Archive for September, 2018

30/09/2018

Enough is enough!

I took what I considered a well-earned break after dealing with a number of the relevant documents identified during my most recent return to the Chronobibliography. Now it seems that I accidentally chose just the right place to do it. A quick sweep of the remaining ones, meant to organise them into the proper historical and in-fighting order, reveals that they are actually less relevant than it initially seemed.

Moreover, when I realised that in fact most of them refer right back to the reign of Charles, and re-hash all the same old stuff yet again—well, as I say, it was a case of enough is enough.

So I’m neither going to read or review (most of) these documents. Instead, I’ll post about them briefly – and for once I do mean briefly – and explain (i) what they are, and (ii) why not.

First and least on the list of rejects is The Pagan Prince: or, A Comical History Of The Heroick Achievements Of The Palatine Of Eboracum, published in 1690 “By the Author of the Secret History of King Charles II. and K. James II.” (who my research indicates was probably Nathaniel Crouch). This roman à clef is such a farrago of incomprehensible nonsense, it’s nearly impossible to tell who it is supposed to be about. Thus we find Srinivas Aravamudan, in his Enlightment Orientalism: Resisting The Rise Of The Novel, commenting that The Pagan Prince “…continues this literary obsession with Charles II’s love life…”; whereas the listing of the document in the Early English Books Online database describes it as, “A satire on James, Duke of York, later James II.” As for me, while trying to make head or tail of it I began to think it may even have been about Louis XIV, who inspired his own crop of scurrilous literature at about this time.

You can just imagine how well this thing works as a satire.

Anyway—one passage, slightly more interpretable than the rest, finally made it clear that, not surprisingly, the EEBO people were correct:

After this the Palatine sold the Reversion and Remainder of the three Kingdoms of Albion, Caledonia and Hibernia, with all the Giblets thereto belonging, after the King of Albions decease, to the King of Astopia and his Heirs forever; Provided that the Palatine should hold them in Vassalage of the King of Astopia during his own Life. On the other side it was covenanted and agreed that the King of Astopia should furnish the Palatine with whatever summ or summs of Money he should ask or demand, to be expended all toward the Extermination of the Christians from the face of the Earth…
 

 
Another 1690 publication which does continue the literary obsession with Charles II’s love life is the anonymous The Secret History Of The Dutchess Of Portsmouth: Giving an Account of the Intrigues of the Court, during her Ministry. And of the Death of K. C. II. The ‘Dutchess of Portsmouth’ was Louise de Kérouaille, the most hated of all of Charles’ mistresses because of the (probably correct) perception that she was really there to spy for Louis, or at least push French interests. Even so—five years after both Charles’ death and Louise’s return to France, this one seems like a piece of supererogation. Perhaps the persistence of the campaign against her was due to the widespread belief that she was involved in, if not outright responsible for, the sudden death of Charles. Like its similar predecessor, The Amours Of The Sultana Of Barbary, The Secret History Of The Dutchess Of Portsmouth concludes with “Francelia” (as she is called in this roman à clef) poisoning “the Prince” after he discovers her infidelity:

It was there, that a little before he fell ill of his last fit of Sickness, coming into her Chamber, and finding fault with some odd kind of smell, which did offend him, she treated him with some excellent Cordial, which she said, she had newly received from Spain or Italy, but the Prince did very much dislike the taste of it, and divers times found fault with it that night; however, he retired Indispos’d, and never held up his Head after that…

Actually—the more I look at this thing, the more it seems to me to be a plagiarised version of The Amours Of The Sultana Of Barbary, with the names changed and the story tweaked just a bit; which makes it ever more unnecessary.
 

 
Meanwhile, the same year gives us an example of the anti-Louis literature I mentioned, in—

—wait for it—

The Most Christian Turk: or, a view of the life and bloody reign of Lewis XIV. present King of France: Containing an account of his monstrous birth, the transactions that happened during his minority under Cardinal Mazarine; afterwards his own unjust enterprizes in war and peace, as breach of leagues, oaths, &c. the blasphemous titles given him, his love-intrigues, his confederacy with the Turk to invade Christendom, the cruel persecution of his Protestant subjects, his conniving with pirates, his unjustly invading the empire, &c. laying all waste before him with fire and sword, his quarrels with the Pope and Genoieze, his treachery against England, Scotland, and Ireland, the engagements of the confederate princes against him; with all the battles, sieges, and sea fights, that have happened of consequence to this time.

I see no need to add anything to that.

(Ooh! Except, now that I look at its title-page, to point out that this is the first publication I have so far noticed as emanating from Fleet Street!)
 

 
A more interesting subset of literature (if not interesting enough to make me read any of it) finds recent historical events being turned into plays, or pseudo-plays: it is not clear that any of them were ever performed, or indeed ever meant to be. Either way, these are really just romans à clef in a different format; there’s nothing new here but the presentation.

Three of these would seem to be the work of the same anonymous author. The first is actually an account of the Monmouth Rebellion: The Abdicated Prince: or, The Adventures of Four Years. A Tragi-Comedy, As it was lately Acted at the Court of ALBA REGALIS, By Several Persons of Great Quality. This was followed by The Bloody Duke: Or, The Adventures for a Crown (which has the same subtitle), an account of the reign and downfall of James; with the trilogy completed by The Late Revolution: Or, The Happy Change. A Tragi-Comedy, As it was Acted throughout the ENGLISH DOMINIONS In the Year 1688. This last signs itself, “Written by a Person of Quality.”

