Archive for ‘Early detective fiction’

02/05/2017

The father of crime

Frances Trollope’s Hargrave came to my attention when I was researching the roots of modern crime and detective fiction and, as it turned out, rightly so; but while that novel was singled out for its criminal content, there are further indications that several of Trollope’s novels contain crime subplots—and, perhaps more importantly in context of this historical study, that her novels were influential upon other writers who would play a part in the development of this branch of fiction. As the 19th century wore on, Trollope’s novels fell out of favour in England, where her Regency outspokenness offended Victorian sensibilities; but that they continued to be embraced in France is evident from the fact that when the next important work in the evolution of the detective story appeared, its author used the pseudonym Sir Françis Trolopp.

Paul Henri Corentin Féval (also known as Paul Féval père) is a pivotal figure in 19th century crime writing: literally pivotal, as he was the first to seize upon and expand the format initiated by Eugène Sue in his Les Mystères de Paris, and also – or so says the dogma; we shall investigate presently – the first to introduce into his sprawling crime stories the figure of the professional detective. Furthermore, some years later, after founding a magazine devoted to crime stories, Féval employed and collaborated with Émile Gaboriau, who later wrote what is arguably the first modern detective series, with his stories featuring police detective Monsieur Lecoq.

Paul Féval was trained as a lawyer, but he soon gave up his legal career to become a writer; quickly gaining a reputation as the author of entertaining historical swashbucklers. In terms of his later career, his most important early work was Le Loup Blanc, published in 1843, the hero of which is a Zorro-esque figure who fights against injustice—and may be the earliest example of the crime-fighter with a double life and a secret identity. (He’s also an albino, because if there’s one thing Paul Féval believed in, it was piling it on.)

Féval’s breakthrough work, however, was 1844’s Les Mystères de Londres which, although a clear imitation of Eugène Sue’s crime drama, dropped the social criticism which was a major aspect of Sue’s work while adding several components to the mixture that would dictate the immediate future of crime writing, particularly in France. In this respect, Féval’s most important decision was to make his hero an anti-hero, the secret head of a criminal gang who is also a political plotter masterminding a scheme to bring about an English Revolution. Féval’s revenge-focused central character is recognised as an influence upon Alexandre Dumas père, whose The Count Of Monte Cristo appeared the following year. Subsequently, French crime writing would come to be dominated by narratives of criminal life, and stories of criminals evading the law, in a manner which clearly invited the reader to side with “the bad guys”. This form of writing climaxed with the creation by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre of the seminal figure of Fantômas.

Unfortunately, however, for those of us interested in the history of crime fiction but who don’t have French as a second language, Paul Féval was not the only writer for whom Eugène Sue’s complex crime drama became a model. In fact, over the next decade magazines and newspapers worldwide would almost drown in serial stories promising to reveal “The Mysteries Of— “…and a poor city you were if somebody didn’t want to unravel your mysteries.

In England, the person to make this form of writing his own was George William Macarthur Reynolds, a critical figure in the development of both crime fiction and horror fiction in England (about whom, we shall be hearing a great deal more in the future). In August 1844, just as Féval’s Les Mystères de Londres was coming to its conclusion in Le Courrier Français, a new weekly eight-page serial (a form of publication which Reynolds dominated, as we shall later see) appeared in England, bearing the title, The Mysteries Of London.

Féval was furious, rightly anticipating that this home-grown serial would supersede his own work. Content with their own story, English readers showed no interest in a foreign version of the same, with the result that, unlike Les Mystères de Paris, Les Mystères de Londres was not translated into English. Three years later, a translation of sorts did appear; and a year after that, another was published in America. The former is a significant abridgement; the latter seems to have been released in loose-leaf, paper-serial form only, never in book form, and no copies are available.

Thus, though Féval’s work has been regularly reissued in France, including as recently as 2015, there is currently no such thing as a full-length, English-language edition of Les Mystères de Londres. Therefore, all we can do is take a look at the 1847 translation by one “R. Stephenson”: a wholly inadequate version of the original, but the best available.

 
 

01/11/2016

Hargrave; or, The Adventures Of A Man Of Fashion (Part 3)

hargrave3b    The idea of obtaining a newspaper had often occurred to Adèle, as a means of looking back upon the world they had left, which she longed for, yet dared not venture to seek; but now, as they lay before her in tempting abundance and sufficient confusion, her quick eye caught sight of ‘Galignani’s Messenger’, and, well knowing the satisfactory universality of its multum in parvo columns, she eagerly stretched out her hand and seized it. The leading article, the party-coloured extracts from the English papers, the well-digested mass of all the news of Europe, was all passed by with more than indifference—with an impatience that, still and silent as she was, seemed to stop her breath as she turned to the paragraphs headed ‘PARIS’.
    Poor Adèle! what did she hope to see there? The name of Coventry? It was not likely. The history of her step-father’s acts, and her own and Sabina’s departure in his company? She felt, as this last thought suggested itself, that she doubted if she could see it, and not betray her agony to all who looked on her. Yet still she read on, of this, and of that, and Heaven knows what, with such eagerness of attention, that it may be doubted if a cannon let off beside her could have disturbed it.
    At length she came to the following paragraph:
    “The interest excited by the approaching trial of the old Englishman, Roger Humphries, is greater than any merely private trial has produced for years. It is now generally known, beyond any possibility of doubt, that this desperate ruffian, who still preserves the same obstinate silence, was not only the robber, and, as many thought, the assassin of Madame Bertrand, but also the perpetrator of the daring and atrocious robbery committed some weeks ago on a gentleman returning to his lodgings from the salons of Riccardo. No proof has yet appeared against him respecting the two former attacks of the same nature made against persons leaving the same establishment, an accurate account of which appeared in this paper; but it is very strongly suspected that the three robberies, so similar in object, time, and place, must have been planned and executed by the same bold hand. But whether these former crimes be brought home to the prisoner or not, the sentence expected to be passed upon him is condemnation to hard labour in the galleys for life.”

In Part 1 of this examination of Hargrave, I expressed surprise at Frances Trollope choosing a French heroine for her novel, but here, I think, we have the explanation.

For many people, “19th century literature” and “Victorian literature” are interchangeable terms, but it is important to remember that there was a good half-century of publishing in existence before Victorianism really kicked in, and that the novels of the Regency and post-Regency periods were often daringly different from what came later—particularly those written by women. We’ve seen clear evidence of this already, in the novels of Catharine Crowe—Susan Hopley, with its servant-heroine, and Men And Women, with its detective-story plot; both of them steeped in crime—and here we find Frances Trollope doing much the same thing. Both authors were extremely popular with the reading public.

However, Victorianism did finally take over—and a great many earlier female writers were, in effect, expunged from the record, partly by not having their books reprinted, partly by a refusal on the part of the all-powerful circulating libraries to stock existing copies. Trollope, for one, was increasingly condemned as “coarse” and “vulgar” for her forthright style.

(It has always completely infuriated me that Tobias Smollett, whose books are full of sex, violence and scatological humour, continued to be reissued throughout the Victorian era, while his contemporary, Charlotte Smith, was buried on account of her feminist-radical themes.)

But while Frances Trollope dealt frankly with subject matter considered unfit of Victorian readers, there was a line she wouldn’t cross, and with the crisis-point in Hargrave, we’ve found it. As she strives to save her step-father, in order to protect her most beloved sister, Adèle de Cordillac—this beautiful young woman—this lady of breeding, modest and well-conducted–this Protestant—reveals herself as a first-class liar and plotter. It is necessary for the novel that she be so; but we can understand why Trollope held back from having an English girl (or even a half-English girl) behave like this.

Crushed by his confrontation with his step-daughter, Hargrave is only too willing to follow her orders, and leave his fate in her hands: capable of carrying on a masquerade while unsuspected, he wilts before the contemptuous condemnation that he sees in Adèle’s face, and meekly acquiesces in her developing scheme to save him.

Considering their situation,  Adèle realises that she must think of something that will provide both a reasonable explanation for their flight, and an effective smokescreen of the truth—a truth she must keep from Sabina, even while convincing her that their escape is necessary. She finds an excuse in the ongoing tumult of the French government, casting Hargrave in the role of a conspirator whose actions against the incumbent rulers have been discovered.

Dismissing the servants, Adèle breaks the news to Sabina and Madame de Hautrivage, simultaneously coaching Hargrave in the attitude he is to assume. As she anticipates, Sabina’s only thought is for her father’s safety; she declares herself capable of anything, even playing a part in public, if it is necessary. Adèle reveals that they will leave that very night for Calais, and take passage to England, where they will stay until, hopefully, the present crisis passes and Hargrave may safely return to France. She then presses upon Madame de Hautrivage the need for absolute secrecy about their movements—which she does knowing full well that Madame cannot keep a secret.

Not until she is alone with her step-father and sister does Adèle explain her real plan. Hargrave and Sabina must attend the Ambassador’s party with Madame as planned, and behave as if nothing was wrong; from there they will make their escape, via arrangements made by Adèle during the evening. However, they must not forget that they have a spy in their midst in the person of Louis Querin, their footman (as Adèle knows from her observation of the police), and fooling him is the first necessity: already he has inquired about their intended movements that evening, as she is aware thanks to some innocent remarks from her maid, Susanne. Hargrave will order his servants to have their carriage ready to take the party home at four o’clock, but he and Sabina will exit two hours earlier. If Querin is not watching, they must slip out to a hired vehicle that Adèle will have waiting; if he is, Hargrave must get rid of him first by telling him that Sabina has been taken ill and ordering him to run to summon their carriage. If all goes well, before anyone realises the deception they will be gone from Paris—and definitely not by the Calais road.

The one point over which Adèle hesitates is the necessary abandonment of Roger Humphries, of whose whereabouts she is still unaware—Hargrave having kept that to himself. Yet she knows they cannot lose time in searching or waiting for him…

Adèle stays home that evening under a pretense of illness, to carry out her own part in the plan. Having made up a bundle of her own and Sabina’s jewellery and money, and various necessary items, she begs the assistance of Susanne, telling her maid that she has agreed to assist a friend to escape a forced marriage: a story that wins Susanne’s interest and cooperation. The girl happily agrees to provide two complete outfits from her own wardrobe; it is also she who guides the disguised Adèle out of the house via the servants’ passageways and exit, and leads her to a coach-stand. The two travel only a short distance before, to her distress, Susanne learns that she is to take no further part in Adèle’s adventure. Adèle lets her out and sends her home, with Susanne promising absolute silence, before slipping away into the night.

(It is amusing to note how much more faith in her maid’s fidelity Adèle has than in her aunt’s…)

Adèle then travels on in the hired coach to the agreed rendezvous-point near the Ambassador’s residence, where she has an agonising wait ahead of her. To expedite matters (and give herself something to do), in addition to dangling from the window the white handkerchief that is the agreed signal, Adèle decides to get the door of the carriage opened, so there will be no delay when Hargrave and Sabina reach the spot:

    …she let down the glass behind the sleeping coachman, and tugged at the cape of his ragged coat till he was sufficiently roused to understand that he was to get down and open the carriage-door for her.
    Just as he had done this, and while Adèle was leaning forward from the carriage to make him comprehend that she wished it to remain open, with the steps down, two gentlemen, gaily laughing, lounged, arm in arm, out of the coffee-house, and stopping within the light of the lamp, to examine his watch, one of them exclaimed, – “Trop tard? Mais non! – pas du tout.” And so saying, he drew his friend away in the direction of the Ambassador’s hotel. It was Count Romanhoff who had thus spoke. Adèle knew his voice in an instant, and drew back, with a sudden movement, into the corner of the carriage. But it was too late, the Count had already caught sight of her face, and stood like one transfixed. But before Adèle could be conscious of this, he moved on, feeling that, as a gentleman, he was bound not to interfere with the incognito of a young lady…

Not long after this unnerving encounter, Hargrave and Sabina appear. As soon as they are seated, Adèle orders the coachman—who cannot decide exactly what sort of enterprise he is involved in; he’s just sure that he will be well-paid for his discretion—to carry them to a hotel near to the departure-point for public conveyances leaving Paris.

On the way, she learns from the others that everything went according to plan:

Hargrave and Sabina had walked through the crowd of servants assembled in the hall exactly as Adèle had directed, and had seen nothing of Louis Querin on their way. That clever personage was, indeed, at that very moment particularly engaged in receiving orders from M. Collet, as to the manner in which he was to dispose of Mr Hargrave and the ladies upon their leaving the ball, it being decided that that the suspected delinquent should be taken into custody before he re-entered his own house…

The fugitives find their discreet hotel, and there plan their next step. It is Sabina who suggests the mysterious castle outside Baden-Baden as their refuge, repeating what the young man told her about it: that it has been long-abandoned by its owners in favour of more conveniently situated family holdings; that for much of the time, it cannot be seen from the road; and that it has a reputation for being haunted, which makes the local people avoid it. Also, it’s a castle: Hargrave will like that.

By this time Adèle is so physically and emotionally exhausted that she is unable to come up with any firm idea of a destination, and she lets Sabina have her way; thinking that at least they will be out of France, and in an unexpected direction. The next morning, the girls disguised in Susanne’s clothes, the three board the common stage, and set out for Germany. Their first proper resting-place is a small inn near Gernsbach, some distance – although still walking-distance – from the castle. Somewhat to her surprise, Adèle finds Sabina’s scheme feasible: portions of the castle are in good condition, and there is plenty of furniture in reasonable condition. At the inn, the landlady’s daughter becomes attached to them; she and her soon-to-be husband accept an offer of employment, one of their main tasks to be the frequent required trips to the nearby town to buy food and other necessities, which will allow the fugitives to stay hidden.

At this point the narrative of Hargrave divides, spending much time back in Paris where we see unfoldin events largely from the perspective of Count Romanhoff. Although he succeeded in hurrying Alfred Coventry out of Paris on the previous night, Romanhoff also put his energies into dissuading his friend from his wild plans for endless and aimless travel, in favour of simply going home to England. This is a country that he, Romanhoff, has never visited, and he assures Coventry that he would be delighted to accompany him there, once he has tied up a few personal loose ends.

One of these is attendance at the Ambassador’s party. Romanhoff arrives there full of scorn for Adèle—

well contented to believe, that the fair coquette, who had given so severe a heartache to his admired friend, was engaged in some abominable imprudence (probably an elopement)—

—but the talk he hears there of Hargrave, following his mysterious departure, and about whom rumours of political intrigue have already begun to circulate, gives him pause. Then, to cap matters off, the Count overhears some very different talk when passing by a group of servants in the vestibule:

…his ear caught a gibing phrase about the cunning trick of “les grands messieurs“, in pretending to believe that the vaurien, who had so cleverly slipped through the hands of justice, had only been plotting a little against King Philippe; when the fact was, that he had been discovered to be the greatest thief in Paris, and, as some said, a cruel murderer into the bargain.

Romanhoff is understandably startled; but, although he does not believe this story about Hargrave, neither is he satisfied with the story of him fleeing the consequences of his political plotting—because in that case, why would it be necessary for the girls to leave Paris with him, and under conditions of such secrecy? Romanhoff says nothing to anyone, but goes in search of more information; and knows where to get it:

    Nothing could better prove the sagacity of Mademoiselle de Cordillac than the use made by her aunt of the communication she had deemed it prudent to make to her respecting the departure of Mr Hargrave.
    As long as that gentleman and his daughter remained in the salons of the embassy, the good lady held her peace, though beyond all question it was pain and grief to her; but no sooner had she watched him lead his daughter off, and received from Sabina a soft parting glance, which the gentle-hearted girl could not withhold from her mother’s sister, than she began – as she sorted the hand of cards just dealt to her – to sigh very pathetically, and to murmur odds and ends of the secret of which she believed herself to be the repository…

Naturally, Hargrave’s “secret” is soon all over Paris, and the delighted Madame is besieged by curious visitors who long to hear whatever she has to tell. When Romanhoff calls the next day, he can’t get near her; but it hardly matters: there is only one topic of conversation, and Madame insists upon England via Calais so definitely, and so serenely, that it occurs to no-one that she doesn’t know what she is talking about.

Romanhoff is departing when he is accosted by another visitor who has listened intently without approaching Madame. With a feeling of shock, the Count recognises the man that he and Adèle saw Hargrave talking to in the private passageway at the fête, who when pressed introduces himself as Julio Ruperto. To Romanhoff’s eyes the man is a self-evident villain; yet so eager is he for information, he swallows his feelings of distaste  and invites Ruperto into his carriage.

Their brief conversation confirms Romanhoff in his judgement of the man, but he bites his tongue and allows his voluble companion to say what he will. Ruperto presents himself, in effect, as a professional “doer of favours”; a man who will go to any lengths to help a friend, as long as he is convinced that he has been treated in an honourable manner (and as long as he is well-paid, Romanhoff concludes cynically). Alas, he must admit that his friend of long-standing, Mr Hargrave, for whom he has done many favours over the years, seems now to have treated him in a distinctly dishonourable manner…

Though every word he speaks makes Romanhoff despise him more, the Count is startled and relieved when Ruperto asserts, of his own knowledge, that Mme Bertrand is alive. According to him – and explaining the words overhead by the Count and Adèle – Hargrave engaged his services to help him carry the lady off: an enterprise which he admitted had not the lady’s consent, but which he did not imagine would make her particularly angry. Ruperto had lent his assistance in the securing of Mme Bertrand, when Hargrave led her out into the garden in search of a brief of air after all their dancing. After that—a carriage was waiting, and lodgings. But he was not concerned with that part of the enterprise: his job was to enter the house and listen to the talk, and to give evidence as to having seen the lady present after that time, should any inquiry arise. For these services, he was supposed to receive payment; instead, he found no money and his employer evidently fled. This being the case, he became one of many to call upon Madame de Hautrivage in search of information. And pressing his card upon Romanhoff, with an offer of services should he need anything done, Ruperto takes himself off.

At this time Romanhoff is very dissatisfied with himself. He has listened to gossip, called upon a woman he despises in search of more, and allowed himself to be talked to and toad-eaten by a scoundrel. (He also has an uncomfortable suspicion that he may have done Adèle an injustice, although he’s not prepared to back down on that point just yet.) Moreover, Ruperto has gone so far towards convincing him that of all the stories circulating, his own involving Mme Bertrand is most likely the truth; and that Hargrave’s “disappearance” may be explained simply by his slipping away to join the object of his desire; perhaps telling Madame a story to cover up his disreputable doings. But then, where are the girls?

All this ends in Romanhoff not only staying in Paris himself, to try and get to the bottom of the mystery, but writing to Alfred Coventry to postpone his journey and return too.

Meanwhile, as in polite society the political story gains ever-greater credence, the police are tearing their hair out over the escape of their prime suspect in what they still believe to be the murder of Mme Bertrand. Moreover, M. Collet is now convinced that Hargrave was responsible for the robberies outside Riccardo’s—with the help of Roger Humphries, of course. The Englishman who lost his sovereigns to M. Roland had marked them for his own purposes, thus proving that the coins in Roger’s possession indeed originated with him.

Eager to make up for having allowed Hargrave to slip by him, Louis Querin has stationed himself in the vestibule of the house, hoping to overhear something from on of Madame’s callers that will put him back on the scent. There he makes contact with Julio Ruperto (before Ruperto attaches himself to Romanhoff), and determines to cultivate him; learning enough to carry his findings to M. Collet, who has Ruperto brought in for questioning.

But Ruperto’s evidence, while exonerating Hargrave with respect to the murder of Mme Bertrand, only confuses matters more with respect to her jewellery: why the need for the removal and extraction of her diamonds? But perhaps there is some other explanation. As M. Collet’s suspicions of Hargrave recede, those held against Roger recur with extra force, particularly since he remains so doggedly silent when questioned about his movements. To the elderly man’s anger and mortification, the police send Louis Querin to bring them his locked-box; and a final misunderstanding seals Roger’s fate. Not realising that Roger means that the large bag of money within—in which more of the marked sovereigns are found—represents his life-savings, after some forty years in the service of Hargrave and his father, Collet see only the obvious lie that he “received it from his master”:

    Many other circumstances, also, seemed to suggest arguments in favour of Mr Hargrave’s innocence. His immense wealth, believed, or, as enough people were ready to swear, known, by all the world; his character as a man of gallantry and pleasure; his intimate connexion with all the most distinguished personages in Paris; all this, in M. Collet’s estimation, rendered his having anything to do with either crime as improbable, as the facts connected with his servant made the old man’s participation if not sole commission of them, the reverse.
    When the mind of a judicial inquirer is fully made up on any subject, it is not easy to shake it: so it was with M. Collet. It would have required much clearer evidence than he was at all likely to get, to have convinced him that Mr Hargrave was a rogue, and Roger Humphries an honest man.

