Archive for February, 2020

25/02/2020

Reginald du Bray: An Historic(k) Tale


 
“I could never have forgiven myself for having lifted my hand against the object of your favour: nor could I, beauteous lady, suffer any one to carry away the prize of honour, without striving to contest it with him in the presence of her, whose smiles are praise, and whose applause is glory.” He feared to have said too much, and Matilda was unwilling to understand him. “There is now,” replied she, “a stronger motive than ever, to press you to return with me to my father’s castle: he is accounted no bad judge of knightly merit, and I have heard him praise the powers of the unknown knight.” — “Oh, lady,” rejoined Edmund, “it is impossible. I cannot, I must not accept thy invitation; and powerful must be my reasons, when I would risque every other hazard but the loss of my honour, to see the daughter of Reginald du Bray…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Reginald du Bray made its way to the top of my ‘Gothic timeline’ list, I spent a little time researching its origins. Various sources, including the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) database, asserted that this shortish work began life as volume two of a three-volume novel from 1776, The Rival Friends; or, The Noble Recluse, and was subsequently reissued as a standalone work.

I was sceptical about this at the time, not least because I could find so much more evidence of the existence of Reginald du Bray, in its own right, than I could that of The Rival Friends. But persistence finally paid off: I dug out a couple of other reviews of the original novel, including one from The Monthly Review (reproduced in the Scots Magazine) which makes it clear that Reginald du Bray was indeed a case of the interpolated narrative run mad:
 

 
The other curious thing here is that I can find no reference anywhere to the author of The Rival Friends. The novel itself seems not to have survived, so this time there is no title-page to help me out. It is not until Reginald du Bray: An Historick Tale appears in its own right, during 1779, that we learn of its creator, “A late lord, greatly admired in the literary world.” The implication, clearly, is that after the death of the author, someone else took the step of having Reginald du Bray excised and reprinted. By the time of the second edition (published in England rather than Ireland), the title had become Reginald du Bray: An Historic Tale, and the attribution had been reduced to “A late nobleman”, but no further information about the work’s origins was (or has been) forthcoming.

Having read this short work, we might be inclined to wonder why anyone (author’s friend or publisher) went to the trouble. This snippy summation of Reginald du Bray from The Critical Review proved, alas, all too accurate:
 

 
In fact, I knew I was in trouble with this one from its very first sentence, where instead of just saying “Henry the Third”, it describes him as:

…Henry, the Third of that name, Sovereign over the British Isles…

…and indeed, Reginald du Bray turns out to be a fervent follower of the dictum that you should never use one word where ten will do. It also reuses certain words and phrases to a degree that becomes both funny and tiresome; being particularly addicted to references to the “souls” of its good characters, for example—

His followers were enriched with spoil, and returned laden with the plunder of the enemies of their faith. The soul of Reginald coveted nought but glory.

—this in addition to refusing ever just to use a possessive apostrophe—so always “the soul of Reginald” rather than “Reginald’s soul”.

Meanwhile, there is apparently nothing worse you can call someone than “caitiff”; nor is there any reason to vary your term of abuse.

As these two brief quotes indicate, Reginald du Bray is set during the early 13th century, with the Ninth Crusade and the ascension of Edward I as its back-drop. For a time it seems as if we’re going to get some actual history here, but it turns out that the early part of the novel detailing Reginald’s doings in the Holy Land exists chiefly to introduce the young man who will subsequently become the story’s real hero.

Reginald’s own story is rather clunkily constructed, but we eventually gather that this model nobleman was nearly crushed by the deaths of his only son and his wife, but pulled back from the brink of dying of grief by the ministrations of his daughter, Matilda, and the exhortations of his priest, Father Anselm. (There are various ominous allusions here to Reginald’s possessions and the guardianship of Matilda falling into the hands of his wicked brother which oddly lead to nothing.) Reginald is brought to a state of submission to the will of God, and finally decides to cheer himself up by signing up for a crusade and slaughtering some Muslims.

After four years of this, Reginald is given permission to return to England to nurse his wounds and his shattered constitution. He is accompanied by his retainers—well, by some of them…

…he and his faithful followers, the few that survived the many encounters to which their lord had led them…

Once Reginald is back in England, Reginald du Bray loses interest in history, and becomes merely (in the words of The Monthly Review) “an imitation of ancient romance”; though I dispute their descriptor “tolerable”.

Though we’ve been led to expect Reginald’s brother to emerge as the story’s villain, instead the main plot concerns the machinations of Reginald’s nearest neighbour, “Ardulph, son of Simon de Fitzwalter”, whose constant state of ridiculously exaggerated passion is the source of some sorely needed if inadvertent humour. Reginald and Simon are, or were, old enemies—

He was proud, vindictive, and violent; and this urged him to join the discontented barons, and take up arms against his sovereign. Oft he had tried to seduce Reginald, whose castle was within a small distance of his, from his loyalty; but his fidelity was not to be shaken; and when he joined the standard of his king, he thrice took Simon prisoner, and twice did his heavy ransom contribute to the coffers of Reginald…

When Simon dies, he bequeaths his hatred of the du Brays to his son, Ardulph, who is even more proud, vindictive and violent than his father, but better able to hide it.

Even as he plots for a way to revenge himself upon Reginald, Ardulph hears about “the matchless charms” of Matilda. Disguising himself, he mingles with the crowd of supplicants drawn by Matilda’s regular charity:

An artful tale of distress melted the compassionate heart of Matilda, and she relieved the wants of the pretended mendicant, with unfeigned generosity. His eyes drank large draughts of love from the inexhaustible fountain of her beauty, and he saw, with grief, the time allowed for his stay expired. He hastened homewards in an agony of despair and affliction: his passions were all up in arms, and he determined to possess Matilda or die…

(Yeah, yeah: you could make a drinking-game out of all the times Ardulph threatens to do such-and-such or die…)

Ardulph quickly sees a way of killing two birds with one stone: of destroying Reginald through his daughter. To this end, he sues for peace under a guise of assumed meekness and regret, and becomes a frequent visitor at the castle of the du Brays.

Ardulph has his attractions, but unfortunately for him Matilda’s heart the heart of Matilda is already guarded by a vision of her ideal. Upon Reginald’s return, celebratory feasts are held; and the former crusader is led to speak of his experiences—in particular, when his life was saved by the intervention of a certain young knight:

“When his helmet was struck off in the fight, I saw, with amazement, the face of a youth scarce arrived at manhood: his eyes sparkled with such fire and vivacity, that it was impossible for his foes to endure the fury of his looks; his features were rather beautiful than handsome; and his face bespoke the emotions of his soul, that burned with the desire of glory, and the hope of atchieving a name in arms against the foes of our holy faith. His auburn hair shaded his forehead, and falling in curls over his neck, added a manly grace to his countenance…”

Reginald goes on to describe how the young man avoided his praise and any general recognition, even to the point of keeping his identity a secret:

The soul of Matilda hung upon the words of her father. She longed to thank the hero that rescued him from death: her heart burnt with gratitude, and the lively description of the charms of the young warrior sunk deep in her remembrance…

And since Matilda is a well brought up young lady of the 13th century, that is, her existence is stiflingly narrow and deadly dull, daydreams of the young knight become her solace as she goes about her duties.

Ardulph, meanwhile, though occasionally toying with the thought of honourable marriage as his passion for Matlida grows, finally determines to seek an opportunity to abduct her. This is granted when, in a false state of security engendered by her father’s return, Matilda begins straying further from the castle, wandering in the grounds of Reginald’s estate with only her “damsels” for company and protection.