I gather that these documents were a revival of sorts of something that went on during the English Civil War; that seems to be where the term ‘tragi-comedy’ originated, in any event.

Possibly not by the same author but cashing in on the same idea is 1693’s The Royal Cuckold: Or, Great Bastard. Giving an account of the Birth and Pedigree of Lewis le Grand, The First French King of that Name and Race. A TRAGY-COMEDY, As it is Acted by his Imperial Majesty’s Servants.
 

 
And this, by a circuitous path, brings me to the one piece of this literature that I did read, and do want to comment upon: The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One, from 1689.

“The Little One” is of course the infant Prince of Wales…or the Sham Prince, if you prefer. However, he really figures only in passing in this short piece of writing, which instead is an attack upon Louis XIV. It starts well and amusingly:

We find in holy writ, that, in the Jewish law, it was expresly provided by the supreme legislator, That a bastard should not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even to the tenth generation: but it seems the unhappy kingdom of France allows the bastard himself, not only to enter into the congregation, but to settle himself upon the throne, and to bear it higher than all the preceding kings before him, which had a better right to do it, as being the offspring of kings, and not the sons of the people, the proper term the Roman law gives to bastards. We have heard of the Salick law, in force in that kingdom, for a great many ages, by which the crown of France cannot fall from the sword to the distaff; but, ’till the blessed days of our august monarch, we never had the happiness to be acquainted with a law or custom, by which that was in the power of a Queen of France, to provide us an heir to the crown, without the concurrence of her husband, and to impose upon us, for our king, a brat of another man’s making. All the reign of our invincible monarch has been a constant series of wonders; but, amongst them all, this is none of the least, That he, who was, in the opinion of all the world, the son of a private gentleman, from his birth to the end of the Prince of Conde’s wars, has had the good fortune to be ever since, no less than the son of Lewis the Thirteenth.

Unfortunately, the tone is not maintained throughout. Instead, the author devotes most of the document to “proving” that Louis XIII could not have been the father of Louis XIV due to his impotence, and that Cardinal Mazarin probably was. (Whatever the whole truth, historians have established that Mazarin was in Rome at the time of Anne’s conception.) Most of this is tiresome, except for a reference to something I certainly hope was a real phenomenon—

Common fame was ever looked upon as a great presumption of the truth of a thing, especially if joined to other concurring circumstances; and never did that prating goddess extend her voice louder, than in proclaiming to the world the spurious birth of our august monarch. Time was, when she did not whisper it in corners, but expressed it in publick pictures, plays, farces, and what not? Modesty will not allow me to mention the bawdy shapes of these two sorts of bread, called to this day the Queen’s Bread, and the Cardinal’s Bread, sold through Paris, and in most places of France; so that, at that time, one could scarce sit down to eat, but he was put in mind of the queen and the cardinal’s amours…

Without getting into the details, it seems that doubt over Louis XIV’s parentage has long been a point of argument amongst historians (and others with an axe to grind). It is not the doubt itself, but the reason – or excuse – for it that caught my interest. I was unaware, until now, that a similar situation surrounded the birth of the future Louis XIV, as did that of—well, let’s call him James Francis Edward Stuart: that is, that Louis XIII and Anne of Austria had been married for twenty-three years before the birth of their first surviving child, with several stillbirths preceding that event, and with several long periods of estrangement punctuating those years. As with the pregnancy of Mary of Modena, there was widespread suspicion about the baby’s paternity, partly because of the long unproductive years, partly because of Anne’s behaviour, but also, I gather, because Louis may well have been homosexual and therefore a bit lax about his royal duties. (“Impotence” was probably a euphemism.)

In any event, when the boy was born, he was seen (ironically or not) as a miracle; and consequently he was baptised Louis Dieudonné, literally Louis the God-Given.

There is, as I say, a body of anti-Louis literature that emerged towards the end of the 1680s, and which tends to fall into one of two categories—both of which we’ve seen here. Most are straightfaced denunciations of Louis as a tyrant: The Most Christian Turk is an example. A few, however, question Louis’ parentage, and therefore his right to the throne—as in The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One.

But all of this is only the background to the truly fascinating thing about this last document—which is that it is perfectly clear that the anonymous author took a good long look at what had gone on in England, and how the Sham Prince propaganda contributed to forcing James off the throne—and decided to try it on with Louis.

It didn’t work, of course; something which the author (who I am very sure was not French) attributes, in the document’s funniest passage, to France being a Catholic country, and therefore accustomed to miracles:

    Among a great many other quarrels I have with the English nation, this is one, That they are a people too nice in believing miracles; and their haughtiness is such, as they scorn, forsooth, to believe Impossibilities: for albeit they, and all the rest of the world about them, are firmly persuaded, that the little bauble Prince of Wales was never of Queen Mary’s bearing, much less of King James’s begetting ; yet, if these infidels had been as well-mannerly credulous, as we in France have been, of the wonderful transmutation of our Lewis le Grand, they needed not have made all this noise about the little impostor infant, but might have comforted themselves in the hopes, that he, who was a spurious Prince of Wales to-day, might some years hence, by a new French way of transubstantiation, become a lawfully begotten King of England. But the mischief of all is, these stiff-necked hereticks, ever since they fell off from the communion of the holy church, make bold to call in question all our miracles ; and such a one, as this would be, I am afraid they would stick at, amongst others.
    Good God! how happy had it been for France, yea, for a great part of the world, that the French had been as great infidels, upon the point of miracles, as the heretick English; and that our Lewis the Fourteenth had been hurled out of France, when but Dauphin of Viennois, as the little mock Prince of Wales has been out of England, when scarce well handled into the light? What dismal tragedies has our French impostor caused in Christendom? How many cities laid in ashes, countries ruined, families extinguished, and millions of lives sacrificed to the vanity and ambition of a bastard?