But despite his increasing tunnel-vision about the gambling-house robberies, M. Collet is scrupulous about following up Ruperto’s evidence concerning the disappearance of Mme Bertrand, sending his men out to track down the postillions of the carriage supposedly hired by Hargrave, and the lodgings to which Mme Bertrand was removed. They succeed, in time, and the nature of the “lodging-house” gives M. Collet a very different idea of how events played out:

In fact, he perceived at once by an official glance of his experienced eye, that though the mansion (at the distance of about half a league from Paris) was exceedingly well montée, handsome, and even elegant in its furniture and fitting up, and having about it (almost) every appearance of being the dwelling de gens comme il faut,—the inmates were very unmistakably infamous…

(It’s touches like that which made Trollope increasingly persona non grata as the 19th century rolled on…)

M. Collet doesn’t particularly believe the assertion that the, ahem, owner-operators of the house were told that the young lady in their custody was placed there by her parents to prevent her eloping, but at this point he is less interested in that than in confirming the identity of their inmate, and hearing her story. A miserable and frightened Mme Bertrand it is, though she has not been mistreated beyond her confinement; and she denies that Hargrave had anything to do with her abduction. He did, indeed, lead her through the opening in the garden room so they might get a little air, but at the last moment he let go her hand and stepped back inside; though she heard no-one speak, it seemed that Hargrave was responding to someone calling him, from his manner she thought Prince Frederic. It was after she was left alone that her ordeal began—seized, her cries smothered in a cloak, and held in this manner for some time, before being dragged away. Then her own cloak was pulled open and her diamonds wrenched off her, before she was carried to a carriage and driven away… Only one glimpse of her abductors was she given, enough to see they were masked.

Mme Bertrand is then reunited with her rapturously happy husband, while her story pushes to one one side speculation about the flight of Mr Hargrave. Moreover, her testimony is taken as exonerating Hargrave, while the disappearance of Julio Ruperto (who, whatever he did know at the time, now knows he was an accessory to robbery and abduction) throws significant doubt on his assertion that Hargrave was the individual who arranged for Mme Bertrand to be carried away. All this brings Roger back into the spotlight. Mme Bertrand declares that he is the same height and build as one of her abductors, and the hammer found at the scene was his; while a variety of other suspicious details (some of them invented by Louis Querin) leads to his committal for trial…

Meanwhile, near Baden-Baden, things are going…oddly.

Hargrave, it must be said, is a novel with a divided tone. While its supporting characters are, for the most part, treated seriously, whenever Hargrave himself becomes its focus, a faint but unmistakable note of burlesque enters the narrative. This is evident even at his first introduction, with Trollope waxing philosophical about vanity and its consequences; and subsequently, she handles the split vision which necessarily attends Hargrave’s hypocrisy and role-playing with irony: never mocking those deceived by him, a list which extends all the way from Roger Humphries, who has known Hargrave all his life, up to Prince Frederic, who sternly rejects the idea that Hargrave could have been involved in a crime, but finding wry humour in the ever-increasing gulf between Hargrave’s public persona and his private activities.

By now we know that Hargrave wasn’t guilty of murder, at least, and that the blood found at the scene was his own, from a cut sustained while separating Mme Bertrand’s diamonds from their settings (which is more than poor Adèle knows, as she fights to save him). Nevertheless, he is guilty of some serious crimes; and I suspect the fact that Trollope never seems to take his activities as seriously as she might have done has a lot to do with this novel falling out of favour. That the law never catches up with him isn’t a problem—it was well into the 20th century before characters in novels, at least, stop being treated as justified for covering up a crime to avoid scandal—but it is difficult to know what to make of the peculiar manner in which Trollope finally disposes of her anti-hero; not to mention that she finally grants him his heart’s desire, albeit too late to benefit him personally.

However, the situation of Adèle de Cordillac is treated with all the gravity it demands. There is also considerable psychological acuteness in the way that Trollope depicts the way in which her relationship with Hargrave deteriorates after she has rescued him from the consequences of his actions. In fact, the more Adèle does for him—the more she sacrifices herself for him—the more Hargrave resents her. Furthermore, having internalised the fact that nothing he can do will provoke her into hurting Sabina by revealing the truth, Hargrave feels free not only to voice his dissatisfaction with their withdrawal from “society”, but to make himself even more of a hero in Sabina’s eyes by hinting at his own courage and daring in involving himself in a dangerous political plot. As for Sabina herself—who reacts with dismay even when Adèle once unthinkingly calls Hargrave “Your father” instead of “Our father”—she knows only that something has created a barrier between herself and her sister:

Adèle wondered that a man so loaded with disgrace and sin could wear such an air of peace, and apparently self-satisfied composure; while Sabina marvelled that the gay, light, social spirit of her beloved father could endure with such admirable serenity a change so very violent and so very sad. To her eyes his character rose into something little short of sublime as she contemplated this admirable resignation; but to the unhappy Adèle the effect of it was most painfully the reverse. Had she wanted any additional argument to strengthen her in her new faith, she would have found it in contemplating the ease with which her Roman Catholic step-father seemed to shield himself from every feeling of remorse by drawing closer and closer the intercourse between himself and his confessor.

One hero-worshipping daughter and another who knows the entire truth about him don’t make a satisfactory audience for Hargrave, who instead latches onto the local Catholic priest—not actually to confess anything, of course, but to make him the recipient of an increasingly elaborate fantasy wherein his political plotting was at the instigation of those highest in the Catholic church, including one particular person situated in the Vatican.

Frances Trollope had by this time written an outright anti-Catholic novel, The Abbess (balancing it with an anti-evangelical novel, The Vicar Of Wrexhill), but in Hargrave she treats Catholicism more pityingly than angrily; with a shake of the head rather than a slap. At the most basic level, she contends that Catholicism demands unthinking submission from its adherents (along with making the usual English Protestant assertion that it appeals to the emotions rather than the mind), and she illustrates her point via the long-suffering Father Mark, who undergoes a terrifying crisis when he one day begins to ponder the workings of the Catholic church and almost loses his faith—but regains it by sternly resolving never to do any of that dangerous thinking again.

Father Mark is still feeling penitent when Hargrave adopts him as his confessor—and, recognising in the naive, well-meaning, gentle-spirited priest the very audience he has been craving, begins to perform for him, first with tantalising allusions, later by frankly presenting himself as the Pope’s man in France. The priest is at first awed by this, but the longer it goes on, the more of his time that Hargrave takes up, the more intense and frequent the demands made upon him for interest and sympathy, the more Father Mark can’t help wondering if God has sent Hargrave to punish him for his near-dereliction…

    “Do not leave me! I have displayed the whole map of my once worldly soul before you, and hang upon every breath uttered by one anointed and received by the blessed Church as her priest and servant, in the humble hope of becoming myself one day like unto him, and set apart sacred and sworn to her service.”
    This of course could not be spoken without a good deal of crossing, in which the weary but observant priest thought himself obliged to join… Father Mark had still to disengage himself from his fervent penitent, and that too without giving his priest-ridden conscience any cause to reproach him with indifference to the interests of the Church; and this was no easy task for him, poor man! Not only had Mr Hargrave given him to understand, as hinted above, that his purpose was to dedicate himself to the service of the Church, and to offer that service at Rome, but had informed him also that, notwithstanding the enormous sacrifices he had made of his hereditary wealth to the cause of the pious monarch whose interest he espoused, he still possessed, in diamonds and other precious stones, a sufficient treasure to make him feel that, by dedicating it and himself to the one and only Church, he might make an acceptable offering.
    To the mimosa-like sensitiveness of Father Mark’s feelings on all subjects connected with the authority under which he had determined to live, this was enough to make Mr Hargrave an object of great and conscientious importance, though (for some reason or other, which the good father sought not to inquire into) he could not manage to make him one of respect.

While Hargrave is amusing himself with his new game, the two girls, with increasing security in their retreat, begin to wander further afield. Finally, desperate for something new to read, they venture all the way into Baden-Baden, although not without the precaution of first donning Susanne’s clothes. It is while they are in a book-shop that Adèle’s hungry eyes fall upon a newspaper—and she learns that Roger Humphries has been in custody since the night of the fête, and is due to stand trial for the crimes committed by her step-father. The same article makes it clear that Roger’s refusal to explain his absence from the Hargrave mansion is the main basis of the suspicion against him.

Not for a moment does Adèle contemplate leaving the faithful old man to his fate. She hopes that she can still keep Hargrave’s secret, but at all cost Roger must be saved. She makes up her mind to leave for Paris at once, and requests a private interview with her step-father. Hargrave has avoided being alone with her since their arrival at the castle, and he tries to avoid it now, but without success. He doesn’t like it, though—and he likes it even less once Adèle starts to explain her intentions. On her part, the quick flash of glee in Hargrave’s eyes when he hears of Roger’s situation is enough to steel her against both his pleading and his anger; although even now she is not prepared for his monstrous selfishness:

“If you present yourself before a court of justice for the purpose of proving Roger Humphries innocent, my doom is sealed! I am lost, destroyed for ever, and Sabina with me; and when you have seen your sister perish at your feet, then turn to old Roger Humphries for consolation. But do the thing thoroughly, Mademoiselle de Cordillac. Say at once that it is your step-father—the husband of your mother, who has committed this deed…”

To support her assertion than she can give Roger an alibi, and free him without placing Hargrave in danger, Adèle is finally driven to confess about her note to Alfred Coventry—not without extreme mortification. Hargrave sees this and immediately goes to work:

    “Do I hear rightly? he said. “Do I hear Adèle de Cordillac, the descendant of so long a line of noble ancestors, calmly declare that it is her intention to proclaim in Paris, before a public tribunal, that in the dead of night she bribed one of her step-father’s serving-men to carry love-notes to a young Englishman at his hotel? This is madness,—absolute madness! And it becomes my bounden duty to prevent it.” Then, rushing to the door, he turned with violence the clumsy key that for years had remained stationary in the lock, and put it in his pocket.
    “You stir not from this room, young lady, till I have your solemn promise upon oath, not to quit this dwelling without my permission, and not to hold any communication, direct or indirect, with any persons out of it, without my concurrence and consent. As the husband of your high-born mother, Mademoiselle, and the representative of your equally noble father, it is my duty to prevent this disgraceful degradation. And I will do it!”
    Whatever composure of manner Adèle had lost in naming Mr Coventry, she more than recovered now… “You must permit me to think, Mr Hargrave, that the honour of my ancestors is as safe in my keeping as it is in yours.”

Hargrave’s threat is absurd, of course, and Adèle gets her way, stopping only to explain her intentions to Sabina, who is dismayed both at the thought of her journey to Paris and her appearance at the tribunal, but at one with her about the painful necessity of the task before her. Donning her usual disguise, Adèle walks to Baden-Baden alone, and takes the stage back to Paris. There she finds refuge with her aunt—dodging her embarrassing questions about life in England—and acquires the assistance of M. de Servac, a very old friend of the family, and a skilled advocat. To him she confides her own part in Roger’s predicament, insisting in the face of the lawyer’s doubts that is only to protect her that the old man has remained silent. M. de Servac accepts this, but suggests that supporting witnesses in the form of whatever servants were present at the hotel when Roger made his inquiries might be advisable. His investigations locate a man called Orliff, who did indeed see Roger at the hotel—just after assisting the hurried departure of his master, Count Romanhoff, with his friend, Alfred Coventry; both of whom are currently in Paris…

M. de Servac gets permission to visit Roger, and without influencing his answers by explaining to him how their meeting might affect his fate, manages to give him a few minutes alone with Coventry, who Roger has never actually seen before (although not for want of trying):

    “Is it true, Roger Humphries,—is it true that Mademoiselle de Cordillac intrusted you with a letter for me on the night of Mr Hargrave’s ball, between the 23rd and 24th of April?” said Coventry, seizing on the old man’s hand, and grasping it strongly.
    “Is it true, sir, that you are Mr Alfred Coventry?” returned Roger, answering one very cogent question by another.
    Coventry thrust his hands into his pockets, and pulled forth two or three letters bearing his address. “Will not these satisfy you?” said he.
    “These and your looks together, sir, do satisfy me,” replied the old man; “and come what will, I humbly thank God for granting me an opportunity of doing my errand before I die.”
    Then carefully untying his neck-cloth, he laid it across his knees, and deliberately untwisted fold after fold till he arrived at the little letter of poor Adèle…

After that, it doesn’t take much to reconcile the estranged lovers (although not before Count Romanhoff has eaten substantial humble pie); and only the humiliation awaiting Adèle in court clouds their happiness. But Alfred thinks he has a way around that, via the calling of a certain witness for the defence, who can prove Roger’s whereabouts at a time that Mme Bertrand was still in the ballroom:

“And then, Adèle, I, the gentleman thus alluded to, would come forward and testify on oath…that Roger Humphries was despatched at that hour by MY WIFE…”

Meanwhile— In spite of everything, Hargrave is increasingly unable to believe that Adèle will be able—or have the inclination—to save Roger without giving him away, and he comes up with a plan by which he may save his own skin. That it involves abandoning Sabina is a minor point. So distressed is she by his imminent departure—which he accounts for by a summons from Rome—her loving father refrains from telling her that he won’t be coming back, instead writing a letter to Madame de Hautrivage to let her know Sabina’s whereabouts and the glorious future in store for himself…

Fortunately, before Sabina has time to become aware of her new situation, her own future is unexpectedly settled. Without either her father or her sister for company, the lonely girl begins to takes long walks on her own. One day, she makes her way to the rock platform overhanging the lake, from where she first glimpsed the vanishing castle, and where she saw the handsome young peasant. It is a beautiful afternoon, and the view as spectacular as ever. As she contemplates the scene before her, Sabina feels comforted and serene—but not for long:

…she saw standing before her the identical hunter youth whom she had seen nearly a year before on exactly the same spot. His dress was the same, his stature was the same; the same bright curls which had attracted Sabina’s notice waved over his forehead. Yes, it was the same, and yet how different! The laughing light of the bright blue eyes …had given way to an anxious, agitated expression, that shewed his very soul was moved by the thoughts with which he was occupied. Sabina looked at him long and earnestly… At length the words burst from her, “Are you Prince Frederic?”

Meeting again in Paris the beautiful, romantic young girl he encountered so memorably while enjoying an incognito holiday (about which, the the way, he fibbed when Sabina asked him if he’d ever been to Baden-Baden; not only had he been there, of course, it’s his family’s castle she’s been living in!), Prince Frederic was immediately aware of his own danger, albeit determined to do his family duty—and believing, with more optimism than clear-sightedness, that the simple knowledge of Sabina’s inelibility would be enough to guard him. Total separation from Sabina was enough to cure him of that misapprehension; learning from Madame de Hautrivage that she was at Gernsbach, the final straw… It is true enough that Prince Frederic will have some explaining to do when he gets home—but right now he doesn’t really care. All he does care about is that Sabina knows a priest…

And with both sisters so happily married and secure, what of Hargrave himself?

When he fled the castle, Hagrave had a definite purpose in mind. He might be cut off forever from the glories of Paris, but there is, surely, another realm where a man of his particular talents might shine just as bright?

    Feeling pretty tolerably well convinced that the world commonly so called, was no longer a theatre upon which he could advantageously display himself, this same vital warmth gave him energy to turn his thoughts towards another, and the cloister, the consistory, the conclave of pope and cardinals,—nay, the very papal throne itself, all pressed forward upon his imagination as the scenery and decorations of a new one.
    And very splendid decorations, and a very brilliant scene, they afforded. The long and graceful vestments, the scarlet, the violet, and the ermine – even the white satin slipper, attracting eyes to the Apollo-like foot – were all remembered; and Mr Hargrave was quite aware that Apollo himself, had fifty mortal winters passed over him, could hardly assume a more graceful costume than that worn by the dignitaries of the Church of Rome. And then Mr Hargrave had read the enchanting papal biography of Roscoe, and really thought – a little induced thereto, perhaps, by his actual position – that after the first flush of youthful comeliness was past, it was hardly possible for a man to display himself to greater advantage than in the magnificent arena offered by the Church of Rome, or to settle down upon a cushion more delightfully soft than those prepared for her favourites.
    There were moments when the fumes of Mr Hargrave’s new and strongly fermenting piety so intoxicated his brain, that he was tempted to believe a ray of direct inspiration had fallen upon Mademoiselle de Cordillac when she suggested a plot for the restoration of Charles X as the cause of his running away from the police…

Frances Trollope might have had a poor opinion of the Catholic church, but it wasn’t so poor that she could imagine Charles Hargrave and his egotistical daydreams finding within it fulfillment rather than sackcloth and ashes. As a setting for punishment, on the other hand:

    The morality of poetical justice was not infringed in the destiny of Mr Hargrave. At any rate he thought himself considerably more than punished for all his sins, by learning the news of his daughter’s marriage immediately after he had put it out of his power to profit by it; for, getting alarmed by a paragraph in the Paris papers about the renewed search by the ‘unrivalled police’ for the perpetrator of the Bertrand robbery, he gave a considerable portion of the jewels which remained from it for permission to dispense with the ceremony of novitiate and to take the vows as a brother of one of the strictest religious societies in Spain; in which country he thought he should be less likely to be traced than at Rome…
    The whole thing, however, turned out to be more disagreeable and vexatious than he had the power to bear; for, instead of keeping his promise to Madame de Hautrivage and getting himself canonised, he was more than once threatened with the censures of the Church for various breaches of monastic discipline, so abominably ill-managed that they became subjects of scandal, which was of course more than his superior could overlook, especially after the last diamond had been lodged in his reverend hands as the price of absolution. So Mr Hargrave fell ill and died; a circumstance made known to the Princess Frederic with much ceremony, and over which she shed more tears than the object of them deserved…

29/10/2016

Hargrave; or, The Adventures Of A Man Of Fashion (Part 2)

hargrave2b    She knelt upon the ground, and used the instrument she had found to remove the soil. There was no difficulty in the task; it lay, lighter than the moist leaves which had concealed it, over a rudely-crushed mass of trinketry, hidden at the distance only of an inch or two beneath the surface. But this was not all: beside, or rather in the midst of this strangely bruised, but still glittering mass, lay a hammer, with a long, white, slender handle, exactly resembling that which she had seen in Mr Hargrave’s hand when he left the building.
    It was not suspicion— Oh no! it could not be suspicion which for an instant suspended the pulsations of her heart. ” What a fool I am to be thus terrified!” she said aloud. “What is it I am afraid of?” and having thus chid the weakness that for a moment had made her feel so deadly sick, she lifted the golden fragments from the earth, and then perceived that they consisted entirely of settings, from whence gems had been violently torn. But, while gazing on these unequivocal traces of rapine and violence, and completing the theory by which she accounted for the manner of Mr Hargrave’s going and coming, her eyes suddenly became fixed and distended; the things she held dropped from her hands, and she would have fallen with them had she not seized the branch of a tree, and, resting her head against it, sustained herself till the sudden faintness had passed.
    A moment before Adèle had accused herself of weakness, but now she wondered at her own strength, which enabled her to stand upright and in full possession of her senses, while convinced—perfectly, soberly convinced—that the ornaments she had just held in her hand were in many places spotted with blood! Alas ! the dreadful tale this told was but too legible. Not robbery alone, but murder had been committed on the premises…

With Prince Frederic’s attendance assured, Mr Hargrave sets about planning a party that like nothing Paris has ever seen; one that requires the redecoration of his mansion, with backdrops and hangings and coloured lanterns transforming the house into an Arabian Nights-like Wonderland:

He conducted the wandering trio through meandering passages, which led—upholsterers only knew how— to tents of Eastern splendour in one direction, and to twilight retreats of flowery sweetness in another; all managed with such mastery of deception, that of three apartments constructed in the gardens and approached from the principal salle de bal, through the aperture of a banished window, not one could be reached but by a complication of arcades, dazzling with a thousand many-coloured lamps…

Though generally much pleased with his arrangements, Hargrave confesses to Madame de Hautrivage and the girls that the “garden” room has turned out rather damp; and he exacts from all three a promise that they won’t risk themselves by entering it after the exercise of dancing.