On one of these excursions, Matilda has an encounter:

The sight of two peasants who rose from the ground at her approach, stopped her. She drew near them. Struck with her appearance, they bent their knees to the ground in humble adoration. So respectful a posture gave her no apprehensions, and she went up to them: they were young, and one of them was particularly handsome…

This pleasant interlude is succeeded by one distinctly unpleasant, as Matilda finds herself confronted by a small band of armed men, one of whom tells her outright that, voluntarily or by force, she must come with them. He has just laid hands upon Matilda when succour arrives—

Matilda scarce believed she was free, so sudden was the change. She turned to behold her deliverer: it was the young peasant. She was dumb with pleasure and astonishment. His eyes had no longer that softness with which they had adored her but just before: they sparkled wild with rage and indignation, and withered the arm that was upraised to strike him. His features were no longer composed in the smiles of peace; fury and revenge were visible in his countenance…

A bloody tussle ensues—

He turned, and saw the danger.— “Base slave, the life I disdained to take before, is now forfeited by thy villainy.” He spoke: his sword, quick as the flash of angry heaven, followed his words. The cloven head of the coward fell asunder, and he dropped lifeless on the earth…

—much to the annoyance of the leader of the abductors, who feels particularly aggrieved at being interfered with by a couple of peasants:

    “Villain,” said he who arrived first, “what brought thee here? or why hast thou opposed these men?”
    “Because,” replied the young peasant, to whom this speech was addressed, “they insulted helpless innocence, and violated the retirement of beauty.”
    “I see,” rejoined the horseman, “thy base arm has accomplished the death of one of them; thy life shall be the forfeit.”
    “I will not avoid the combat,” said the peasant; “let me be armed as thou art, or alight from thy horse, and, if thy valour prevail, let my life atone for his; for be assured I will not shun thy arm.”
    “The advantage fortune has given me over thee I will use to the best of my power,” replied the horseman, drawing his sword, and clapping spurs to his steed at the same instant…

The peasant’s response is both prompt and amusingly prosaic: jumping aside, he whacks the horse across its nose with the flat of his sword, which causes it to buck and run. The other villains take their cue and run away too, leaving Matilda and the peasant to make lengthy speeches (and goo-goo eyes) at one another.

The Suspiciously Superior Peasant is one of the earliest established and most persistent tropes of the sentimental and Gothic novels, varying only in whether a gentleman’s son or occasionally daughter was somehow lost or the victim of a plot, or (more rarely) whether an individual chose to disguise themselves.

This instance of it, however, is particularly stupid, and undermines any claim by Reginald du Bray to being historical fiction rather than a late-18th century sentimental novel in disguise.

In this case the peasant is of course Reginald’s veray parfit gentil knight, masquerading for no reason that makes any sense in the 13th century, i.e. so as not to “presume” upon his saving of Reginald’s life and his rescue of Matilda, and in the hope of making Matilda fall in love with him “for himself”. This absurd imposition of values some five hundred years out of their appropriate time period actually ends up causing Matilda no end of grief, as she is led into what amounts to misbehaviour, with the consequent damaging of her reputation.

The masquerade also gives Ardulph a chance to plant a mole in the household of the man he comes to recognise as his romantic rival, with the result that the person we eventually learn is really Lord Edmund de Clifford is led into a trap that lands him in Ardulph’s dungeons. So, well done, Edmund!

But all this is to anticipate.

The “peasants” slip away in spite of Matilda’s plea that they will allow Reginald to reward them; while the surviving abductors have to face Ardulph, who reacts to their failure in his usual calm and reasonable way:

“Cowards! slaves! base cowards! ye shall feel the weight of my heavy indignation,” replied Ardulph, foaming with rage: “what, two boys! two peasant boys! shame and disgrace attend thee: me too you have involved in ruin: I shall never be admitted to the sight of the peerless Matilda again. The slave who fell, so deservedly fell, will betray me by his garb; it will be known that he belonged to me, and I shall be driven from the presence of the beauteous maid for ever; if I am, thou diest.”

However, Edric, Ardulph’s main man, assures his lord that they removed the body, so there is no evidence of who was behind the attempted abduction.

Around this time, Edward ascends to the throne of England. Across the land, tournaments are held to mark the occasion, with Reginald arranging a particularly splendid event. Ardulph proves himself the supreme knight present, defeating all comers and emerging triumphant over the first two days of the tournament—during which he wears Matilda’s colours without bothering to ask her permission. While this makes everyone else assume a betrothal in the making, Matilda cannot like Ardulph even in his pretended humility, and resents his presumption.

Her secret wishes are fulfilled just as Ardulph is about to announced as the tournament’s champion: he receives a challenge from someone calling himself “the Unknown Knight”, who kicks his butt in the field and then relieves him of Matilda’s colours.

The Unknown Knight is acclaimed by the crowd, and invited by Reginald to become a guest at his castle; which offer is, however, declined—at some length:

“Permit me, noble Reginald,” replied the stranger, “to avoid thy courtesy: reasons of high import, prevent my making myself known to you, and require concealment. My thanks are due to you, for your hospitable invitation; but as I came here unknown, relying on the faith of knighthood, so I hope to depart.” — “Ill would it become me,” replied the baron, “to force you with ungentlemanly discourtesy, to discover yourself, when you wish concealment; I have only to lament that I have not the happiness of being known to so accomplished a knight, or want worth to merit his confidence.” — “No, generous Reginald,” said the stranger, “no; it is from no such cause I desire to be unknown: accuse not yourself of want of worth, nor me with want of discernment to acknowledge it: be assured on the faith of a true knight, I will soon discover myself to you, but it must be in a more private manner.”

(After all this mysterious persiflage, the stupid reasons for Edmund’s concealment are even more exasperating.)

Ardulph takes a moment here to send Edric to follow the Unknown Knight, before revealing that in addition to all his other sterling qualities, he’s a really sore loser:

“You see me, Reginald,” said the furious Ardulph; “you see me covered with shame, confusion, and disgrace; my arms are needless to me now. Shave me, and hide this inglorious head beneath a cowl; the only garb that becomes the recreant Ardulph. Buried is my fame; tarnished is my glory; and sunk forever my name in arms.” — “Be consoled,” said the courteous Reginald; “it was no common arm that overthrew you; the issue of the field is ever doubtful, and there is no man but what is liable to be overcome: great is the glory you have acquired; nor can it be tarnished by one misfortune.” — “It is to me,” replied Ardulph; “to be overcome, to me is death: shame will cloath me; disgrace will attend me: no more must I pretend to cope with men, or enter the lists of honour with the mighty. No, it is fitter for me inglorious, to assume a peasant’s habit and till the earth—Curse on this nerveless arm, that could not defend its master, or obey the dictates of his heart… I never can, I never shall forget this day; this cursed day, that has robbed me of my fame and my happiness. No, Reginald, thanks for thy courtesy; I will retire, and hide my head in solitude, till the memory of my shame is no more. Let the happy seek pleasure; it is mine to shun it. No day like this will ever come again; no day so replete with misery and disgrace to the wretched Ardulph.”

Edric succeeds in tracking the Unknown Knight, aka the Suspiciously Superior Peasant, aka Lord Edmund, to his secluded house. There he inveigles himself into Edmund’s favour, and wins a place in his retinue, by representing himself and his family as victims of Ardulph’s cruelty.

The story Edric tells to Edmund is, of course, a complete lie; a very complete lie; a lie delivered in excruciating detail, and ultimately running to some 12 pages: 12 pages in a “novel” running only 151 pages to start with: a rare case of the interpolated narrative run mad inside the interpolated narrative run mad.

Meanwhile, Matilda is busy convincing herself that the Suspiciously Superior Peasant and the Unknown Knight are one and the same; though it hasn’t yet occurred to her to link these figures with her father’s rescuer. She begins to venture out into the grounds again (chiefly, we are told with a straight face, because, Lord Ardulph was confined to his castle with chagrin, mortification and rage), and spends a lot of time pouring her musings into the ears of her main attendant, Martha.

During these walks, she begins to encounter the peasant, who courts her first via distant love-songs, then via speeches delivered from his knees and with a bowed head. He also confirms two of his identities; though he continues to resist Matilda’s invitations to her father’s castle. His language, however, is such that Matilda cannot go on pretending that she doesn’t understand him. She reproves him, insisting that she cannot listen to such talk without her father’s approbation.