 

 

 

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29/09/2018

The Prisoners Of Hartling

 

    As he read, Arthur lost the sense of his surroundings. He visualised the narrow sitting-room of the little Peckham house, and heard Somers’s voice telling him that he ought to be doing hospital work or getting varied experience as a general practitioner; that he was becoming soft, going to pieces from a professional point of view. He blushed like a student under the rebuke of the demonstrator.
    Then he looked up and the illusion vanished. He saw that all his circumstances were now changed. All that advice would be sound enough if he were forced to return to such a general practice as Peckham. But if the old man left him, say £10,000, he might have a shot for his Fellowship; try for a registrarship at one of the bigger hospitals; perhaps get on the staff of one and set up in Wimpole Street. With a certain amount of capital, this would be so much easier, and the war had given him a taste for minor surgery. Indeed, it had always appealed to him more than medicine. Meanwhile, it was true that he must not let himself get rusty. He ought to go on reading, order some books from town; or at least have the Lancet sent to him every Friday. He must keep himself up to date while he was waiting. At the outside he could not have to wait more than five years…

 

 

 

While stories of ‘The Lost Generation’ may represent the most public face of the phenomenon, the between-the-wars era naturally gave rise to a significant body of work dealing with the readjustment of returned service people to society—or their inability to do so. The British subset of this literature deals, almost invariably, with life in the country, and the passing into history of the “long summer” of the Edwardians. It tends to fall into one of two categories: either a soldier, filled with longing for home, faces disillusionment in discovering that home has irrevocably changed; or conversely, in the face of his old life he discovers that he has irrevocably changed.

One odd but interesting example of this form of novel is J. D. Beresford’s 1922 psychological drama, The Prisoners Of Hartling, which finds a young medico returned from battlefield service growing increasingly restless and dissatisfied with his life as a panel-doctor in London.

(A ‘panel-doctor’ was a creation of Britain’s first, well-meant but mostly unsatisfactory system of health insurance, established in 1911 under David Lloyd George: those contributing to the scheme were entitled to – limited – healthcare from one of a panel of doctors who attended a particular geographical area. The work could be thankless and the turnover of medicos in poor districts was high. However, a positive consequence of this situation was that quite a considerable number of female doctors, who struggled to secure positions in hospitals and more ‘prestigious’ areas, gained both employment and practical experience working on the panels.)

Arthur Woodroffe went straight into his partnership with his older friend and mentor, Bob Somers, upon being demobilised, and the nature of the work and, in particular, his surroundings are beginning to tell upon him. His feelings remain unfocused and unspoken until he receives an invitation to spend a weekend in the country…

During a dinner, an acquaintance mentions to Arthur that he has been invited down to Hartling, the country estate of the wealthy Garvice Kenyon. This prompts Arthur to reveal that he is a connection of Kenyon’s, one of the old man’s sons being Arthur’s uncle-by-marriage. This conversation is, evidently, repeated during the visit to Hartling: Arthur receives a letter from his Aunt Hannah, written on behalf of the elderly Mr Kenyon, offering him a weekend in the country.

Childhood memories of the beautiful country estate, mental comparisons of the Kenyons’ life of ease and relative wealth with his own narrow financial circumstances, and the unpleasant realities of his working-life trigger a reaction in Arthur; and what starts as a desire to get away for a weekend escalates into a wholesale rejection of his current life and circumstances.

Arthur’s passionate longing for space, and beauty, and cleanliness, after the filth and misery of war, is entirely reasonable. Something of a problem arises, however, with his expression of that longing:

    “But you still avoid the real issue,” Somers persisted; “why this invitation has unsettled you.”
    “I don’t know,” Woodroffe said, settling himself a little deeper in his arm-chair. “I suppose if one analyses it, the thing set me thinking of—of the differences between Kenyon’s position and mine. Here I am with no decent clothes, and no money; sweating myself thin over a dirty job like trying to mitigate the sickness of Peckham, while old Kenyon’s got more money than he knows what to do with.”
    “Incipient socialism, this,” Somers confided to the wall opposite.
    “It isn’t,” Woodroffe said. “I’ve no sympathy with the greasy proletariat; not my line at all. It is that the whole thing has just set me wondering how I’m going to get out of it. It’s no damned good pretending, my dear Bob, that I wouldn’t sooner be lying snug in a clean comfortable bed than delivering women like Nellie Mason. And, oh! Lord, the accent is on the clean all the time.”
    “You don’t mean to imply…” Somers began.
    “My dear chap, of course I don’t,” Woodroffe cut in. “My bed here is clean enough for any one, but for about twelve hours of the day I am mixing with dirtiness of every sort and kind, and I had more than my fill of it in the war—lice by the yard and every sort of filth… I used to tell myself stories of getting clean, fantasy hot baths in exquisite surroundings, and picture myself going straight from them into brand new clothes and that sort of thing. Instead of which I’ve dropped straight into this…”

So much for the long-suffering people of Peckham—whose inescapable living conditions evidently resemble those of a battlefield. Yet having delivered himself of this comprehensive dismissal, Arthur is nevertheless startled and somewhat offended when Bob Somers responds to this not merely by releasing him from their partnership, but by telling him frankly that he wouldn’t keep him if he wanted to stay: that in his present state of mind, he’s not fit for the work.