In addition to the decorations, Hargrave secures another form of entertainment for his guests that borders on a freak-show. When Paris isn’t discussing the recent spate of robberies, it is fixated upon the startling conduct of a wealthy banker, M. Bertrand, who has become so obsessed with a beautiful young woman of the lower classes, he has actually married her!—and not only that, but expresses his passion by loading her with the most extraordinary collection of diamonds ever assembled. And because, next to his bride herself, the thing M. Bertrand loves best is showing her—and her diamonds—off in public, he accepts Hargrave’s invitation to his fête. Argument rages over whether Mme Bertrand is as virtuous as she is beautiful, as her besotted husband contends, or a startlingly successful little god-digger, and Paris is all agog at having an opportunity to decide for itself.

The girls anticipate the fête very differently; almost exchanging characters. The usually more subdued Sabina has been caught up in the excitement of the event, entering wholeheartedly into her father’s preparations and looking forward to a more than usually pleasant evening; while Adèle is still suffering from the consequences of her actions, and can take little pleasure in the party. However, she conceals her feelings from the other two, neither of whom suspects how deeply she is suffering.

The fête is literally and figuratively the centrepiece of Hargrave, finding the main characters both physically and emotionally separated from one another, and requiring Trollope to do some considerable juggling of her plot-threads. It isn’t always successful—the reader tends, in particular, to lose track of the time; of what is happening simultaneously and/or at any given moment—but such a lot is going on that this isn’t altogether surprising.

The Bertrands attend as promised, and Paris is somewhat disappointed to find them less ridiculous than anticipated: the age difference is not as great as rumour had it, and although shy and very awkward in society, Mme Betrand is young and pretty enough to be excused; and seems, besides, fond of her husband, if not as devoted to him as he is to her. However, her diamonds are all that was expected and more, even if they make her look rather like a walking display-case.

Hargrave’s first concern is with Prince Frederic; but as soon as he has seen the young royal waltzing with Sabina, he turns his attention to the Bertrands—or rather, to Mme Bertrand. Bertrand himself is a passionate whist-player, and so easily disposed of. This done, Hargrave devotes himself to Mme Bertrand, dancing with her repeatedly—despite her clumsiness in the ballroom—flattering her, attending to her needs, and generally giving the impression of a man infatuated—much to the amusement of many and the embarrassment of his daughters, to whom his behaviour seems so out of character as to be inexplicable.

Alfred Coventry does not attend the fête, but Count Romanhoff does—and he’s a man on a mission. Coventry is straining at his leash to leave Paris and has only been held back by the fact that Romanhoff, though he has agreed to join him on his travels to—somewhere; anywhere—has insisted that he can’t leave just yet. Angry and resentful over the hurt his friend has suffered, Romanhoff has nevertheless determined to find out whether there has in fact been some sort of misunderstanding, so that there might yet be a reconciliation, or if Adèle really is the heartless flirt that a bitter Coventry now believes her; and, without saying anything to his friend, he attends the fête for the sole purpose of confronting her.

Romanhoff gets all the attention he could desire from Adèle by telling her that Coventry has ordered his horses for five o’clock the following morning. However, finding somewhere to talk quietly in the midst of the greatest crush of the Paris season isn’t so easy. Adèle mentions that there is a private shortcut to the supper-rooms, which has been created for the convenience of the staff, and leads Romanhoff away from the crowds—and into another embarrassment, when the two of them overhear Hargrave talking to a rather suspicious-looking individual:

    The position in which Mr Hargrave and this man stood prevented either of them perceiving the approach of Count Romanhoff and Adèle, till they were near enough distinctly to hear Mr Hargrave say, “I adore her, Ruperto! Manage this matter for me skilfully, and the price named by you yesterday shall be doubled.”
    Mr Hargrave spoke in French, but the man whispered a reply in Italian, of which Adèle only heard enough to convince her that her step-father’s proposal was agreed to, whatever it was; for her companion, disagreeably aware that he had led the young lady into hearing what was certainly not intended for her, hastily turned in another direction…

The two find a quiet spot, but are further distracted, first by Hargrave behaving completely like his usual well-mannered self with the Duchesse de Vermont, and then a few minutes later being again utterly unlike himself with Mme Bertrand; while for Adèle, there is the added concern of Prince Frederic’s behaviour towards Sabina, which suggests that matters are becoming extremely serious.

But finally Romanhoff gets to the point, arguing his friend’s case. Uncertain himself of the rights and wrongs of the situation, his own manner towards Adèle fluctuates wildly as the various points occur to him. He has, perhaps, come there predisposed against Adèle in spite of his promise to himself that he will remain impartial; and he hardly knows whether to be sorry or cynically satisfied when the reaction he gets from her isn’t what he is expecting or considers appropriate:

…the last words were uttered in a tone of hauteur and indignation, which seemed to imply that it must be a very meek and humble-minded response which would satisfy him. Now, Mademoiselle de Cordillac was at that moment in no humour to be humble and meek to any body. All she wished and wanted on earth was before her—all she had ever asked from Heaven during the misery of the last dreadful fortnight was accorded. She was at liberty to open her whole heart to the only man she had ever dreamed it was possible to love; and that by an act of generosity, and not of degradation. For an instant her bright eye met that of Romanhoff; but there was a flashing joy in it that looked to him like triumph, which puzzled and alarmed him. “Have I undertaken this unauthorised mission,” thought he, ” solely to gratify the vanity of this unfeeling girl?”

And when, after a light remark totally disconnected from the matter at hand, Adèle abruptly leaves him, Romanhoff’s alarm and puzzlement turn to anger; and he leaves the fête determined not only that Coventry should know the worst, but that the two of them won’t be remaining in Paris a minute longer than necessary.

In fact, overcome by emotion which she is unable to express to a comparative stranger, and that a young man, Adèle’s one thought is to get a message to Coventry—a letter, to be carried by the faithful Roger Humphries, who has it impressed upon him the absolute necessity of reaching Coventry’s hotel before five o’clock. Roger is only too willing but, given that he is dressed in the elaborate livery that Hargrave demands his servants wear during an entertainment, he finds it necessary to stop long enough to change his shoes before setting out—with the result that Coventry and Romanhoff make their hurried departure exactly six minutes before Roger arrives at the hotel.

Though she does not hesitate to take the drastic step of sending, in effect, a love letter, Adèle is only too aware of how her conduct might be viewed by a third party. Shaken by this thought, though not dissuaded, and flustered by the night’s events, she retires from the party to her own room—which happens to overlook the garden and the outside walls of Hargrave’s arrangements for his fête

Meanwhile, though a number of the guests do depart after supper—among them Prince Frederic, following his usual line of conduct, and more aware than ever of the necessity of separating himself from Sabina—Hargrave’s party continues on into the early hours of the morning, with most of those remaining congregating in the ballroom either to dance, if they have the energy, or to amuse themselves with the efforts of the remaining determinedly energetic few. Amongst the latter are Hargrave and Mme Bertrand, who at one point even dance through an opening in the room’s hangings and out towards the garden. Sabina, who has not danced since the departure of the prince and would gladly go to bed, saw Adèle slip away earlier, and feels that she must stay to play hostess. She is therefore present when the last guests demand a cotillion to end the dance:

Just at the moment when the seemingly endless cotillion was at its highest point of vivacity, Sabina observed her father enter the room by a door leading from the supper-room; he was alone, and she was on the point of rising to meet him, when she perceived him very abruptly, as it seemed to her, seize the hand of a partnerless lady, and dart forward with her into the middle of the dance, with an air of frolic and defiance of etiquette both equally foreign to his usual style and manner. Sabina disliked the cotillion. and never danced in it; but she felt now that she disliked it more than ever, as the rude vortex of its mirth seemed to constrain her father to put off his graceful stateliness in order to join in its turbulent evolutions. As the figure of the dance brought him nearer to her, however, an idea occurred greatly more painful than any suggested by the circumstances of his condescending to join in a dance which she did not admire,—she thought he was intoxicated! and the strangely unsettled expression of his eye, as well as a most unwonted want of sedateness in all his movements, fully justified the idea…

To Sabina’s relief, Hargrave pulls himself together as soon as the dance is over, and devotes himself to the task of bidding farewell to his last guests: a duty which devolves into dealing with a scene in the vestibule.

M. Bertrand has at last emerged from the card-room, to discover that his wife is nowhere to be found. Three other guests, M. de Beauvet, M. de Soissons and Lord Hartwell, are the recipients of his panicked complaints before the arrival of Hargrave, whose calm suggestion that Mme Bertrand was tired and went home on her own is passionately rejected by her husband. Moreover, the Bertrand carriage is found waiting in the courtyard:

“Gracious Heavens!” cried the unhappy husband… “Oh! doubtless she was carried off…and must now, with all that mine of wealth about her, be far beyond the reach of pursuit. Yet think not,” he added, with a burst of very genuine tears,—“think not, gentlemen, that I am wretch enough to think of the loss of diamonds at such a moment as this. Alas! the naming of them only shews what I think to be the cause of my loss. She would not have left me, do not think it, gentlemen; she has been snatched away during the hurry and crowding which probably took place on leaving the supper-room, and, ere this time, may have been both robbed and murdered!” And again the poor man wept bitterly.

The others try to determine when Mme Bertrand was last seen. Sabina mentions that she saw her at supper, while Hargrave, contradicting M. Bertrand’s version of events, asserts that he danced with her after supper, and thinks he saw her dancing with someone else later again, although he cannot remember who.

An hysterical M. Bertrand then departs the house, probably, the others think, to alert the police. As soon as he has gone, Hargrave shrugs to the others that, in his opinion, this is not an abduction, but an elopement. Pausing only to send Sabina to bed, he then repeats to the men various incidents that occurred and words uttered by Mme Bertrand during the evening that make him suspect that her disappearance is voluntary. With this reassurance, the others take their departure.

On her way upstairs, Sabina hesitates outside Adèle’s door, longing to talk to her about what has happened but worried that her early retirement from the party means that she was unwell. Not wanting to wake her, she passes on to her own room. But she need not have worried: Adèle has been too agitated to sleep, and instead has spent the night pacing her room, listening to the music and other sounds from below. These are still audible even with the coming of the dawn. Adèle sits at her windows, enjoying the cool of the April morning—and sees something strange: a person, or persons, in the garden, moving amongst the shadows cast by the temporary buildings and their surrounding decorative evergreens. She also hears a noise that sounds like a muffled cry.

Reluctantly, Adèle recalls the words she overheard spoken by her step-father to the uncouth stranger; wondering if this activity has something to do with their plan.

It is some time after this that Adèle hears Sabina outside her door. She stays still and silent, hoping that her sister will not come in; feeling unable to discuss with her either her own situation, or what she thinks she knows of Hargrave’s doings. Left securely alone, Adèle then drops into a doze, only to be wakened by a noise in the garden. By this time it is full daylight, and she watches as Hargrave emerges from behind the canvas hangings, carrying something she cannot see clearly—a tool, she thinks—and slips around the corner of the pavilion. Minutes later he returns; there is no sign of the tool, but instead he is carrying something bundled up in a large silk handkerchief.

Between her fruitless conjectures over what she has witnessed, and her impatience at Roger’s apparent failure to return, Adèle is thoroughly awake again, and decides to dress herself: she doesn’t want a maid’s prying eyes on her. While brushing out her very long hair, she accidentally knocks her brush sharply against her dressing-table, and as she fears, the noise brings to her room the last person she wants to see. She tries to hide her excited state from Hargrave, but his mention of an incident in the house alarms her; though his own evident unconcern and declared determination to get some sleep reassure her. Secure that he has retired to rest, she decides to slip downstairs and see if Roger has in fact returned but perhaps hesitated to wake her.

There is no sign of him, however, and with nothing to do and no-one up to talk to, Adèle’s thoughts turn back to what she saw from her window. She makes her way to the “garden” room, the furthest point of the redecorations, and from there into the garden itself—not without realising for the first time how the design of this final room makes the point of exit almost impossible to find, if someone did not know it was there. Outside, she finds herself quite bewildered as to what her step-father could have been doing in the little that remains of their undisturbed grounds—or are they undisturbed?

…her steps were arrested by the sight of a trowel, such as masons use. She stooped and took it up. Could this be the implement which she had discerned in her step-father’s hand as he went out?—she thought not. She had distinctly seen what appeared to be a longer, slenderer, and a lighter-coloured handle than that of the implement she had found, and she let it drop on the place from whence she had taken it. Before she passed on, however, she gave another glance to it as it lay upon the ground; and as she turned her eyes from it…they were attracted by the gleaming of some bright but minute object, lying at the edge of a heap of withered leaves which seemed raked together from an abundance of others with which the ground was covered. She moved the moist and dirty-looking mass with her foot, for its appearance was not inviting to her ungloved fingers; but this daintiness speedily vanished before what her foot disclosed; and stooping, without further ceremony, she plunged her hand into the wet mass, and drew thence a long chain of gold, the clasp of which had evidently been torn off, as well as something which had been attached to the centre, for the link from which it had hung had been wrenched asunder…

Adèle’s further explorations uncover a mass of such damaged gold—jewellery settings, from which the jewels themselves have been torn away—and which in some places is clearly spotted with blood.

Robbery and murder present themselves to Adèle’s shocked mind as she hurriedly puts things back the way they were, wishing she hadn’t done anything that might involve her as a witness. This, then, is the “incident” that Hargrave referred to, and explains his presence in the garden: he, too, must have been looking for evidence.

Shaken by this experience, worried by Roger’s non-appearance, and exhausted by the night’s events, Adèle slips back into her room and cries herself to sleep.

Later that day, the weary family members rise and dress, and Sabina gives Adèle a circumstantial account of what passed after she retired. Adèle does not mention her own experiences, but tries to reconcile her knowledge with what Sabina tells her. She is particularly interested in the cotillion, since she heard the music clearly in her room, and knows that the lengthy dance was underway when she caught her first glimpse of the stranger in the garden. Sabina’s description of Hargrave’s late entry seems to confirm her suspicion that it was he she saw. Furthermore, she cannot help but remember the muffled cry, and to weigh it against Hargrave’s statement about when he last saw Mme Bertrand in the ballroom. Her thoughts distress her to a degree which she cannot hide from Sabina, although she makes one firm resolution:

But the more these hateful suspicions settled upon her mind, the more earnest became her wish to conceal them completely and for ever from Sabina. She knew the tender devotion of her attachment to this mysterious father, and she felt that either her life or her reason would probably be the sacrifice were she to know such thoughts had ever been conceived concerning him. But Sabina’s eye was upon her, and she feared that she would sink before it. There was one way, and one only that suggested itself, by which such a turn might be given to their conversation as might account for her own weakness without disclosing the real cause of it. Adèle related with as much distinctness as was in her power all that Count Romanhoff had said to her, and the sudden resolution of sending to Coventry, which had been its result…

Sabina is, as hoped, completely distracted. She sympathises with Adèle, insisting that she was quite right to send a message to Coventry in spite of the potential for scandal, should anyone find out; but when she learns that Adèle has had no answer, she assumes she has been too scared to inquire of Roger, and scolds her for being so cowardly. The self-conscious Adèle doesn’t tell her that she knows Roger isn’t back, but accepts these strictures and allows Sabina to send for him—and find out for herself there’s no sign of him.

Puzzled, Sabina casts around for an explanation, and finally concludes that, discovering that Coventry had departed Paris, Roger went after him. She intends this theory to soothe the distressed Adèle, who in truth isn’t even thinking about her own situation, except as it serves her to conceal her real thoughts from Sabina. She encourages Sabina to talk about the party—although not about Mme Bertrand—and learns from her that Prince Frederic intends departing Paris, and that he will make an announcement to that effect at his own party. This being the case, Sabina also confesses that she might have been in danger had, as she puts it, Frederic been “less royal”. As it is, they parted the night before understanding one another and their relative positions, with mutual respect and more feeling on both sides than either cared to admit.

So where is Roger?

After the hurried departure of M. Bertrand, the three other witnesses to his tragedy also depart. Lord Hartwell’s carriage is at the door, but M. de Beauvet and M. de Soissons have to walk to a nearby lane to find theirs—where they see an odd sight: an elderly man with a great-coat over his livery at the back gate of the Hargrave mansion who, when he realises he has been seen, turns and hurries away again. Given the events of the night, the two men go in pursuit, in company with another Hargrave servant whom they call to their assistance. The three corner Roger in an alley, where his evident agitation and his refusal to explain himself increase their suspicions, and he finds himself subjected to a citizen’s arrest.

Unfortunately for Roger, the other servant is Louis Querin, a footman, who hates him for a variety of petty reasons that none the less add up to a virulent total. Overjoyed at seeing the man he considers his enemy in danger of arrest, Querin does everything he can to blacken Roger’s name. The gentleman believe him, having no reason not to, and send him back to the house under a warning to tell no-one what has happened, in case Roger has confederates. Roger himself gets carried away and handed over to the police as a suspect in the disappearance of Mme Bertrand.

Meanwhile, Hargrave is receiving the expected visit of his hostile creditor, M. Marsen, who receives the long-delayed repayment of his loan—as agreed, chiefly in the form of jewels.

Marsen has barely departed when Hargrave is called upon by M. de Beauvet and M. de Soissons, who tell him that they have been inquiring into the circumstances of Mme Bertrand’s disappearance. This announcement turns Hargrave rather pale, but he gets his colour back when they add that Roger Humphries is in police custody, being asked by officialdom to explain his suspicious behaviour. After a moment’s thought, Hargrave expresses his great surprise, and his belief in Roger’s innocence, before again suggesting that Mme Bertrand eloped with a lover, and there’s no need for fuss, still less for the police…

However, M. de Soissons is acquainted with some people who are acquainted with the Bertrands, and is able to assert on their authority that despite the lowness of her origins, Mme Bertrand has, since her marriage, conducted herself modestly, and shown every sign of being attached to her husband for more than his wealth; that, conversely, the police do not believe that having secured such a marriage, she would have thrown it all away so quickly; that they are treating the incident as an abduction, and are inclined to look for suspects amongst those present at Hargrave’s fête:

“Nay, then,” returned Mr Hargrave, sighing, while his deportment suddenly changed from gay to grave,—“nay, then, if this be the case, I fear, indeed, that old Roger may have had a hand in it. The old man has often shewn himself avaricious; it is, as we all know, the vice of age—and I will not deny the having been long aware that it was his. But if robbery has been intended, gentlemen, depend upon it that it has been perpetrated under the mask of love; and that all the guilt which lies at the door of old Roger is that he has received a bribe,—a heavy one, I doubt not, to render the elopement easy.”

For his part, M. de Soissons does not think that Roger’s so-far obstinate silence under police questioning is in accord with him assisting an elopement. The two visitors then request Hargrave to accompany them to witness further questioning, at which they have agreed to act on behalf of M. Bertrand, but Hargrave refuses on the basis of Roger’s long service in his household: he feels, consequently, that he should stay aloof from the proceedings.

Hargrave then joins the girls, a meeting from which Adèle excuses herself as quickly as possible. Hargrave is concerned about her, but not as concerned as he is to hear how Sabina left matters with Prince Frederic. Sabina cannot answer without emotion—which her father, at first, completely misinterprets:

    The pause she made sufficed to let loose the coursers of Mr Hargrave’s imagination, and on they galloped even to the utmost goal of his wishes. “My darling, sweet Sabina!” he exclaimed, “fear not to trust your father! Tell me what he said!—tell me all!”
    “Nay, papa,” replied Sabina gently, “it was not much; only I have seen him so often lately that I was rather sorry for it. He only said that he was going to leave Paris immediately after his own ball…”
    “Leave Paris!” cried Mr Hargrave, gasping,—“leave Paris immediately! It is impossible, Sabina! You do not believe he was in earnest?”
    “Oh, yes, papa, he was quite in earnest,” said Sabina quietly; her composure restored, as it seemed, by her father’s want of it.
    “Then he is—” vehemently ejaculated Mr Hargrave; but suddenly stopping himself, he added, in a tone as light as he could contrive to make it, “a very capricious fellow.”

