b

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This is the frontispiece of another literary work about Inés, this one a play from 1723 by the French writer, Antoine Houdar de La Motte, called simply Inés de Castro; evidently it was a great success. I’m interested in this one because it suggests yet another version of events. Yes, we have Inés facing death with her children clutching her skirts—but who is that holding a sword? And who is holding the hand of the man holding the sword? – who doesn’t look very happy about the role he’s been asked to play, we notice. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I haven’t been able to find a copy of de La Motte’s play, let alone a translation, so we may never know for sure.

Ines10

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Artists have shown an understandable tendency to romanticise the story of Pedro and Inés—one way or another. The painting which I used to head the previous post, shown here again on the left, is by the Portuguese artist, Ernesto Ferreira Condeixa, and is usually called simply Pedro e Inês.

Given their Grand Guignol tendencies, perhaps it’s not surprising to find the French buying into the nightmare tale of Inés’ resurrection and ascension as Queen of Portugal. The painting on the right is Coronation of Inés by the 19th century French artist, Pierre-Charles Comte. Note the child on the left, cringing away from the gruesome spectacle. Presumably that’s the Infante Fernando, getting an important early life-lesson about not messing with his father.

Ines2c      Ines9c

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Many of the operas about Inés also buy wholeheartedly into the more macabre version of her story. Here is a still from the Scottish Opera’s 1999 production of James MacMillan’s Inés de Castro, which in turn was based upon the 1989 play, Inés de Castro: A Portuguese Tragedy, by John Clifford:

Ines5

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While there were a number of shorts made about a hundred years ago (and how scary is it that we can say that?), as far as I can tell the only full-length film dealing with Inés was made in 1944, and is called – you guessed it – Inés de Castro. This was a Spanish-Portuguese co-production, financed through a Spanish studio but shot in Portugal in Portuguese. The film was released in both countries, a slightly shorter version in Spain, where it nevertheless won an award at the rather wonderfully named “National Syndicate of Spectacle”. Interestingly, Alicia Palacios, the actress playing Inés, was Cuban. Here is some advertising art:

Ines4b     Ines6

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And last, but certainly not least—

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to whoever was responsible for this:

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29/12/2012

Three faces of Inés

Ines2bAn attempt will be made to distinguish between the facts and myths of the Inés tradition, tracing its development over two centuries or so of Portuguese history. The tragic story has been a favourite in Portuguese as well as in later English and Continental literature, and it is not hard to see why. As will be shown, the characters of Inés and of the King, and the interplay between State demands and personal love and loyalty, with alternating bursts of joy and of foreboding, ending with a brutal murder and Pedro’s oath of revenge, provide all the requirements of a powerful drama. Ferreira was the first to put it on the stage, and more successful than any contemporary or later imitators. In fact, the intellectual courage and inventiveness of Ferreira need to be stressed, in staging a play not only based on Portuguese history, rather than on the Bible or a Classical theme, but also written in Portuguese, a language as yet untried for high drama.

I was tempted to head this blog post “Much ado about nothing”, since I’ve ended up doing an enormous amount of reading and researching to, in the end, very little purpose. However, since reading and researching are two of my favourite things, and since I always like accumulating strange factoids, I’m not sorry I undertook this particular project, even if the final pay-off was something in the nature of a damp squib.

The third piece of fiction published in 1688 by Aphra Behn was Agnes de Castro; or, The Force Of Generous Love. As it turns out, this was not an original work, but a translation of a piece of French fiction, Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise. Although this publication was presented on its title page as being by “Mlle. ******” (which Aphra evidently believed, asserting it to be “By a Lady of Quality” in her translation), it was the work of one Jean-Baptiste de Brilhac.

Curiously, Aphra’s was only one of two simultaneous translations into English: May of 1688 also saw Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise released as The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro; Taken Out Of The History Of Portugal, one of two renderings of French works into English comprising a short book titled simply Two Novels. This particular translation was by a Frenchman, Peter Belon.

It took me a while to sort all this out. After some initial confusion, I realised that there were in fact two different versions of this work in English, rather than Aphra having translated a work in French by Peter Belon, which is what I thought at first. Furthermore, it appeared that the original work was based upon a true story, which meant that it fitted thematically with Aphra Behn’s other prose works of 1688. Finally, in a completely unexpected touch, it turned out that the original text of Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise was available on Google Books. All this being the case, I decided to look first into the story on which these works were based, and then to compare the two translations, to see which if either was “better”.

The first part of this plan led me to the remarkable history of Inés de Castro, a real figure from 14th century Portuguese history. (And before you ask, no, I don’t know why Inés was called Agnes in the later works; although the two names are essentially variants of one another, both meaning “lamb of God”.) It also led me into an experience both fascinating and frustrating as hell, the pursuit of yet another work on the subject called The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro, which turned out to be something entirely different from what I anticipated. It was while I was waiting for this particular interlibrary loan that I remarked, in an earlier post, that if I didn’t achieve my year’s ambition of escaping from 1688, “It will only be because I’ve chosen to make the final step in this journey far more complicated than there is any real need for it to be.”

I was expecting The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro to be a non-fiction work, which would provide me with the background knowledge I needed. It turned out to be a 16th century Portuguese play on the subject by the poet and dramatist António Ferreira, who (I now know) was the first important literary figure both to write in Portuguese rather than Latin, and to use local stories as the basis for much of his work, rather than classical themes.