The upshot is that Arthur departs for Hartling without any idea of where he is to go or what he is to do when the weekend is over—his vague future plan of emigrating to Canada notwithstanding. During his journey, he realises that the conversation with Somers, which was unplanned, brought into focus both his dissatisfactions and his desires; in particular, his resentful sense that the world owes him, if not a living, then at least a good time, in exchange for the years given up to the war. That good time will start with a weekend of luxury in the country; and should the weekend turn into something more, all the better…

He was beginning life again. Everything was coming right. He had visions of some delightful, improbable enlargement of his condition. Old Kenyon might take a fancy to him. Some one in the house, some special favourite of the old man’s, might be taken seriously ill, and Arthur Woodroffe, the brilliant young general practitioner from Peckham, would work a miracle at the eleventh hour. Old Mr Kenyon’s gratitude would take a practical form, and the thing was done. There were other variants of the dream, but this seemed to be the most promising.

Arthur’s fantasies take on a more concrete form when, during their drive from the station to Hartling, Mr Kenyon’s chauffeur reveals to him that the old man has a curious health complaint. Otherwise a surprisingly vigorous ninety-one years, Mr Kenyon is periodically afflicted by strange, almost catatonic seizures that the doctors have so far been unable to diagnose or treat.

Upon arrival at Hartling, Arthur is somewhat taken aback when he discovers that the people he assumes at first to be a houseful of guests are actually all residents of the estate: he meets his aunt, Mrs Hannah Kenyon, who he has not seen for many years; and he is introduced to Joseph, his uncle-by-marriage, and his cousins, Hubert and Elizabeth; to sixty-year-old Miss Esther Kenyon, the eldest daughter of the house; and to Charles Turner, who is married to Catherine, another daughter. He also hears of Eleanor, Mr Kenyon’s granddaughter, an orphan who works as his secretary.

Arthur immediately notices an attitude of only partly veiled suspicion amongst his relatives, and thinks he understands it when he has a talk with his rather hangdog young cousin, Hubert, who finally asks him tentatively if he is expecting to get something out of Mr Kenyon? – a recommendation for a job, for instance. Arthur puts Hubert in his place easily enough, summing him up in his own mind as a “feeble sort of rotter”, and concludes that the rest are jealous of their own privileges.

Meeting Eleanor, Arthur is immediately attracted to her. However, she too begins to quiz him about his presence at Hartling and his intentions for the future; while her attitude to his work is the last thing he wants to hear:

    “You’re a full-fledged doctor, aren’t you? Aunt Hannah said you wrote from Peckham. Were you practising there?”
    As they made their way to the terrace she had indicated, Arthur told her something of his work in Peckham and of his reasons for wishing to leave it. He expected sympathy from her, but he found none.
    “I dare say it was dirty,” was her comment—his insistence on that aspect had demanded a reply—“but it was work, real work. You were doing some good in the world.”

Arthur continues his attempt to win understanding, if not sympathy, from her, but in the end grows resentful of her lack of response, and what appears to him an interrogation of his intentions unwarranted by their degree of acquaintance:

He knew that he was not saying the things she wanted him to say. He could feel her longing to hear him disparage the delights of Hartling and enlarge upon those of what she had called “real work.” But her very urgency made it impossible for him to respond in his present mood. Also, he was aware of a curious desire to contradict her, even to hurt her. It was, as he put it to himself, all very well for her to talk about things she knew nothing about. He looked at her with a new criticism, and her youth and freshness seemed almost an offence. The whiteness of her hands, the spotlessness of her pale grey linen dress, the clearness of her complexion and of her blue eyes, even the lines of her firm, well-nourished young figure were all effects of the protected life she had led. It was not for her to find fault with him for wanting some share of the luxury that to the Kenyons had become commonplace.

When a message arrives from the as-yet unseen Mr Kenyon, asking Arthur to extend his stay from the weekend to “a few more days”, he accepts with alacrity; his defiance turning into giddy glee when he sees…his bathroom:

    He had a bathroom all to himself—a perfect bathroom with white walls above a tiled dado of pale green that curved round smoothly at its base to form a tiled floor of the same colour. The bath and lavatory basin were of white porcelain with nickel-silver taps, and the ample bossy towel rails, heated by hot water, were also of nickel silver…
    With a sudden whoop of joy he came back into the room and began to strip himself. He would have a bath at once, and another when he came to bed. Lovely hot water, nice soap, and splendid hot towels. Ripping house! Would he stay as long as he could? Wouldn’t he rather! He would stay altogether if he had the chance…

(It is perhaps worth pointing out that many English country houses, rich as well as poor, retained the most primitive of plumbing arrangements until after WWII, never mind WWI: running hot water and an – implied – flush toilet represent a height of luxury that few aspired to at the time. These details come of the back of the revelation that Hartling has electricity, another rare luxury in the country, generated by its own powerhouse.)