But Hargrave isn’t the man to give up without a fight. Pulling himself together, and ignoring Sabina’s quiet insistence that there can never be anything between herself and Prince Frederic, he tells himself that there is still one last chance, the prince’s own ball: one last chance to throw Sabina in his way, one last chance for the prince’s heart to overrule his royal training:

“So!” he exclaimed, as he once again enclosed himself himself in his library, “the plot thickens upon me. Glory, honour, and magnificence for life, or ruin, exposure, and death!”

Down at the offices of the Correctional Police, M. de Beauvet and M. de Soissons give their depositions, while Louis Querin does everything he can to make trouble for Roger. His personal enmity is obvious, but still the police are impressed by his assertion that Roger was absent from his duties for several hours during the party, before making his surreptitious attempt to re-enter the grounds of the Hargrave mansion.

As for Roger, he is happy to answer questions—up to a point: he refuses absolutely to account for his movements, to explain where he had been before being spotted at the gate. He is also willing to be searched—up to a point: he turns out his pockets and removes his coat and his waistcoat without hesitation, offering to remove his boots and stockings; pleased that, as he anticipated, the police do not think to inspect his cravat; where, amongst its numerous folds, is nestled Adèle’s note to Alfred Coventry.

But the contents of his pockets cause more trouble for Roger, since they include several gold sovereigns of the type stolen from M. Roland outside Riccardo’s. Roger explains readily enough that the coins were part of his wages, paid to him by his master, Mr Hargrave. The police decide that this is a statement requiring further investigation. Roger is returned to his cell, and Louis Querin, much to his delight, is retained as a police-agent: if Roger is guilty, he may have had confederates, possibly amongst the other servants. Querin is to keep his eyes and ears open, and his mouth shut.

That afternoon, M. Collet of the police and several of his men arrive to inspect the Hargrave mansion, including the garden-gate where Roger was seized, and the small patch of ground surrounding the still-standing canvas rooms. They note, as Adèle did, how hard it is to see the exit into the garden from the inside (a feature which they later learn was designed by Mr Hargrave); and they also find the marks of a woman’s footprints—as well as signs that she may have been dragged through the garden. Finally, they locate the buried items:

Precisely the same process which had been performed by Mademoiselle de Cordillac about nine hours before was now repeated by the agents of the police…but the discoveries of those who followed her went farther, for M. Collet himself using the trowel found on the ground, with considerable strength and agility, perceived that the earth had been moved to a greater depth than that of the spot where the settings of the mutilated trinkets lay, and presently came to the corner of a delicate white silk pocket-handkerchief, which, having been seized and dragged from its dark receptacle, was perceived to be copiously stained with blood…

What the police don’t know is that they are being watched. Before their arrival, a restless Adèle had ventured out for some air; she was at the hidden exit when the police began their work, and retreated no further than an aperture left for the servants to pass refreshments and dishes through, from where she could both hear and see, without being seen herself. Horrified by the discoveries, she slips back to her room to contemplate their implications:

With the resolute calmness which an urgent necessity is almost sure to inspire in such a mind as Adèle’s, she once more set herself to examine all the facts which had come to her knowledge since this dreadful period of her existence began. She had heard Mr Hargrave engage an agent to assist him in obtaining possession of some female whom he professed to adore. He had paid a degree of attention to Madame Bertrand, which might easily enough be interpreted into making love to her. Madame Bertrand has subsequently disappeared, and Adèle had great reason to believe that Mr Hargrave had assisted in her abduction. This was bad enough, and sufficiently lamentable to cause her the deepest regret; but how immensely distant was such regret from the feelings which must follow upon believing that her step-father was guilty of the crimes which she could not doubt that the agents of the police were prepared to lay to his door! But how was she to separate and divide events which were so closely woven together? How separate the abduction of Madame Bertrand from the horrible fate which had too evidently followed it?

In fact, she can’t: unable to reconcile the evidence before her with the step-father who raised her, Adèle can only conclude that there is something she doesn’t know, something that will throw a whole new light upon these terrible events and allow Hargrave to exonerate himself from, at least, the worst of the charges. She makes up her mind that, painful as the scene must be, she will seek out her step-father, lay before him all that she knows, and ask him to explain.

She cannot do it immediately, however, because Hargrave is out taking a drive:

During the course of which drive he had met nine-tenths of the elegant idlers of Paris, to nearly all of whom he was known, and with any of whom he stopped to hear and to utter a light word or two upon the misfortune of the unlucky millionaire, who had lost the pretty wife he had purchased, before he had got tired of her. To all of these Mr Hargrave related, with much humour, the tragic-comic scene which had been performed in his ball the preceding night, declaring, that though he could not help but laugh at the recollection of poor M. Bertrand’s gesticulate despair, it had really affected him very differently at the time, and that, all jesting apart, he was very sorry for him…

After such a tiring afternoon, following on from an exhausting night, and with yet another evening party ahead of him, at the home of a certain Ambassador, Hargrave decides that he’s earned a nap, and takes it on the couch in his library. It is here that Adèle finds him, when she has worked her courage up sufficiently to confront him.

Adèle, as we have seen, is trying desperately to believe that Hargrave is not guilty of any, or all, of the acts of which she cannot help suspecting him; yet the fact that he immediately speaks lightly of Mme Bertrand, in effect doing for her the same routine that he has been doing in the park—that there is something, as she thinks, so revoltingly incongruous, in his jocular tone—causes her to change her mind in a moment:

    “Do not, father!” said Adèle, in a voice that might have startled any man, let his nerves have been in what state they would. Though speaking to her, he had as yet hardly looked in her face, for he lay stretched with apparent listlessness on his back, with his half-closed eyes fixed upon the ceiling. But now he started up and gazed at her with orbs that seemed starting from their sockets. All self-command was for the moment lost, and fear and guilt looked out through every feature.
    Adèle felt as if the dark curtain which concealed the truth had been drawn up before her eyes, and that all which her soul shrunk from looking on, was now disclosed…

But luckily for Hargrave, all of Adèle’s most urgent thoughts and feelings are centred not upon him, but upon Sabina, who she determines must be protected from the truth at all cost, and most of all from the horror of having her father exposed as the worst of criminals. For Sabina’s sake, she will do anything to save Hargrave—in fact, whatever it takes:

    “Father! there must be no questions asked, and I must manage for you,” she said, with a degree of sedate steadiness that did more towards bringing the unhappy man out of his seeming trance than any exclamations could have done.
    “You know it all then, Adèle?” he replied, his fixed features relaxing and his pale lips trembling…
    “All, father, all! And you must leave Paris this night, and France with all the speed we may…”

[To be continued…]

25/10/2016

Hargrave; or, The Adventures Of A Man Of Fashion (Part 1)

hargrave1b    Mr Hargrave opened a Bramah-locked drawer in his elegant library-table…and taking out a handful of gold coin, locked the drawer again; and returning to the table at which the ladies were sitting, threw the glittering treasure before the two girls…
    “Is it not magnificent, Adèle, to have money paid to us in this style?” demanded Sabina with childish glee. “Where in the world, papa, did you get all these beautiful sovereigns?” she added, beginning busily to employ herself by dividing the pieces into two equal portions.
    But Adèle happened to have her eyes fixed on her step-father as this question was asked, and was surprised by seeing him bite his under lip, and contract his brows into a frown, which it was very rare to see upon his usually bland and smiling countenance. But the painful feeling, whether of body or mind, passed away in an instant, and he replied,—
    “Where did I get this gold, Sabina? From that fertile source of all good things, the banking establishment of Messrs Lafitte and Co. Is it enough for you both? If not, say the word, and I will produce as much more; and that, I think, will about empty my hoards of your admired metal for the present.”
    Adèle was startled by hearing him say this: for when he had left his place to seek the money, her eyes accidentally followed him, and she was so placed as to perceive that the small drawer he opened was full of gold pieces, so full, indeed, as to make her more than share the wonder afterwards expressed by Sabina at the sight of a small portion of them. The assertion, therefore, that another such handful as he had laid on the table would ’empty his hoard’ was unintelligible… That her step-father had uttered a decided falsehood was certain. But his reason for doing it appeared so perfectly inscrutable, that she harassed herself in vain to find any plausible explanation of it…

As mentioned in an earlier post, Frances Trollope was another important figure in the development of English detective fiction. As was so often the case, Trollope began writing in order to support herself and her family after her husband’s failure in business; and while she is probably best known these days for her first book, the notorious non-fiction work, Domestic Manners Of The Americans, subsequently she became a prolific writer of fiction. Trollope wrote all manner of books, and often mixed different genres in her novels; and while (unlike her contemporary, Catharine Crowe) she never wrote anything that we could classify as a “detective story”, a number of Trollope’s works feature subplots dealing with crime.

Hargrave; or, The Adventures Of A Man Of Fashion, published in three volumes in 1843, is one of these; and while it does offer a detective plot of sorts, this novel’s perspective means that we would have to classify it as “an inverted detective story”, that is, one told from the point of view of the criminal—or at least, those trying to evade the forces of law and order, which (as we shall see) is not quite the same thing.

But while crime is prominent in the overall narrative, Trollope takes her time getting to that aspect of her novel, which at the outset seems to be more about the romantic difficulties of the two half-sisters at its heart, the daughter and step-daughter of Charles Hargrave: subplots which occupy most of the first half of Hargrave, even while the seeds of the crime subplots are being planted. This meandering approach is only one of several odd things about this book, which refuses at almost every turn to go in the direction you might expect—and this is true not only with respect to the unfolding of its crime story.

Most overtly, this is a novel by an Englishwoman, set in France, which goes out of its way to debunk stereotypes about the French and French society. Trollope herself lived for a time in Paris, and found much to admire there, particularly with respect to the arts; her early works not only reflect this, but tend to feature unflattering sketches of British tourists “doing” the Continent by guide-book, and generally making their country look bad. (We should note, however, that Trollope’s opinions underwent an abrupt change following the Revolution of 1848.)

But whatever else this novel might be, it is dominated by its psychological portrait of Charles Hargrave, for whom it is rightly named. Hargrave opens with a devastating sketch of its anti-hero, whose vanity, superficiality and endless social ambition are laid out for us in a few brief but witty paragraphs:

Those who have not been led by some accident or other to study the effects of vanity in characters where it greatly predominates, have little comprehension of its strength. There is probably no passion, from the very lowest to the most sublime, from the tenderest to the most brutal, which more deeply dyes with its influence the mind where it takes root. Greatly do those mistake who call it a “little” passion,—it is a great, an absorbing, a tremendous one. Its outward bearing, indeed, when the feeling is unskilfully permitted to catch the eye, may often seem trivial, and provoke more smiles than sighs; but its inward strength of influence is not to be judged thereby. As little do the graceful sinuosities of the constrictors’ wavy movements give notice of the deadly gripe into which they can contract themselves, as do the bland devices which purvey to a vain man’s appetite announce the insatiable voracity that is to be fed, or the unscrupulous means which may be resorted to in order to content it.

The son of a banker, as a young man Hargrave left England for France on the assumption that he would find it easier to stake his claim to a place in Society away from the class system of his home. His good looks, specious charm and inherited fortune gave him a foot in the door, and he consolidated his position by marrying the Vicomtesse de Cordillac, a young widow with a fortune of her own. Their joint incomes allowed Hargrave to indulge his taste for display, for (to use both his and Trollope’s preferred term) magnificence. Nothing is too expensive, too extravagant, too extreme, if it means that Charles Hargrave will hear himself and his entertainments admired and praised by the elite of Parisian society.

The novel proper opens in the wake of Mrs Hargrave’s death. Her daughters grieve deeply for their beloved mother—and naturally, assume that Hargrave must feel as they do. However, the reality is that while he does grieve, Hargrave is more deeply concerned about the fact that the family coffers have begun to run dry. Rather than dwelling upon his late wife, his thoughts are concerned with a new strategy for self-aggrandisement, namely, via his daughters’ marriages; once their tiresome mourning is over, of course:

    Little did they guess, poor girls! as they hovered mournfully near him, stilling their own deep grief, lest the sight of it should add to his, that the earnest gaze which was turned first to the one and then to the other fair face, was meditating what colours in the flowery chaplets which his fancy wove, would best set off the clear rich brown of Adèle’s cheek, and which decorate with most effect the fair-haired delicacy of Sabina. They fancied, pretty creatures, that his kind heart was wrung by thinking of their motherless condition; and their pity for each other, and their pity for themselves, and their pity for him, were so increased thereby, that, spite of all they could do to prevent it, the tears burst forth anew, till the bright black eyes of the one, and the soft blue eyes of the other, were so miserably swollen and disfigured as to force the distressed widower to turn his thoughts inwards, where he found the only consolation he was capable of receiving, from remembering that tears were invariably set aside at the same time that black dresses were taken off, and that six months would amply suffice for the use of both.
    Fortunately for Mr. Hargrave, his charming wife was taken from him on the 15th of June; the Paris season therefore was over…

When Hargrave married the Vicomtesse, she was the mother of a young daughter, Adèle; the birth of Sabina Hargrave followed. The two girls, three years apart in age, were raised together as sisters, with no distinction made between them. Yet for all that Adèle is not Hargrave’s own child: a point that will assume an ever-increasing importance over the course of the narrative. In addition, Adèle is financially independent due to a fortune inherited from her mother’s family, whereas Sabina is dependent upon her father.

Upon first reading Hargrave I was surprised that Trollope made the entirely French Adèle her heroine, rather than the half-English Sabina; but it could be fairly said that, except in one respect, Adèle is merely masquerading as French. She is the steadier, more sensible sister, thoughtful where Sabina is emotional and impulsive. Adèle is also a great admirer of all things English, to the point of secretly thinking that she would prefer an English husband to a French one. She has even independently converted to Protestantism: a choice which forms the one point of division between herself and Sabina, a devoted Catholic, and which is likewise strongly disapproved by Hargrave, who converted to Catholicism upon marrying the Vicomtesse de Cordillac. The only point at which Adèle is truly French is that her upbringing has prevented her from interacting with young men in terms of normal friendship, leaving her inexperienced to a degree which will create difficulties for her, as we shall see.

The family retires from Paris to Baden-Baden, where Hargrave finds society enough to sustain him in his “grief”, and the girls explore the countryside under the care of their elderly and intensely devoted English servant, Roger Humphries. On one of these expeditions they find a particularly beautiful vista; they also find a young man who explains to Sabina (who speaks fluent German) that the area is known for its legends of a vanishing castle, which may be seen at some times but not at others, and which is supposedly under the influence of the spirits which give to the nearby lake the name of Mummelsee, or Fairy Lake. Sabina is fascinated by this, and begs Adèle to stop again at the same point in the afternoon, so that she may try and catch a glimpse of the castle. The girls do so but, after a long day out, Adèle is dozing in the carriage when they get there. Sabina therefore slips out on her own and returns to the rock platform overhanging the lake, where to her delight see can indeed see the ruins of a once-splendid castle. When the young man reappears, Sabina is at first too enchanted by the scene to consider the circumstances; but when it presently dawns upon her that she is all alone with a strange man, she hurries back to the carriage, embarrassed and flustered, and says nothing to Adèle.

When the Hargraves’ period of mourning is over, they return to Paris, and Mr Hargrave sets about in earnest the task of attracting all the best people to his house and making himself the most admired and talked-about host in the city. Even before this, Adèle and Sabina have been much courted, but now they find themselves at the centre of a social whirl that appeals more to the outgoing Adèle than to the romantic Sabina (who is “apt to fancy that there was less of mental dignity in mirth than in melancholy”). For Adèle, indeed, this Parisian season has brought a particular happiness in the form of Alfred Coventry, who is the embodiment of her Angliophile dreams. However, Adèle’s upbringing has taught her to hide her feelings at all cost, which leaves Coventry uncertain where he stands with her:

    …the manners of her country…in which she had been most carefully educated, so guarded and fenced her in from all approaches not made in the usual way, that in the midst of daily intercourse and devoted attention she had still retained the manner of a young girl who had never dreamed of love. It was, indeed, this reserve, so constantly, and at all times and seasons preserved by Adèle, which had hitherto prevented Coventry from laying his heart at her feet. Like other young men of independent fortune and unobjectionable station and character, he had received his share of coaxing from careful mothers and provident fathers; and though still under thirty, he had learned to tremble at the danger of being married for his acres rather than for himself…
    Before he had been six weeks in the habit of daily and nightly conversing with Mademoiselle de Cordillac, he became most deeply attached to her. Yet he still spoke not the important words which were to place all his hopes of earthly happiness in her hands; for still he doubted whether there could be any feeling capable of being fostered into love in one so very free from every recognised symptom of it…

Despite his lingering doubts, Coventry comes to believe that Adèle does care for him and decides to propose. However, he has made up his mind that he will not follow the French custom of proposing for her through her relatives, but will wait until he can speak to her in person. This very English way of going about things creates difficulties when, attempting to call upon Adèle, Coventry is unable to get past her aunt and chaperone, Madame de Hautrivage.

The widowed sister of the late Mrs Hargrave, Madame de Hautrivage is more than happy to live with her brother-in-law and his daughters: though she passes herself off to the world as comfortably circumstanced, she is in fact in dire financial straits, with what money she can scrape together going to maintain the wardrobe which supports her pose. Presenting herself to society as a woman of wealth and fashion, Madame’s one great hope in life is to make a second marriage before her situation is exposed, and under the guise of chaperoning her nieces, she works hard at finding herself a husband.

When Coventry calls, Madame at first assumes it is to request her influence with her niece. However, her determination to bring him to the point, meeting Coventry’s determination not to be brought to the point by a third party, leads the two of them into a cross-purposes conversation from which Coventry emerges believing he has been assured of Adèle’s love for him—while the giddily happy Madame emerges convinced that she and not Adèle is his goal.

Though she had believed, prior to their startling conversation, that Coventry was interested in Adèle, Madame had too high opinion of her niece and her upbringing to suppose that Adèle could be guilty of allowing herself to feel anything for a man who had not proposed for her; but Adèle’s self-conscious reaction when Sabina teases her about Coventry suggests a shocking possibility. Calling Adèle for a private talk, Madame speaks with an anger in which jealousy and outraged propriety are combined:

“What am I to think of this confusion,—this terrified embarrassment, Mademoiselle de Cordillac?” said her aunt, trembling with passion. “Is it possible that you have so completely, so eternally disgraced yourself, as to bestow your affections on a man who is not only totally free from all partiality to you, but actually affianced to another?”

In fact most of Adèle’s confusion stemmed from expecting to hear that Coventry had proposed for her via her aunt; and when Madame goes on to announce herself as his fiancée, she is shocked and astonished—and incredulous. By this time, however, Madame has internalised an image of herself as the consort of a prominent British citizen and parliamentarian, and the conviction with which she speaks has its effect: it never occurs to Adèle that her aunt could be either lying or deluded. Believing, besides, in Madame’s non-existent fortune, Adèle is left with nothing to do but be thankful she has managed to conceal her feelings from Coventry, and to try and wring from Sabina, who is hurting for Adèle and angry and disgusted with Coventry’s mercenary conduct, a promise that she will not behave differently towards him, which might reveal her, Adèle’s, secret.

Meanwhile, the lovely Sabina has attracted the attention of Paris’s most prominent visitor, the younger brother of the ruler of a certain German principality. Prince Frederic is obviously strongly drawn to Sabina—so much so that Adèle is moved to speak a few words of caution to her sister. But Sabina is no fool: she knows very well that she is no wife for a man in Prince Frederic’s position, and thinks too well of him to imagine he would suggest anything other than marriage. She likes and admires Prince Frederic (although she does not tell Adèle that in the first instance, that admiration had its basis in a fancied resemblance between the royal prince and the young stranger of Baden-Baden, who she thinks about more than she should), and she enjoys his company; but she has set a firm and conscious guard over her heart—even as, she is sure, Frederic himself has done.