I was surprised in the first place that the Australian National University held a copy of The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro. I was even more surprised when the item arrived: apparently a published thesis by one John R. C. Martyn, issued by the University of Coimbra in Portugal (where António Ferreira studied law) in 1987; one, moreover, which was not only printed on low-quality paper, but still had its pages uncut. I was, evidently, the first person in twenty-five years to access this particular item, and in order to read it I had to use a small knife to carefully slice open the top and/or side of most of the leaves in it. You can just imagine the looks that got me on the train. And having done so, I discovered inside the Portuguese text of the play, The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro, an English translation (the first, evidently, since an extremely poor one in 1825), and a lengthy biography of António Ferreira that told me a great deal more than I wanted to know about his life, writings, and influences, as well as the the history and politics of Portugal in the 14th and 16th centuries. What it did NOT tell me was what I wanted to know about Inés, offering instead oblique allusions that nearly drove me to screaming point.

But to begin at the beginning—

In 1340, Prince Pedro, the heir to King Afonso IV of Portugal, married Constança of Castile. When Constança came to Lisbon, she was accompanied by a train of ladies-in-waiting, including the beautiful, golden-haired Inés de Castro. Much to the outrage of all concerned, Pedro and Inés quickly became lovers, defying all attempts to separate them. Constança, cunningly, had Inés named godmother to her first child, which technically made the relationship between her and Pedro incestuous.  When that didn’t work, Afonso sent Inés back to Castile. Pedro journeyed repeatedly to visit her until 1345, when Constança died shortly after the birth of her son, Fernando, after which he brought her back. Pedro and Inés continued to live together more or less openly, with Inés bearing four children, of which three survived. Meanwhile, Pedro ignored his father’s attempts to arrange another political marriage for him, raising the spectre of his marriage to Inés.

Both in religious and secular terms, Inés de Castro represented a threat to the Portuguese throne. She was illegitimate, albeit of noble origin; she was a blood relation of Pedro to an extent that would have made a papal dispensation necessary for their marriage; and, as godmother to the deceased infant prince, she was persona non grata. Furthermore, upon her return from Castile, Pedro installed her in a minor royal palace bequeathed to a convent by Queen Isabel (aka Elizabeth of Aragon), Pedro’s grandmother, who was regarded in her lifetime as a saintly peacemaker and who was in fact canonised after her death as Saint Elizabeth. (She was the one who turned bread into roses.) In many people’s eyes, the relationship between Pedro and Inés was not just immoral, but sacriligious.

More pragmatically, Inés was Castilian. Her brothers had befriended Pedro, and he responded by gifting them positions at court. Many people near the throne feared the Castilian influence, and what would happen when Pedro succeeded his father. Particularly they feared that Portugal would end up embroiled in the endless politic turmoil of Castile. What triggered the belated final crisis we do not know, but in 1355 King Afonso and his counsellors tried Inés in absentia and found her guilty of treason. She was sentenced to summary execution, and decapitated in her own home – in front of her children.

Inés was not the only one “in absentia”: Afonso and his court waited until Pedro was away on a hunting-trip to make their move against Inés. When Pedro heard of her death, he responded with nothing less than an open rebellion, raising an army (many of his troops Castilian) and waging war against his father’s forces for some eighteen months, until a peace was finally brokered. In 1357, Afonso died, and Pedro took the throne.

And then things got weird…although how weird depends on who you listen to.

When Pedro became king, the three men responsible for Inés’ execution understandably fled the country. One got away; the other two were captured in Castile (which seems a stupid place for them to go). Pedro staged a hostage exchange with his counterpart, Peter of Castile, and then, in a tableau worthy of Vlad Tepes, had his prisoners executed by having their hearts cut out of their bodies while they were still alive, as he ate breakfast and enjoyed the show. These men, Pedro explained, had torn out his heart by killing Inés, so their fate was only fair.

Then, in 1361, Pedro announced that he and Inés had in fact been secretly married in 1354, and she was therefore his queen. (No solid evidence one way or the other has ever been uncovered.) He followed this declaration by having her body exhumed from its grave near her home and placed in an elaborately sculpted tomb, on which she was depicted wearing a crown. Pedro had a matching tomb carved for himself, and placed it nearby; both now lie within the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça. On the evidence of at least one more illegitimate child, Pedro did have other relationships after Inés’ death, but he never remarried. He died and was succeeded in 1367 by Fernando, his son by Constança.

So that’s Version #1, and as much as we know for certain – which naturally doesn’t stop people telling Version #2, an even better story. The outline is the same, but instead of merely declaring Inés his queen, after exhuming her body Pedro holds a coronation ceremony for her – in which he crowns her, and then makes all the members of his court kiss the corpse’s hand and swear fealty to her.

There seems (she said, regretfully) no evidence that this actually happened, although many people clearly believe that it did and tell the story as fact, which of course propagates it even further. It’s also an obvious case of “print the legend”. Personally, I reject the tale on the basis of its logistics: Inés was, after all, decapitated…

The story of Inés de Castro has never lost its appeal for the artistic community, and an extraordinary number of people, Portuguese and otherwise, have told or depicted her life and death in plays, novels, films, poems, paintings and operas; particularly operas, of which there are at least twenty devoted to her story. Inevitably, the vast majority of these works include the macabre coronation; artists tend to depict a shrivelled corpse with its head mysteriously back on its shoulders. I suppose what I was hoping for in the background text provided by John Martyn as a preface to his translation of The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro was an indication of when this twist to the story first appeared, and who might have been responsible for it. Instead, most exasperatingly, Martyn contents himself with pointing out a few people who did not tell it that way. This omission was all the more annoying considering his declared intention (quoted above) of, Distinguish[ing] between the facts and myths of the Inés tradition.

Anyway, among this high-minded group who stuck to Version #1 we find António Ferreira. Granted, his dramatic approach to the story would hardly allow for Version #2. Ferreira walks a finely judged line in his play about Inés, writing in Portuguese and telling a story from Portuguese history, but otherwise following the rules of classical drama by offering a five-act tragedy in which all violence is kept strictly off-stage. A chorus offers an ongoing commentary on the actions and contradictions of the characters.

