Archive for ‘Reading challenge’

24/07/2011

Joan!!! A Novel (Part 2)

“…Lady Jemima began, before she could summon her privy counsellor, to deliberate on her next manoeuvre. Her ill success, though it distressed, did not discourage her; her spirit rose under oppression, and her only difficulty was to find some usurper to set up. She could contemplate with philosophic temper the circumstances of her two daughters; one was, she concluded, dead; the other, perhaps, was ruined; for the experienced matron had little faith in Hymen’s purple and yellow; but the greatest of all misery was, that she had not the means of imposing on Sir Clifford; and without that, she considered it impossible to cheat him.”

Joan!!! is, as I have mentioned, an odd book that goes in unexpected directions; and turning this post into a two-parter is simply a matter of not selling it short. I certainly don’t want to oversell this novel, which is anything other than a “lost classic”; but nor do I want to skip over its strange charms; and when I found my word-count creeping up towards the dreaded 3000 mark, without having said half of what I intended to, it seemed the best idea to cut things short and start fresh.

This is a long novel, and is so chiefly because its point of view keeps changing, with a range of different characters becoming its focus at different times. It also dispenses with one heroine and takes on another, as Joanna recedes into the background of the tale and we follow the shifting fortunes of Elizabeth instead. Yet in the end, neither of these two is the novel’s most memorable character. This is instead Lady Jemima

As the story progresses, Lady Jemima’s behaviour becomes a startling mix of the immoral and the illegal; yet in place of the expected angst and hand-wringing, the language and tone in which all this is described to us gives the distinct  impression that the author was getting some wicked enjoyment out of writing a character so outrageous. This is another place where the 18th century novel separates itself from its descendents: I wouldn’t advise any of you to hold your breath waiting for the next time that a novel’s “bad woman” would be treated as a figure of fun.

[SPOILERS]

The first unexpected thing to happen here, however, is the rapid passing of the time. Nine years flit by without a significant event, until the death of Lady Armathwaite both frees and enriches her husband:

He was now at liberty, and in a state of superior affluence; but he was miserable; for Joanna, though still constant in her attachment to him, and urged by both him and her friend to take a legal opinion on the point of annulling her marriage, was too scrupulous, and too completely disgusted with the idea of a fresh search after happiness, to suffer any step towards this end to be taken. His lordship, therefore, finding the quiet of home unfriendly to him, interested himself in the bustle of army politics; and procuring a military appointment, went abroad…

Joan!!! then follows the fortunes of Elizabeth, brought up in the belief that she is Byram’s bastard. Not surprisingly, the “marriage” between Byram and Lady Jemima is a total disaster; the reader may well take a grim satisfaction in the punishment that Byram brings on himself. Jemima is selfish, extravagant, fashion-mad and flirtatious – “flirtatious” – being the polite word for it – and leads her husband a dog’s life. (Jemima’s conduct brings about an estrangement between herself and her brother, Lord Armathwaite, which ironically prevents any chance of him learning of the whereabouts of Elizabeth.) The marriage produces two daughters, who favour their mother in that they are both thoroughly nasty bits of work. A member of the family by the merest sufference, and immured in the depths of the country while her relatives live a fashionable life in the city, Elizabeth’s life is also an unhappy one:

There was a cloud spread, as it were, by the hand of Nature, over Elizabeth at her birth, and which every circumstance of her existence, as it unfolded itself to her perception, seemed to increase. The first sentiment she could remember, was that of fear of Lady Jemima: she soon was aware that her father was kind to her only by stealth: she had been ill-treated by her half-sisters, and uniformly confined to a solitude which every expanding idea convinced her was not the common lot of daughters…

The misery and strain of Byram’s life ruins his health, and he dies young. At the last, he makes an attempt to tell his daughter the truth about herself, but his failing strength prevents it. He does manage to give Elizabeth a locket containing her mother’s picture, promising it will prove her identity. Elizabeth’s lonely despair is subsequently crowned by a conversation with her father’s Irish servant, Dennis, who repeats to her some unguarded words spoken by Byram not long before his death: “Ah, Dennis, that swate crature in the north, that I call my naitral daughter, is no more my naitral daughter than she is yours.” Under the circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that Elizabeth entirely misinterprets the point of this declaraction…

Lady Jemima, meanwhile, is utterly unmoved by her husband’s death, except as it might affect her income. She is deep in debt through gambling, and already facing the necessity of a second marriage, when she arrives in the depths of Ireland to see what might be salvaged from the estate. There she finds Elizabeth, much to her annoyance; the encumbrance of a third daughter she does not need. She immediately begins considering ways and means to get the girl off her hands, not merely to save expenses, but in the fear that otherwise Sir Clifford Byram will learn of her existence.

The foolish Sir Clifford has had time and plenty to recover from the infatuation that compelled him to push his only son into marriage with Lady Jemima, and has long since learned to see his daughter-in-law for exactly what she is. In her financial extremity, Lady Jemima begins scheming ways to worm herself back into Sir Clifford’s favour, and makes disposing of Elizabeth her top priority, lest she prove a rival for Sir Clifford’s fortune:

She had, it is true, but one point to carry—this was to secure as much as possible of her father-in-law’s property to herself and her children. To this the exclusion of Elizabeth appeared necessary; for it never entered her crooked imagination, that a generous protection of an injured girl, and an appeal to Sir Clifford’s justice and humanity, would have had just as good an effect, and by much shorter means. Cunning loves a labyrinth, and leaves the high road for wisdom.

Meanwhile, Lord Armathwaite has seen the news of Byram’s death and arrives on Mrs Halnaby’s doorstep in a state of near-hysteria, demanding that Joanna marry him. She, worn down by so many years of loneliness and uncertainty, proves unenthused by the thought of a second marriage, much to Armathwaite’s hurt and dismay; but she does still care for him, and feels moreover that his fidelity deserves its reward. Armathwaite then comes up with an offer than Joanna cannot refuse: he will seek out Elizabeth and restore the girl, now a young woman, to her mother; he will be a father to her. At this, Joanna gives her promise. Armathwaite sets out on his mission immediately, his first stop for information being the sister from whom he has been estranged so many years.