At dinner, Arthur finally meets his host, and is impressed with the power of his personality, which makes itself felt in spite of Mr Kenyon’s great age. However, during the meal he notices a strange, strained atmosphere: conversations seem to die for no reason he can elucidate. An unnerving distraction then occurs in the form of one of Mr Kenyon’s fits: he simply freezes, as if having fallen sound asleep with his eyes open. The others present, apparently accustomed, fall silent and wait for the fit to pass, as it duly does. Arthur notes that Mr Kenyon seems unaware of his withdrawal.

Arthur sees little of either Mr Kenyon or Eleanor over the next few days. During this time the others seem to pull back from him, their interaction settling into a sort of “boarding-house acquaintance”, as Arthur puts it to himself, a superficial passing of the time. This chiefly takes the form of games, at which several of his relatives excel: Elizabeth at croquet, Charles Turner at billiards and, most to Arthur’s surprise, Hubert at golf, at which he displays professional-level ability. The more he sees of his relatives, the more contemptuous of them he grows, interpreting their wary attitude towards himself as resentment of anyone sharing Mr Kenyon’s bounty. Their very passivity annoys him, with only the autocratic Miss Kenyon displaying any backbone—though that tends to take the form of a scornful and dictatorial manner. Arthur eventually becomes aware of the erection of a silent barrier between himself and the rest—as if the others all share a secret from which he is excluded.

It briefly crosses Arthur’s mind that the family secret which the rest seem to share, and are determined to exclude him from, might have regard to Mr Kenyon’s sanity; he even mentally casts Eleanor in the role of ‘keeper’. However, this suspicion is banished when Mr Kenyon surprises him one evening by visiting him in his room and settling in for a long talk. Arthur soon discovers a shrewd intellect behind the physical infirmities of age. Mr Kenyon questions him closely about his wartime experiences, his medical training and his intentions for the future. He then offers him a job: to stay on at Hartling as his medical attendant; although, as he admits, the main task would be to monitor his health so as to give him sufficient warning of his likely demise, so that he will have an opportunity to put his affairs in order, and write a proper and binding will—his current one consisting of, as he puts it, “a mass of codicils”.

Despite his enjoyment of Hartling, Arthur is repelled by the mental image of his future conjured up by this offer—passing the days as the others do, making a profession out of games, and waiting for an old man to die. Mr Kenyon sees his reluctance, and assures him quietly that he is sure within himself that Arthur’s attendance would be a matter of six months to a year at the outside; and of course Arthur would be properly recompensed for his services: there would be a legacy in that will.

They are interrupted by the dinner-gong before Arthur can respond, and he is given time to reflect. He is annoyed later to discover that everyone else seems aware of his situation, and even more annoyed by the general assumption that he will accept the offer. Once again he is conscious of a sort of unspoken conversation going on about him, an exchange of significant looks and cryptic remarks. He concludes, in his anger, that these battening relatives resent the possibility of having to share their presumed legacy with an outsider. Even Eleanor, whom he consults expecting honest advice, seems to have an ulterior motive behind what he views as her over-urgent insistence that he not only refuse the offer, but leave Hartling at once. They part coldly, with Arthur left nursing feelings of mingled disgust and hurt pride:

    It had come to him that he had an honourable purpose to serve by remaining: he might be a true help and support to the aged head of the house. Old Kenyon was so pitiably isolated from his family. He must always be aware that he was marked down, that the circle of harpies was forever closing more tightly about him, that the only interest his descendants took in him was in the search for symptoms of his approaching death. He would surely welcome some one coming from the outside, who would have no selfish object in view, who would give him real sympathy and understanding.
    Arthur felt a glow of self-satisfaction at the thought. He would make it quite clear, of course, in the coming interview, that no question of any legacy must complicate the arrangement. That should be absolutely definite; and yet—it was just a whimsical fancy, and he shrugged his shoulders—what fun it would be to cut out the rest of the family, to be made one of the principal heirs and disappoint those ghastly birds of prey! The disappointment would be only momentary. He would take the fortune solely to hand it back to them, but in doing that what an admirable lesson he might read them; what contempt he might show for the pitiful gaud of wealth. (He might possibly retain just enough to give him a small—a very small independent income?)

He stays, of course; though as it turns out his intention to demand – or at least request – a regular salary rather than a legacy comes to nothing. This causes him increasing worry, as his own resources are dwindling—his weekend at Hartling having stretched to five weeks…

The first break in the unvarying daily routine at Hartling is the arrival of Kenyon Turner, the only son of Charles and Catherine, which sends ripples of unwonted anxiety through the relatives. It emerges that Ken is in severe financial difficulties and, both in search of help and to avoid his creditors, has returned to his family. Arthur is present during a curious conversation between Ken and Hubert:

    Turner almost whimpered. “He’s got to put me right,” he protested, “absolutely got to.”
    Hubert rocked silently from foot to foot. “He hasn’t,” he said quietly, “and you can’t make him. You know that well enough. What did Eleanor say?”
    “She promised to do all she could,” Turner replied unhopefully, and added: “I’d sooner emigrate than come to live down here.”
    “Got the money for your passage?” Hubert inquired.
    “I suppose I could get that somehow,” Turner said. “Trouble’d be to dodge my creditors. Besides, some of the money must be paid—fellows in the office and so on. I couldn’t let them down.”
    “You’ll be living here before you’re a week older,” Hubert decided. “Safe as houses.”