The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro opens with Inés happy to the point of being fey, since Pedro has finally promised to marry her. This joyful opening is balanced by Inés suffering a foreboding dream in which she finds herself threatened by lions, but is then torn apart by wolves. This dream comes true when King Afonso is persuaded by his counsellors that Inés must die. The men confront her together, but the king, already reluctant, is swayed by Inés’ beauty and innocence and commutes her sentence. However, as soon as they have him away from Inés’ influence, the counsellors resume their arguments and succeed in bringing the weak Afonso back to his original judgement. He refuses to have anything to do with it, however, effectively washing his hands of the business. The counsellors return to Inés (off-stage) and run her through with their swords. No sooner has he given his tacit permission for Inés’ death than Afonso regrets it, but by then it is too late. Meanwhile, word of the execution is carried to Pedro, who swears bloody vengeance against his father.

Two things about The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro struck me as particularly interesting. The first point, internally, is the text’s insistence upon Inés’ innocence: the love between herself and Pedro is presented as being blessed by God if not by man. It is her innocence that prompts Afonso to spare her life, while the counsellors agree that she must die in spite of it, presenting her as a martyr to Portugal’s good. The second point, externally, is that the play was written under royal patronage and first staged in the mid-1550s before the then-heir to the throne, Prince John. Evidently the Portuguese monarchy insisted on a lot less sucking up from its artists than most, since this story hardly shows royalty in a flattering light.

So! – after all that, I returned to the original point of the exercise (you remember that, right?), and read the two translations of Jean-Baptiste de Brilhac’s Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise. You can imagine my surprise, and indeed my dismay, when it turned out that de Brilhac had offered the world a version of Inés’ story that was whitewashed to the point of unrecognisability.

Not that my French is brilliant, but as far as I could tell from a comparison of the texts of Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise and The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro; Taken Out Of The History Of Portugal Peter Belon’s translation is basically literal: I identified a number of paragraphs that were translated word for word, so I’m prepared to assume that the majority of it was so. In this version, which bears so little resemblance to reality as to be inadvertently amusing, Pedro marries Constantia (Constança), but falls in love with Agnes (Inés). Instead of immediately pursuing and seducing her, he struggles against his feelings and manfully keeps his secret for a number of years. Constantia is in love with Pedro, but she is painfully aware that he does not love her. Her one consolation in her unhappiness is the friendship of Agnes.

The villains of the piece are two invented characters, Don Alvares de Goncales and his sister, Elvira. The latter had hopes of Pedro before his marriage to Constantia, the former is in love with Agnes. Elvira, a born schemer and plotter, discovers Pedro’s secret and tries to get rid of Agnes by revealing it to Constantia. Constantia is as shattered as Elvira could wish, but believes both Agnes’ protestations of complete innocence, and Pedro’s assertion that, although he does love Agnes, he has never breathed a word of it to her. Meanwhile, Don Alvares, a professional sycophant, lets King Alfonse (Afonso) know of Pedro’s secret passion. The outraged king, who blames Agnes, wants to banish the girl, but Constantia refuses to part with her, defending both her and Pedro to Alfonse. The king is exasperated, and only too glad to offer his assistance when Don Alvares asks permission to court Agnes – to court her in the first instance, anyway: should the girl persist in her scornful refusals, Don Alvares has Alfonse’s permission to see what force will achieve.

So things stay for some time, until Elvira provokes a crisis: she forges a letter, supposedly from Agnes, that convinces Constantia that she and Pedro are lovers, and that it is Agnes who has overcome Pedro’s scruples, rather than the other way around. This ploy is rather more successful than Elvira intended or desired: Constantia collapses and becomes dangerously ill. Initially shunning Agnes, as she feels death approaching she admits the girl to her bedchamber and is convinced by her that the letter is a forgery. At the last, Constantia blesses both Pedro and Agnes and tells them that she hopes they will marry. The widowed Pedro soon declares himself, but Agnes rejects him. Nevertheless, she begins to realise that she does care for him. A maddened Don Alvares finally has Agnes abducted, but his men encounter Pedro on the road and flee. This rescue breaks down Agnes’ defences and she admits she loves Pedro; he persuades her into a secret marriage.

From here The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro bears at least a passing likeness to the truth. Suspicions arise of the relationship between Pedro and Agnes, and finally Don Alvares discovers the truth. He runs with it to Alfonse, and not only persuades him to have Agnes assassinated, but volunteers for the job. They wait for a day when Pedro is away hunting, and then Don Alvares invades the couple’s home and murders Agnes in her bed. The shock of Agnes’ death nearly deprives Pedro of both his life and his reason, but he slowly recovers. His first act then is to to swear vengeance against her murderers, and to cut a bloody swathe across Portugal.

Thus was the end of the unfortunate Amours of Don Pedro of Portugal, and of the beautiful Agnes de Castro, concludes The Fatal Beauty, whose memory the Prince did faithfully preserve on his Throne, on which he set by Birth-right after the Death of Don Alfonse. And we realise that we have been offered a version of the story lacking ALL of reality’s highlights.

What, then, of Aphra Behn’s Agnes de Castro; or, The Force Of Generous Love? Sadly, not much. I was hoping Aphra might have done a number on the original text and turned it into something more her own, but in fact the two translations are very close. To my taste, Aphra’s is the better one: it’s slightly shorter, having had some bits of repetition and unnecessary verbiage pruned away, while there are spots where Aphra’s choice of an English word or phrase is more apt. Beyond that, however, there is little to distinguish the two.