Of course—it isn’t only Elizabeth that Lady Jemima wants off her hands: her own daughters are no more to her than an expensive encumbrance; and when Armathwaite makes his purpose clear to her, Lady Jemima has a blinding flash of inspiration…and she passes her own eldest child off on her brother as the long-lost Elizabeth.

And what a child she is!—her mother’s child in every respect, except that she is stupid and stubborn, as well as selfish, venal and superficial; her favourite occupations being reading trashy novels and flirting with the footmen. The journey in her company is a nightmare to Lord Armathwaite, only too acutely aware of the overwhelming blow in store for his beloved Joanna, who has built her missing daughter up to an impossible pitch in her imagination:

    Joanna’s grief was not to be restrained any longer than till the cause of it was out of hearing; nor was it in the power of Lord Armathwaite or Mrs Halnaby to offer her any other consolation than a hope that a new mode of treatment might retrieve the unfortunate girl.
    “But,” said Joanna, “what ground is there for hope? She has not only shewn her total want of every external recommendation, but she has no heart—no morality.”
    “Let us, however, wait a few days,” said the Earl, “and see whether these deficiences, which perhaps are more in appearance than in reality, may not be in some way supplied.”
    “They can never be supplied,” answered Joanna emphatically. “The girl who at seventeen has no heart, is very little likely to find one.—Good God! what will my future life be?”
    “Happy it would be, could I make it so,” said Lord Armathwaite.
    “Of that I am convinced,” said Joanna; “but this is a misfortune we could not expect.”
   
“Let us share it together, and it will be lessened,” he said.

And so Lord Armathwaite gets his reward…although not exactly in the way he’d been imagining for the past eighteen years.

Lady Jemima, meanwhile, has disposed of her younger daughter, Arabella, by placing her in a cheap boarding-school in Dublin (although, cheap as it is, she has no intention of paying more than the first necessary bill); and she turns her attention to ridding herself of the real Elizabeth once and for all, thus freeing herself to pursue her fortune. Lady Jemima’s first impulse is to do what so very often was done with unwanted females at the time, and pack Elizabeth off to the marriage-market in India. The girl is bewildered by this proposition and, once it is explained to her, horrified. She refuses point-blank, and Lady Jemima promises that she will not have to go; a promise that she has no intention of keeping…

In pursuit of this end, Lady Jemima manages to have Elizabeth taken in by a “dear friend”—soon to be romantic rival and deadly enemy—called Mrs Haccombe, who lives in London, and whose companion Elizabeth believes she is to be, until she is able to find employment and the means of supporting herself. Going out into the world with no name to call her own, Elizabeth chooses one for herself; and although we are privy only to the very improving literature that makes up the bulk of her study, it’s just possible that a trashy novel or two may also have come her way:

“I was thinking, madam, to take the name of Peregrina Lamorne… I think it is descriptive of my situation; for Peregrina, you know, is a wanderer; and Lamorne would just suit me; for I am sure I shall be sorrowful…”

And so Elizabeth makes her entry into the world under an assumed identity; an identity that means, should anybody with any knowledge of her real history encounter her—for instance, her own mother—that they will not know her.

The household into which Peregrina is received consists of its master and mistress; Sir Edward Bergholt, a ward of Mr Haccombe who is recovering from a severe breakdown; and Mrs Barnby, Mr Haccombe’s widowed niece, with whom Sir Edward had “an understanding” prior to his illness, but who now barely seems to remember her. Sir Edward, who is given to extravagant emotional outbursts and wild speech, evokes both terror and pity in Peregrina, and she avoids him whenever she can; but she is deeply grateful to the others for what she perceives to be their selfless kindness towards her…and completely oblivious to the ulterior motives that surround her.

In the first instance, Mrs Haccombe is supposed to manoeuvre Peregrina onto a slow boat to India. This plan is thwarted, however, and by this time there has been a falling out between Mrs Haccome and her “dear friend” Lady Jemima, the bone of contention being Lord Surchester—that same Lord Surchester who once tried to buy Joanna Doveridge from her guardian—on whom Lady Jemima has set her sights. Unfortunately for her, the maritally-disinclined nobleman turns out to prefer a more irregular connection with Mrs Haccombe; and he abandons Lady Jemima to follow her “dear friend” to London.

With the need to distract her husband from what is going on in his household, Mrs Haccombe takes in Peregrina, knowing her husband well enough to know that the lovely young girl will catch and hold his attention—as she does. But Mr Haccombe is not otherwise as blind to his wife’s activities as she supposes; while the presence of Peregrina in the house has consequences that Mrs Haccombe does not anticipate. Mr Haccombe in fact becomes so obsessed with the girl that—quickly realising that dishonourable propositions will get him nowhere—he begins to contemplate ways and means of ridding himself of his wife; her death being preferable, but divorce also an option. While this is going on, Peregrina also catches the wandering interest of Lord Surchester, who cools towards Mrs Haccombe as a consequence, much to her fury. That slow boat to India suddenly seems like an excellent idea…

And Peregrina?

Kept therefore ignorant of her own powers, and the weakness of others; inclined to believe whatever was seriously told her, and supposing all the world infinitely better than herself, she was fitted to become its dupe. She had indeed read of fraud, villainy, and passion; but how difficult is it to apply the experience of books to the living world!—She had no confidence in her own judgement, no distrust in her nature, no guile in her heart, no hypocrisy on her tongue, and therefore no caution.

With disaster looming on all fronts, the friendless Peregrina is initially alarmed when she begins to receive anonymous letters warning her of the dangers that surround her. At first she cannot believe what they say; but although she is innocent, she is not stupid; and her increased watchfulness soon informs her that the letter-writer is only too correct in what he says. With no money and nowhere else to go, Peregrina can only endure what she now considers to be the horrors of the Haccombes’ household, while she continues to heed the cautions and follow the advice of her “good genius”, whose identity becomes an increasingly entrancing mystery to her as his letters  begin to reveal rather more than a purely disinterested concern for her welfare…

Thwarted in her pursuit of Lord Surchester, Lady Jemima has no recourse but to try and reinstate herself in Sir Clifford Byram’s good graces. This proves no simple matter, as Lady Jemima must overcome not only the damage done by her years of extravagance and carelessness of her reputation, but a wholly unexpected barrier in the form of an upstart attorney called Lassiter, who has beaten her to the punch by battening upon the ailing Sir Clifford, intending to siphon from his estate every penny that he can.