This, bizarrely enough, provokes an Ardulph-like overreaction:

“Then despair, Edmund, despair and eternal woe must be thy portion…”

You see what I mean, don’t you? – about this being an 18th century sentimental novel in poor disguise? Edmund is so determined to create romantic difficulties for himself and Matilda where none exist that he ends nearly getting himself and Reginald killed, and all but hands Matilda over into Ardulph’s power. Yet typically, the author seems blithely unaware that his hero is being a complete (and dangerous) prat.

Edmund’s pertinacity forces Matilda to return to the castle, leaving him, motionless with grief and despair. He then continues to hang around in the grounds, despite the sensible suggestion of his esquire, Alwin (the other “peasant”), that they, you know, go home:

“Why do we remain here?” said he; “the lady is retired, and the shades of night encompass us.” — “It will be always night with Edmund: the sun of beauty is set to me, and darkness and horrors succeed…”

Good God. At least when Ardulph does it, it’s funny.

Alwin finally gets his way, and Edmund mopes at home instead of moping in the garden:

Edmund passed the night in a state of of the greatest inquietude. Many schemes did he revolve in his mind; the only design of them was to see Matilda, and implore her pardon. They were all fruitless, all abortive in the wretched lover’s imagination…

Hey, here’s an idea: I mean, call me crazy, but why don’t you INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO HER FATHER, WHOSE LIFE YOU SAVED!!!!????

Sorry. I don’t know WHAT I could have been thinking. Instead, Edmund starts making all sorts of plans for secret meetings with Matilda, calling upon Edric’s knowledge of Reginald’s castle (he has attended Ardulph there, but of course that’s not the version he gives Edmund).

Edmund starts hanging around under Matilda’s windows, which she notices—causing her to not hang around near her windows:

She concealed her confusion at the sight and avoided going near the window, or giving any signs that she encouraged the pursuit of a man who was unknown to her, and who so obstinately refused to make himself known to her father

Emphasis mine, of course.

This goes on and on as autumn passes into winter, until at last Matilda can’t stand it any more—or his behalf, or her own. Sending Martha out to tell him to go away, Matilda makes this entirely sensible protest, voicing concerns that seem not to have crossed the mind of her self-absorbed lover:

“Surely,” said Matilda, “there is no part of my behaviour, surprised as I was by the sudden interview, that could have given him any encouragement, or inspire him with the hope, that I should approve the boldness of his conduct. Oh, Martha, contrive some method of sending him from thence; there are a thousand eyes that are watchful to find a blemish in the in the unsullied reputation of innocence. Slander will represent him as thus disguised by my appointment, and calumny will stain my unspotted name…”

Martha leads Edmund away from the attending Edric (there for his geographical knowledge, though I like to think that Alwin has dug his heels in) and delivers her message. Of course Edmund goes into fits of despair—and of course, he insists on being dismissed by Matilda in person. Martha finally agrees to try and arrange a meeting, promising to put a signal candle in a certain lower window of the castle the following night, should she succeed.

The signal duly appears; and so fixated is Edmund upon the upcoming meeting, he lets Edric lead him into a trap.

The gloating Ardulph summons his retainers and hangers-on to witness Edmund’s humiliation—he thinks:

The company cast their regards on Edmund, who stood unmoved in the midst of danger, and, with an intrepid look, beheld his foe: indignation and and disdain were visible in his countenance; and his eyes, that hurled defiance, contemptuous defiance to Ardulph, shot flames, that blasted the hopes of his abandoned confederates. Even the haughty soul of Ardulph was humbled before him. He stood in his presence, silent and confused; and the virtuous Edmund did not then less triumph over him, than when he overthrew him on the plain, and tore from him the badge of his ostentatious love for Matilda.

That went well.

Edmund almost goads Ardulph into one-to-one combat, but Edric intervenes. He advises Ardulph to invite Reginald to his castle and to ask him for Matilda’s hand. She, no doubt humiliated by Edmund’s no-show, might be willing; if not, both she and Reginald can be taken by force, with Edmund around to witness the consequences. Ardulph likes this plan, and has Edmund thrown into his dungeon.

This is really the only Gothicky touch in Reginald du Bray, and even here the author is less interested in the horrors of Edmund’s surroundings than in finding further opportunities for people to make speeches.

Edric has read Matilda’s mood correctly: she excoriates herself for agreeing to the secret meeting, assuming that Edmund – despite having begged for the meeting in the first place – is so disgusted with her “lightness” that he has lost all interest in her. (This too is a common and infuriating 18th century touch.)

Reginald, meanwhile, accepts Ardulph’s invitation and arrives at his castle only lightly attended. Things start pleasantly enough but soon go off the rails when Ardulph sues for Matilda’s hand. Reginald is willing enough on his own account, but insists upon Matilda’s consent being asked. Ardulph’s instant gloom raises Reginald’s suspicion; ironically enough, he reproves Ardulph for (as he supposes) already having tried to gain Matilda’s affections behind his, Reginald’s, back: how else could he be so sure of her feelings?—

“I will not answer your reproach,” rejoined Ardulph, “in the manner it deserves; but will avow that I never attempted to gain her affections in any other manner than I could always justify; yet well I know that she has received the addresses of others, and can be kind to some inferior in quality to me, and unworthy her.” — “Ill it befits thee, lord Ardulph, to stain the good fame of my daughter with thy ungenerous imputations; I tell thee, that the mother that bore thee was not more virtuous than my child.” — “It suiteth not the deportment of a virtuous maiden to have midnight-meetings with a man whom she knoweth not, but as he weareth the appearance of a man; such a conduct bespeaketh not a chaste or virtuous mind.” — “‘Tis false,” replied Reginald, whose honour was stung to the quick by the aspersions thrown on his daughter; “’tis false as hell, and the revenge unmanly thou takest for the slight my daughter has shewn thee.” — “I will prove it,” said Ardulph, “nay, prove that she sent for her paramour to meet her.”

And guess what? ARDULPH IS THE ONE IN THE RIGHT HERE, thank you so very bloody much, Lord Edmund “I love creating difficulties and embarrassments” de Clifford.

Yeesh.

Anyway— Reginald is provoked into calling Ardulph a liar to his face. He reacts with his usual level-headedness and sense of proportion, and not only drops any pretence of friendship to Reginald, but reveals it was always pretence, a mask assumed to assist his revenge in his father’s name. He waves away Reginald’s insistence that he stand upon his honour with regard to his own safety as his guest, under the laws of hospitality, and takes Reginald prisoner—telling him that the price of his freedom will be Matilda.

Messengers are sent to give Matilda a slightly skewed version of these events, prompting her to set out to her father’s succour. One of the messengers, primed by Edric, tells Matilda that Edmund has joined forces with Ardulph, and that he is responsible for Reginald’s duress. The sensible Martha rubbishes this idea, but Matilda frets herself into a stew over it.

Meanwhile, Ardulph is finding out that imprisoning Reginald is more difficult than he expected: the old knight and his chief attendant, William, manage to hold off Ardulph’s men on their own (their strength being the strength of ten, etc.), while Ardulph himself stands back and gives a pretty good impression of Melville Cooper’s Sheriff of Nottingham:

…the arm that went to seize him lost its power; for the sword of the warrior severed it from his body. His companions beheld the sight with dismay, and retreated: at a distance they eyed their prey, and feared to meet the fate of their comrade. “Slaves,” said Ardulph, “are you awed by a withered arm? But that I scorn so poor a conquest, I would shew you how little you had to dread.”

Things hang in the balance when an unexpected player tips the scale. Ardulph’s current mistress, Alicia, has heard with dismay his plans regarding Matilda, fearing that in spite of his declared purpose of destroying her, Ardulph will end up falling for her instead. While the stand-off in the hall proceeds, Alicia therefore slips down into the dungeons and releases Edmund. He hurries to the rescue, collecting along the way more of Reginald’s men, who had been kept from him.