Left alone with Hubert, Arthur becomes the recipient of confidences. He learns that Hubert is engaged, or would be, if either he or his intended had any money, or saw any opportunity for earning some. This coming out into the open in the wake of the revelation of Ken’s difficulties engenders a mood of suppressed panic amongst the Kenyons, which exasperates Arthur. He sees a revolting selfishness in their reluctance to rock the boat by supporting Hubert. Rashly, he promises to speak a word for Hubert to the old man—preening himself upon being above the petty financial considerations which he assumes are holding the others silent.

However, there is a delay before he can. As he stares at the rain falling in torrents outside, Arthur feels his moment of self-confidence giving way to doubt; all sorts of doubt:

    It was not a day, he reflected, remembering many such days, to spend going from house to house through fountains of London mud; nor in receiving poor patients at the surgery. How their wet clothes reeked! They brought all the worst of the weather in with them, the mud and the wet invaded the consulting room; one was never dry or clean on such days as this.
    Instinctively he rubbed his hands together, and then looked down at them. They were better kept than when he first came to Hartling; it had been impossible to keep his hands like that in Peckham. He liked the brown of their tan, deeper on the back than at the finger tips, and his nails were rather good. It was worth while now to spend a little time on them.
    Were the Kenyons to be pitied? They were not free, of course, but no one was free. They were certainly more free here than he would be if he went back to Peckham… If the old man turned him out for interfering in a matter in which he was not concerned, he would have to go back to Somers for a night or two. If he were not very careful with the little money still left to him, he would have to give up the idea of Canada altogether. Living in a place like this for five weeks changed one’s scale of values. He did not look forward to “roughing it” so much as he had before he came away from Peckham.
    Was he pledged in any way to plead Hubert’s cause with his grandfather?…

And indeed, it is very likely that Arthur’s “word” would never have been spoken, had he not encountered Eleanor on his way in to see Mr Kenyon. Even though he considers their fears exaggerated and probably unjust, the sincerity with which the others try to dissuade him from speaking, their conviction that he will be turned out if he opposes the old man’s will, all have their effect. He is putting it to himself in terms of doing more harm than good when he encounters Eleanor: clearly, she wants him to speak; and even more clearly, she thinks he won’t:

    “You admit that I shan’t do any good to Hubert,” he said. “Why are you so anxious that I should get myself into trouble by interfering—unless it is that you want to be rid of me? Because if that’s all, I can go any time of my own free will.”
    “I don’t want you to go,” she said coldly.
    “Then why are you so keen on—on my taking the chance of offending Mr Kenyon?” he insisted.
    She faced him with a cool, ready stare. “You can’t seriously believe,” she said, “that I should be so mean and small as to persuade you into this for any purely selfish purpose of my own? Why, none of them would be as paltry as that.”
    He blushed, but he would not drop his eyes from hers. “I’m to respect your motives, of course,” he said defiantly; “But you’re at liberty to impute any sort of cowardice to me?”
    “Isn’t it cowardice then?” she asked, returning his stare without flinching. “Haven’t you changed your mind because you’re afraid of having to leave here?”

In the face of that, Arthur’s wounded amour propre propels him into Mr Kenyon’s presence. Once the leap is taken, to his astonishment and relief, the old man takes his intervention in good part. Arthur learns that the old man’s objections to the engagement are, in his own view, entirely reasonable: Miss Martin has no money, no more than Hubert himself; and as the daughter of the agent of a neighbouring estate, she isn’t quite quite: a position with which the snobbish Arthur sympathises. So calmly reasonable is Mr Kenyon that Arthur, not for the first time, finds his entire way of thinking swayed by a conversation with him; while the apprehensions of the rest of the family come to seem foolish, even hysterical.

Mr Kenyon, meanwhile, is very far from wanting to turn Arthur out for his boldness:

    “I have taken a peculiar fancy to you, Arthur,” he continued after a brief pause, “and I need not be ashamed to tell you why; it is because I admire the independence of your spirit. I liked the way you spoke to me just now; your disregard of what might have been against your own interests; your championship of Hubert. I could wish—I have often wished—that there was more of the same spirit in my own family.”
    Arthur flushed with pleasure. But it seemed to him that he understood now, finally, conclusively, the secret of the Kenyons.
    They were all cowards, and Mr Kenyon despised them for their cowardice; not one of them had ever had the courage to stand up to him. If he had, in a sense, bullied them, it was because he had tried to stimulate them into some show of active response…

The flattering conversation then embraces Arthur’s future intentions. He has already been led into into holding himself up as a contrast to the others on the basis of his greater life-experience and need to earn a living; but he is more alarmed than pleased when Mr Kenyon takes it for granted that he must be “pining to get back into the struggle”:

    “And yet, Arthur, I should be so glad if you could stay with me—till the end. I gave you my reasons when we first talked the matter over together. I can add still another, now; I’ve taken a great liking for you… I wouldn’t ask you to make the sacrifice if I were a younger man. But as it is what difference will a year, two at most, make to you at your time of life? Come, now,” he smiled with a flash of roguery, “let’s make a bargain! Your friend Hubert shall have his Miss Martin, if you’ll promise to stay with me…”
    “Oh, of course, sir, rather,” Arthur said, blushing with pleasure and embarrassment. “I would promise that in any case. There’s no need for any—any quid pro quo, I mean.”
    Mr Kenyon still had his hands on the young man’s shoulders, and he gave him a gentle shake as he said, “Very well, that’s a bargain then; and I may tell you that you’ve taken a very great weight off my mind…”