In pursuit of this end, Lassiter has gathered and used every scrap of information about the Byrams, and succeeded in convincing Sir Clifford that, on one hand, Lady Jemima is Lord Surchester’s mistress and, on the other, that his rumoured grandchild is no such thing, not Lambert Byram’s daughter but merely his ward; and that, in any case, she is in India and married.

However, a nemesis of sorts appears on the scene in the form of one Mr Broome, a minister—the very man, in fact, who married Lambert and Joanna, and who knows that any child of that marriage must be legitimate. When Sir Clifford challenges Lassiter with Broome’s assertions, the attorney counters by admitting he knew of the marriage, but kept it concealed because of the bad character of the late Mrs Byram; adding that any child born of the marriage was not necessarily Lambert’s.

His quick talking serves him for the present, but Lassiter recognises in Mr Broome a dangerous enemy—one moreover who has nothing to gain from the situation but the hope of doing right—and in his desperation he makes an ally of his former enemy, Lady Jemima. The idea of another grandchild has taken possession of Sir Clifford’s imagination, and Lassiter persuades Lady Jemima that it would be in their mutual best interests to produce one.

Lady Jemima, supposing the real Elizabeth in India, is forced to fall back upon the false Elizabeth currently ruining the lives of Lord and Lady Armathwaite. Her idea is to have Sir Clifford’s fortune secured to the girl and thus ultimately in her real mother’s control – minus Lassiter’s cut, of course. Her plans fall to pieces when, after sending a courier to the Armathwaites to secure the faux-Elizabeth for “a visit”, she receives a message from her brother informing her that the girl lies at the point of death…her reckless determination to escape from the “confinement” of sedate and proper living having ended in a night-time escapade and a severe fever.

It is at this dreadful juncture, with their plans in seeming ruins and a grieving mother to comfort, that Lassiter is brought to a proper appreciation of the powers and capacity of his co-conspirator:

    Lassiter began to talk of the universality of death, his own resignation to the loss of his wife, &c. &c. He was proceeding most piously. “For Heaven’s sake,” interrupted the lady, “hold your tongue, Mr Lassiter; I should not care a rush about the girl’s situation, but she cannot come—think what is now to be done.”
    Lassiter was outdone—he was awed—he felt small, for he had once lost a child, and he had sorrowed for it. The lady’s voice and philosophy rallied his fugitive wits, but he could only repeat, “Ay, what is now to be done?”
    “Sir Clifford’s letter must be put off no longer,” said her Ladyship—“it must be answered; I could perhaps in it make such an apology as would procure me time enough to send over to Dublin for Arabella; she might answer the purpose as well.”

And so another false Elizabeth—not quite as unsatisfactory as the other, but no prize, either—is imposed upon another deceived relative.

Well— It’s been fun, and all—and make no mistake about it: there is no doubt at all that the author was getting quite a kick out of these awful people and their increasingly outrageous schemes—but as the end of the fourth volume begins to draw near, convention demands that things be set to rights: that the real Elizabeth is reunited with her mother and finally able to take her rightful place in society; that the long-suffering Joanna, and the even more long-suffering Lord Armathwaite, can finally be happy; and that the conspirators are unmasked and punished. Lady Jemima in fact attracts a double punishment: not only has she, in her desperation, contracted a secret marriage with Lassiter, but her eldest daughter survives her illness and recovers—and returns to her mother’s “care”.

And then there’s the little matter of who has been writing those anonymous letters to the bewildered but captivated “Peregrina”…although the reader may not find this mystery as difficult to solve as our innocent young heroine does.

Ultimately, the most intriguing thing about Joan!!! is the casual way that most of its characters go about committing cruel, immoral and illegal acts. This is something we’re used to seeing in the Gothic novels of the time, where dark schemes and violent deeds are all in a day’s work; but there’s something unnerving about seeing these things transferred from “foreign lands” and “the past” into a completely contemporary, domestic setting…and I admit, reading this novel I found myself wondering what kind of things did go on in society at the time.

Particularly interesting is the sexual misconduct rampant in the Haccombe household, with Mrs Haccombe’s adulterous affair, and Mr Haccombe’s disinterest in it—except as far as he can use his wife’s infidelity to his own advantage. It’s a situation with a nasty ring of truth about it. Before the conclusion of this story, bigamy, adultery, fraud, embezzlement, attempted kidnapping and the 18th century version of identity theft will have passed, one after the other, before the reader’s startled eyes. It may be a sad commentary upon the human condition that evil deeds are so much more credible than selfless ones, but the fact is that the matter-of-fact way in which  so many of this novel’s characters set about being wicked makes the happy ending awaiting the few good ones seem by comparison even more than usually contrived.

23/07/2011

Joan!!! A Novel (Part 1)

“A stupor seized the senses of Joanna when she found how cruelly her credulity had deceived her: the character of Byram stood before her imagination in the blackest colours; and she dreaded him as a monster, a savage creature, who made innocence his prey, a deceiver who put on the mask of virture only to serve the most vicious purposes.—Perhaps she was as unjust in her censures as in her applauses—she would have verged nearer to the truth had she supposed him only facile and unpitying, prone to indulgence…a cowardly, selfish being!—Was she not then correct in fancying him a monster?—alas! the term implies infrequency, and therefore suits not a character so common…”

Lambert Byram, being sent word of his father’s serious illness, reluctantly pries himself away from his London amusements and sets off for Bath; caring little for his father, but concerned about his patrimony. After a weary day’s travel, Byram encounters an acquaintance of his father’s, the Reverend Anselm Rufford, who persuades him to stop for the night at his home and complete his journey in the morning. Byram is soon sorry he accepts this invitation, as it becomes clear that it was offered to throw the young man together with the daughter of the house, the ill-mannered and ignorant Sarah. Byram’s only thought is how to escape from the Ruffords’ house—until he becomes aware of another, and very different, female occupant: a lovely young woman called Joan, who Byram assumes from the Ruffords’ treatment of her is a servant, but who he discovers to his astonishment to be the Honourable Joanna Doveridge, the near-penniless orphan daughter of Lord Doveridge, and Mr Rufford’s ward.