One thing that Aphra’s Agnes de Castro does offer us, however, is another of her intriguing dedications. Its official target is Sir Roger Puleston, a late-converted Royalist, but its main interest lies in the tone of its text. This is one of Aphra’s defences of her art, but a far cry in attitude from most of her earlier ones, many of which declared in essence that she’d write like a man if she damn well felt like it. Here, she not only objects to the crudeness of much of the prevailing literature, but offers hints that she may finally have given up on trying to win the patronage of the Stuarts. It is the cry of a woman very near the end of her tether:

Virgil and Horace had a better Age; Augustus favoured the Muses, and the whole Court was Complaisant to the Humor of their Caesar. He was a great Judge, and a great Patron: But our Age, degenerated into dull Lewdness, can relish nothing but abusive Satyr, and obscene Lampoons; and he is the most admir’d Poet who can most vilely traduce Innocent Beauty, Women of Quality, and Great Men. Our deprav’d Nature can relish nothing but Scandal in Verse, and from Noble and Heroick Songs, we are debauch’d into Scurrilous and Sawcy Libels; and every Man’s a Wit, who can but Rail. In our Age the Noble Roman Poets wou’d have Starv’d…

And to conclude this exceedingly rambling post, we should take note of one subtle point of difference that does exist between Agnes de Castro; or, The Force Of Generous Love and The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro. By the end of 1688, the word “novel” was being used more widely and more frequently to describe prose writing. We find it here in both the original work – which translates directly as Agnes de Castro: A Portuguese Novel – and as a reference to Peter Belon’s translation, released as one of Two Novels. Aphra, however, avoids the word: both Oroonoko and The Fair Jilt use instead the word “history” in their subtitles, and when Aphra’s prose work of 1688 was collected together and reissued, it was under the title Three Histories. It seems to me that the distinction was quite intentional. We have spent much time and energy debating the truth quotient of both Oroonoko and The Fair Jilt, while we know that Agnes de Castro was based upon a true story – even if, ironically, there’s less actual truth in it than in either of the two. In calling her prose “history”, at a time when the word was becoming unfashionable, Aphra Behn was telling her readers something about the nature of her work, and the artistic choices that lay behind it.

23/12/2012

The Fair Jilt; or, The History Of Prince Tarquin And Miranda

FairJilt1bThere was not a man of any quality that came to Antwerp, or passed through the city, but made it his business to see the lovely Miranda, who was universally adored. Her youth and beauty, her shape and majesty of mien and air of greatness, charmed all her beholders, and thousands of people were dying by her eyes, while she was vain enough to glory in her conquest, and make it her business to wound. She loved nothing so much as to behold sighing slaves at her feet of the greatest quality, and treated ’em all with an affability that gave ’em hope… Everybody daily expected when she would make someone happy by suffering herself to be conquered by love and honour, by the assiduities and vows of some one of her adorers. But Miranda accepted their presents, heard their vows with pleasure, and willingly admitted all their soft addresses; but would not yield her heart, or give away that lovely person to the possession of one who could please itself with so many.

Originally published in the first half of 1688, The Fair Jilt; or, The History Of Prince Tarquin And Miranda is a flawed but fascinating piece of short fiction. In structure and origin, it very much resembles Oroonoko, in that Aphra Behn has again taken a real-life incident from her past and woven about it a tale in which a fictionalised version of herself appears from time to time to impress upon the reader the veracity of her story. That The Fair Jilt has attracted neither the fame nor the notoriety of Oroonoko may be put down to two things: firstly, that it does not concern itself with broad social issues such as slavery and colonisation, which give the latter work a hold on the sensibilities of the modern reader; and secondly, that it centres on the sexual adventures of a woman, which too easily allows it be be dismissed, as it frequently has been, as a mere piece of vulgar “amatory fiction”. This latter reaction is, however, a complete misreading of the text, which far from being intended to titillate is an ironic rumination upon deception, and the appalling things done in the all-excusing name of love.

The tone of The Fair Jilt is set during its lengthy opening dedication to the Catholic playwright, Henry Pain (who after the Glorious Revolution turned Jacobite, and in 1690 was imprisoned and tortured for his role in a plot to restore James to the throne). It would be a serious mistake for any reader to skim or skip over this dedication, which is very much a part of the story as a whole. Aphra uses these introductory paragraphs to present her story’s apparent hero, and also to assert the veracity of her story:

Nor can this little History lay a better Claim to that Honour than those that have not pretended to it; which has but this Merit to recommend it, that it is Truth: Truth, which you so much admire. But ’tis a Truth that entertains you with so many Accidents diverting and moving, that they will need both a Patron, and an Assertor in this incredulous World. For however it may be imagin’d that Poetry (my Talent) has so greatly the Ascendant over me, that all I write must pass for Fiction, I now desire to have it understood, that this is Reality, and Matter of Fact, and acted in this our latter Age: And that, in the person of Tarquin, I bring a Prince to kiss your Hands, who own’d himself, and was received, as the last of the Race of the Roman Kings; whom I have often seen, and you have heard of; and whose Story is so well known to yourself, and many Hundreds more: Part of which I had from the Mouth of this unhappy great Man, and was an Eye-Witness to the rest.

It is difficult to know precisely how these passages were intended to be taken, which would depend upon how au fait Aphra’s readers were with the true story of “Prince Tarquin”.

It was only in 1977 that Maureen Duffy, in researching her problematic but important biography of Aphra Behn, The Passionate Shepheredess, discovered at least a part of the truth about this individual, via two separate short pieces published in the London Gazette (the same paper, as we might recall, in which Henrietta Berkeley’s father advertised for her whereabouts after her elopement with Lord Grey). The first, which appeared during the last week of May in 1666, was as follows:

The Prince Tarquino being condemned in Antwerp to be beheaded, for endeavouring the death of his sister-in-law: being on the scaffold, the executioner tied a handkerchief about his head and by great accident his blow lighted upon the knot, giving him only a slight wound. Upon which, the people being in a tumult, he was carried back to the Townhouse, and is in hopes both of his pardon and his recovery.