Sabina’s sensible reaction is in stark contrast to that of Hargrave, who begins to indulge an extravagant vision of himself as the father-in-law of a prince. To bring this about, he resolves on a season of entertainments such as Paris has never seen:

“He shall see her in all her glory,” thought the intoxicated Hargrave: “he shall see her as no Paris beauty of seventeen was ever seen before—he shall see her as a king’s son might glory to see his wife! And should it come to pass, as my prophetic spirit tells me that it will—should I see my Sabina borne to the feet of her brother-in-law’s throne, what will it matter to me as I follow her thither, and with all the affection of a devoted father consent thenceforward to reside beneath her princely roof, what will it then matter to me how many scurvy creditors ungratefully murmur…?”

Yes; there’s just one problem with Hargrave’s scheme for startling all Paris, and dazzling Prince Frederic into a proposal:

Mr Hargrave, in fact, at this time stood upon the brink of a precipice, one steady glance down which would probably sufficed to make him a maniac for life. This steady glance, however, he had never yet given; nor was there the least chance of his doing so, as long as these buoyant hopes and meteor-like expectations, begot between self-love and imagination, continued to float before him. But Mr Hargrave was deeply and desperately in debt. The large fortune he had brought with him from England had gradually been dissolving away from the year of his marriage with Madame de Cordillac; for her comfortable little income of twenty thousand francs was but a drop in the ocean of extravagance, into which the glory of outdoing the noblest and the wealthiest of her high-born connexions immediately plunged him. From that period, the income of his handsome fortune never sufficed to supply his annual expenditure; and the process of supplying the deficiency, by drawing upon his capital, though at first apparently a slow one, might have awakened any man to its inevitable consequence who had not lapped himself in the elysium of a variety of visions, all as extravagantly wild as that on which he now seemed determined to risk his last stake.

So, not letting a little thing like having no money at all get in the way, Hargrave begins planning a series of entertainments, each more elaborate and expensive than the last, and designed with the aim of making a young royal lose his head.

Meanwhile, the attention of the upper reaches of Parisian society is upon a series of shocking crimes, in which men leaving a certain fashionable gambling establishment have been set upon and robbed. The fact that all three robberies have followed success at the tables suggests the  possibility that the thief is someone admitted to this exclusive establishment, or has a confederate who is.

Alfred Coventry—during the comfortable period between his misleading conversation with Madame de Hautrivage and the next time he sees Adèle—hears about the robberies from his best friend, Count Romanhoff, a young Russian:

“Three weeks ago last Monday, M. Jules Roland, the eldest son of the rich Roland, had won a very considerable sum at Riccardo’s. How much it was I cannot exactly tell you, but I know that a portion of it consisted of a thousand napoleons and five hundred sovereigns, won of an Englishman… He turned off the Boulevard into a dark narrow street, and before he had traversed half its length, he was seized from behind in the arms of a tall powerful man, who contrived so effectually to twist his cloak round his arms and over his mouth, that he was rendered as completely defenseless as if a strait waistcoat had been fastened on him, and as incapable of uttering a cry as if he had been gagged. The villain then rifled him of his gold and his notes…”

Coventry, though not a gambler himself, is interested enough when the matter is explained to him, and quite as conscious as his friend of the implications of the circumstances of the robberies. He points out that a process of deduction should, at least, be able to eliminate certain parties from suspicion, and produce a short-list of the men who were present at the salon on all three of the nights in question. He also tries to dissuade Romanhoff from going back (he knows his friend can’t afford gambling losses, though he is rather addicted to the pastime), but to no avail—not least because Romanhoff himself was one of those present on all three occasions:

    “Why, do you not see, my dear fellow, that in the present state of affairs it would be as much as a man’s reputation is worth to be absent from Riccardo’s salon? Any habitué who should venture to withdraw himself at this crisis would be very suspiciously noté, you may depend upon it.”
    “Then I can only rejoice the more that I am not one of them,” returned Mr Coventry gravely; “and I most sincerely wish, my dear friend, that you were in the same category.”
    “Nonsense, Alfred; you positively look at me with as pitiful a visage as if you thought that, whether going to the salon or staying away from it, I was equally liable to suspicion. Why, think for a moment of the noble names to be found in the set you are thus condemning wholesale? I am not the only intimate friend you have among them: there are D’Obigny, Castello, Reindenberg, De Bruton, Hargrave, Fitzjames, D’Arusez, and a dozen others, at least…”

From here the conversation passes to anticipation of the grand ball which is to be the first of the Hargrave entertainments. Romanhoff has a few words of appreciation for the beautiful daughters of the house, and a few otherwise for Madame de Hautrivage—

“But heavens, that woman is a horror,—she positively expects one to make love to her!”

—but Coventry isn’t listening: he is making up his mind that he will find an opportunity at the ball to propose to Adèle.

The ball itself is a stunning success, as usual with anything undertaken by Hargrave. The recent robberies remain the main topic of conversation amongst the guests, and Prince Frederic, who has not heard the full story, requests that Count Romanhoff tell it. Romanhoff does, but becomes slightly embarrassed when the question of who was at the salon on all three nights is raised. Seeing this, the prince so pointedly changes the subject that the others gathered take the hint and drop the matter (at least in his hearing).

As far as Hargrave’s hopes go, the evening only serves to increase them: Prince Frederic’s admiration of Sabina is evident, and he dances with her as frequently as propriety allows. Nevertheless, several people notice that Hargrave is not in his usual spirits—and he is not the only one. For Alfred Coventry, the evening becomes one of bewildering mortification. Adèle’s determination that he will never guess her secret drives her into behaviour that is totally out of character: she  is coolly friendly and dances with him when asked, but her conversation is completely superficial, and she eludes all his attempts to secure a private word with her. With no idea of what has passed between Adèle and her aunt, Coventry is at first confused, then angry and hurt; he leaves the ball convinced that he has had the misfortune to fall in love with a heartless coquette.

Coventry’s behaviour with respect to herself and Adèle informs Madame de Hautrivage that she has made an embarrassing blunder, and her only thought is how to retrieve her position. Confronting the weary and miserable Adèle at breakfast the next morning, Madame puts on an air of great amusement:

“Don’t look so tremendously grave, because it is too ridiculous to turn les petites plaisanteries d’un esprit, gai comme le mien, into sober earnest! But the fact is, that I told you all that long story about M. Coventry merely to try a little experiment. I wanted to find out whether you really were as vulgarly in love, in la mode Anglaise, as I suspected… For shame, Adèle!—how could you be so foolish as to imagine that I was myself going to marry young M. Alfred de Coventry?”

Adèle is so relieved, she barely gets angry; all she thinks of is finding a chance to apologise and reconcile. It is the worried Sabina who points out that getting Coventry back to the house may not be so easy. However, there has been some suggestion of Mr Hargrave holding a small private dinner for Prince Frederic, intended as a pleasant relief from crowded social gatherings and stiff official functions, with very few, very select guests. The girls agree to ask their father to invite Mr Coventry: surely he will read correctly an invitation so flattering?

In their efforts to bring about this end, the girls press for the dinner party without realising the interpretation that Hargrave is putting upon their words—that he sees only Sabina’s eagerness for Prince Frederic to be invited to their house again, not the manoeuvring to secure an invitation for Alfred Coventry.

Hargrave is a man of notable taste, who has always guided his daughters’ choice of gowns: a fact which has helped secure them the reputation as two of the best-dressed young women in Paris. He now throws himself into the task of designing appropriate outfits for their dinner: nothing so elaborate as to suggest a state function, when the attraction of the dinner is that it is a mere “family party”; but nothing so simple as to suggest a lack of proper respect. The girls are more than happy to fall in with his suggestions, and agree to spend their morning passing on his designs to their chosen modiste. They only need some money…

Hargrave’s possession of a drawer full of gold sovereigns startles Adèle, although not as much as his misstating of his own financial position—to the extent of telling a lie about it. Though disturbed and confused, she says nothing to Sabina; finally accepting, although not without some effort, Sabina’s own laughing explanation of, “National partiality” in response to Madame de Hautrivage’s grumbling about “troublesome coin”. Perhaps Mr Hargrave merely wished to avoid being scolded or sneered at by his sister-in-law for indulging in some nostalgia for England, in allowing himself to be weighed down with inconvenient sovereigns; Adèle can certainly understand that

The dinner-party goes ahead and is another triumph for Hargrave—although not for Adèle: Alfred Coventry does not attend, having left Paris for a time. As far as Prince Frederic’s appreciation of the small, elite gathering goes, however, Hargrave has exactly anticipated his feelings of gratitude and enjoyment; accidentally surpassed them, indeed, since he was unaware of the prince’s deep love of music when he hired for the evening three of the leading performers of the Italian opera to sing for his guests.

Prince Frederic is moved offer fervent praise of Hargrave’s brilliance to to Sabina:

…such a feeling of gratitude and delight seized upon Sabina, that her eyes spoke her thanks much more eloquently than any words could have done, and so sweetly, innocently beautiful did she look the while, that the poor Prince felt for the first time that there was danger near him…

The two girls rehash the party the next day with very different feelings. Adèle is moved to warn Sabina again about Prince Frederic, but in response she both denies that she has allowed herself to grow attached to him, and that he has given her any sign of more than simple admiration. For Adèle, the misery of knowing her situation is her own fault—that she should have trusted her instincts instead of listening to her aunt—has her almost at breaking point. Finally, though reluctantly, she yields to Sabina’s counsel and sends Roger Humphries to make inquiries at Coventry’s hotel: knowing that there is no-one she can trust more than the devoted old servant, yet mortified at having to confess her secret to him.

Old Roger is only too flattered to be entrusted with such a mission, and promptly sets out; but the news (when the girls can extract it from Roger’s habitual circumlocution) is not good: Coventry is expected back in Paris, but only for as long as it will take him to pack up and leave altogether:

…it was only now that she was fully aware how wholly she had bestowed upon Coventry the affection of her heart. She spoke not, but she wept bitterly; and not the less so from the conviction that she had used him ill. The genuine worth and unmistakable nobleness of heart, which she had had sufficient opportunity of observing, ought, as she felt only too plainly, to have saved him from such hasty condemnation; and every sad moment of meditation on the past only brought with it the strengthened conviction that she had been loved, and was loved no longer…

Meanwhile, Hargrave, too, is meditating on the previous night’s events, to very different effect:

…his reverie changed from contemplation of the past to the most intoxicating anticipations for the future. He seemed to feel upon his heaving breast the delicious weight of stars and crosses of orders innumerable. Sweet sounds murmured in his ears as of whispering throngs of nobles, whose words, being interpreted, were “See! that graceful, noble gentleman is the father of Prince Frederic!” Long suites of gorgeous rooms opened in a palpable vista before him, and among them his heart told him he should find a home… “Ay, there will be my resting-place, and without the cursed, cursed necessity of seeking means to pay for it!…”

Hargrave is then brought down to earth with a thud: his steward, Jenkyns, interrupts his daydreams to announce that he has just been confronted by a very angry creditor, from whom Hargrave once borrowed one hundred and fifty thousand francs at high interest, and on a promise to pay back the capital on demand at any time after a two-year period. The creditor, M. Marsen, not only needs his money urgently, as he is about to leave France: he is furious that a letter demanding it has had no response.

Hargrave insists that he received no such letter, but assures Jenkyns that of course he will pay M. Marsen back—provided he is allowed the same one-month period originally agreed in which to get the money together. This, as it turns out, is not acceptable to M. Marsen, since all other aspects of their agreement have been violated; but after some argument, he agrees to accept payment in one week; agrees, too, to accept a package of jewels in lieu of cash, since Hargrave insists he will not be able to convert the gems into ready money in the time allowed. Marsen even agrees to keep the nature of their transaction a secret, after Hargrave expresses some shame at having to sell family jewels to pay his debt.

Another bullet dodged, Hargrave goes back to planning one, last glorious entertainment for Prince Frederic, to be held in a week’s time. He starts by sending him a personalised invitation, to ensure the prince’s presence, and the friendly note he receives in return almost sends him into a delirium of joy; particularly since it includes in exchange an invitation for the Hargrave family to attend a fancy-dress ball to be arranged and hosted by the prince himself: just the occasion for a public announcement, thinks Hargrave:

    “I have not lived so long in the very centre and heart of society without learning to interpret the signs and tokens belonging to it. Sabina is the elected wife of a prince, and I am destined to stand in the position of brother to a king! And poor Jenkyns thought to scare me by talking of a pressing claim for a few thousand pounds! What a whimsical incongruity it seems!”
    And Mr Hargrave laughed—laughed heartily at the jest he saw in it…

[To be continued…]

19/09/2015

Men And Women; or, Manorial Rights

Crowe2bThe common persuasion that accidents of fortune, good or ill, never come singly, is very often remarkably confirmed by the number of sudden and simultaneous circumstances that, without visible connexion between one another, contribute to the detection of crime—especially, and most notedly, with respect to cases of murder—each, perhaps, separated from the rest, undecisive; but the whole, when taken together, forming a body of evidence not to be resisted. These are the fruits of time, which, having borne and matured in her bosom, she puts forth in the perfect season; and it is a harvest that so rarely fails, that the doers of evil, however cunningly their crime has been contrived—though they may believe it buried a thousand fathoms deep from human eyes, may rest assured, that the seeds of their destiny are sown, that the tree is springing, and the blossoms falling, and that they are only respited until Time is ripe

I have already examined Catharine Crowe’s 1841 novel, Adventures Of Susan Hopley, and cited it as an important work in the development of crime and detective fiction. It now turns out that her follow-up work, 1843’s Men And Women; or, Manorial Rights, is even more so. Like the earlier novel, this is a long, digressive work of fiction, with frequent authorial interjections, multiple subplots, a constantly shifting scene and a dizzying cast of characters; but strip all these distractions away, and what we are left with is a thoroughly engaging and surprisingly modern murder mystery.

I say “surprisingly” advisedly: it is truly remarkable how much of what we take for granted today in this genre puts in an appearance in this novel. For instance, we have:

    • a murder victim so hateful, we don’t have to feel sorry he’s dead
    • numerous suspects with good and sufficient motive
    • the person to whom most of the evidence points being self-evidently innocent
    • an official investigation conducted through the stepwise interrogation of witnesses
    • various interested parties playing amateur detective
    • clues and red herrings scattered through the plot
    • a second murder to cover up the first
    • a race against time to prevent a miscarriage of justice

On the other hand, what’s missing from Men And Women is a central detective figure—a literary construct that would not appear for another twenty years or so. Though written in 1843, this novel is set during the Napoleonic era—before the establishment of the English police force. When murder is committed, there is an official investigation conducted by a panel of local magistrates; it is one of the novel’s pleasant surprises that these men remain level-headed and clear-eyed as they conduct their inquiry, proceeding in a logical, intelligent manner, and being swayed neither by emotion nor class prejudice. However, their job is not to discover the truth, but only to make out a prima facie case against a suspect.

Meanwhile, as in Adventures Of Susan Hopley, various other people begin to investigate the case for reasons of their own. In the earlier novel, it was the victim’s business partner and his lawyer who teamed up to uncover the truth; here, pitted against a faction determined that his client will be found guilty of the murder, the young barrister representing one of the main suspects conducts a personal investigation, initially in the hope of finding enough evidence against someone else to create reasonable doubt, but at last because he stumbles onto the truth—although whether he can prove it is another matter…

Men And Women opens by introducing us to the Rivers family, the head of which is an inveterate gambler—and one, moreover, who insists upon no curtailing of expenditure, in order to “keep up appearances”. The crash comes, with Marmaduke Rivers imprisoned for debt in the King’s Bench prison, and his wife and three daughters forced to give up their comfortable, socially prominent life and begin a hand-to-mouth existence in squalid lodgings. This experience offers the cold comfort of teaching them who their real friends are: most of their old acquaintances drop away from them immediately. On the other hand, Henry Russell – who is in love with Caroline, the second daughter – does them very practical service by visiting Mr Rivers in prison and compounding with his creditors, while the ladies gain a new friend in Elias Longfellow, an artist and fellow-lodger, a terminally shy and awkward young man, but one whose heart is as big as he is tall. (He understandably hates his name; the ladies tactfully call him “Mr Elias”.)

After this opening, the narrative shifts abruptly and somewhat confusingly to the environs of York, where is situated the country estate of Sir John Eastlake. Sir John, we learn, is in many ways an admirable man—he is regarded as one by the members of his own class, anyway—although there is no shortage of people who would contend that his positive qualities are cancelled by his cynical contempt for the female sex, and in particular his habit of treating his tenants’ daughter as his private crop for harvesting.

When the story begins, Sir John has already left numerous tragedies in his wake – we hear of a fatherless girl called Bessy Lee, who has recently died (either in childbirth or by her own hand) – and we meet him in mid-pursuit of Jessie Matthieson, a pretty but fatally vain village girl, who preens herself on having “the squire” in her toils, and as a consequence slights and neglects Leonard Graham, the farmer’s son to whom she is “sort of” engaged—that is, everyone assumes they will marry someday. Nevertheless, Jessie has no intention of accepting the squire’s lures—or at least, she doesn’t until Sir John, growing bored, suddenly diverts his attention to Lucy Graham, Leonard’s lovely young sister.

Both because of her firm moral upbringing and because she engaged to a young soldier called William Bell – and because she is no fool – Lucy finds the squire’s pursuit of her completely distasteful, and she tries to avoid him whenever she can: no easy task, as she often summoned to “the Castle” to do needlework for his mother. It never crosses Sir John’s mind that Lucy genuinely wants nothing to do with him: he concludes that she is simply playing hard to get, and escalates his pursuit of her into outright harassment, lying in wait for her and manhandling her whenever he gets an opportunity, and scornfully laughing away her frantic pleas that he leave her alone.

Village gossip is not slow to conclude that Lucy Graham is an artful minx, who behind her prim and proper façade is no better than she should be; no better than Jessie Matthieson who, her self-love mortified by being passed over for Lucy, begins throwing herself in the squire’s way again and finally gives in to him…

This interlude is conducted so discreetly that no-one knows of it but Sir John’s confidential servant, Vincent Groves, whose duties include arranging his master’s liaisons—and cleaning up the mess in their aftermath, whether by threats or bribery. Inevitably, Sir John’s ardour cools as soon as it is satisfied, and Jessie is quickly discarded. In the wake of this interlude, she disappears from her home, almost driving Leonard Graham frantic. And when rumour speaks of a dark-haired girl living at Sir John’s hunting-lodge, “frantic” is putting it mildly. Determined to know the truth, Leonard sets out on foot for the lodge…

But Leonard is not the only person with a grudge against Sir John. Lucy’s engagement to William Bell meets with the approval of neither of her parents. He is an honest young man, and he and Lucy are very much in love; but the late Mr Bell lost all of his money, forcing William to enlist to support himself. Accepting that they cannot marry until William receives his promotion, the couple correspond regularly and stand their ground against the disapproval of the Grahams. Geordie, though not unsympathetic, feels that Lucy could “do better”; Hannah, meanwhile, is determined that she will. Though Leonard is her pet, and she has always coddled and indulged him, Hannah is jealously resentful of Lucy’s closeness to her father. She also wants Lucy to marry a neighbouring farmer of good fortune so that Geordie will not feel it incumbent upon himself to divide his property between his children. When Leonard’s relationship with Jessie implodes, Hannah becomes illogically determined to ruin Lucy’s relationship too—finally going to extreme of having their letters to one another stopped, with the connivance of her sister who is the local postmistress.