Byram attends a local ball, where he is further surprised and pleased to discover that Miss Doveridge is held in high regard by certain great ladies of the neighbourhood, who deplore her circumstances. One of them, Mrs Halnaby, hopes to marry the girl to her son, Charles.

Evading the Ruffords’ lures, Byram travels on to Bath, where he finds his father recovering. He begins to plot ways to become better acquainted with Joanna, while evading the obvious lures of Sarah Rufford. His task is further complicated when his father, Sir Clifford Byram, determines on a match between his son and the Lady Jemima Fawley, the sister of the Earl of Armathwaite, and stubbornly refuses to entertain any other. Byram, however, continues to pursue Joanna. As he does so, he becomes aware of a certain tension between her and Lord Armathwaite, who recently and quite unexpectedly married a much older woman for her money. Byram writes to Joanna and declares himself to her. She is grateful, but declines both his offer and the correspondence.

Byram’s flat refusal to marry Lady Jemima ends in his expulsion from his father’s house. In his desire to see Joanna again, he accepts another invitation from the Ruffords. During the time of this visit, Joanna finds favour with the usually ill-tempered Lady Armathwaite, which provokes the jealous Ruffords into treating more callously than ever. At this crisis, Mr Rufford receives a letter from a dissolute nobleman, Lord Surchester, in which he openly offers to buy Joanna from her guardian. Learning of this, the outraged Byram is only too willing to deliver to Lord Surchester Mr Rufford’s reply, which he assumes to be an indignant refusal—until a grinning Lord Surchester enlightens him. Byram rushes back to Joanna to protect her from any possible coercion, only to discover that after a terrible scene between herself and Miss Rufford, the girl has run away.

Byram searches frantically for Joanna. By luck he finds her, exhausted, penniless and frightened, having tried and failed to find even the most menial employment by which to support herself. Byram begs her to marry him, and in her misery and desperation Joanna agrees—upon which Bryam must explain apologetically that the marriage will have to be kept secret, on account of his father’s stubbornness with regard to Lady Jemima. Byram carries Joanna to the north of England where he has a friend holding a small living, and there they are privately married after living quietly with the vicar, Mr Broome, and his sister long enough for the banns to be called.

Byram takes his bride back to London, where they must live in straitened circumstances; and after a time Joanna grows peaceful and almost happy, in spite of the secrecy of her marriage and the consequent isolation of her life. After a year, a daughter, named Elizabeth, is born. Up to this time, Byram’s love for Joanna has endured, and he has lavished his slender income upon her; but at length Byram begins to chafe at the thought of all he has given up: his position, his friends, and a fortune—were he willing to take the brazen Lady Jemima with it. He begins to absent himself from home for longer and longer periods, to show bad temper when he is there, and to drink to excess; although what hurts Joanna most is his indifference towards the child. The final blow comes with the death of Mr Rufford, when it is discovered that he embezzled and wasted his ward’s small patrimony. In the wake of this, Byram deserts his wife and child—sending a letter in which he declares that the marriage was never valid. Shortly afterwards, he marries Lady Jemima…

[SPOILERS]

This is one weird novel.

The British Library listing for this 1796 publication suggests that the name of its attributed author, Matilda Fitz John, is a pseudonym, but gives no hint why it thinks so or who the lady might have been—a pity, because the style is unusual and distinctive enough to make me interested to know if she ever wrote anything else.

It’s hard to know how to approach a review of a novel like Joan!!!, which is not only long and rambling, and multi-plotted in a way that makes it difficult to do justice to any one thread, but features a pattern of jarring shifts in tone, with one half of the novel (that dealing with its dual heroines) written as romantic melodrama with overtones of didacticism, and the other (dealing with most of the other characters) in a tone of wry, even cynical satire.

The melding doesn’t always work, but it does always hold the attention. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this approach is the growing sense that while our author may have felt that didactic romantic melodrama was what she should be writing, cynical satire was where she felt at home—to the extent that even her handling of her perfect heroines becomes tinged with irony. For all that the text overtly supports its “good” characters against its “bad”, and ultimately—at the very end of four long volumes, that is—rewards them, if Joan!!! does have a moral it is certainly that no good deed goes unpunished.

It is significant that Joan!!! opens in its satirical voice, with a brief sketch of Lambert Byram, one of the many callow young men who occupy rooms in “the Temple” and pretend to be studying law while passing the time in drinking, gambling and socialising. When news of his father’s illness reaches him, Byram simply shrugs it off, until a more wide-awake friend points out that he doesn’t want to risk a last-minute change of Will:

“His friend, rather less dead to prudence, though perhaps equally uninfected with the supersitions of duty, having first kindly cursed Lambert for a fool, in suffering the old man to die without securing his own interests by his presence, insisted on his setting out instantly for Bath…[and] saw him set out from the Temple, not without a hope that his friendly exertions would be repaid by the good effect this apparent filial piety might produce on the state of a purse, he often, notwithstanding his natural apathy, was used to apply to…”

On his way to Bath, Byram falls in with the appalling Ruffords—and the lovely Joanna. It is entirely typical of this novel’s odd attitude not merely that it should resort to the use of attention-grabbing triple exclamation marks in its title (hey, worked on me!), but that its heroine’s name should turn out not to be Joan at all.

For most of the first volume, the plot suggests that this is a tale of a young man redeemed by love—so the selfish cruelty of Byram’s abandonment of his secret bride comes as a considerable shock, as does his attempt to convince her – and himself – that their marriage was never legal. The psychology of this episode is acute. Byram’s love for his bride, inflamed in the first place by the barriers between them, withers and dies under the twin pressures of the removal of the barriers and life on a restricted income. Meanwhile, Sir Clifford continues to dangle the prospect of luxury and ease in front of his son, in the form of marriage with Lady Jemima.

Byram aleady blames Joanna for ruining his life, and spends longer and longer periods away from home. He cannot quite bring himself to leave her altogether, however, until she furnishes him with an excuse. Believing during Byram’s first extended absence that he has abandoned her, Joanna grows seriously ill. Terrified for her child’s future, she writes an “in-the-event-of-my death” letter to the Earl of Armathwaite, begging him to provide for the baby. When a drunken Byram unexpectedly returns, he finds it—and chooses to put his own interpretation on the contents.