Arthur’s sense of triumph soon fades when the others hear of the agreement. There is astonishment over Hubert’s engagement, but no sense of gratitude. If anything, the wariness with which the rest regard him increases. Arthur thinks he understands, and is nettled into a blundering assurance that he has no intention of accepting a legacy from the old man, at least, not an unreasonable one; and his offer to sign an agreement to that purpose only makes things worse. There is an embarrassed scattering of the relatives, with Charles Turner and Uncle Joe left to reject any such arrangement as unnecessary—assuring Arthur that they trust him to keep his word, should it become necessary:

    There was apparently nothing more to be said, and Arthur was on his feet preparing to go when Turner remarked casually to his brother-in-law, “Totting ’em up pretty fast just now, isn’t he? That’ll make three more of us if poor Ken has to come in.”
    Joe Kenyon’s only reply was to draw down the corners of his mouth and raise his eyebrows.
    Arthur did not want to hear any more. He was sorry he had heard so much. These petty criticisms of old Kenyon made him despise Turner and his uncle; they represented another aspect of their cowardice.

Nor is Hubert’s attitude to his grandfather at all altered, despite his excitement over his engagement. Rather, he complains that he has had no chance to see Miss Martin since the edict was handed down, being instead dispatched to do a job on the estate:

    “Probably he did it just to tantalise me a bit,” Hubert complained; “teach me that I couldn’t have everything my own way.”
    “Oh, surely not!” Arthur protested. He was offended, again, by this imputation of unworthy motives to old Mr Kenyon. “I don’t believe any of you understand him,” he continued warmly. “We had quite a long talk this morning and he rather came out of his shell. He may seem a bit hard and inhuman at times, you know, but underneath, I’m sure he’s trying to do the best for everybody.”
    Hubert looked faintly surprised. “Oh! that was the way he took you, was it?” he remarked.

When the family reconvenes for dinner, Arthur is surprised to find himself the object of Elizabeth’s attentions. Though she is attractive in an obvious sort of way, he is not at all drawn to her—and annoyed to realise that Eleanor’s image keeps getting in the way. This instinctive choice receives reinforcement the next day when Eleanor, albeit rather ungraciously, invites Arthur to accompany her on a long walk on the Downs—intimating that she has something to say to him which cannot be said under the roof of Hartling. The miles they cover, a simple lunch at an inn, and a rest on a hilltop overlooking the beauties of the countryside combine to bring down the wall of misunderstanding that has grown up between them, and finally Eleanor brings herself to say what she feels she must: that one of them must leave Hartling immediately.

To Arthur’s astonishment, Eleanor speaks bitterly of her grandfather’s intention to use her as bait—an added attraction to hold him, Arthur, at Hartling. He protests instinctively, yet cannot help remembered the old man’s urging of a closer relationship between the two of them. Seeing his resistance to the idea, Eleanor allows herself to speak frankly of herself and her family for the first time: her own father’s defiance in the matter of his marriage, which led to his banishment from Hartling, and ultimately his death under conditions of unrelieved illness and destitution; and her own, strange upbringing after being orphaned, isolated from the world to the point of barely knowing that there was a war. All the rest, too, trapped in a web of financial dependence and a failure of willpower: turned into the playthings of the old man’s selfishness and need to dominate…

In spite of Arthur’s lingering incredulity. Eleanor continues to insist upon the departure of one or the other of them: in that, at least, she is determined that Mr Kenyon will not get his way. Appalled by what he considers her unrealistic plans for herself, in securing either an office job or undergoing nursing training, if she can afford it, Arthur determines that if one of them must go, it will be him. Recklessly, he promises to write immediately to Bob Somers and accept an offered partnership, in a slightly better practice and at a slightly increased income—albeit still in Peckham. He will depart Hartling within the week.

But even this is hardly good enough for Eleanor: if he is going, why not go at once? Why wait? – risk it…?

Eleanor’s evident unselfish fear for him – her willingness to stay, if only he will make his escape – puts a new idea into Arthur’s head: why should they not both go—together?

Before he can act upon his new resolve, there is upheaval at Hartling. Far from “coming in”, as his father feared, Ken bolts—borrowing enough to pay the worst of his debts and to secure his passage to South Africa, where he has the offer of a job. In the wake of this, Mr Kenyon makes one of his exceedingly rare journeys away from the estate, a paraded departure that means only one thing: a visit to his solicitor in London and an alteration to his will…

In his absence, Arthur and Eleanor come to an understanding. They will depart together, and immediately. Arthur takes upon himself the task of telling Mr Kenyon their intentions upon his return…and finds it even more difficult and unpleasant than he anticipated:

    “Have you had it in your mind that you might be married quite soon?” he asked.
    “I think so, sir; yes, quite soon,” Arthur replied, andf then frowning and keeping his eyes averted from the old man’s face—he went on quickly. “As soon as ever we can find somewhere to live, in fact. Flats and so on are fearfully difficult to get just now. And in Peckham, where I shall be practising…”
    He paused and looked up. The old man had changed neither his position nor his expression. “But I know of no reason why you shouldn’t be married while you are still here,” he said, apparently missing all the implications of Arthur’s speech.
    “We—we thought of leaving here—at once,” he replied, making an effort that even as he made it seemed gross and brutal. “In fact I meant—that is, I’m leaving today.”
    Mr Kenyon’s keen blue eyes slowly concentrated their gaze with an effect of extraordinary attention on Arthur’s face; and as they did so, their lids, which commonly drooped so that the iris was partly hidden, were lifted until the pupils, completely ringed by white, stared with the cold, intent watchfulness of a great bird.
    “But that’s impossible,” he said quietly…