As it happens, Edmund on his way in meets Edric on his way out:

He would have fled, but surprise and fear tied his feet. He aimed a blow at him with a trembling random hand. Edmund caught his arm ere it fell; “Die, slave, traiterous, miserable caitiff, die.” He spoke, and snatching Edric’s sword from his nerveless hand, he plunged his own into his breast…

Edmund then confronts Ardulph:

Grief and rage had blanched the roses in his cheeks! his hair stood wild, and matted! part fell, and shading his eyes, seemed to hide the vengeance which they threatened, too dreadful to behold! In his left hand gleamed Edric’s sword: his right brandished his faulchion, yet dropping with the traitor’s blood…

(This seems a tad excessive for twelve hours’ imprisonment, but anyhoo…)

Since I’ve already invoked The Adventures Of Robin Hood, I’ll invoke it again—with Edmund and Ardulph sword-fighting and speechifying all over the hall, until the inevitable happens; putting an end to the sword-fighting, if not the speechifying; though it is Alicia who gets to deliver the eulogy:

“Thou hast slain the noble Ardulph then,” replied the dame; “curse on these hands that released thee from thy captivity, and may the arm wither that was raised against the life of Ardulph. Ho, help! the wretch has slain the lord Ardulph. My screams shall rouse their coward souls to be revenged of thee. Mayest thou find Matilda as averse to thee as she was to Ardulph, and hate thee as much as I do.”

Edmund doesn’t stay to bandy words, but rushes out of the castle to head off Matilda and her retinue. Reginald, however, overhears Alicia’s parting shot and becomes convinced that what Ardulph told him about Matilda was true. He too sets out to find Matilda, but not in a good way…

Matilda herself is soon confronted by Edmund, but not the Edmund she’s used to:

…she beheld him bloody: a sword in his hand, yet stained with slaughter: his looks wild and ghastly. It was too much! it was insupportable! Every distressing, every horrid idea crowded into her find at once. She could only pronounce, “Oh, Edmund, oh, my father,” and fell into a deadly swoon…

Consequently, when Reginald arrives he finds, as he imagines, his daughter lying in her lover’s arms—and never mind that she is barely conscious, that the two of them are in the middle of the road in the middle of the day, and that they’re surrounded by Matilda’s ladies-in-waiting and her priest!—

“Degenerate girl, (said he, seeing them still in the same posture, while Edmund’s back was turned to him.) Is it in the hour of thy father’s danger, that thou comest to meet and indulge thyself with thy paramour? Is it thus, that the daughter of Reginald demeans herself? And is it thus, that the fame of Matilda is to become the talk of common mouths? I had flattered myself with the hopes that thou wouldst not have brought disgrace on thy father’s grey hairs, and have bestowed thy affections on thou knowest not whom: and he, whosoever he be, must be base and unworthy, to have thus attempted to stain the honour of an untainted house; and seek to rob me of the treasure of my declining years: but, old as I am, I will take care of my honour, and that of my family.”

Thankfully, Edmund finally stems this outpouring by showing his face

“Lord Reginald,” said he, “you wrong me; the soul of Edmund is incapable of doing such base acts: ’tis true I love your daughter; I—!” — “Gracious heaven!” cried Reginald, throwing himself off his horse, and embracing the youth: “This, this is he, Matilda; this is he of whom you have heard me speak: this is the gallant knight who rescued thy father from the hands of the infidels. Matilda, embrace the deliverer of thy father…”

Oh. Okay. If you insist. And if isn’t too degenerate.

Yeesh!

Edmund’s explanation of his behaviour comes on the second-last page of Reginald du Bray, at which point the reader is made painfully aware that none of this needed to happen. Be that as it may, neither Reginald nor Matilda seems to find anything untoward in his conduct; or perhaps the former, at least, is distracted from the real issue by the revelation of Edmund’s surname. This is how this it all ends—

—noting that Edmund receives permission to marry Matilda the moment he reveals his name

“De Clifford!” exclaimed Reginald: “he is my old, my approved, my honoured friend. Yes, Edmund, I will now discharge the debt of gratitude, that I have so long owed thee: and will not Matilda help me to pay it?” The lovely maid blushed as her father spoke, and on his repeating the question, replied—

Really. That’s it.

This abrupt conclusion functions to remind us that it was not originally the end of a novel at all, but merely the end of a volume. The Rival Friends; or, The Noble Recluse is, as I have said, a lost work; so I guess we’ll never know whether the story of Reginald, Matilda and Edmund carried on into Volume III, or whether Volume III opened with someone complaining, “This is stupid, don’t you know any other stories…?”

 

20/02/2020

Hey, *I* have a list too, you know!

Wow.

I don’t know what could have gotten into The Fortune Press of London, but it turns out that, far from offering any sort of “Gothic bibliography”, they basically just published Montague Summers’ research notes.

And in a 620-page-long limited edition, at that.

In 1938, Summers published The Gothic Quest: A History Of The Gothic Novel, which is a more focused if typically idiosyncratic study of the by-then forgotten genre. A Gothic Bibliography, I would guess, represents a list of the works he accessed in preparation for writing that book. Rather than a coherent attempt to trace the roots of the Gothic novel, it is a completely random hodge-podge of books and authors.

In other words—exactly the same kind of book-list that I have, only of course mine is electronic, while Montague did his by hand. And no-one’s paying to read mine.

*sniff*

This is not to say that A Gothic Bibliography isn’t valuable, but it certainly isn’t what’s on the label. The book makes no attempt to confine itself to compiling a list of Gothic and proto-Gothic novels, but includes fiction of all sorts. It also extends well into the 19th century – embracing both Mary Elizabeth Braddon and E.D.E.N. Southworth, and both George Reynolds and Thomas Prest – and includes a vast number of works by French authors.

(While I have no intention of going down THAT road, these inclusions underscore the argument made by James Foster’s The History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England about the often-unacknowledged influence of French literature on the evolution of the English novel.)

In terms of the Gothic novel, the value of Summers’ study was rather of the negative kind—confirming that I haven’t missed much on the way through.

This suggests that Sophia Lee’s 1783 novel, The Recess, is even more important than I had previously realised. There is, so to speak, a gathering of forces beyond that point; though the critical year remains 1789. That was when Ann Radcliffe published her first novel, The Castles Of Athlin And Dunbaynenot a Gothic novel, but one of the many historical dramas that paved the way for the genre. Several other works from the same year indicate (at least by title) that matters were reaching critical mass—a point emphasised by the fact that some authors were already feeling the need to label their novels “domestic” or “taken from real life”, to distinguish them. Then, in 1790, Radcliffe published The Mysteries Of Udolpho, and the gloves were off once and for all.

But to return to the first stirrings of the Gothic impulse—

So far in this respect, I have considered the following (though – gasp! – not in order):

The Adventures Of Miss Sophia Berkley by “a young lady” (1760)
Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury by Thomas Leland (1762)
The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
Barford Abbey by Margaret Minifie (1768)
The History Of Lady Barton by Elizabeth Griffin (1771)
The Hermitage by William Hutchinson (1772)
Sir Bertrand, A Fragment – in Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose by John Aikin and Anna Laetitia Aikin Barbauld (1773)
The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve (1777)
Julia de Roubigné by Henry Mackenzie (1777)
Reginald du Bray by “a late nobleman” (1779)

All of these were brought to my attention by one researcher or another—though not all of them by any one source. Despite his wanderings, Montague Summers does not list Sophia Berkley or Julia de Roubigné, or either Miscellaneous Pieces or Sir Bertrand; and he has the date wrong for The Hermitage. None of these is a true Gothic novel, not even Otranto, but all of them (with greater or lesser degrees of tentativeness) exhibit touches that would later be considered hallmarks of the genre.