Nothing makes us resent someone more than the knowledge that we have been unjust to them, and Byram caps his spurning of Joanna with a still more monstrous act. Having “married” Lady Jemima, Byram tries to justify himself to himself by arguing that Joanna probably was Armathwaite’s mistress…or if she wasn’t then, she is now…which makes her an unfit parent. Consequently, he has his daughter kidnapped, to remove her from Joanna’s “contaminating” influence. Confessing only to having kept a mistress, Byram has the child removed to a distant property in Ireland – part of his wife’s dowry – and brought up in ignorance of her mother; beyond knowing, of course, that she must have been a very bad woman.

As for the real relationship between Joanna and the Earl— No-one in this novel, not even Joanna herself, suffers quite as much as Armathwaite, thanks to his overly refined sense of the duties of friendship. His abrupt marriage to a much older, rather nasty, and extremely wealthy woman is the result of an unthinking oath taken to do anything – anything – to repair the fortunes of his dear friend Charles Halnaby, who has plunged himself ruinously into gambling debt, and whom Armathwaite finds one day on the verge of suicide. Having made his reckless promise, Armathwaite then realises there is only one way he can keep it; a way that puts an impossible barrier between himself and the woman he truly loves; but he grits his teeth and goes through with it—and has the satisfaction of looking on as his dear friend Charles pockets his fortune, pays off his debts, laughs at him for a fool and returns to his self-destructive way of life.

One of the fascinating things about Joan!!! is its heroine’s refusal to act up to what we might be inclined to call the conventions of the romantic novel. When she marries Byram, Joanna does not love him, as she makes quite clear. She is grateful to him, and her personal circumstances are desperate; and so she accepts his proposal. Her sense of duty is strong, and so she tries to quell the remnants of her love for Armathwaite; a task made somewhat easier by what she can only believe to be his venal betrayal of his vows to her. Byram’s generosity and kindness in the early months of their marriage engenders affection in his wife, and she comes to feel a kind of love for him as the father of her child; but she never does succeed in banishing the Earl from her heart.

Byram’s cruelty, on the other hand, swiftly kills whatever affection Joanna has for him. Her reaction to his spurning of her is everything that convention tells us that “good” women do not feel: anger, resentment, scorn—and a desire to put a spoke in his selfish wheels. No less surprising is that her impulse towards revenge is halted by her love for a man not her husband; an emotion the novelist dares to designate as “worthy”:

“Joanna’s temper was meek, but it was not abject; and she resented too deeply the indignity offered her, to accept it by replying to it.—She believed not the invalidity of her marriage; but to whom could she have recourse against her husband? To Lord Armathwaite alone—here she was certain of a defender against the intended cruelty; for she knew a discovery of her marriage would thwart Byram’s plans, but as the scale which contained her love for Byram rose, that more worthily filled preponderated, and fearing that Byram might revenge her application by divulging her attachment, and thus bring down added misery upon Lord Armathwaite, who was wholly in his wife’s power, she preferred suffering in silence.”

The matter is taken out of Joanna’s hands when Armathwaite tracks her down. There have, over the course of it, been rumours about Byram’s marriage; and while some people—including the Lady Jemima Fawley—prefer to believe the young woman in question to be merely Byram’s mistress, the Earl knows better than that. Though not denying his enduring love, Armathwaite begs Joanna to let him help her purely as a friend; and again the novel surprises us with its heroine’s practicality. She won’t let Armathwaite go public and force Byram back to her, because she doesn’t want him back—and anyway, what kind of future could they have together?—and nor will she be persuaded to attempt to get an annullment, because while that would free her, it would also bastardise her child.

Armathwaite loses his head here, and says a great many things which only strengthen Joanna’s determination not to accept his help; her sense of right balanced bolstered by her fear of wrong:

“But neither the past nor the future, however fertile the one had been in sorrows, or however barren the other seemed of hope, could so occupy her thoughts, as to exclude her own almost natural sentiments for Lord Armathwaite. To her love and esteem was now added, not only her pity, but her anxious fear lest the constancy of his passion for her should add to the wreck of all his wordly happiness, that of his intellects. She dreaded, lest human fortitude should not be able to support wounds never suffered to heal, but which hourly cruelty made rankle afresh; she feared too, lest the human heart could not be so nicely balanced as not to lean to the side of frailty:—she feared she must not trust him.”

And in fact, we’re beginning to gather an interesting picture of what was allowable in the novel of the late 18th century, as opposed to the rigid morality of the Victorian novel. It’s not that novels of this period permit their heroines to sin and get away with it; but rather, they are willing to admit that even a thoroughly good woman can experience temptation; that “duty” is often a grim and cheerless business; and that a clear conscience does not necessarily bring happiness. Like its contemporary, Milistina, Joan!!! simply accepts that you cannot always control your feelings, only your actions; and even that is no easy matter.

(Also like Milistina, Joan!!! has a distinctly female authorial voice; if “Matilda Fitz John” was a pseudonym, it hid a woman and not a man. It might make an interesting study to compare what men were saying of acceptable female conduct in novels of this period with the surprising things we’re gleaning from those written by women.)

All this is of course before the abduction of Elizabeth, which nearly destroys her mother. One final letter from Byram lets her know he is responsible, and why he has done it; or rather, how he justifies having done it. All of Joanna’s efforts to convince Byram of her innocence and to recover the child prove useless, and in the end the bereft mother—spurning Lord Armathwaite’s assistance one final time—takes refuge with her old friend, Mrs Halnaby, living with her in the role of companion; and there we leave her for a considerable stretch of the novel.

[To be continued…]

09/07/2011

Rookwood: A Romance

“‘Tis said, that the first of the race from which you now claim descent, Sir Ranulph Rookwood, slew his dame, in jealous indignation for imaginary wrong. Her prayers, her tears, her adjurations of innocence—and she was innocent—all her agony, could not move him. He stabbed her thrice. He smote the bleeding corse, and as life was ebbing fast away, with her fleeting breath she pronounced a curse upon her murderer, and upon his race. She had invoked all the powers of mercy, and of goodness, to aid her. A deaf ear had been turned unto her agonised entreaties. With her dying lips she summoned those of hell. She surrendered her soul to the dark Spirit of Evil, for revenge; and the revenge was accorded her. She died—but her curse survived.”