At its best The Prisoners Of Hartling is an unnerving psychological drama, particularly in its slow revelation of the domineering monster behind the kindly if autocratic façade of Garvice Kenyon, and of the various means of progressive entrapment by which he claims and holds his victims. As we watch in detail his manipulation of Arthur, we become aware that similar tactics have worked in the past—certainly the plea for companionship “until the end”. There is a subtle if morbid humour about the way Arthur’s likely “term” increases every time the subject is raised, from six months to one year, then to two, then to five… At the same time, the novel’s most chilling moment is Charles Turner’s response when Arthur tells him that he will be extending his visit from a weekend to a week—that he too once came to Hartling for a week’s visit…thirty years ago…

(In retrospect, we are able to appreciate that to Mr Kenyon, Dorothy Martin’s lack of money probably makes her a more, not less, suitable bride for Hubert.)

The main problem with this novel is that we have to see everything from the perspective of the distinctly dull-witted Arthur. Now, I do not need to like or admire a novel’s protagonist in order to like the novel, and were this a story of the drawing in to his destruction of Arthur Woodroffe, that would be just fine. Unfortunately, there’s a sense in The Prisoners Of Hartling that we’re supposed, at least, to sympathise with Arthur and worry about his fate—though for the life of me, I can’t think why. Despite his medical training and having served in war as both a soldier and a surgeon, Arthur’s dominant trait is his emotional immaturity; and that, combined with his conceit, and his snobbery, and his total lack of perception, makes him a thoroughly exasperating companion.

And that, finally, is where this novel really fails—the realisation that almost anyone would have made a more interesting protagonist than the one we were given. There are so many stories here: that of Miss Kenyon, living the life of a Victorian spinster more than two decades into the 20th century; or of Uncle Joe, the oldest son, kept from a career because he will inherit the estate…eventually (and maybe: there’s no entail); or even the Turners, finding a welcome refuge at Hartling from their struggles against the world, hardly noticing that the gates have closed behind them… And Eleanor; particularly Eleanor, clear-sighted and intelligent; raised in ignorance of the world but ironically learning about it from novels; holding hard to her resistance to her grandfather’s grip—even as she fears that her own willpower might fail when the crisis comes…

That crisis is another failing: there’s no earthly reason why Arthur and Eleanor should fall in love, except that it’s necessary for the plot. We can appreciate that Eleanor might fear for and even pity Arthur, seeing him walking unresisting into the Hartling trap; but that such feelings should turn to love is wholly incredible, particularly given the mixture of rudeness and petulance with which Arthur treats her whenever he realises that she doesn’t share his high opinion of himself. The idea that the two of them might provide ballast for one another, and together create the impetus for escape, is sound but the working out of it certainly is not.

Still—there are some devastating touches in The Prisoners Of Hartling, even if most of them exist outside of Arthur’s limited perceptions. The idea of this group of people being drawn into financial dependence through acts of seeming generosity, and their lives being reduced to waiting in helpless passivity for an old man to die, is a disturbing concept, and all the more so since none of them have any knowledge of the contents of the will dangled in front of them whenever Mr Kenyon is in any way defied—still less any guarantee. The possibilities of this situation are exploited to the full as The Prisoners Of Hartling builds to its climax: this is a story with a vicious sting in its tail…

 

 

26/09/2018

It’s been a while, by gar!

No, not just since I updated the blog: sadly, that almost goes without saying.

What I actually meant was that it’s been quite a stretch since Reading Roulette landed me on something outside my comfort zone.

The ‘goalposts’ for this particular subsection are set at 1741 – 1930, so we really should be mixing it up more; but the always-capricious Reading Gods have seemed content for some time to present me with a series of sentimental and didactic 18th and 19th century novels.

So I was a bit taken aback suddenly to find myself dealing with something from 1922.

John Davys Beresford was born in 1873 and, after being crippled by polio, devoted himself early in life to academic pursuits and a writing career. His marriage produced two children, Marc Brandel (Marcus Beresford) and Elizabeth Beresford, both writers of supernatural fiction—although the latter is best known for creating The Wombles.

As a young man, Beresford grew estranged from his clergyman father and his conventional views, embracing first agnosticism and later more esoteric beliefs including Theosophy. But however unconventional his religious views, Beresford always professed a sincere spirituality that was reflected in his writing, which often dealt with miraculous events and the triumph of the spiritual over the material. He also studied psychology as a different way of understanding the world.

Today, J. D. Beresford’s literary reputation rests chiefly on his works of speculative fiction, which cover a spectrum from outright science fiction to alternative / dystopian fantasies to allegories of religious doubt. An admirer of H. G. Wells (about whom he wrote the first critical study, titled simply H. G. Wells, which was published in 1915), Beresford followed though not copied him in writing novels about the clash between the miraculous – or even merely unusual – and narrow-thinking modern society. His first and most famous novel, The Hampdenshire Wonder, is the story of a super-child born to ordinary parents, and his rejection by the world around him; while his 1913 novel, Goslings, is the first literary attempt to depict seriously an all-female society. In 1921’s Revolution, Beresford imagined a full-scale socialist revolution in the United Kingdom.

However—my roll of the dice landed me upon none of these, but instead a between-the-wars psychological drama, The Prisoners Of Hartling.

Trust me.