Browsing through A Gothic Bibliography, and using 1789 as a cut-off date – and trying not to get carried away – I have noted the following as possibly worthy of investigation:

Anecdotes Of A Convent by Helen Maria Williams (1771)
The Spectre by Charles Andrews (1779) (a play?)
The Convent; or, The History Of Sophia Nelson by Anne Fuller (1786)
St. Bernard’s Priory, An Old English Tale by Mrs Harley (1786)
Olivia; or, The Deserted Bride by Elizabeth Bonhote (1787)
The Solitary Castle, A Romance by Mr Nicholson (1789)

Meanwhile—I have also added the following to The List; not from the Gothic point of view, but from the perspective noted:

– the works of Alexander Bicknell, who in the 1770s seems to have had a serious run at the historical novel proper, something generally considered not to have happened until the early 19th century
– the works of Charlotte Smith who, heaven help me, I’d very much like to include in Authors In Depth
The Widow Of The Wood by Benjamin Victor (1755), which seems very early for a possible sentimental / rhapsodies of nature novel
Female Stability; or, The History Of Miss Belville by Charlotte Palmer (1780), already brought to my attention by Pamela’s Daughters (which we likewise have to thank for Munster Abbey)
The Cottage Of Friendship by Sylviana Pastorella (1788), because someone actually had the nerve to adopt the pseudonym “Sylviana Pastorella” (and got published under it!)
Audley Fortescue; or, The Victim Of Frailty by John Robinson (1795), the author of the bizarre Sydney St. Aubyn; Summers quotes a critic on Robinson: “Remarkable for the murderous catastrophe of his pieces.”
Memoirs Of A Magdalen; or, The History Of Louisa Mildmay by Hugh Kelly (1767), the first “respectable” prostitute bio??
Memoirs Of An Hermaphrodite by Pierre de Vergy (1772), because “MEMOIRS OF AN HERMAPHRODITE”!!??

And meanwhile meanwhile…

…this browse reminded me of something else that happened in 1789:

The first American novel, The Power Of Sympathy, was published…which of course really should be the first work considered in a new blog-section…

…right alongside my consideration of the beginnings of the Australian novel…

Sigh…

 

18/02/2020

Get a little carried away, did we, Montague?

In my quest to keep things ticking here, I recently read the next work on my ‘Gothic timeline’ list, Reginald du Bray. I have already made a few notes about the origin of this shortish work, and now have some more details to share when I get around to blogging it.

Of course, one of the great joys of ticking off a list item is seeing what’s up next. In this case it was something called Edwy And Edilda by Thomas Sedgwick Whalley. However, a little research revealed that Whalley was known as a poet, rather than a novelist. (He was also a clergyman, which makes his serial marrying for money more than usually distasteful: apparently when Whalley discovered that his third wife, far from having a fortune, was in debt, he deserted her.) Still, it wasn’t until I located and downloaded a copy of his 1779 work that I noticed a contradiction between its relative brevity and its declaration of being “a tale in five parts”…and realised that a further reference to its being “a poetic tale” was intended literally:
 

 
I promptly made an executive decision: that I wasn’t reading (or reviewing) 174 pages of that twaddle.

So! – onwards in my Gothic timeline.

I was very excited when I discovered that my next noted work was The Recess by Sophia Lee, from 1783: a bizarre piece of faux-history that was nevertheless extremely popular with the reading public and the critics alike, and which introduced and/or developed quite a number of touches that would evolve into Gothic tropes.

However…this sudden lurch from works of complete obscurity to a well-known piece of fiction, and across several publishing years too, gave me pause. I began to wonder if I was missing anything important…

(Of course I did. Actual progress? – feh!)

My research into Reginald du Bray had reminded me of the existence of Montague Summers’ A Gothic Bibliography, which he published in 1940. It turned out that my academic library held a copy, so I thought a quick browse of Summers’ study might be the easiest way to check whether I had overlooked anything of significance during the years prior to the publication of The Recess.

A quick browse, did I say?—
 

 

 
However…my state of jaw-dropped horror was relieved by the discovery that Summers had been very liberal with his definition of “Gothic”, and that he had indeed got “a little carried away”, extending his research right from the very earliest progenitor works of the genre through to the mid-19th century penny-dreadfuls. He also included plays in his lists, both those adapted from works of fiction and those written direct for the stage.

Furthermore, all his results were effectively duplicated by his cross-referencing everything, first by author, then by title.

Critically, every work noted in A Gothic Bibliography is listed by publication date—so if I hold myself to my original plan, and check through those works published between (say) 1760 – 1783, this shouldn’t represent such a terrifying plunge down the rabbit-hole as it first seemed.

ETA: Apparently I’m not the only one frightened off by the dimensions of this volume: it has pages that are still uncut!

 

09/02/2020

I really don’t have the time or the energy for this; but—

Anyone out there know the best way to conduct a Wikipedia war?

Anyone feel like conducting one on my behalf?

Some time ago now I raised the matter of the “discovery” of the existence of Elizabeth Meeke, and the contention that she was the Minerva Press author “Mrs Meeke”, whose first name until then was generally given as “Mary”.

Following up on this, I was able to prove to my own satisfaction at least that Elizabeth Meeke and Mary Meeke were two different people; that in order to avoid having two Mrs Meeke-s on their roster, the Minerva Press allowed Mary Meeke to go on writing as “Mrs Meeke”, while compelling Elizabeth Meeke to use the pseudonym “Gabrielli”.

And how I proved this was by doing something I’m quite sure no-one else has bothered to do: I read their novels.

Having at last made some strides towards getting this blog back on track, this morning I went looking for a copy of Ellesmere, a novel from 1799 by Mary Meeke, for my next entry in Authors In Depth.

You can imagine my horror when I discovered that the Elizabeth Meeke theory had been allowed to run rampant in the interim, with webpages and entries previously dealing with Mary Meeke having been altered to credit Elizabeth with all the novels and other works produced by both women.

The last thing I need is a fight of this nature, but I don’t feel I can just let it pass, either. My impulse is to add at least a contending paragraph at the Wikipedia page given over to Elizabeth Meeke, but I haven’t the slightest idea—not just of the best way to go about it, but how to go about it at all.

Help!

08/02/2020

Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
I read Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales, a collection of shorter works by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, under the belief that it was first published in 1862. That is certainly the date most commonly given, and by a variety of different sources. However, subsequent research regarding the initial publication date of a couple of the individual stories has made it fairly clear that this volume must have been published later than that—with 1869 now seeming the most likely candidate.

Trying to nail this point down has not been helped by the fact that this collection was revised and/or retitled on several occasions. One of my 1862 sources adds that it was re-released in 1867, “with four extra stories” (it doesn’t bother to tell me their titles, of course). Meanwhile, the book was apparently released in America in 1870 as Dudley Carleon; or The Brother’s Secret: and Other Tales: presumably bailiffs weren’t considered a sufficient attraction. (This is still less annoying than a couple of later British editions, which had their titles pointlessly changed to Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Stories).

And just to top off the confusion, I have two different sources, one offering 1862 and the other 1869, having this collection as by “Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, formerly Braddon”—only Braddon and John Maxwell didn’t marry until 1874.

So if it’s all right with you, I’m just going to ignore all of that and pretend that for once, I didn’t feel obliged to spend longer researching a book’s original publication date than I did reading it. (I won’t say “than I did writing about it”, but—) Much as I hate doing things “out of order”, I’d hate even more to lose what’s fresh in my mind and have to read up on it all again at some point in the future.

So—

The magazine, The Welcome Guest, was founded in 1858 by the publisher, Henry Vizetelly. Subtitled “A Magazine of Recreative Reading for All”, the journal did its best to live up to this broad remit, offering a variety of material and a high standard of contributing writers—and this remained the case even after it changed hands. In 1860, John Maxwell bought the magazine, and hired the novelist and poet, Robert Brough, to edit it.

It was at the offices of The Welcome Guest that Mary Elizabeth Braddon and John Maxwell first met, in April of 1860. She was trying to support herself and her mother by acting and writing; he was impressed with the potential of her first novel, then titled Three Times Dead, which he helped her to revise and reissued as The Trail Of The Serpent.

Then other things happened.

One of them was that Braddon began regularly to contribute short stories and “novelettes”, as they were called, to The Welcome Guest, including several that were later included in Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales.

As the volume now stands, it has a slightly disconcerting arrangement, with the tone of the first few stories jerking back and forth between bleak and comic before the whole settles down into, predominantly, tales of crime and suspense, with the occasional touch of the supernatural.

The question of how to review a work such as this is a tricky one. I think the best approach might be to give a brief overview of each entry, along with a short quote, just to give a taste without, hopefully, spoiling anything. (And yes, I know I’m usually a shameless spoiler; but short works don’t stand up as well to that sort of handling.)