Following the death of Sir Piers Rookwood, the young Luke Bradley, who ekes out a precarious living as a woodsman and a poacher, learns from his grandfather, the sexton Peter Bradley, that Sir Piers may in fact have been married to his mother, Susan; and that far from being the despised bastard he always believed himself, Luke may be the true heir to the titles and estates of Rookwood. Although the history of the Rookwood family is dark and bloody, Luke instantly swears that he will find the proof he needs to establish his identity, but knows that in doing so he will find an implacable and dangerous enemy in the widowed Lady Rookwood, mother to the heir-presumptive, Ranulph.

The late Sir Piers and his wife led a turbulent and unhappy life together, one of the consequences of which was the departure of Ranulph for Europe, where he had lived for over a year at the time of his father’s death. Word of his succession was sent to Ranulph, but was not expected to reach him for days. To the astonishment of the household, however, Ranulph arrives at Rookwood in time for the funeral. To Dr Small, the local vicar, Ranulph confesses the real reason for his sudden departure from home, namely his father’s furious reaction to the discovery that his son had fallen in love with Eleanor Mowbray, his cousin, the daughter of Sir Piers’ sister, who had been banished from the house and family carrying her father’s malediction after marrying against his will. Ranulph also recalls a puzzling threat made by his father in the event of Ranulph’s persistence in his suit—a threat of disinheritance, although Rookwood is entailed. Finally, most reluctantly, Ranulph reveals the secret of his unexpected return: a terrifying encounter with a ghostly apparition that resembled his father, at what he now learns was the exact hour of Sir Piers’ death…

Meanwhile, Lady Rookwood is reading a letter found amongst Sir Piers’ papers—a letter which she casts into the fire as she curses her husband’s memory. She finds also a miniature of a young and lovely woman, bound up with a marriage certificate…but these she keeps and conceals. Barely has she done so than Luke Bradley almost forces his way into the house, demanding to see Lady Rookwood. During the scene that follows, Lady Rookwood stuns Luke by admitting his legitimacy—then challenges him to prove it if he can, with wealth and power and position ranged against him.

In a fury, Luke then makes his way by secret passages, the existence of which were revealed to him by his grandfather, to the room where his father’s embalmed body lies in state, forcing Lady Rookwood at pistol-point to accompany him. Upon their sudden entry, however, Luke and Lady Rookwood are equally astonished to find Ranulph standing beside the coffin. During the confrontation that follows, Luke openly declares his claim to Rookwood—and Ranulph is forced to remember his father’s mysterious threats of disinheritance. His ghostly experience weighing on his mind, Ranulph horrifies his mother by conceding that Luke may be telling the truth.

Before any resolution is reached, several of the family retainers burst into the room, capturing Luke and threatening him with an outstanding warrant for poaching and the assault of the Rookwood gamekeeper: capital offences. When Ranulph tries to intervene, the furious Lady Rookwood takes him to one side and threatens him with her own curse, warning him also that if he surrenders Rookwood, Eleanor Mowbray can never be his wife. Shaking her off, Ranulph promises Luke that he will be freed from his bonds if he will pledge his word of honour not to try and escape, but a defiant Luke will promise nothing.

Still in fetters, Luke is locked into a small room and placed under guard. However, behind the room is another secret passageway, and through a small gap in the woodwork Luke overhears a plan for an attack upon Lady Rookwood and a robbery of the house, to be committed by a band led by a man who visits the house under the name of Jack Palmer—but who in reality is the highwayman, Dick Turpin. Though the robbery is thwarted, Turpin takes possession of the marriage certificate that can prove Luke’s claim, intending to sell it to the highest bidder.

His sympathies with Luke in spite of these mercenary plans, Turpin helps him to escape. The two make their way to a gypsy encampment, ruled over by Queen Barbara Lovel, an ancient woman of strange powers whose only earthly affections are wrapped up in her lovely granddaughter, Sybil, to whom Luke has long been plighted. It is with horror and dismay that Sybil learns of Luke’s birth, convinced in spite of his ardent protestations that his pride will not permit him to marry a mere gypsy if he is in truth Sir Luke Rookwood. Sybil’s worst fears are confirmed when it is subsequently revealed that the Rookwood title alone is entailed: the lands and money are held outright, to descend to whomever their owner chooses. Luke then discovers that the only way he can take full possession is by marrying the woman to whom by right they now belong—Eleanor Mowbray…

[SPOILERS]

Although, apparently, not much remembered these days, there was a time when William Harrison Ainsworth was a true lion of the English literary scene, his novels best-sellers, his company courted by his fellow writers, and the magazines declaring him to be “the heir of Sir Walter Scott”. Ainsworth’s career began as many literary careers did in those days, it seems—that is, as the preferred occupation of a man vacillating between publishing and law as a means of earning a living, but enthusiastic about neither. At the start he wrote poetry and short stories, sometimes under a pseudonym. His first attempt at a novel was done in collaboration with John Partington Ashton, a clerk in his father’s law office. Sir John Chiverton was a great success, but one attended by controversy over the relative contributions of its two authors. These days the novel is all but impossible to get hold of, so we are unable to judge it for ourselves.

About Ainsworth’s second venture into fiction there is, however, no doubt at all. Rookwood was published in 1834 to huge success, multiple reprintings and not a little critical acclaim—but this work, too, caused quite a lot of controversy, although of a very different kind.

Rookwood is very undisciplined novel, crammed with more incidents and twists than it can comfortably hold and with the melodrama cranked up to an untenable degree. From the point of view of this blog, I also have to say that Rookwood is a very typical novel—inasmuch as we yet again find ourselves struggling with an incredibly convoluted family tree further confused by multiple marriages and assumed identities. The Rookwood habit of reiterating family names doesn’t help, either. However, the sheer enthusiasm of the project carries it over a lot of rocky ground; and whatever the literary shortcomings of this novel, historically we can see that this is a very important work, for two distinct reasons.