The result is catastrophic. A reluctant soldier at best, though a thoroughly dutiful one, William lives upon Lucy’s letters; when they stop coming he becomes almost distracted. Then a garbled version of Lucy’s involvement with the squire reaches his ears, losing nothing in the telling. When William receives no reply to his latest letter in which he begs Lucy to explain the situation – so that he can scotch the rumours; he does not doubt her – the situation becomes more than he can bear. When his regiment is ordered abroad, William deserts—even though he knows what desertion in time of war will mean. Nothing, not even an ignominious death, seems as unbearable to William as not knowing what has happened to Lucy. By secret paths, he makes his way home…

William declares his intentions to Lucy in one final letter, begging her to meet him at a secret rendezvous. Due to the postmistress’s illness, this one comes into her hands. Lucy is horrified by William’s desperate action, and at the vague threat of worse contained in his letter, and rushes away to the meeting-point, a lonely area by the edge of the woods. As she waits there in mounting panic, she is horrified to see Sir John emerging from the woods, where he has been shooting pheasants. Seeing Lucy in such an isolated locale, he immediately assumes that she has decided to give in at last…

…and as Lucy, crying out in fear and loathing, struggles vainly in Sir John’s grasp, even going on her knees to beg him to let her go, a shot rings out…

In the wake of Sir John’s death, his estate and fortune pass to a cousin, Marmaduke Rivers (ohhhh, we say at this belated revelation). The rapid journey from fortune to squalor and back to fortune is almost too much for the Rivers ladies, who keep themselves to themselves while they recover the tone of their minds and nerves, only admitting to their company their staunch friends Henry Russell and Mr Elias. This everyone understands: it is the state of Marmaduke Rivers’ nerves that attracts their puzzled attention… And Rivers is not the only one who seems unnaturally affected by the events: ever since the day of his master’s death, Vincent Groves has been in a state of near-collapse. Is this indicative of his attachment to Sir John, and shock at the circumstances of his death – or something else?

The local magistrates interrogate the witnesses, including the unfortunate Lucy, who can only assert her absolute belief in the innocence of William – who emerged from the woods not long after the shooting, but left the scene at her urging when they heard someone else approaching. That someone was Groves, who was also in the woods, but who was separated from Sir John when he was sent to take a brace of game to a cottager. A hat belonging to Leonard Graham is also found at the scene, along with a pistol – which is, however, still loaded…

Such is central mystery plot upon which Men And Women is built; but there is a great deal more going on in this novel. As was the case with Adventures Of Susan Hopley, Catharine Crowe uses her story as a vehicle for social criticism; and once again, we find her sympathies almost entirely with the working-classes. She is stringently critical of Sir John Eastlake and his selfish, destructive  philandering, and disgusted with the way he uses Vincent Groves (who, however, goes along with it unquestioningly).

But there is an excuse of a kind for Sir John, in the shape of the perverse and selfish mothering that has helped to make him the way he is. We learn, in time, that when he was a young man Sir John was honestly in love, but his mother succeeded in preventing his marriage—and, subsequently, encouraged his philandering ways, all by way of likewise preventing the grandchild that would irrevocably alter the dynamic of life at Eastlake, and take the reins of power and fortune out of her hands: her domestically easy-going son being happy to let her rule the roost. It never crosses Lady Eastlake’s mind that her son will pre-decease her, still less that she will live to see the man she regards as his mortal enemy step into his shoes. When these events come to pass, and as the result of her son’s murder, Lady Eastlake has no doubt whatsoever about the identity of the killer:

    “Murdered!” said Lady Eastlake, slowly, her mind apparently incapable of entertaining the idea.
    “Ay,” said Nelly, in a concentrated tone that spoke volumes of vengeance, that only waited to know where to wreak itself, “murdered! Who did it?”
    “Marmaduke Rivers!” replied Lady Eastlake.
    “I said so, in my heart,” answered Nelly.
    “He has murdered him for the estate,” said Lady Eastlake.
    “That’s it,” said Nelly. “I knew it the moment the doctor said it was a ball that killed him.”
    “Nobody else could have had any motive for taking away his life,” said the mother.
    “To be sure not,” answered Nelly. “Wasn’t he an angel to everybody?”
    “Oh, he was!” cried Lady Eastlake, clasping her hands, and bursting at length into a passion of tears—“he was the joy of my heart and the delight of my eyes!” and throwing herself on the bed, she passionately embraced the body of her dear son, kissing, with eager kisses the cold breast and marble features…

Lady Eastlake wastes no time in carrying her accusations to the magistrates, who enrage her by pointing out that there is no evidence to support her assertions. Conversely, there is evidence against at least two other people. Lady Eastlake may not be able to conceive that anything other than a mercenary motive could be behind the murder of her “angel” son, but the magistrates know very well that for years Sir John has been leaving misery and humiliation in his wake amongst his tenants, any number of whom could be said to have a motive.

During her questioning by the magistrates, Lucy Graham describes the circumstances of the murder—and the ugly scene between herself and Sir John that preceded it. It is her father, however, forced to provide testimony against both his son and his daughter’s fiancée, who gets the last word:

    “There was a lass he was fond of, called Jessie Matthieson,” said Geordie; “she’s been awa’ these three weeks past, and nobody could tell what was ‘come of her—some said the squire had got her at Hillside, and Leonard went to Calderwood to try and get news of her. He’s gone, now, the squire,” added Geordie; “the Lord has taken him; but he was an awful man to be at the head of a parish. He sowed sorrow under many a thatch—and, may be, he’s reaped the harvest of it himself, at last.”
    Everybody was affected by the old man’s words, the truth of which were too well known…

But in spite of their sympathy for Sir John’s victims, the magistrates see that a case may be made against either William Bell or Leonard Graham – or both of them together – and set in motion a search for the two missing men. Leonard turns himself in and is able to clear his name—though he admits that he had intended to kill the squire himself: the pistol left at the scene was his, dropped with his hat in the shock of someone forestalling him. The official investigation then becomes entirely focused upon William Bell; while Lady Eastlake, infuriated that no-one will listen to her, hires her own inquiry agents to find evidence of what she knows must have happened…

At this point in Men And Women, its plots begin to diverge. We spend much time on the run with William, who has any number of hair’s-breadth escapes from capture, several times because of the unexpected kindness of strangers. He even gets more help than he is comfortable with from a girl called Peggy Bland, the daughter of a soldier in his regiment, who is in love with him—much to his masculine dismay. The relationship between William and Peggy is one of the more interesting of this novel’s many digressions, and unfortunately reveals our William of something of a prig—a young man who buys wholeheartedly and humourlessly into the social conventions that dictate what young women should and should not do in their interaction with young men.

The resulting conversation between William and Peggy is the novel’s comic highlight (though its implications are not the least bit funny), with William trotting out platitude after platitude, and Peggy not having a bar of it. This passage runs several pages, so I can’t quote all of it, but here are a couple of excerpts:

    “Men are very hard upon us,” said Peggy, “for doing just what they do themselves.”
    “What’s that?” asked William.
    “Why, I mean they if we love them when they don’t ask us, they despise us, and think there’s nothing too bad for us, and everybody’s against us—yet men fall in love with just anybody they like, whether one wants them or not, and nobody blames them.”
    “That’s very true, Peggy, and perhaps it’s not quite fair; but women should wait to be courted.”
    “Ah! it’s very easy talking,” said Peggy.

    “…the advice I am giving you as a friend is the same—never let any man know you love him until he has asked you.”
    “But suppose he never asks me?” said Peggy.

    “…I suppose we like the pleasure of the chase; besides, you know nobody prizes what they get too easily.”
    “Well, that seems very odd, too,” said Peggy, “because I should think if one is fond of a man because one can’t help it, it must be much truer love than if we only do it because he courts us, when, perhaps, we should never have thought of him if he had left us alone.”

    “Still, Peggy, as you cannot make men different from what they are, you must take my advice, and never shew your love till it’s asked for—and then, perhaps, if you hide it very cleverly, and look very pretty—and you are very pretty, Peggy, and are very merry—you may sometimes win the heart you wish for—that is, if it’s free. They say some women are clever enough to make any man fond of them.”
    “But the worst of it is, people are not clever when they are in love, nor merry either,” said Peggy.
    “No, Peggy,” said William sadly, “indeed we’re not. We’re very foolish.”
    “People that have all their wits about them, and can stop to think what’s best to be done, can’t be much in love, I’m sure,” said Peggy.

It is due to Peggy that William keeps his freedom as long as he does—she rescues him when he is attacked in the street and stabbed, and successfully hides him for many weeks, working to support him—all of which he requites by telling her again and again that he does not love and cannot love her (Peggy is more than once driven to shrieking, in effect, “I KNOW, I KNOW, I’M NOT ASKING YOU TO!!”).

Despite the twin legal threats confronting him, William would undoubtedly have turned himself in at the outset were it not for the fact that, as he fled the scene of Sir John’s murder, he almost stumbled across Leonard Graham, who was in a state of collapse. Knowing his own innocence, William assumes that Leonard is guilty—and he stays on the run not least because he doesn’t want to have to give evidence against his future brother-in-law. (The spineless Leonard, conversely, when the law catches up with him, sells William out without a second thought.) However, eventually there is a one thousand pound bounty upon William’s head – belatedly offered by Marmaduke Rivers, after an unnerving confrontation with Lady Eastlake – and this is a bait that not everyone can forego.

In fact, a young man called Jacob Lines makes it his business to get his hands on the money – which, we should note, is offered simply for William’s apprehension, since no-one doubts that he will be convicted – using as his tools the flattered and infatuated Jessie Matthieson, who has inadvertently learned of William’s whereabouts, and Hannah Graham, whose campaign against William has become every bit as obsessive as Lady Eastlake’s against Marmaduke Rivers.

One of the main themes that runs throughout Men And Women is the damage done by careless and spiteful talk, which is shown to have a cumulative and corrosive effect:

Not that they had believed the rumour; on the contrary, they had treated it with contempt; still, certain it is, that no calumny, however apparently absurd and unfounded it may be, was ever uttered, that did not make an impression, more or less deep, on the minds of those who hear it. Amongst the candid, the generous, and the good natured, the impression will be slight—probably so slight, that they are themselves unconscious that any impression has been made at all—till, perhaps, some confirmatory rumour, or some other calumny aimed at the same quarter, revives the memory of the first; and they find themselves suddenly half way on the road to believe the whole. This it is that makes small calumnies great evils. They act like small doses of poison, where each is insignificant in itself, but the gross amount is fatal…

Gossip is very nearly literally fatal to William Bell. Hannah does everything she can to blacken his name, even to get him convicted—perversely enough, she desperately needs him to be found guilty of Sir John’s murder in order to justify her own prejudice against him, and her conduct in the matter of the letters. In spite of her daughter’s misery, every blow against William is a triumph for Hannah, who is able to excuse herself by asserting that, “I always knew he was a wrong’un!” And it is gossip that sets in motion the chain of events that will end with William on trial for his life:

    “Ha, ha!” laughed Jessie again, scornfully; “people are all very well until they’re found out—it’s very convenient to have such a fine character.”
    “Till they’re found out!” said Mrs Lawson, who was a foolish woman and a confirmed gossip. “Why, you don’t mean to say, Jessie, that Lucy’s doing anything wrong, do you?”
    “Oh, I say nothing,” replied Jessie. “Besides, how could such an angel as Lucy do anything wrong? Everything she does must be right, you know. Some people may steal a horse out of the stable, whilst another mustn’t look over the hedge.”
    “But what do you mean, Jessie?” said Mrs Lawson, drawing her chair closer. “Do tell me! You know you may trust me with anything. I shall never mention it again.”
    “She means nothing at all,” said Mrs Matthieson. “She’s just chattering like the magpie there, without knowing what she says.”
    “Don’t I, mother? I fancy I could astonish you, and Mrs Lawson too, if I were to tell you half what I know.”
    “Well, then, do tell us,” said Mrs Lawson What’s the use of making such a secret of what, I dare say, half the village knows.”
    “Oh, for that matter, there’s no great pains taken to make a secret of it,” said Jessie. “I’m sure when Sir John wants Lucy, he sends Mr Groves openly enough to the farm, to fetch her.”
    “But she doesn’t go!” said Mrs Lawson.
    “Doesn’t she? But she does though!” said Jessie; “as fast as her legs can carry her.”
    “What? To the Castle?”
    “Yes, to the Castle, or anywhere else he likes.”
    “No!” exclaimed Mrs Lawson.
    “I don’t believe a word of it, Jessie,” said Mrs Matthieson. “Don’t believe her, Mrs Lawson; she’s only laughing at you. Lucy would no more do such a thing than I would.”
    “It’s as true as I stand here, mother!” said Jessie.

Pure spite lies at the root of Jessie’s assertions. In her heart she knows that Lucy is not encouraging the squire at all, but at this point the vanity that is her leading characteristic is so lacerated by his neglect of herself and his evident preference for Lucy that she is beyond caring how much she hurts her rival—this on the back of a lifetime of having Lucy held up to her by her mother as a model. And as with all truly damaging gossip, there is just enough truth in what Jessie is saying to give the story legs: Lucy is summoned to the Castle frequently, and because of Sir John’s determined pursuit of her, they have been seen together, sometimes in some suspiciously isolated corners, due to Lucy’s unavailing attempts to avoid the squire while going to and from her work.

Mrs Lawson is married to the quarter-master of William’s regiment. She carries the story home from the village and repeats it to her husband, putting the worst interpretation upon each turn of it; and Serjeant Lawson – who disapproves of marriage for young soldiers (having met Mrs Lawson, we can understand why), and who thinks William should be thinking more of his duties and a lot less about Lucy, repeats it to the young man, hoping it will cause him to forget about the girl. Instead, the story coming on the back of Lucy’s apparent failure to write to him, the tale drives William to desperation…

But William and Lucy are not the only victims of spiteful talk. Despite her failure to persuade the magistrates of Marmaduke Rivers’ guilt, Lady Eastlake tells her story to anyone who will listen to her in her own social circle; while Sir John’s old nurse, Nelly, does the same at her level, as well as haunting Rivers like a veangeful spirit. No-one really believes it…but like water dripping on stone, it slowly has an effect, particularly in light of Rivers’ strange, nervous condition, which is evident to everyone who approaches him; and when it turns out that Rivers was in the vicinity at the time of the murder, the story paves the way for a belief in his guilt.

Here, however, Catharine Crowe pauses to illustrate once again the unjust distance between the privileged and the working-classes. The story about Rivers emerges in the middle of William’s trial, and as a result of the inquiries set on foot by Lady Eastlake (who has provided counsel for William—being, apart from poor Lucy, the only person quite certain of the young man’s innocence). Witnesses are summoned to testify to Marmaduke Rivers’ presence in the district at the time of the murder, to his highly agitated state, and to the fact that he was carrying pistols. Most of this emanates from the landlord of the public-house at which Rivers stayed, and a most reluctant witness he is—and he is not the only one. No-one hesitated to bear witness against William Bell or Leonard Graham, but when it turns out that the strange gentleman seen in the area at the time of the murder is “the new squire”, those people who did see him maintain a discreet silence…

The evidence produced against Marmaduke Rivers causes William’s trial to be suspended. Like William, Rivers asserts that he is a victim of circumstances: he explains his presence in the district, and the reason for the pistols, but cannot provide an alibi; his financial motive, though of a very different nature of that assigned to William, is recognised as every bit as powerful. There is, in fact, no more hard evidence against Rivers than there ever was against William, but the fact of Rivers having offered a reward for William’s apprehension works against him. From a widespread belief in William’s guilt, public opinion veers around to an even stronger belief in the guilt of Marmaduke Rivers.

Henry Russell, who offers to represent Rivers, recognises with dismay that the wholly circumstantial nature of the case against his client makes it almost impossible to refute; and concludes that he can only get Rivers acquitted by identifying the guilty party—or at least, by building an equally convincing case against someone else. To this end, Russell starts out by trying to find more evidence against William—who he believes is innocent—but his personal investigation soon takes a very different direction…

Towards its conclusion, Men And Women separates itself from the modern murder mystery by revealing to the reader who the guilty party is, and following that person through their increasingly desperate efforts to evade detection—and through their growing realisation that the only way they might be able to escape is by committing a second murder. It turns out that someone else was in the woods at the time of the shooting of Sir John Eastlake, and knows very well who the murderer is—but being one of the numerous locals with a bitter grudge against the dead man, the witness decides to keep his mouth shut.

It turns out to be a fatal mistake…

27/02/2015

The Mysteries Of Paris

Sue4b“You know my ideas on the subject of the good which a man ought to do who has the knowledge, the will, and the power. To succour unhappy, but deserving, fellow creatures is well; to seek after those who are struggling against misfortune with energy and honour, and to aid them, sometimes without their knowledge,—to prevent, in right time, misery and temptation, is better; to reinstate such perfectly in their own estimation,—to lead back to honesty those who have preserved in purity some generous and ennobling sentiments in the midst of the contempt that withers them, the misery that eats into them, the corruption that encircles them, and, for that end, to brave, in person, this misery, this corruption, this contagion, is better still; to pursue, with unalterable hatred, with implacable vengeance, vice, infamy, and crime, whether they be trampling in the mud, or be clothed in purple and fine linen, that is justice; but to give aid inconsiderately to well-merited degradation, to prostitute and lavish charity and commiseration, by bestowing help on unworthy and undeserving objects, is most infamous; it is impiety,—very sacrilege! it is to doubt the existence of the Almighty; and so, he who acts thus ought to be made to understand.”

I have long and sorely neglected my investigation of the roots of modern detective fiction, but now it is time to return to the murky depths of 19th century crime fiction. In an earlier post, I examined Catherine Crowe’s 1841 novel, Adventures Of Susan Hopley, which I described as a literary bridge between the Newgate Novels of the 1820s and the sensations fiction of the 1860s. The main thread of the novel describes the efforts of various characters to solve the murder of a Mr Wentworth, and to clear the name of his manservant, Andrew Hopley, whose disappearance has led to an assumption of his guilt. Around this anchor plot is built a dizzyingly complicated narrative with a myriad of intersecting plots and numberless characters with multiple identities.

“A dizzyingly complicated narrative with a myriad of intersecting plots and numberless characters with multiple identities” also describes the next important entry in the timeline of detective fiction, Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris. Sue himself was something of a contradiction, a young man born into the upper middle classes and with aristocratic, even royal, connections – his godparents were Prince Eugène de Beauharnais and the Empress Joséphine – but who became an impassioned and vocal socialist. After a varied career as a naval surgeon, Sue settled in Paris and found work as a journalist with the liberal press, in time acquiring various publications himself and becoming an early “press baron”. He began writing fiction in the early 1830s, attracting readers with his exotic settings and scandalous plots. His fame today, however, rests chiefly upon his work for the feuilletons.

A “feuilleton”, meaning “leaf” or “scrap of paper”, was a supplement in a polical newspaper or magazine, offered in addition to the news and political editorialisation. In the earliest use of the term, it often referred to an arts or cultural section; later, usually to a work of fiction. Most popular of all were lengthy serial stories published over months or even years, such that “feuilleton” eventually became another word for “serial”. Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris appeared in Le Journal des Débats from June 1842 to October 1843.

Les Mystères de Paris was wildly popular, and not just in France. It was reprinted all over the world (sort of, as we shall see), and inspired a barrage of copycat publications, including two that we shall also be examining in this series of posts: Les Mystères de Londres by Paul Feval, another important figure in the development of crime and detective fiction, and its direct competitor, The Mysteries Of London / Mysteries Of The Court Of London by the king of English pulp fiction, George W. M. Reynolds. Another of Les Mystères de Paris‘s immediate offspring was Alexandre Dumas’ Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, while its use of interlocking plots and interconnected characters, its sprawling, often undisciplined narrative and its use of fiction as a vehicle for social criticism were a significant influence upon Victor Hugo in the writing of Les Misérables.

Les Mystères de Paris was, as I say, republished all over the world, but in many different forms: there really is no such thing as a “definite edition”. However, conversely, some releases are to be avoided at all cost. Abridged versions are common, while certain English editions were also significantly bowdlerised. To the best of my knowledge, the Project Gutenberg version, based upon the 1899 6-volume Boston edition, is complete, and probably the safest copy to access. In this form, Les Mystères de Paris is 1,384 pages long.

I started out comparing Les Mystères de Paris to Adventures Of Susan Hopley and I’m about to do it again, inasmuch as I am going to declare it similarly impossible to summarise: it is, likewise, the kind of thing that demands either six blog posts or only one, and the interests of everyone’s sanity, I’ve decided on just one. Rather than really trying to convey its multitude of plots, I want to concentrate instead on some of the most striking aspects of this work, and in particular how it differs from contemporary English writing in the same field, which is shown up as shamefully timid by comparison.