The next issue of the Gazette added the short follow-up: From Antwerp ’tis said, that Prince Tarquino that so accidentally escaped execution, has since obtained his pardon from his Excellency the Marquis de Castel Rodrigo.

So far, The Fair Jilt is indeed “Matter of Fact”; and in its course deals with the attempt of Tarquin [Sic.] upon the life of his sister-in-law, his botched execution, and his subsequent pardon by the Governor of Flanders. It further offers the main headings of the broader story, and above all places and times its action very carefully for us, via reference to another prince:

    …there was a great Noise about the Town, That a Prince of mighty Name and fam’d for all the Excellencies of his Sex, was arriv’d; a Prince, young and gloriously attended, call’d Prince Tarquin.
    We had often heard of this great Man, and that he was making his Travels in France and Germany: And we had also heard, that some yYears before, he being about Eighteen Years of Age, in the time when our King Charles of blessed Memory was in Bruxels, in the last Year of his Banishment, that all of a suddain, this young Man rose up upon ’em like the Sun, all glorious and dazling, demanding Place of all the Princes in that Court. And when his Pretence was demanded, he own’d himself Prince Tarquin, of the Race of the last Kings of Rome, made good his Title, and took his Place accordingly. After that, he travell’d for about six Years up and down the World, and then arriv’d at Antwerp, about the time of my being sent thither by His Late Majesty.

So far, so factual. The problem is that, having so matter-of-factly established her hero’s pretensions, Aphra goes on to conclude The Fair Jilt by even more matter-of-factly concluding her story with the exposure of “Prince Tarquin” as an imposter. According to Aphra’s (unconfirmed) report, the “Prince of mighty Name” was in reality the son of a Dutch merchant. For those readers in 1688 who knew the end of the story, Aphra’s dedication would have acted as a foreshadowing of the nature of her story. The Fair Jilt‘s overriding irony is that it finds truth – human truth – in a tale of false identities, false emotions, self-deception, and blind passions:

I’ll prove to you the strong Effects of Love in some unguarded and ungovern’d Hearts; where it rages beyond the Inspirations of a God all soft and gentle, and reigns more like a Fury from Hell. I do not pretend here to entertain you with a feign’d Story, or any thing piec’d together with Romantick Accidents; but every Circumstance, to a Tittle, is Truth. To a great part of the Main, I my self was an Eye-Witness; and what I did not see, I was confirm’d of by Actors in the Intrigue, holy Men, of the Order of St. Francis: But for the sake of some of her Relations, I shall give my fair Jilt a feign’d name, that of Miranda; but my Hero must retain his own, it being too illustrious to be conceal’d…

In spite of his prominence in both title and introduction, however, this is not the story of Prince Tarquin, but of Miranda. She is introduced to us in a suitably anomalous position, as a nun who is not a nun: the narrator explains to us that in Catholic countries, apart from those women who have made their perpetual vows, there are many “temporary nuns”, young women who take a vow to withdraw from the world for a certain period of time, and who live together in governed households overseen by a prioress. The immediate effect of this withdrawal is to make these young women doubly attractive to the young men of the town, due to the extra difficulty of gaining access to them. The girls’ “religious retreat” is therefore presented to us as an elaborate gesture of flirtation.

Miranda, young, beautiful and rich, is certainly not a member of her order as an expression of her religious convictions. She is a “jilt” not according to the modern usage of the word, but in the contemporary sense of being a woman who uses and discards a series of men. Moreover, the word then carried a harsh sexual connotation, as we know from its use in The London Jilt.

When the story open,s we find Miranda encouraging the attentions of as many worshippers as she can win to herself, while carefully maintaining a public image for modesty:

Her Beauty, which had all the Charms that ever Nature gave, became the Envy of the whole Sisterhood. She was tall, and admirably shap’d; she had a bright Hair, and Hazle-Eyes, all full of Love and Sweetness: No Art cou’d make a face so Fair as hers by Nature, which every Feature adorn’d with a Grace that Imagination cannot reach: Every Look, every Motion charm’d, and her black Dress shew’d the Lustre of her Face and Neck. She had an air, though gay as so much Youth cou’d inspire, yet so modest, so nobly reserv’d, without Formality, or Stiffness, that one who look’d on her wou’d have imagin’d her Soul the Twin-Angel of her Body; and both together, made her appear something Divine…

Although it is taken for granted by Antwerp at large that Miranda will shortly bestow her fortune and her person upon one lucky man, Miranda herself has other ideas. While she revels in the incense of their adoration, her suitors’ desperate inportunities have left Miranda quite emotionally untouched, and she has no intention of restricting herself to the attentions of a single individual.

The Fair Jilt opens with a lengthy rumination upon love, and the way in which it operates upon different characters; and while we hear a great deal about, that refin’d and illustrious Passion of the Soul, whose Aim is Vertue, and whose End in Honour, within the text Love’s consequences are inavariably disastrous and often fatal. Even Miranda herself is not immune to this aspect of it: the “arrows” of “the gentle God” strike her at the worst and most improbable moment:

There was a Church belonging to the Cordeliers, whither Miranda often repair’d to her Devotion… It happen’d that Day, that a young Father, newly initiated, carry’d the Box about, which, in his turn, he brought to Miranda. She had no sooner cast her Eyes on this young Friar, but her Face was overspread with Blushes of Surprize: She beheld him stedfastly, and saw in his Face all the Charms of Youth, Wit and Beauty; he wanted no one Grace that cou’d form him for Love, he appear’d all that is adorable to the fair Sex… He had an Air altogether great; in spight of his profess’d poverty, it betray’d the Man of Quality; and that Thought weigh’d greatly with Miranda. But Love, who did not design she shou’d now feel any sort of those easie Flames with which she had hereforto burnt, made her soon lay all those Considerations aside which us’d to invite her to love, and now lov’d she knew not why…

Miranda is right about the young friar being a man of quality: we get an inserted history here, “The Story Of Prince Henrick”, which acts as a commentary upon the main narrative. In it we meet The Fair Jilt‘s only two genuinely good people, Henrick and his true love, whose mutual passion ends in heartbreak, attempted assassination and a monastery for him, and loveless marriage and death for her, after Henrick’s elder brother, in whom he foolishly confides, decides he wants the girl for himself. The brother (not named) is Miranda’s masculine counterpart: but whereas as she brokers sex for wealth and position, he uses the power of his position as heir to his father’s throne to obtain sexual access to the object of his desire. Both, finding a sibling in their way, hire assassins, he with money, she with promises of sex.