Firstly, Rookwood forms a clear bridge between the Gothic novel and the modern horror story. Indeed, Ainsworth himself regarded it as “a home-grown Gothic”, with English settings and character types substituted for the usual European scenes. The reality of the curse upon the Rookwoods plays itself out over the course of the story, while Ranulph’s Hamlet-like encounter with his dead father is never explained away. However, perhaps of more importance is the novel’s ghoulish dwelling upon body-horror, which marks it as a descendent of the Lewis-Maturin school of writing and points to increasingly grim future tales. A remarkable number of its scenes take place in underground crypts, with the characters surrounded by coffins and dead bodies. We even get a wedding in such surroundings! There are also lengthy descriptions of corpses in various states of preservation; while Luke Bradley acquires his dead mother’s mummified hand – a wedding-ring on the third finger – and takes to carrying it around in his inner breast pocket.

Here are some excerpts from the novel’s tone-setting opening sequence:

Within the deep recesses of a vault, the last abiding place of an ancient family—many generations of whose long line were there congregated—and at midnight’s dreariest hour, two figures might be discovered, sitting, wrapt in silence as profound as that of the multitudinous dead around them…

    A thunderous crash resounded through the vault. One of the coffins, which Luke had dislodged from its position, tumbled to the groud; it alighted upon its side, splitting asunder in the fall.
    “Great heavens! what is this?” cried Luke; as a dead body clothed in all the hideous apparel of the tomb, rolled forth to his feet.
    “It is thy mother’s corpse,” answered the sexton. “I brought thee hither to behold it; but thou hast anticipated my intentions…”

Insensible as he was, Luke had not relinquished the hold he maintained on his mother’s hand. And when Peter lifted the body, the ligaments, connecting the hand with the arm, were suddenly snapped asunder… The first thing [Luke] perceived, upon collecting his faculties, were the skeleton fingers, which he found twined within his own…

Rookwood is in many ways a very odd novel. It certainly sits very comfortably beside Vanity Fair under the descriptor, “a novel without a hero”. The Rookwoods are an old family whose men have a deadly and well-deserved reputation for marrying in haste and murdering at leisure.  In the early stages of the tale, Luke Bradley is a sympathetic character; but as soon as he knows for certain that he is a Rookwood by birth as well as by blood, the ancient curse begins to play its part and he becomes a true son of his ancestors, willing to do anything to claim his inheritance, no matter who he has to hurt – or marry – or kill. 

When Sybil Lovel hears the truth of Luke’s birth, she shrinks from him in horror, knowing only too well the fate in store for the first Rookwood bride of each generation. Sybil herself is the very embodiment of Maggie Tulliver’s dictum about “all the dark unhappy ones”; although in this case her fair counterpart, Eleanor Mowbray, seems no less doomed to be a victim. Of the men, both Ranulph Rookwood and Eleanor’s brother, Major Mowbray, are for the most part on the side of light, especially the former; but neither one of them is a vivid enough character to disperse the story’s overriding sense of  foreboding.

One of the most interesting things about Rookwood is that, in spite of its hugely complicated central plot, this is a novel that very nearly ends up being overwhelmed by its subplot. This brings us to the secondary historical importance of Rookwood, its place among the school of writing that came to be known as “the Newgate Novel”.

The first decades of the 19th century saw a sharp increase in what many social commentators considered an unhealthy interest in the details of crime and criminal lives. During the time the Newgate Calendar, which had originally been published during the 18th century and which consisted of biographies of famous and infamous criminals, was revived, and achieved great popularity. Novelists began to draw upon the Calendar for their plots, treating their anti-heroes with what critics believed to be unforgiveable leniency—or even worse, admiration. This tendency not confined to minor writers. Perhaps its most famous exponent was Charles Dickens, a number of whose early works contain vivid and not entirely negative descriptions of the criminal milieu. On the other hand, one of the genre’s most vocal critics was William Makepeace Thackeray, whose Catherine, published in 1839, was intended as a vicious satire of this particular school of writing. To Thackeray’s exasperation, his novel was frequently misinterpreted, often being classed with the very works it was written to attack.

William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, also published in 1839, is generally considered the ne plus ultra of this form of novel-writing, and was probably the the work that provoked Thackeray into literary retaliation. Rookwood, however, is also a Newgate Novel in fact if not in original intention, with its extended portrait of Dick Turpin, who emerges from the fringes of the plot to very nearly become the novel’s central character, earning the book both enthusiastic praise and angry condemnation at the time of its release

From its second edition onwards, copies of Rookwood carried prefaces penned by its author, who wavers between defiance and self-exculpation in the face of the various attacks upon his novel. As far as answering accusations of misplaced admiration of Turpin and his highwaymen brethren goes, however, Ainsworth didn’t have a leg to stand on. The enconiums upon Turpin’s character and the descriptions of his life on the road become increasingly rapturous as the tale progresses, until at last the narrator openly mourns his passing and that of a certain time in history, a certain way of life – while shaking his head over This Modern Age:

Dick Turpin was the Ultimus Romanorum, the last of a race which (we were almost about to say we regret) is now altogether extinct. Several successors he had, it is true, but no name worthy to be recorded after his own. With him, expired the chivalrous spirit which animated successively the bosoms of so many Knights of the Road; with him, died away that passionate love of enterprise, that high spirit of devotion to the fair sex… It were a subject well worthy of inquiry, to trace this decline and fall of the empire of the Tobymen, to its remoter causes—to ascertain the why and the wherefore, that with so many half-pay captains; so many poor curates; so many lieutenants, of both services, without hopes of promotion; so many penny-a-liners, and fashionable novelists; so many damned dramatists, and damning critics; so many Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviewers; so many detrimental brothers, and younger sons; when there are horses to be hired, pistols to be borrowed, purses to be taken, and mails are as plentiful as partridges;—it were worth serious investigation, we repeat, to ascertain why, with the best material available for a new race of highwaymen, we have none, not so much as an amateur.

Almost regret; yes.