The main character of Les Mystères de Paris is a certain M. Rodolph. The opening section of the novel finds its hero intervening between a young girl of the streets and a former convict known as “Le Chourineur” (the butcher), the latter a local terror for his violent temper, his enormous strength, and his history as a killer who served fifteen years in the hulks for murdering a soldier while in the grip of what we might today describe as a psychotic break. It is not entirely clear what Le Chourineur intended to do to the girl – he later insists he only meant a bit of rough fun, though we’re inclined to doubt it – but Rodolph does not wait to find out. A desperate fight between the two men ends with the Chourineur thoroughly vanquished—which earns Rodolph his respect and admiration.  Le Chourineur insists upon both Rodolph and the girl accompanying him to a nearby “tapis-franc” – a thieves’ haunt, where liquor and food is served – where over a rough dinner Rodolph persuades the other two to tell him their stories.

In many ways Les Mystères de Paris is an extremely peculiar book. It serves up any amount of sex, violence, intrigue, plot and counterplot—while every now and then halting the action so that Eugène Sue, either through Rodolph or via his omniscient narrator, can deliver a lecture on the prevailing social conditions, unjust laws, the responsibility of the rich to the poor, the selfish immorality of the aristocracy, the state of the prison system, or some other personal bugbear. The result is what might reasonably be described as “socialist-sensation fiction”.

Eugène Sue’s main thesis is made crystal clear at the outset. Although the streets of Paris swarm with criminals, although for many theft, fraud and even murder are a way of life, there are others who hold fast to a moral code and try to live a decent life. These are the people, Sue contends, to whom the rich have a duty; who should be sought out and rewarded for their tenacious honesty. It is this cause to which Rodolph has devoted himself.

Most critically, however, and most praise-worthily, Sue believes in redemption. The people who Rodolph helps are not only those who have stayed honest all along, but those who have repented their sins and are trying to make a new start. He spends much time decrying the conditions that make this almost impossible, either because someone who has been in jail can’t get a job, or because of the sheer inadequacy of the wages offered by most employers. Temptations to crime are everywhere, encouragements to stay honest few and far between.

Unexpectedly, one of those who is trying to stay clean is Le Chourineur, whose personal code will not allow him to stoop to theft—even though he would live better either as a robber or a convict. Here we hit another of Sue’s red buttons, the fact that people are often better off in prison than they are in the world at large, there having at least a roof, a bed, food, and the chance to earn a little money (although that said, he’s not happy about prison conditions, either). Rodolph is struck by this aspect of Le Chourineur’s history:

    “You were cold, thirsty, hungry, Chourineur, and yet you did not steal?”
    “No; and yet I was horribly wretched. It’s a fact, that I have often gone with an empty bread-basket for two days at a time…but I never stole.”
    “For fear of a gaol?”
    “Pooh!” said the Chourineur, shrugging his shoulders, and laughing loudly… “An honest man, I was famishing; a thief, I should have been supported in prison, and right well, too! But I did not steal because—because—why, because the idea of stealing never came across me; so that’s all about it!”

Rodolph is moved by this rough honesty into declaring Le Chourineur to have both “heart” and “honour”, which in turn serves to attach the former convict to him with dog-like devotion.

The “unconscious rectitude” of Le Chourineur’s code, as it is called, highlights another of Sue’s beliefs. Although he was hostile to the Catholic church as an entity, he was nevertheless religious, and this display of conscience where it might be least expected is a recurring theme. It is a display which tends to happen more amongst the working-classes than the aristocracy, we note; and yet—and yet–

For someone writing in 1842, Eugène Sue’s views seem not merely progressive, but often startlingly so—but they are undercut (at least to modern eyes) by a taint of classism. In spite of his socialist tendencies, it is clear that Sue did not believe in genuine equality; further, that he believed that there were actual, ingrained differences between the nobility and the common people, as is shown most distastefully in two of the most shocking of the novel’s many subplots, both of which feature a young girl being drugged and raped—one because she resists the advances of her employer, the other as the fastest route into a life of prostitution.

The terrible vulnerability of poor girls is another of the novel’s many concerns. The latter victim is the girl whom Rodolph saves from Le Chourineur, and who is also – although with reluctance and shame – persuaded to tell her history. Her name is Marie, known as Fleur-de-Marie for her delicate appearance, once called “La Pegriotte” (little thief) and now “La Goualeuse” (the sweet-voiced one, for her singing) – like I said, everyone here has at least two names – and her short life has been one of misery and abuse.

Abandoned on the streets of Paris when little more than a baby, she was taken in by a vicious hag known as “La Chouette” (the screech-owl) and subjected to all sorts of deprivation and violence. Running away at the age of eight, she was picked up as a vagabond and spent the next eight years in prison—being released when deemed “an adult”. Subsequently she fell into the hands of the owner of the tapis-franc, “the Ogress”, who also happens to be pawn-broker, a fence—and a pimp. Fleur-de-Marie has been only six weeks on the job when she comes to the compassionate attention of Rodolph.

Mind you—you have to do some mighty fine reading between the lines to take in the full story of Fleur-de-Marie at the first reading. Here’s how her rape and her brief career as a prostitute are described:

“At this moment I met the Ogress and one of her old women who I knew where I lodged, and was always coming about me since I left prison. They told me they would find me work, and I believed them. I went with them, so exhausted for want of food that my sense were gone. They gave me brandy to drink, and—and—here I am!” said the unhappy creature, hiding her face in her hands.

Compare this to the frank recitation of Louise Morel, daughter of a working-class family, who is taken into service by one of the novel’s leading villains, M. Ferrand, a notary, a thorough-going hypocrite with a public reputation for rectitude and piety and a private life steeped in vice and crime. One of Ferrand’s main amusements is bringing young girls into his household, ruioning them, them casting them aside. In Louise’s case, her father is in debt to him, and will be imprisoned at a word from Ferrand, meaning that Louise’s mother and numerous siblings will be left to starve. She herself is subjected to violence, and restrained and starved, but nevertheless holds Ferrand off, until he finally goes to extremes:

    “This lethargic feeling,” continued Louise, “so completely overpowered me, that, unable any longer to resist it, I at length, contrary to my usual custom, fell asleep upon my chair. This is all I recollect before—before— Oh, forgive me, father, forgive me! indeed, indeed, I am not guilty; yet— I know not how long I slept; but when I awoke it was to shame and dishonour, for I found M. Ferrand beside me…
    “My first impulse was to rush from the room, but M. Ferrand forcibly detained me; and I still felt so weak, so stupefied with the medicine you speak of as having been mingled in my drink, that I was powerless as an infant. ‘Why do you wish to escape from me now?’ inquired M. Ferrand, with an air of surprise which filled me with dread. ‘What fresh caprice is this? Am I not here by your own free will and consent?’ ‘Oh, sir!’ exclaimed I, ‘this is most shameful and unworthy, to take advantage of my sleep to work my ruin; but my father shall know all!’ Here my master interrupted me by bursting into loud laughter, ‘Upon my word, young lady,’ said he, ‘you are very amusing. So you are going to say that I availed myself of your being asleep to effect your undoing. But who do you suppose will credit such a falsehood? It is now four in the morning, and since ten o’clock last night I have been here… What, in Heaven’s name, can you tell your father? That you thought proper to invite me into your bedroom? But invent any tale you please, you will soon find what sort of a reception it will meet with…’.”

M. Ferrand proceeds to blast Louise’s reputation, wailing to anyone who will listen to him about his horror at discovering that he, the very personification of virtue, has being harbouring a whore under his roof; and subsequently, when Louise’s baby is born dead, he has her arrested on charges of infanticide and so facing the guillotine. But luckily for the Morel family – and most unluckily for M. Ferrand – by this time Rodolph has interested himself in their affairs…

The resolutions of the twin plots of Louise and Fleur-de-Marie differ as radically as the telling of their sad histories. Louise, though suffering horribly, refuses to take any guilt upon her own shoulders and sensibly gets on with life; while Fleur-de-Marie, who is filled with guilt and shame when we first meet her, only becomes more so over the course of the novel, until it literally subsumes her. The unfortunate implication seems to be that while a working-class girl might be able to survive such a trauma, this is a task beyond anyone with the sensibilities of “a lady”—even if she doesn’t happen to know she is “a lady”…

At the conclusion of Fleur-de-Marie’s account of herself, we are given the following:

    Rodolph had listened to the recital, made with so painful a frankness, with deep interest. Misery, destitution, ignorance of the world, had weighed down this wretched girl, cast at sixteen years of age on the wide world of Paris!
    Rodolph involuntarily thought of a beloved child whom he had lost,—a girl, dead at six years of age, and who, had she survived, would have been, like Fleur-de-Marie, sixteen years and a half old. This recollection excited the more highly his solicitude for the unhappy creature whose narration he had just heard.

Immediately, of course, a knowing grin starts to slide across the face of the experienced sensation-reader; but Eugène Sue has a surprise in store for us. Before the first volume of Les Mystères de Paris has concluded, he gives us the following blunt statement:

At this moment, we will content ourselves with stating, what the reader has no doubt already guessed, that Fleur-de-Marie was the fruit of the secret marriage of Rodolph and Sarah, and that they both believed their daughter dead.

It is, however, about a thousand pages further on before Rodolph finds out the truth. By withholding this information from the characters but not from the reader, Sue adds a fiendishly tortuous quality to his telling of the many, many subsequent travails of Fleur-de-Marie.

If Fleur-de-Marie is actually a lady, then of course Rodolph, despite his working-class disguise and the ease with which he moves through the various levels of Parisian society, is a gentleman. In fact, he is rather more than that. The novel is only a few pages old when Rodolph’s companion is softly calling him “Your Highness”, and not much older before Eugène Sue has revealed his hero to be no less a person that the Grand Duke Gustavus Rodolph of Gerolstein, a (fictional) German principality. After being taught a variety of painful life-lessons by a series of tragedies, the Grand Duke left Gerolstein for France where, after adopting the persona of M. Rodolph, a simple workman, he made it his mission to seek out and secretly assist the worthy poor—while also punishing (sometimes with startling violence and even cruelty) the worst of criminals. Meanwhile, in his own persona, Rodolph moves freely amongst the French aristocracy, where a whole series of parallel subplots unfold.

As I have already intimated, and as must already be clear even from this brief overview, the plot of Les Mystères de Paris is too insanely complicated even to begin trying to summarise it; so instead I’ll simply try to give you an idea of its main threads:

First, of course, there’s Rodolph himself. He was only a teenager when his father, the previous Grand Duke, committed the fatal blunder of putting his education in the hands of a certain Doctor César Polidori, “a renowned linguist, a distinguished chemist, learned historian, and deeply versed in the study of all the exact and physical sciences”—but also “atheist, cheat, and hypocrite, full of stratagem and trick, concealing the most dangerous immorality, the most hardened scepticism, under an austere exterior”—and a very ambitious man. Polidori makes it his business to encourage all the worst features in Rodolph’s character, in particular encouraging in him to neglect his duties; foreseeing a time when he might be the power behind the throne in Gerolstein.

(Polidori turns up in various guises, involved in various nefarious plots, all the way through Les Mystères de Paris.)

Meanwhile, Rodolph also falls victim to an even more insidious danger. Sarah Seyton, a beautiful young Scottish girl, the daughter of a baronet, had become obsessed with the thought of making a royal marriage even since having her fortune told to that effect. Sensibly not setting her sights too high, Sarah targets the inexperienced but hot-blooded young heir to the Grand Duchy of Gerolstein; further assisted in this plan by her late father’s political connections, which secure her an introduction to the Gerolstein Court. After ingratiating herself with the susceptible Grand Duke Maximilian, Sarah then gets to work on Rodolph, finally inflaming him to such a degree as to draw from him a proposal of marriage.

Rodolph, though dizzy with his first serious passion, is only too well aware of what his father’s reaction will be to such a mésalliance, and presses upon Sarah the absolute necessity for secrecy. She agrees and, with the connivance of Polidori, with whom Sarah has entered into a partnership of exploitation, the two are married. Sarah has no intention of staying in the shadows a second longer than absolutely necessary, however, and as soon as her pregnancy is sufficiently advanced, she begins dressing so as to reveal it…

The consequences are tragic, and very nearly fatal, as in the inevitable violent confrontation between Rodolph and the Grand Duke, the young man is provoked into drawing his sword upon his father—saved from parricide only by the swift intervention of Sir Walter Murphy, the blunt, painfully honest Englishman to whom Rodolph’s physical education has been entrusted. In the subsequent fallout, Polidori is arrested. To save his own skin, he proves that the marriage isn’t legal, and also sells out Sarah, producing one of her letters to her brother and accomplice, which he took the precaution of acquiring earlier, in which her schemes against Rodolph are spelled out in the most cold-blooded terms—and in which she hints at the possible disposal of the Grand Duke Maximilian.

Overwhelmed with grief and remorse, Rodolph did everything he could to expiate his guilt, leaving Gerolstein for a time at his father’s command, and later obediently marrying a bride chosen for him. During his absence, Sarah was banished from the country and the whole business hushed up. At that time, Rodolph’s deep bitterness and resentment did not leave him much feeling for his child, but later, when he heard that Sarah had remarried – or married – he found himself yearning for his daughter. He tried to contact Sarah, in order to beg for custody of the girl, by then four years old, but for two years was unable to gain any word of the child—and when he finally hear from Sarah, it was to inform him that their daughter was dead…

One of the novel’s surprises is that Sarah, too, genuinely believes her daughter dead; it isn’t just another scheme, or at least, not on her part. As part of her preparations for her marriage with the Count Macgregor (I’m not sure how anyone gets to be “Count Macgregor”, and the novel isn’t telling), she farms the girl out and arranges for her to be raised on the proceeds of a trust fund. Unfortunately, the people who have charge of Amelia (aka Marie) decide that such a nest egg would be wasted on the child and appropriate it for themselves, covering up the business with a fake death and an equally fake investment failure: a transaction facilitated by our old friend, the notary M. Ferrand.

When first sent away by his father, Rodolph swore a solemn oath:

“From that hour I have been a prey to the deepest, the most acute remorse. I immediately quitted Germany for the purpose of travelling, with the intent, if possible, of expiating my guilt; and this self-imposed task I shall continue while I live. To reward the good, to punish the evil-doer, relieve those who suffer, penetrate into every hideous corner where vice holds her court, for the purpose of rescuing some unfortunate creatures from the destruction into which they have fallen,—such is the employment I have marked out for myself.”

Such he did until summoned back to Gerolstein to marry, and such he begins doing again after the death of his wife. One of the first recipients of his assistance is a certain Mme Georges, real name Mme Duresnal, a connection of some close friends of his family, who he found in great distress in Paris, and removed to his model farm in the countryside. Mme Georges has the misfortune to be married to a man who, although well-born, has become one of the most vicious and feared of the Parisian criminal element. Many years earlier, Duresnal not only left his wife destitute, but stole away their only child, a son, with the aim of raising him to follow in his own footsteps. Unfortunately, from his father’s point-of-view, the boy took after his mother; and when as a mere youth he was placed in a bank with the sole purpose of facilitating a robbery, he blew the whistle on his father and his associates. Swearing bloody vengeance on his son, Duresnal was sentenced to life imprisonment—but subsequently escaped…

Rodolph’s plunge into the Parisian underworld is in hope of finding some hint of the fate of the boy, who after living under a series of false names, and moving from job to job, has disappeared—having either gone into hiding, or having fallen victim to his own father. The only clue to his identity that his grieving mother was able to offer Rodolph is that the last time she saw her child, he was wearing “a small Saint Esprit, sculptured in lapis lazuli, tied round his neck by a chain of silver”.

Various plots and manoeuvres bring Rodolph into contact with a notorious criminal known, for his superior education, as the Schoolmaster; his partner in crime (among other things) is none other than Fleur-de-Marie’s old nemesis, La Chouette. Rodolph is trying to lure these two vile criminals into a trap when he makes two startling discoveries: they have knowledge of Fleur-de-Marie’s origins, and La Chouette is wearing the lapis lazuli keepsake of Mme Georges’ son. The Schoolmaster is known as an escaped convict, one who has gone to length of horribly disfiguring his own face in order to conceal his identity: it occurs to Rodolph that he may be none other than M. Duresnal.

So begins a violent conflict that forms one of the main threads of the novel, as Rodolph counters and thwarts the criminal pair, earning their deadly enmity and finding himself in ongoing danger of his life, all while trying to discover what exactly the Schoolmaster and La Chouette might know about Fleur-de-Marie and the missing youth, and also protecting Fleur-de-Marie herself, against whom La Chouette nurses a venomous hatred. One of her favourite fantasies involves throwing vitriol into the girl’s lovely face… And horrifying as this is—we must observe that the punishment which Rodolph eventually inflicts upon the Schoolmaster comprises the novel’s most shocking moment.

Meanwhile, Rodolph is not the only one who has been widowed. A free woman again, Sarah is back on his track, more obsessed than ever not just with the thought of marrying royalty, but of drawing Rodolph back into her web. At this time Sarah does not know that Rodolph saw her incriminating letters, as so fools herself that she might be able to make him love her again. She follows him, spies upon him, weaves schemes around him…and sees that he is in love with another woman, and a married woman at that, who becomes the target of her secret emnity as a consequence. (I’m not even going to touch that incredibly convoluted subplot.)

Finally Sarah decides that the only way she can possibly recapture Rodolph and the crown of Gerolstein is through their daughter; their dead daughter. She has marked Rodolph’s protection of, and deep affection for, Fleur-de-Marie, and realises that she has identified his most vulnerable point. Were their daughter still alive, she could surely persuade him into a marriage that, however little he wanted it personally, would legitimise the girl. Sarah begins plotting to impose a fake Amelia upon Rodolph—deciding also to simultaneously remove an unwanted complication and increase Rodolph’s emotional vulnerability by having Fleur-de-Marie murdered. It is not until after she has set her plot in motion that Sarah finds out who Fleur-de-Marie actually is

.

Sue7

28/12/2013

Adventures Of Susan Hopley; or, Circumstantial Evidence

crowe1a    “My brother, my only connexion in the world…was declared a robber and a murderer—the worst of murderers, for he had murdered his benefactor—he was a fugitive, hiding from justice, and a price was set upon his head—our name was branded with infamy… Would it not be better, I said to myself, to end my life at once, than drag on a miserable existence, exposed to insult, want, and every kind of wretchedness, till a lingering death terminates my sufferings, or till the cruelty of the world forces me to some act that might justify the ill opinion it entertains of me?
    “But then, again,” I said, “if I could clear Andrew’s character? If I could live to see the day when we might lift up our heads again, and cry to the world, ‘You’ve wronged us!’ For my heart still told me he was not guilty; and that if he were alive, he would surely come forward and vindicate himself; and if he were dead, his body would yet be found, and his wounds speak for him. Would it not be worth while to live through all the wretchedness the scorn of the world could inflict on me, to hail that day at last?”

Regular visitors would be aware that I have been looking into the roots of detective fiction, and the emergence of the female detective in particular. Various studies in this area have identified a number of “prototype” works that do not themselves fit the parameters of the detective novel, but which were important stepping-stones along the evolutionary road.

Catharine Crowe’s 1841 novel, Adventures Of Susan Hopley; or, Circumstantial Evidence (which was published in America as Susan Hopley; or, The Adventures Of A Maid-Servant), is one such work. Not only in its publication date, but much more importantly with respect to its handling of its subject matter, this novel sits almost equidistant between the “Newgate Novels” of the 1820s and the sensation novels of the 1860s, and represents a vital step in the process: the domestication of crime fiction. Adventures Of Susan Hopley is as fully steeped in crime as any of the thief- or highwayman-focused works of earlier in the century, but its sympathies are with the victims of crime, and its perspective stays predominantly with its “good” characters—“good”, because while this novel is technically Victorian, it retains the pragmatic attitude of the Regency, with its morality rendered in shades of grey.

Catharine Crowe herself led a life rendered in shades of grey. Like many female novelists, she wrote to support herself; but unlike many of her fellows, she needed to support herself because she had separated herself from her husband, a situation that seems to have had no adverse effect upon her career. (As I say, “Victorianism” hadn’t kicked in yet.) Crowe started out writing plays and had a modest success, but it was Adventures Of Susan Hopley that established her reputation. She became part of a literary circle that included William Makepeace Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte and Harriet Martineau, with whom she shared views on female education, and followed her breakthrough work with several more well-received novels (one of which, Men And Women; or, Manorial Rights, also shows up on checklists of early detective fiction; watch this space).