Her passion enflamed still further by learning of Henrick’s royal birth, Miranda lays siege to the first bewildered and then horrified young man, her oblique initial approaches giving way to ever more explicit declarations as her desire grows uncontrollable. Before this we have seen Miranda feigning modesty, but now she is revealed to us as capable of assuming any character that she chooses, of playing any role that will win her what she wants:

Yet notwithstanding his Silence, which left her in doubt, and more tormented her, she ceas’d not to pursue him with her Letters, varying her Style; sometimes all wanton, loose and raving; sometimes feigning a Virgin-Modesty all over, accusing her self, blaming her Conduct, and sighing her Destiny, as one compell’d to the shameful Discovery by the Austerity of his Vow and Habit, asking his Pity and Forgiveness; urging him in Charity to use his fatherly Care to perswade and reason with her wild Desires, and by his counsel drive the God from her Heart, whose Tyranny was worse than that of a Fiend; and he did not know what his pious Advice might do…

So far Miranda’s siege has been conducted from a distance, but when Henrick is finally driven to write her a single letter of firm rejection, she decides to “show her person” and see what that effect that has.

For all the disaster and bloodshed in The Fair Jilt, what follows is the story’s most shocking sequence. Miranda gets Henrick alone by the simple expedient of asking him to hear her confession, and then reveals herself as his adorer, pouring out her passion and pleading with him to cast aside his vows and flee with her. When Henrick still resists she casts herself upon him in an attempted seduction that is in truth attempted rape. Even this the young friar withstands, and this final rejection turns Miranda’s passion into murderous hate and rage:

    Throwing herself that instant into the Confessing-Chair, and violently pulling the young Friar into her Lap, she elevated her Voice to such a degree in crying out, “Help, help; a rape; help, help!” that she was heard all over the Church, which was full of People at the Evening’s Devotion…. The fFthers…found Miranda and the good Father very indecently struggling, which they mis-interpreted as Miranda desired, who, all in Tears, immediately threw herself at the Feet of the Provincial…and cry’d, “O holy Father, revenge an innocent Maid, undone and lost to Fame and Honour, by that vile Monster… For, O holy Father, cou’d it have enter’d into the Heart of Man, to have done so barbarous and horrid a Deed, as to attempt the Virgin-Honour of an unspotted Maid, and one of my Degree, even in the Moment of my Confession, in that holy time, when I was prostrate before him and Heaven, confessing those Sins that press’d my tender Conscience…”
    With that a Shower of Tears burst from her fair dissembling Eyes, and Sobs so naturally acted, and so well manag’d, as left no Doubt upon the good Men, but all she had spoken was Truth.

Henrick is committed to appear before the magistrate, and since he will not defend himself by speaking of what happened in the confessional, he is condemned to death. However, having had time to get over their shock and horror, the other monks belatedly believe Henrick’s protestations of innocence, and persuade him to show Miranda’s letters. This produces a deadlock: the monks are convinced of Henrick’s innocence, the young men of the town of Miranda’s; caught between the two factions, the magistrate repeatedly defers Henrick’s execution, but will not pardon him. And so for the next two years, the innocent young man remains on Death Row.

Long before that, however, and thoroughly cured of her passion, Miranda resumes her normal life, making new conquests in spite of a growing feeling against her, whose Life had not been so exemplary for Vertue, not to have given the World a thousand Suspicions of her Lewdness and Prostitution. But the attention of the town is diverted from Miranda by the arrival of Prince Tarquin, who in spite of a raging debate about his origins establishes and holds his position as a prince of the blood. Miranda soon sets her ambnitious sights upon the newcomer, who in turn falls madly, blindly, unshakeably in love with her:

So that he had no Faith, but for her; and was wholly inchanted and bewitch’d by her, at last, in spight of all that would have oppos’d it, he marry’d this famous Woman, possess’d by so many great Men and Strangers before, while all the World was pitying his Shame and Misfortunes.

Now that Miranda is “a great princess”, she insists upon as much opulance and extravagance as possible, and she and Tarquin rapidly run through her fortune. Miranda’s answer to this is to invite her young sister, their late uncle’s co-heir, to live with them, and to accept Tarquin as her guardian. The innocent Alcidiana is quickly seduced by the magnificence she sees all around her, and does not think to question where the money is coming from to pay for it.

However, Alcidiana does not lack for suitors. When she engages herself to one of them over her sister’s protests, the immediate consequence is a demand for her “portion” – while the immediate consequence of that, is that Miranda starts plotting Alcidiana’s death.

Miranda’s first accomplice is a young servant, a page called Van Brune, who was raised in the sisters’ household, and who suffers from an unrequited passion for Miranda. Seeing this, she skilfully enflames the boy to the point of madness, finally hinting that if he will do as she asks of him, he will get all the reward he could desire. Van Brune is so dazed and dazzled that he agrees without hesitation, but bungles the job: Alcidiana survives the attempted poisoning, and suspicion falls upon the page, who collapses under questioning and implicates Miranda. The boy is sentenced to death, while – thanks to her “quality”, and the intervention of her royal husband – Miranda’s punishment is to be present at the execution and, To stand under the Gibbet, with a Rope around her Neck…and to have an Inscription in large Characters upon her Back and Breast, of the Cause why: Where she was to stand from Ten in the Morning, to Twelve.