And this should also have the happy side-effect of keeping this to a single post of reasonable length. (Huzzah! they all cried.)

All that said—
 

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Ralph The Bailiff itself was originally published in the first volume of the St. James’s Magazine (April – July, 1861). Interestingly enough, no author was listed for it, which suggests that Braddon’s anomalous situation with respect to John Maxwell was known and causing angst in some quarters. (This may also be why Ralph The Bailiff was rather defiantly made the title story when this collection was finally published.)

When his elder brother unexpectedly dies, Dudley Carleon inherits his comfortable fortune and the respectable country property known as Grey Farm. It seems for a time that his loss has crushed Dudley’s spirits, which may or may not account for the ascendancy gained over him by his bailiff, Ralph Purvis, who becomes the real power of Grey Farm. When, after several years of a lonely, gloomy existence, Dudley is prompted to purchase another property at some distance and place Ralph in full charge of it, he makes use of his new freedom to court and marry Jenny Trevor, the pretty young ward of the rector—only to find, not happiness, but tragedy…

Braddon crams a lot into this novella, playing wicked games with the inversion of “the natural order”, that is, the master-servant and husband-wife relationships; but while we may get some grim fun out of Dudley’s helplessness in the grip of his bailiff, Braddon also uses her story to consider the terrible vulnerability of women, both within and without marriage. Jenny is trapped by her circumstances, literally unable to leave her husband’s house; while madness – or the accusation of madness – is a constant, lurking threat. Meanwhile, as we have seen before with Braddon, crime is not always punished and very often does pay—but only for those with the courage of their criminal acts.

    “And pray, my pretty, curly-haired Miss, who may you be?”
    “Your master’s wife,” said Jenny haughtily.
    The man stared at her rudely for two or three moments before he spoke.
    “My master’s what?”
    “His wife—Mrs Carleon,” she said, looking him full in the face, terrified, but not daunted by his insolence.
    The bailiff burst into a loud hoarse laugh.
    “Mr Dudley Carleon’s wife! His right-down lawful wife! O, you’re that, are you? Give me the light,” he said, snatching the silver candlestick from her hand; “let’s have a look at you, then, for you’re a bit of a curiosity…”

 

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Captain Thomas did first appear in The Welcome Guest, during August, 1860. This comic tale deals with a marriage that does not happen, with the narrator recounting how he came to the unhappy belief that his young fiancée’s heart was still to given to the man she had evidently loved before and lost, and who she did not hesitate to mourn in front of him. Braddon has fun with this one, offering a split-vision narrative whereby the reader sees a great deal more than the rather dull-witted central character—who, among other things, fails to grasp the true identity of his romantic rival, Captain Thomas, even when he makes an unorthodox reappearance on the very eve of the wedding:

    …the parlour-door was ajar—and I heard—yes, I heard from the lips of the woman I was going to marry—these passionate exclamations:
    “My darling Tom, my own precious Thomas! Ums Thomas!” In the whole course of our loves she had never called me Ums Benjamin. Ums was evidently a mysterious expression of endearment, especially consecrete to this military or naval deceiver. “Ums Thomas has come back to ums; ums naughty boy, then! There!”
    After the “There!” there was that indescribable and unmistakable sound—something between the whistling of birds in wet weather and the drawing of corks—which one is in the habit of hearing under the mistletoe. She—my “future”—was kissing Captain Thomas, or Captain Thomas was kissing her! What mattered it which? Ruin either way!
    There was an umbrella-stand in the hall. I retreated into the shadow thereof as Rosa Matilda rushed out of the room. “Mamma!” she called at the foot of the stairs; “Mamma, would you believe it? he’s come back! The Captain! He came in at the back-bedroom window!”

 

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Perhaps the most famous of all of Braddon’s short stories, and frequently anthologised in collections of Victorian ghost stories, The Cold Embrace was first published in The Welcome Guest in September of 1860.

An arrogant young artist draws his naïve cousin into a secret engagement. At the height of his passion he gives her a unique gold ring which once belonged to his mother, and swears that nothing – not even death – can part them; that even if he did die, his spirit would return to her… But out of sight is out of mind, and when tragedy strikes the artist is relieved as much as shocked. He flees, trying to bury the memory of his cousin; but his solitude is not left undisturbed…

…in the broad moonlight there are only two shadows, his own and his dog’s. He turns quickly round—there is no one—nothing to be seen in the broad square but himself and his dog; and though he feels, he cannot see the cold arms clasped round his neck…
 

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From one extreme to the other: My Daughters was also published in The Welcome Guest, in October of 1860.

This is a comic short story about a long-suffering father cursed with three grown-up daughters of romantic temperament, much addicted to sentimental reading. Braddon shows that she knows all the popular writing of her time; and as someone working through Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver novels, wherein Tennyson is a positive touchstone, her apparent exasperation with The Idylls Of The King (expressed here and elsewhere) is doubly amusing. Yet the story builds up to a disappointingly conservative coda that marks this as a very early work.

Well, we were scarcely out of Adam Bede when the girls sickened for the “Idyls.” They had a great struggle, so tremendous was the demand, to get it from Mudie’s; and I’m sure for a week our man-servant, Higgs, aged fourteen, almost lived upon the road between Brompton and Bloomsbury. At last, the modest green-covered volume arrived. O, little did I think what a viper that innocent-seeming book would prove!
 

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The Mystery Of Fernwood was first published in two parts, during November and December of 1861, in the literary magazine, Temple Bar (of which Braddon herself would later become editor).

When Isabel Morley becomes engaged to Laurence Wendale, she receives a rather ungracious invitation to Fernwood, the family estate in Yorkshire. Though Laurence warns her that it is a dreary place, that his father is in poor health and that his mother, Lady Adela, rarely receives company, Isabel is unprepared for the general air of gloom and sadness at Fernwood: an atmosphere which she slowly becomes convinced has something to do with “Mr William”, an invalid relative who occupies rooms in one wing of the building, from which he never emerges… Braddon transposes a number of Gothic conventions to the Yorkshire countryside in this one; though the overall tone is bleak, rather than sensationalised. The Mystery Of Fernwood also offers another of Braddon’s oblique commentaries upon the position of women, contrasting the thoughtless young Laurence with his quietly self-sacrificing half-sister, Lucy.

    “The poor gentleman’s rooms are at the other end of the gallery, miss.”
    “Has he lived here long?” I asked.
    “Nigh upon twenty years, miss—above twenty years, I’m thinking.”
    “I suppose he is distantly related to the family.”
    “Yes, miss.”
    “And quite dependent on Mr Wendale?”
    “Yes, miss.”
    “It is very good of your master to have supported him for so many years, and to keep him in such comfort.”
    “My master is a very good man, miss.”
    The woman seemed determined to give me as little information as possible; but I could not resist one more question. “How is it that in all these years Mr Laurence has never seen this invalid relation?” I asked.

 

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First appearing in The Welcome Guest during February of 1861, Samuel Lowgood’s Revenge is also slightly disappointing in its conventional morality. It concerns two clerks at a shipping firm, one poor, painstaking and retiring, the other brash, handsome and self-confident—and a gentleman’s son, as the obscure Samuel Lowgood is repeatedly reminded. Already consumed by resentment and jealousy, when Christopher Weldon breaks the heart of the girl that Samuel has long secretly loved, the humble clerk finds himself consumed with thoughts of revenge—even if that revenge takes a lifetime to enact…

    …at the end of the month Christopher Weldon was to give a great dinner-party, at which Messrs. Tyndale and Tyndale were to be present, to inaugerate his partnership. As senior clerk, I was honoured by an invitation.
    My enemy had mounted to the highest round of the ladder. Rich, beloved, honoured, the husband of a lovely and haughty lady, partner in the great and wealthy house which he had entered as junior clerk—what more could fortune bestow upon him?
    My time had come—the time at which it was worth my while to crush him…

 

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The Lawyer’s Secret first appeared in The Welcome Guest in three parts, between the 16th February – 2nd March, 1861. It is one of the longer works in this collection, and has since been excerpted and published as a standalone work.