From the late 1840s onwards, however, Crowe’s life took a different path, as she became increasingly interested in the paranormal. These subjects came to dominate her writing: she wrote numerous ghost and other horror stories which were later anthologised, and achieved another best-seller in Night-Side Of Nature; or, Ghosts And Ghost-Seers. They also may have been behind a bizarre incident when, in 1854 – at least according to gossip – Crowe was found wandering the streets of Edinburgh naked, apparently convinced that “the spirits” had made her invisible. Crowe herself angrily denied this version of the story (and that she was naked) in a letter to a newspaper, but it was too good to be given up and widely circulated; Charles Dickens, supposedly a friend of Crowe’s, was one of those who propagated it. (A compromise version, that Crowe became delirious during an illness and wandered off, seems to me the most likely explanation.) Consequently, search for information on Catharine Crowe today and almost invariably it is the Edinburgh incident (naked version) rather than anything about her writing that is returned.

So let’s try to re-balance the ledger a little, shall we?

Adventures Of Susan Hopley is a story told in retrospect; told, in fact, after the death of its heroine at a ripe old age. It begins in the voice of Harry Leeson, who knew Susan from the time he was a child, and who employed her as his housekeeper until the time of her death:

Worthy, excellent Susan! methinks I see her now, in her neat, plaited cap, snuff-coloured stuff gown, clean white apron, and spectacles on nose, plying her knitting-needles, whose labours were to result in a comfortable pair of lamb’s-wool stockings for my next winter’s wear, or a warm waistcoat for poor old Jeremy; or in something, be it what it might, that was to contribute to the welfare and benefit of some human being; and I believe, if it had so happened that the whole human race had been miraculously provided to repletion with warm stockings and waistcoats, that Susan, rather than let her fingers be idle and not be doing something for somebody, would have knit jackets for the shorn lambs and blankets for the early calves…

As he reminisces, dwelling fondly on Susan’s honesty and kindness – and her valued companionship, particularly after he was widowed – Harry recalls the moment that it occurred to them not merely to talk over the adventures of their youth, as they were very much in the habit of doing, but to write them down. What follows is their joint narrative of a series of extraordinary events…

Susan Hopley and her younger brother, Andrew, are the only children of a day-labourer on a farm. When the lingering illness of Mrs Hopley brings the family into straitened circumstances, they are relieved by a Mrs Leeson, whose young son, Harry, becomes attached to the Hopley children. Susan herself is taken into Mrs Leeson’s service, while Andrew is placed with a Mr Wentworth, Mrs Leeson’s uncle. After the death of Mrs Leeson, Mr Wentworth vows to provide for Harry, and also takes Susan into his own household.

Mr Wentworth, a wine-merchant, earlier took into his business a distant relative, Mr Gaveston, with whom the young Fanny Wentworth fell in love – not entirely to her father’s satisfaction; though as he is forced to admit, he has nothing concrete to allege against him. Nevertheless, Mr Wentworth takes steps to discourage his daughter’s suitor, informing him blandly that he intends to make Harry Leeson his main heir with respect to the wine-business, and that the bulk of Fanny’s substantial fortune will be vested in trustees and tied up in her children.

Gaveston expresses no dissatisfaction with these arrangements, nor evinces any desire to break his engagement. Shortly afterwards, however, young Harry Leeson begins to be plagued by mysterious accidents… Indeed, twice the boy’s life is in immediate danger, once in a riding incident, once from drowning. In the second instance he is rescued by Andrew Hopley, who risks his own life in the process, and is regarded more warmly than ever by the Wentworths as a consequence.

Andrew’s health having been affected by his watery adventure, Mr Wentworth proposes that the young man accompany himself, Fanny and Harry on a short trip to the seaside. In their absence, two memorable experiences befall Susan. The first is a call at the house by a stranger of distinctive appearance, who demands to know when Mr Wentworth is expected home – and who, confronted by Susan’s clear gaze, manages to put out her candle as they are talking:

“When I opened the door, I saw by the light of the candle I held in my hand, a stout man in a drab coat, with his hat slouched over his eyes, and a red handkerchief round his throat, that covered a good deal of the lower part of his face; so that between the hat and the handkerchief, I saw very little of his features except his nose; but that was very remarkable. It was a good deal raised in the bridge, and very much on one side; and it was easy to see that whatever it had been by nature, its present deformity had been occasioned by a blow or an accident. He did not look like a common man, nor yet exactly like a gentleman; but something between both; or rather like a gentleman that had got a blackguard look by keeping bad company…”

Two nights later, after receiving a letter from Andrew full of oblique animadversions against Mr Gaveston, Susan has a deeply disturbing dream:

“I thought I was sitting in master’s arm-chair by his bed-room fire, just as indeed I was, and that I had just dropped asleep when  heard a voice whisper in my ear, “Look there! who’s that?” Upon that I thought I lifted my head and saw my brother Andrew sitting on the opposite side of the fire in his grave clothes, and with his two dead eyes staring at me with a shocking look of fear and horror—then I thought he raised a hand slowly, and pointing with his thumb over his shoulder, I saw two men standing close behind him; one had a crape over his face, and I could not see who he was; but the other was the man with the crooked nose, who had rung the bell two nights before. Presently they moved forwards, and passing me, went into my master’s dressing-closet, which was behind where I was sitting. Then I fancied that I tried to rouse myself, and shake off my sleep, that I might look after them, but I could not; and when I turned my eyes again on the chair where Andrew had been sitting, instead of him I saw my master there with a large gash in his throat…”

By daylight, Susan shakes off the effects of her unnerving experience, only to find herself confronted by an even mote distressing reality. A carriage arrives, bearing a constable, who demands that Susan, Mr Jeremy, the Wentworths’ butler, and Mrs Jeremy, the housekeeper, accompany him to the town of Maningtree—and that Susan bring with her any letters written to her by Andrew during her absence. Upon their arrival at Maningtree, Susan finds herself being pointed out and stared at. She and the Jeremys are taken into the inn, where they find Mr Gaveston waiting for them. It is he who breaks the shocking news to Jeremy: Mr Wentworth is dead, robbed and murdered, and Andrew Hopley has absconded. Furthermore, a dairymaid called Mabel Lightfoot, who Andrew was courting, or trying to court, is also missing from home. The authorities, putting two and two together and getting five, have concluded that Andrew committed his crime in order to fund his flight with Mabel. However, while it was true that Mabel favoured Andrew above any of the other suitors of her own class, that did not mean she favoured him much: the lovely young girl, though not flighty, was notorious for having ideas above her station; and the idea that she might have eloped with a young footman on fifty ill-gotten pounds is simply incredible to her fellow-servants:

Jeremy was silent. There was something in all this inexplicable to him. He was an uneducated, but a very clear-headed man, and one who, to use his own phrase, was rarely deceived in man or woman. Of Andrew he entertained the highest opinion, founded on observation and experience, having known the lad from his childhood; whilst to Mr Gaveston he had an antipathy so decided, that he used to liken it to the horror some people have of cats; and declare that he always felt an uncomfortable sensation whenever he was near him. Then, as for Mabel’s having gone off with Andrew…which, in short, he could not help suspecting was the insinuation Mr Gaveston was driving at, he was as sceptical about that as the young man’s guilt. He not only believed her incapable of countenancing or taking a part in the crime, but he was satisfied that she cared very little for Andrew; and was altogether actuated by views of a very different nature. He was even aware that Mr Gaveston himself had offered to pay her more attention than was quite consistent with his engagement to Miss Wentworth…

And as the investigation proceeds, another bewildering fact is established: Mr Wentworth’s new will has disappeared. Consequently, his entire fortune descends to his next-of-kin, his daughter, Fanny…

It is Mr Jeremy to whom the unenviable tasks of breaking the news to Susan falls. Stunned beyond measure, Susan holds hard to her belief in her brother’s innocence, insisting vehemently that he will return and clear his name; or that, if he does not, then he, too, must have been murdered, perhaps in defence of the master to whom he was devoted. But in that case, where is his body?

The tragedy of Mr Wentworth’s murder soon takes on another, more personal dimension for Susan: she realises to her grief and shame that the name “Hopley” has become infamous; that unless Andrew can somehow be cleared, she too will forever afterwards carry the stain of his guilt. The grief-stricken Fanny Wentworth, although she has full belief in Susan’s own integrity, tells her reluctantly that she must leave the household. Furthermore, though William Dean, the young man by whom Susan is being courted, declares his willingness to stand by her regardless, she knows that this is not fair to him and breaks off their engagement. The one tiny silver lining in Susan’s misery is that she has a loyal friend in Dobbs, the late Mrs Leeson’s housekeeper, now in service in London, who finds her a position with a young married couple. Bidding farewell to everything she has known, Susan collects together her meagre possessions and sets out to begin a new life…

Adventures Of Susan Hopley is a novel impossible to summarise, and I’m not going to try. (Hallelujah! they cry.) With its lengthy, rambling narrative, its extensive cast of characters, its bewildering plethora of intersecting plotlines and the starring role played by “coincidence” in the unravelling of its various mysteries, one might be tempted to call it “Dickensian”—except that, to all intents and purposes, Catharine Crowe got there first. (Crowe name-checks Dickens at one point, commenting in a footnote that an incident in her work does resemble one in Master Humphrey’s Clock, but was written first; Master Humphrey’s Clock was the serial publication mixing fiction and miscellanea from which Dickens eventually extracted the novels The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge.) Susan Hopley is the key to most – not all – of the novel’s plotlines, mostly due to enforced changes in her employment, and she remains throughout our main focus-figure. However, at various points Susan disappears while other lengthy narratives are interpolated, often in the form of characters telling their own histories, or the histories of others (which, in long-standing novelistic tradition, they couldn’t possibly know in such detail). Although again and again the reader is at a loss to know exactly how a particular narrative fits into the overall tapestry, at length – at length – each of these individual stories plays its part in identifying the murderer of Mr Wentworth and clearing the name of Andrew Hopley.

That said, it is stretching a point too far to call Susan Hopley a “detective”, as one of those studies into early detective fiction does. Though through her intelligence, powers of observation and retentive memory, Susan is instrumental in clearing her brother’s name and bringing the real murderer to justice, she does not actively set out to uncover the truth and vindicate her brother. For one thing, she hasn’t the time, or the resources: she’s a working girl whose first object has to be to earn an honest living. There is some amateur detective work done in this book, however: the active parties are Mr Olliphant, the late Mr Wentworth’s solicitor, and in particular Mr Simpson, originally Wentworth’s head clerk in his wine-business, who has consequently known Walter Gaveston since he was a boy and wouldn’t trust him as far as he could throw him. Separately and together, and with invaluable contributions from Susan, these two men slowly begin to penetrate the fog of mystery surrounding the murder of their employer and friend.

The reader of Adventures Of Susan Hopley, it may be said, is left in far less doubt than the characters in the novel as to the identity of the guilty party – parties – who are of course Gaveston and his friend with the broken nose, briefly identified for us as George Remorden, a well-born young man gone to the dogs. The murder of Mr Wentworth is not the only crime of which they are guilty over the course of this novel, not by a long shot: their careers encompass murder, theft, fraud, blackmail and bigamy, as well as more social sins such as seduction and abandonment. And even more frequently than they commit crimes, the two of them change their identities, hopping from plot-thread to plot-thread in the process and repeatedly showing up again as somebody else. In most cases, there is only that distinctive nose on the face of Mr Remorden to alert the reader to the fact that this has happened; Walter Gaveston himself is a lot harder to spot. Nor are these two the only characters with this chameleon-like tendency. Again and again individuals disappear from one narrative and show up in another, and only the most alert of readers will always be aware that this has happened.

In short—Adventures Of Susan Hopley is a novel that demands the reader pay strict attention at all times. And possibly keep a scorecard.

In spite of the astonishing amount of crime that occurs throughout its pages, this is not a novel without a certain sense of humour, which is heightened by Catharine Crowe’s knack for deft character touches. Here, for example, we find her playing with the “Jew money-lender” stereotype so common in novels of this era (and sadly, for many years afterwards):

Mr Lecky, though still calling himself a Jew, and adhering pretty closely to his own people, as he professed to consider them, had so deteriorated from the type of his ancestors by the frequent alloy of Christian blood they had grafted onto his stock, that he had lost all the distinguishing characteristics of those generally handsome infidels; whilst nature, probably thinking that he could make out no good title to the features of any other sect, had evaded the difficulty by giving him an assortment that would have been unanimously repudiated by every denomination whatsoever…

I’m also fond of this brief visit with an inexperienced opera-goer:

    “Look! he says she shall be mistress of his heart, but that, being a prince, he cannot marry her.”
    “Then I wouldn’t listen to a word more he had to say, if I were her,” said Miss Jones.
    “You think so,” said Rochechouart; “but you wouldn’t be able to help it.”
    “Indeed I should,” replied the young lady.
    “Not if you were in love,” he said tenderly.
    “But I’m not in love,” answered Miss Jones.
    “That alters the case, certainly,” said the duke. “It’s very extraordinary,” thought he; “she’s not the least like any other woman I ever met with;” and he fell into a reverie, forgetting for a time to continue his explanations.
    “He’s gone,” said Miss Jones.
    “Who?” said the duke, starting.
    “The prince,” said she. “Has she dismissed him?”
    “Yes,” replied Rochechouart; “she has sent him away discomfited; and there is the shepherd returned to try his fortune again; but she can’t bring herself to listen to him.”
    “I don’t wonder at it,” returned Miss Jones. “Who would, after being made love to by a prince?”
    “I admire your sentiments,” said Rochechouart, with animation.

Friends of the pragmatic “Miss Jones” know her better as Mabel Lightfoot…

Then of course there’s this piece of inadvertent humour; and while the fate of the young woman in question is sufficiently dismal, it’s not as bad as this passage might seem to suggest:

    “It never rains but it pours, you know,” observed Mr Cripps. “It’s a pity Jemmy arn’t old enough for a husband. I dare say the count would be able to find one for her amongst his great acquaintance.”
    “Oh! the gentleman whom Miss Livy is about to make happy, is a friend of the count’s, is he?” said Mr Glassford.
    “Partiklar,” answered Mr Cripps; “as soon as the wedding’s over, they are all to go together to the count’s castle in Transylvania.”

But while there is plenty of humour in Adventures Of Susan Hopley, intentional and otherwise, there are also some things it takes very seriously indeed. One of the things I find most fascinating about it is how much of its narrative it devotes to the concerns of working-class people, and how sympathetic it is to the difficulties faced by those trying forge a life for themselves at that level. Indeed, I wonder how many 19th century novels have, in a non-didactic context, a servant as their main character? – or spend so much time pondering the fragility of “a good character”? – or show so clearly how servants are at the mercy of the vagaries of their employers? When Andrew Hopley is accused of Mr Wentworth’s murder, Susan finds herself being treated like a leper by the “nice” people:

An elderly lady connected with the family had come down to stay with her; and Susan saw too plainly that the stranger did not regard her with such indulgent eyes as her kind young mistress did. “Good heavens! Fanny,” she heard her say, as she closed the door, “how can you think of countenancing that horrid woman?” whilst she shrunk away as the poor girl passed her, as if she feared to be polluted by the contact of her skirt.

This sort of thing happens so often that Susan develops a terrible sensitivity, expecting insults where none are intended, and sure that the whole world knows of her shame-by-association. In one of our labyrinth of subplots, Susan becomes involved in the affairs of a young wife falsely accused of shoplifting. Discovering a likely alternative suspect but not sure what to do, she carries her theory to Mr Olliphant, whose name she knows as her late employer’s lawyer, who agrees to help but warns it will be difficult to find the evidence they need:

    “Well,” said Mr Olliphant, “I’ll think over the business, and see what’s best to be done; and if I require your assistance, I’ll send you a penny-post letter. What’s your name?”
    “Susan Hopley, sir,” she replied.
    “Hopley, Hopley,” reiterated he. “I’ve heard that name before. Hopley! What is there connected in my mind with the name of Hopley?”
    Poor Susan’s cheeks crimsoned, and if the lawyer had looked in her face at the moment, its expression might have recalled what he was seeking to remember…

But thankfully Susan has not been entirely forsaken. Her fellow-servants, who know her and Andrew as people, as friends, never lose their faith and never let her down. She stays in touch over the years that follow with both Dobbs and Mr Jeremy, and always has someone to turn to for help. The text suggests that this sort of safety-net, with an exchange of care and services amongst people who usually cannot afford to give money, is a common thing at this social level – and rarely found at a higher one.

Adventures Of Susan Hopley makes no bones about the fact that, as a young woman alone in the world, Susan faces some formidable challenges, even with her friends to assist her. A major theme of this novel is what Fanny Burney once called “female difficulties”: the vulnerability of women in a world where men make and break the rules at will. Things are hard enough for Susan, who can at least earn her own living; ironically, they are often even harder for women of a higher class, who lack the practical talents of a good servant. We see all sorts of victimisation over the course of the narrative, including Susan being robbed of everything she possesses the moment she sets foot in London. A young wife finds herself trapped and powerless within a loveless marriage; another has a husband so insanely obsessed with “honour” that tragedy inevitably results. A wealthy girl is married for her money and discarded at the first opportunity; a poor girl is seduced and abandoned, and later finds herself the target of a murderous plot.

The latter plot-thread is perhaps the single most remarkable thing about this novel, with a “fallen woman” becomes an important supporting character, within a narrative that refuses utterly to condemn her. Circumstances conspire to leave a respectable young woman, Julia, homeless and destitute; consequently, she becomes easy prey for the man who has been pursuing her for some time, and who does not hesitate to take full advantage of her desperate situation. Julia bears the man a daughter, and it is made clear from that point that everything she does is with a view to caring for the child, even allowing herself to be palmed off onto another man, a friend of her “keeper”, for whom she cares nothing. (Certain readers may think they recognise these two “gentleman”, who at this point are going by the names of Mr Godfrey and Mr Dyson.)

After Susan is robbed she is taken in for the night by Julia, and given a bed, something to eat, and some money, before being taken to her new place of employment. Though she soon comes to suspect that her rescuer is not a married woman, in spite of her small child, Susan neither judges nor scorns her, still less refuses her assistance. Later, the positions of the two are reversed, and Susan is able to repay her debt of care. Placed at length in a small business, Julia lives an exemplary life; her “sins” are dismissed as circumstantial, not ingrained. Of course young women would rather earn an honest living, argues the text, in effect, and wouldn’t it be nice if the world didn’t make it so very difficult?

Before she reaches her happy ending, however, Julia has two very narrow escapes. One is from the machinations of Walter Gaveston, aka Mr Godfrey, who discovers to his horror that Julia’s main benefactor, and now good friend, is none other than Mr Simpson, Mr Wentworth’s former clerk, and begins to worry that the girl knows rather too much about his movements at the time of Mr Wentworth’s murder… Mr Simpson’s acquaintance with Julia begins when he is one of the two men responsible for saving her life when, abandoned by lover, having pawned everything possible, with no money left and with her child on the verge of starvation, and the two of them turned out onto the streets, Julia takes one of the only two options open to her…

    Matters became daily worse and worse: the child recovered from the maladies, but remained weak and helpless; pining for want of air and exercise, and craving for food which could not be supplied. The love for the infant, which had hitherto given her energy, and enabled her to support this hard struggle, now that she saw that the struggle was in vain, and could no longer be maintained, only added a thousand-fold to her despair.
    At length the dreaded night arrived, and found her houseless, penniless, without a friend to turn to turn to, or a hope to cheer; and with the fearful agony of those cruel words, “Mamma, I’m so hungry,” for ever wringing at her heart.
    For several hours she wandered through the streets, the inhospitable streets, that furnish nothing to the penniless wretch that cannot beg—amongst crowds of busy and incurious strangers, hurrying on their several errands and rudely brushing with their elbows, as they passed, the fainting mother and the starving child;—on she wandered. Ever and anon the broad, grey sheet of the gloomy river, with its sable canopy of fog hung over it, appearing betwixt the divisions of the streets, and reminding her that beneath its dark waters there was a last refuge for the destitute—a bed wherein once laid, no sound can wake them, no cold can shiver them, no hunger tear their entrails, nor cries of starving infants pierce their hearts.
    Who shall condemn her that she sought its rest..?