The theory of this punishment is that the shame of it is a fate worse than death; but since it starts with Miranda graciously forgiving Van Brune for giving her away, and ends with her being escorted home with all possible pomp by her still-besotted husband, we have our doubts. In any event, this slight disruption to her plans barely slows Miranda down. Financial ruin and exposure are imminent; Tarquin will be imprisoned for embezzlement; and worst of all, she will no longer be able to live in the style to which she has become accustomed. In short, Alcidiana still has to die. Miranda therefore sets to work with all her hystrionic powers:

    And therefore, without ceasing, she wept, and cry’d out, She cou’d not live, unless Alcidiana dy’d. This Alcidiana, (continu’d she,) who has been the Author of my Shame: who has expos’d me under a Gibbet, in the publick Marketplace, Oh! I am deaf to all Reason, blind to Natural Affection. I renounce her: I hate her as my mortal Foe, my Stop to Glory, and the Finisher of my Days, e’er half my Race of Life be run.
    Her…Lord, and Lover, who lay sighing and list’ning by her Side, he was charm’d and bewitch’d into saying all things that appeas’d her: And lastly, told her, Alcidiana shou’d be no longer an Obstacle to her repose; but that, if she wou’d look up, and cast her Eyes of Sweetness and Love upon him, as heretofore; forget her Sorrows, and redeem her lost Health, he wou’d take what Measures she shou’d propose, to dispatch this fatal Stop to her Happiness…

But alas, Miranda is singularly unfortunate in her tools: Tarquin botches the job even worse than Van Brune, and is immediately captured. His plea that the intended victim survived does him no more good than Van Brune’s did him, and he too is sentenced to die. Miranda again escapes with her life, but is sentenced to banishment. While the two of them are in prison, the monks succeed in persuading Miranda to admit Henrick’s innocence, and that long-suffering young man is finally exonerated and released.

The narrative opens up somewhat following Tarquin’s arrest, to include contemporary debate about his identity. Another tussle to prevent an execution occurs, this time between those people who felt for Tarquin “all the compassion and pity imaginable”, including the monks who just secured Henrick’s release, and those personally offended by him:

On the other side, the Princes, and great Men of all Nations, who were at the Court of Bruxels, who bore a secret Revenge in their Hearts against a Man who had, as they pretended, set up a false Title, only to tale Place of them: who, indeed, was but a Merchant’s Son of Holland, as they said, so incens’d them against him, that they were too hard at Court for the Churchmen.

With its account of the execution – or rather, “execution” – of Tarquin, The Fair Jilt offers a fascinating collision of fact and (presumably) fiction. We know, after all that there was a Tarquin, whoever he was; that he tried to murder his wife’s sister; that he was condemned to be beheaded; and that he improbably survived the event. At the same time, we have no idea if there was a Miranda, or if she was responsible, as the narrative asserts. However, the truly fascinating thing here is the way in which Aphra Behn’s account of the failed execution, which she gives in gruesome detail, differs from the brief newspaper account: there is an authenticity about her description of Tarquin’s unlikely survival that suggests she was either there, or that she gained (and retained) a more accurate knowledge of the circumstances from the local newspapers than the short, hurried account in England could provide. The explanation offered, that the scimitar struck too low and hit the shoulder-blade rather than the neck, seems far more probable than a barrier formed by a knotted handkerchief, and moreover like something determined only after the event, once the doctors had taken over. The detail of the scimitar suggests an eyewitness, too.

We do not know the circumstances of Tarquin’s pardon, although granting freedom in the wake of an unsuccessful execution is not unprecedented. In Behn’s version, the initially vengeful Alcidiana, who remained stubbornly deaf to pleas for leniency prior to the execution, is so affected by the outcome she pleads for Tarquin’s pardon and wins it. He then ventures forth from the sanctuary of a Jesuit monastery, to which the rejoicing crowd carried him, and departs from Flanders once and for all, swearing “never to live with the fair Hypocrite more”. We are not, however, much surprised by Behn’s deadpan follow-up to this oath:

…but e’er he departed, he writ her a Letter, wherein he order’d her, in a little time, to follow him into Holland; and left a Bill of Exchange with one of his trusty Servants, whom he had left to wait upon her, for Money for her Accommodations… But, above all, she was receiv’d by Tarquin with a Joy Unspeakable…

Without editorialisation, Behn then sides with “the Princes, and great Men of all Nations” by having the faux-Tarquin return home to his father, who is “exceeding rich” but, after all, just a merchant. Nor does Behn offer commentary upon our last glimpse of Miranda, who ends her career of deceit, sex and murder the spoiled daughter-in-law of a doting, rich old man, and the object of Tarquin’s unwavering devotion; not a princess any more (though the narrator still calls her so), but as comfortable and secure as wealth and love can make her—beyond, perhaps, a certain lingering note of irony:

They say Miranda has been very penitent for her Life past, and gives Heaven the Glory for having given her these Afflictions, that have reclaim’s her, and brought her to as perfect a State of Happiness as this troublesome World can afford…

 I love a happy ending, don’t you?

The Fair Jilt is certainly not a flawless work. In particular, it loses its way somewhat in its portrait of Miranda, who goes without internal justification from a (presumed) injured innocent to a woman who has “given the World a thousand Suspicions of her Lewdness and Prostitution”, and who, after it is implied she is flattered by unmoved by her empassioned suitors, is revealed to have had a string of secret sexual affairs. Nor do we find in The Fair Jilt the kind of groundbreaking narrative experimentation that was such a feature of both Love-Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister and Oroonoko.