When Ellinor Arden turns twenty-one, she learns that her inheritance of a fortune is conditional upon her marrying her uncle’s adopted son within the year. Ellinor is appalled, not least because she has long loved Horace Margrave, her lawyer, guardian and trustee—but the indifference with which he advises her, and the sensible way he discusses her potential marriage, chills her to the heart. Though she is prepared to dislike him, Henry Dalton seems to Ellinor a high-principled, generous young man; and impulsively, she agrees to the bargain. It is only after this that Horace Margrave confides to Dalton something that will bring the promising marriage to the point of disaster…

The main complaint that might be made against The Lawyer’s Secret is that the secret itself is too obvious. However, Braddon isn’t really writing sensation fiction here, where such a flaw might be fatal. She is more interested in the impact of the secret upon the marriage of Ellinor and Henry, and the simultaneous physical and moral deterioration of the brilliant, much-courted Horace Margrave. Particularly interesting here is how far Ellinor puts herself in the wrong in response to what she perceives as her husband’s sins, and that there is from the very first moment a large measure of class snobbery in her reaction to him, because of his background: a prejudice that colours her response to him and causes her to see his actions as those of someone who is “no gentleman”; unlike, say, Horace Margrave…

    “You too, against me?” cried Ellinor mournfully. “O, believe me, it is not the money I want, it is not the possession of of the money which I grudge him; it is only that my heart sinks at the thought of being united to a man I cannot respect or esteem. I did not ask to love him,” she added, half to herself; “but I did pray that I might be able to esteem him.”
    “I can only say, Ellinor, that you are mistaken in him.”
    At this moment came the sound of a quick firm step on the stairs, and Henry Dalton himself entered the room. His face was bright and cheerful, and he advanced to his wife eagerly; but at the sight of Horace Margrave he fell back with a frown.     “Mr Margrave, I thought it was part of our agreement—”
    The lawyer interrupted him. “That I should never darken this threshold. Yes.”
    Ellinor looked from one to the other with a pale, frightened face. “Mr Dalton,” she exclaimed, “what, in Heaven’s name, does this mean?”
    “Nothing that in the least can affect you, Ellinor. A business disagreement between myself and Mr Margrave; nothing more.”
    His wife turned from him scornfully, and approaching Horace Margrave, rested her hand on the scroll-work at the back of the chair on which he sat.
    It was so small an action in itself, but it said, as plainly as words could speak, “This is the man I trust, in spite of you, in spite of the world…”

 

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My First Happy Christmas finds Braddon dabbling in the other great mainstay of Victorian short fiction, the Christmas story. This one first appeared in The Welcome Guest in (of course) December of 1861.

This story deals with the fate of three small schoolboys left behind when all of their classmates go home for Christmas. Two of them have parents on the other side of the world; the third, our narrator, is an orphan. Particularly interesting here is the justifiable bitterness against the ways of Santa: was Braddon the first to go down that road?

Be that as it may, a particularly agreeable Saturnalia Christmas miracle is in the making…

On the whole, I say, I was not unhappy. During the half-year’s lessons and the half-year’s exercises, the half-year’s propria qua maribus and “Enfield’s Speaker”, bad marks and good marks, stolen feasts in dimly-lighted dormitories, prisoner’s base and fly-the-garter in the great bare playground, I was tolerably happy. But Christmas, that Christmas to which thirty-one out of four-and-thirty boys looked forward with such rapture—Christmas, which, for those thirty-one young persons, meant home, and love, and roast turkey, and unlimited wedges of rich plum-pudding smothered with brandy-sauce, and inexhaustible brown-paper bags of chestnuts, and piles of golden oranges, and bilious attacks, and kisses under the mistletoe from pretty cousins, and blindman’s buffs, and hunt the slippers, and so many glorious things, which to myself and the two pupils from Demerera were nothing but strange words—Christmas was for me a sad and bitter time. That genial and ancient allegorical person with rubicund face, snow-white, holly-crowned head, and brave, good-natured smile, was to me an evil-minded demon, who whispered, “For you I am not what I am to other people; I can never be the same to you that I am to other people; I come to you only to remind you of the love that is forever lost to you; of the home which you have never known…”
 

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The history of Lost And Found is confusing and I’m not sure I’ve got it right yet. This is, however, one of the included stories that argues against an 1862 publication date.

As I understand it, this work was originally part of Braddon’s novel, The Outcasts; or, The Brand Of Society, which was serialised in the London Journal between the 12th September 1863 – 12th March 1864. Braddon then revised her work and reissued it in novel form under the title, Henry Dunbar: The Story Of An Outcast. During the revision process, Braddon removed an entire section of her novel and then published it as a standalone work.

Or so the story goes. Since Lost And Found is almost long enough to be called “a novel” in its own right, it seems unlikely that it was cut out as it stands from within another novel. Furthermore, the only publication details I have found for Lost And Found suggest that it was published in the London Journal during 1864; and it doesn’t really make sense to me that Braddon would serialise The Outcasts, cut out a chunk of it, and then republish that chunk in the same magazine as an independent work.

(Henry Dunbar is now the “definitive” version of this novel. I haven’t yet looked into whether The Outcasts is available also. Quite a few of the 19th century magazines have been archived online, though, so I’ll chase that up when the time, or rather date, is ripe.)

A man calling himself Gervoise Gilbert leaves his alcoholic wife and their life of poverty in London, taking with him their young son, George. The two are fortunate enough to fall in with a band of travelling performers. In exchange for food and lodging, Gervoise designs and paints pictures of the troupe to be used as advertising, while George becomes part of the show itself. Noting the tattoos upon one of the performers, and learning that he did most of them himself, Gervoise asks the man to place a certain mark upon George’s wrist, so that he may always in future be identified. The tattoo is of an earl’s coronet, with the initials ‘G. P.’…

The troupe is present when the Earl of Haughton is killed during a steeplechase race. His young countess is rushed from the scene; later it is learned that both she and her baby, a boy born prematurely, have died. Gervoise wastes no time in travelling to London, to the Palgrave family lawyers, who know his history and hold the documentation necessary to prove his identity. In his haste, Gilbert leaves Georgey with the troupe; and he returns in triumph as Gervoise Palgrave, Earl of Haughton, only to discover that the boy is missing—stolen away, it seems, by his mother…

The loss of his son blights Gervoise’s ascension to the aristocracy. Though he sets in motion a thorough search for Agatha and the boy, no trace is found of either. It is many months before Gervoise can reconcile himself to the situation—and then his consolation takes a dangerous form, in his tentative courtship of Ethel Hurst. Arguing to himself that were Agatha not dead, some hint of her whereabouts must have been discovered. Gervoise defiantly asks Ethel to marry him. However, a chance encounter only days before the wedding leaves Gervoise with a desperate choice to make…

Lost And Found is in all respects a grim work: there are no heroes here, only villains of varying shades and degrees of guilt. The one ray of light is Braddon’s sympathetic and humorous sketch of the performers—and even there she finds one more villain to darken her tale.

Gervoise may be our protagonist but the touchstone of his character is his selfishness. Even though it is Agatha’s violent and drunken behaviour that drives Gervoise away, it is made clear that when he married her, she was an innocent and sober girl; being made to carry the blame for Gervoise’s “fall” from high society to a life of poverty and struggle became too much for her. Gervoise knows well enough that he is leaving Agatha to face destitution, but makes Georgey’s safety his excuse for a desertion that is equally if not more for his own comfort. Yet it is Gervoise’s very haste to claim his inheritance that later leaves Georgey exposed to danger.

The working-out of the plot of Lost And Found exploits the Victorian unease over the implications of wet-nursing: the sense that, “necessary” as it might have been, it resulted in an improper and dangerous mingling of the classes and created intimacy where none should exist.

(Wet-nursing was “necessary” because of the social taboo against women having sex while breastfeeding. Babies were therefore taken away from their mothers at about six weeks of age, to allow husbands sexual access again—although this was usually couched in terms of women “worrying about their figures” [which repeated pregnancies weren’t going to help; just sayin’]. Samuel Richardson’s unnecessary sequel to Pamela deals with this situation with disturbing frankness, but of course that was the mid-18th century.)

Gervoise’s foster-brother, Humphrey Melwood, is positioned in the narrative as, effectively, Gervoise’s evil twin. He is passionately devoted to Gervoise, to the point of intuiting – and acting out – his darkest impulses, creating the disturbing scenario of the aristocratic Gervoise keeping his own hands technically clean while poacher-turned-gamekeeper Humphrey does his dirty work for him.

I argued during my review of The Trail Of The Serpent that Braddon may have been the first to write a real “detective story”, that is, to place a detective figure at the centre of her narrative and to make the successful unravelling of a mystery the backbone of her plot.

The second half of Lost And Found is effectively another such story, making the correct dating of it even more important. While it is perhaps not “pure” enough in its mystery aspects to qualify as a detective story proper, Lost And Found does give us a determined amateur detective following clues to discover the truth of certain dark events surrounding Gervoise’s marriage to Ethel Hurst—albeit that the detective is no hero, but someone determined to do as much harm as possible when he gets his hands on the proofs he seeks. Furthermore, the reader already knows the truth of the mystery being investigated—allowing us to argue, if we choose, that Braddon also invented the so-called “inverted detective story”, something usually attributed to R. Austin Freeman’s Dr John Thorndyke stories many years later.

    “You are Earl of Haughton! Last night you were walking about Avondale afraid to show yourself in your shabby clothes, wild and desperate, talking about ending your days in a river; to-night you are the master of Palgrave Chase. The poor countess is dying; the child died within an hour of its birth.”
    “Dead!”
    “Yes, Master Gervoise. Ah, my lord—I mustn’t call you Master Gervoise any longer—the days are gone forever when I might call you brother.”
    “No, no, Humphrey—no, no,” answered Gervoise. “If this is all true—if it is not some distempered dream, as it seems to me it must be—why then I will be more your brother than ever. Adversity is a hard master, Humphrey; and those who suffer are apt to think very little of the sufferings of others. But prosperity softens a man’s heart. I’ll be a true friend to you, Humphrey.”
    He held out his hand as he spoke, and grasped the horny fingers of the gamekeeper.
    “Bless you for those words, Master Gervoise! The world will be all at your feet now, and money’s very powerful; but for all it’s so powerful, there are some things it can’t do, and those are just the very things a faithful friend can do. You see this arm, Master Gervoise,” cried the gamekeeper, stretching out his muscular right arm and clenching his powerful fist; “there’s many about Avondale as could tell you that it isn’t a weak one. If there’s anyone that wronged you, I’d as lief strike him down with that arm as crush a worm that came in my pathway. It’s not many people I care for, Master Gervoise, but there’s something more than common in the love I bear you; I must have sucked it in with my mother’s milk, for it seems as if it was mixed with the blood that runs in my veins, and I think every drop of that blood would turn to liquid fire if I knew that anyone had injured you. Heaven help them that harmed you, that’s all! Heaven keep ’em safe out of my pathway!”

 

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Eveline’s Visitant is the death-knell of any suggestion of 1862: it first appeared in the Belgravia magazine in January of 1867. Belgravia was founded by John Maxwell late in 1866, and edited by Braddon from its establishment until 1876, becoming their most successful joint venture of this sort.

This is another of Braddon’s well-known and often-anthologised ghost stories. I find it interesting that, like The Cold Embrace, it is set outside of England, that supposed land of ghosts.

During a drunken fight over a worthless woman, Hector de Brissac, a young French soldier, strikes his aristocratic cousin across the face, cutting open his cheek. A duel is inevitable—and it is the aristocrat who falls. As he lies dying, Andre de Brissac whispers to his cousin that the affair between them is not yet over… Hector’s inheritance of his cousin’s estate initially brings him no happiness: he is looked askance at and shunned by his Andre’s friends and neighbours. Things change when Hector meets and marries the lovely and gentle Eveline Duchalet, who becomes the great joy of his life. Only a few months into the marriage, however, a shadow is thrown across it, when Eveline comes home one day to ask the name of the man who must, she concludes, be the owner of the neighbouring estate, who she has begun to see frequently while in the grounds? As Hector knows only too well, there is no such estate, nor any such man…

    “Have you seen this man often, Eveline?” I asked.
    She answered in a tone which had a touch of sadness, “I see him every day.”
    “Where, dearest?”
    “Sometimes in the park, sometimes in the wood. You know the little cascade, Hector, where there is some old neglected rock-work that forms a kind of cavern. I have taken a fancy to that spot, and have spent many mornings there reading. Of late I have seen the stranger there every morning.”
    “He has never dared to address you?”
    “Never. I have looked up from my book, and have seen him standing at a little distance, watching me silently. I have continued reading; and when I have raised my eyes again I have found him gone. He must approach and depart with a stealthy tread, for I never hear his footfall. Sometimes I have almost wished that he would speak to me. It is so terrible to see him standing silently there…”

 

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Found In The Muniment Chest was also published in Belgravia in 1867, in the December issue. It is a fairly straightforward romance, with its climax set during the Christmas season, and may have done duty for a more overt Christmas story.

A young lawyer falls in love with the daughter of a man who is not merely a bibliophile, but a “bibliomaniac”, having spent a literal fortune upon his collection of rare books and manuscripts. Knowing that he is in no position to aspire to the hand of an heiress, he buries his feelings, trying to content himself with the position of legal advisor and loyal friend. One night Barbara comes to him for advice on a matter that must change her life drastically and forever: she confides to him that she has found a will post-dating the one under which her father inherited his fortune…

    “…my first impulse was to come to you with this dreadful paper. And O, Mr Wilmot, does this will really mean anything, and will it reduce papa to poverty, for I fear he has squandered a great deal of money on his books, and has considerably impoverished the estate; and he will have to give all back, will he not, if that paper is binding?”
    How could I answer her when she looked at me with such a terror-stricken face, alarmed not for herself—I doubt if she was even conscious that her own interests were at stake—but for the father she loved so fondly!

 

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Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales concludes with a final comic story—although we may also choose to consider it an inverted ghost story, inasmuch as it is told from the point of view of the ghost. How I Heard My Own Will Read first appeared in Belgravia in February of 1867.

After an over-convivial evening following a stolen holiday at the St. Ledger, Augustus Pettifer is killed in a train wreck outside of a place called Slitherem-on-the-Dwingey; never mind that no such place exists, but was made up merely to excuse his absence from home. But this is only the first of many strange and mortifying events. For one thing, no-one seems to recognise him any more; not even his own widow, when he arrives home. Then there are the reactions of the beneficiaries to the last will and testament of Augustus Pettifer…

    Really, what with the parlour-maid’s asservations, Julia Maria’s mourning, and the graphic account of the accident in the newspaper, I was in a manner beginning to believe in Slitherem-on-the-Dwingey. Suppose I had been killed? Suppose I had been brought home on a shutter, and didn’t know it? There was an awful situation!
    I pinched myself; it was painful. There was a fire in the grate; I laid hold of the bars; that was painful, very, and I believe I swore; but O, it was such a comfort to feel that I was mortal, that I could have blessed anyone for treading upon my pet corn.
    It was a nice thing to be asked into my own dining-room to hear my own will read. There was Peck, in a suit of black, with ebony death’s-heads for studs,—he had always had a playful fancy,—sitting in one of my morocco chairs at the top of my patent telescopic dining-table. He seemed to have forgotten all about Doncaster. I tried to recall it to his recollection, but a temporary paralysis of the vocal organs prevented me…

 

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ETA:

Crap.

It occurred to me just too late that there are four stories here with an original publication date post-1862, and that I therefore accidentally read the first revised edition of 1867, referred to up above, to which more stories were added.

This in spite of the fact that my copy carried a “First published in 1862” rider. I guess I’m not the only one confused by all this.

Anyway…I’m not going to re-write anything. I’m just going to allow myself the comfort of not really having gotten things “out of order”…