Nevertheless, this is yet another intriguing piece of prose fiction—nothing less than a gender-reversed rogue’s biography, with its protagonist cutting an unmoved swathe through anyone unfortunate enough to get between her and her desires, at last emerging not just unscathed but triumphant from a lifetime of immoral adventuring, and even undergoing a thoroughly unconvincing, last-scene repentence. Miranda herself puts me very much in mind of Sylvia from Love-Letters, at least as she is at the end of the third volume, but even worse: a woman who has learned how to use sex as a weapon and does so without compunction.

The positioning of The Fair Jilt as another of Behn’s “true histories” as also fascinating. There is certainly a much larger proportion of demonstrable truth in this piece of prose than there is in Oroonoko, and yet somehow it rarely figures in the “Aphra Behn is a liar” arguments; probably, as I say, because of its easy dismissability as “amatory fiction”. Behn’s telling of the story of Tarquin, which mixes facts with things she could not have known in a by-now-familiar way, is more straightforward than the narrative of Oroonoko; the narrator here has no personal axe to grind, and this makes it hard to spot where truth ends and invention begins.

And while its narrative is not as complex as those of its fictional companion-pieces, what is noteworthy is how much in control of her language Aphra Behn shows herself to be in The Fair Jilt: much more so than in Love-Letters, where the demands of fiction (as opposed to the visuals of drama) occasionally made her stumble. We find her here more relaxed with the form; and while, as we have seen, she does still sometimes resort to the kind of comma-strung run-on sentences with which the literature of the Restoration has made us very familiar, there are other moments when she constructs sentences both pithy and stinging – such as this early comment upon the nature of Miranda’s education:

To this she had a great deal of Wit, read much, and retain’d all that served her purpose.

In this respect, I was particularly struck by the grandiloquent opening sentence of The Fair Jilt, which – to draw an exceedingly long bow, I grant you – put me irresistably in mind of one of the most famous sentences in all English literature, the opening of Pride And Prejudice:

As Love is the most noble and divine Passion of the Soul, so it is that to which we may justly attribute all the real Satisfactions of Life; and without it, Man is unfinish’d, and unhappy.

I know several people whose heads would explode at the thought of the juxtapositioning of Aphra Behn and Jane Austen, yet I feel inclined in this instance to press my point. The dominant note of The Fair Jilt is certainly irony, and irony sustained with a light hand: one of Austen’s many talents, as well. And even as Jane Austen goes on subsequently to demonstrate how the real “truth universally acknowledged” is that an unmarried man with a fortune will be relentlessly pursued to the altar, in The Fair Jilt Aphra Behn offers a devastating dissection of “the most noble and divine Passion”, which in her world leaves death, misery and ruined fortunes strewn in its wake; the crowning irony of both works being their eventual proving of their own overt theses.

01/12/2012

She’s doing it again!

It was just under a year ago that I declared my ambition for 2012 to be, “To get the hell out of 1688”, and much to my surprise I’ve almost managed it. And if I don’t manage it, it will only be because I’ve chosen to make the final step in this journey far more complicated than there is any real need for it to be.

I’m sure you’re all astonished to hear that.

In the meantime, I’m working up to what will be — I SWEAR — a single-post examination of Aphra Behn’s The Fair Jilt. This was, along with Oroonoko and my current bone of contention (of which, far too much anon), one of the three short prose pieces that Behn published during the second half of 1688, which first appeared as individual works and then later the same year were bundled together and re-released under the title, Three Histories.

The Fair Jilt, it turns out, is a peculiar thing indeed; as close as anything I’ve yet seen to the “amatory fiction” that Behn tends to be accused of writing by people who like to downplay her accomplishments, yet constantly taking the kind of odd turns that Oroonoko might now lead us to expect from her.

However, what is occupying me at the moment is the fact that, without attracting anything like the attention that Oroonoko has over the years, The Fair Jilt too passes itself off as a true history that took place under the eyes of the teller of the tale—this time, when she was in Antwerp, spying for the Stuarts. Given that the proofs of the time in Antwerp were and are much stronger than those for the time in Surinam, it seems odd that this further example of “a true history” should have passed almost without comment, particularly when we consider the centuries of hysteria over Oroonoko.

Perhaps it is the fact that Behn confines her assertions of truth-telling to her short story’s dedication, while her narrative proper in in the third person, which is responsible for this lack of reaction from the critics:

Nor can this little history lay a better claim to that honour than those that have not pretended to it; which has but this merit to recommend it, that it is truth: truth, which you so much admire. But ’tis a truth that entertains you with so many accidents diverting and moving that they will need both a patron and an asserter in this incredulous world. For however it may be imagined that poetry (my talent) has so greatly the ascendant over me, that all I write must pass for fiction, I now desire to have it understood that this is reality, and matter of fact, and acted in this our later age, and that, in the person of Tarquin, I bring a prince to kiss your hands who owned himself, and was received, as the last of the race of the Roman kings, whom I have often seen, and you have heard of, and whose story is so well known to yourself, and many hundreds more, part of which I had from the mouth of this unhappy great man, and was an eye-witness to the rest…

(That’s quite a run-on sentence!)

To my mind, there are two significant aspects to Behn’s claim for her story’s truth. The first is that this “prince”, this “unhappy great man”, was eventually exposed as an imposter, which by 1688 Behn must have known full well. The other is her mock-tragic head-shaking over the incredulity of the public and the fact that she is so well known for her poetry, even when she tells the truth it “pass[es] for fiction”. That last remark suggests to me that contemporary readers were not in least fooled by the protestations and assertions in which Behn’s prose was frequently framed, but rather knew very well that what they were reading was just a story.

Apparently in the 17th century, people were much smarter than they were in the 20th.