During the latter stages of this novel, the exploits of Dick Turpin and his criminal comrades actually force the Rookwoods off-stage for an extended period of time. Here Ainsworth really does get carried away, almost burying his story under a deluge of gaolhouse ballads and thieves’ cant – both of which come accessorised by a plethora of explanatory footnotes. The former grow increasingly tiresome, with Dick & Co. singing at each other for page after page after page; the latter is more interesting, if only because it becomes increasingly apparent that whatever effort Ainsworth himself may have put into accumulating this wealth of linguistic information, subsequent generations of novelists with similar needs resorted to the simpler expedient of plundering Rookwood:

Wonderful were the miracles Dick’s advent wrought. The lame become suddenly active, the blind saw, and the dumb spake; nay, if truth must be told, absolutely gave utterance ‘to the most vernacular execrations’. Morts, autem morts, walking morts, dells, doxies, kinching morts, and their coes, with all the shades and grades of the Canting Crew, were assembled…

However, not even Ainsworth’s sternest critics were able entirely to withold their admiration for Rookwood‘s great set-piece: its breathless, chapters-long description of Dick Turpin’s legendary overnight ride from London to York on his gallant mare, the famous Black Bess. The passion and the energy of this sequence, the vividness of imagination on display, was something that almost everyone felt compelled to praise, in some cases even while the choice of subject matter was being decried:

Dick’s blood was again on fire. He was first giddy, as after a deep draught of kindling spirit; this passed off, but the spirit was still in his veins—the estro was working in his brain. All his ardour, his eagerness, his fury returned—he rode like one insane, and his courser partook of his frenzy. She bounded—she leaped—she tore up the ground beneath her—while Dick gave vent to his exultation in one wild prolonged halloo. More than half his race is run. He has triumphed over every difficulty. He will have no further occasion to halt. Bess carries her forage along with her. The course is straightforward—success seems certain—the goal already reached—the path of glory won. Another wild halloo, to which the echoing woods reply, and away—! Away!—away!—thou matchless steed!—

Matchless steed, indeed. It is not too much to say that Black Bess is the real heroine of Rookwood. She spends as much time before the reader as either Sybil Lovel or Eleanor Mowbray, and is described in terms perhaps even more glowing: her beauty, her strength, her courage, and her loyalty and devotion to her master are dwelt on time and again.

But alas, Bess no less than Sybil herself is one of the “dark unhappy ones”, being likewise doomed by man’s love and man’s selfishness. While it is impossible not to respond to the description of Turpin’s ride, these days I suspect the reader’s enthusiasm is likely to be tempered by the grim reflection that what we actually have here is a graphic, blow-by-blow description of Dick Turpin deliberately riding his horse to death.

Ainsworth does acknowledge the tragedy of Bess’s pointless death, but clearly he was too dazzled by his vision of Turpin’s mad ride to feel for the unfortunate animal as we might today; or, at least—I suppose I shouldn’t speak for others—as I did. Indeed, ultimately I found myself rather in sympathy with the critic from the Weekly Dispatch, whom Ainsworth holds up to mockery in his preface, who protested in his appalled review of Rookwood, “What is there to admire in the tale of a scoundrel outlaw thus torturing a noble animal to save his own rascal carcase from the gallows…?”

.

Footnote:  What did I saw about being unable to escape the Stuarts and their times??—

…the espousal of the royalist party, with sword and substance, by Sir Ralph Rookwood, the then lord of the mansion (a dissolute, depraved personage, who, however, had been made a Knight of the Garter at the Coronation of Charles I) ended in his own destruction at Naseby, and the wreck of much of his property; a loss, which the gratitude of Charles II, on his restoration, did not fail to make good to Sir Ralph’s youthful heir. The young Sir Reginald had attended Charles in the character of page during his exile… One anomaly in Sir Reginald’s otherwise utterly selfish character, was uncompromising devotion to the House of Stuart; and shortly after the abdication of James II, he followed that mornarch to St. Germain…

11/06/2011

The Haunted Room

“I have been tracing a parallel in my mind,” he observed, “between the human soul and the so-called haunted dwelling. Most persons have in the deepest recess of the spiritual man some secret chamber, where prejudice shuts out the light, where self-deception bricks up the door. Into this chamber the possesser himself in some cases never enters to search out and expel the besetting sin, which, unrecognised, perhaps lurks there in the darkness.”

Upon the death of her husband from hydrophobia only weeks after their marriage, the young widow Mrs Myers has his room bricked up. For the next fifty years, she does not leave the house…and over that time, not only the room itself but the whole estate of Myst Court gains a reputation for being haunted… Upon the death of Mrs Myers, Myst Court descends to her nephew, the widower Mr Trevor. In company with his eldest son, nineteen-year-old Bruce, Mr Trevor travels to Wiltshire to inspect his inheritance, to decide whether to move his family there, or lease the estate and continue on in the pleasant villa near to London that the Trevors currently occupy. In their absence, Mr Trevor’s brother-in-law, Captains Arrows, a naval officer, concludes a long cruise and arrives at Summer Villa to visit his relatives. Arrows’ niece, Emmie, reports to her uncle all she and her younger brother, Vibert, know of the inheritance – including its ill reputation, and the fact that Mrs Myers’ will specfied that the bricked-up room was not to be entered. Arrows laughs off the thought of a haunted house, but sees that Emmie is more disturbed than she cares to admit.

When Mr Trevor and Bruce return, the former reports that the house and estate alike are in poor repair. He adds that not only would a tenant be impossible to find, but that the necessary improvements require the oversight of an owner, not an agent; and that consequently, he has decided that Summer Villa must be given up. Although she strives to hide it, Emmie in particular is dismayed by this news, not only because of the prospect of leaving a pleasant neighbourhood and goods friends for an old house in disarray, but because, as her uncle has observed, the thought of Myst Court being haunted has taken possession of her imagination.

Captain Arrows is recalled to active duty. During his visit, he has become concerned about certain aspects of the characters of his niece and nephews; and before he leaves, he tries to warn each of them of what he fears lurks in their own “haunted room”, that dark chamber in the heart where sins and weaknesses hide even from their owner. Bruce, although level-headed and dependable beyond his years, possesses an overweening pride that gives him too high an opinion of his own powers, making him reluctant to admit a fault, resentful of criticism and scornful of advice and assistance. Vibert, meanwhile, is thoughtless to the point of being selfish, disregarding the feelings and needs of others while he pursues his own pleasures. As for Emmie, she is puzzled when her uncle accuses her of mistrust. Captain Arrows explains that Emmie does not truly have faith in God, but rather allows herself to be ruled by her fears in everything from her terror of thunderstorms – and ghosts – to her neglect of her duties: failing, for example, to succour the poor for fear of encountering sickness. Unlike her brothers, who are offended and angry with Captain Arrows, Emmie is willing enough to admit her chief failing – but no less loath to try and overcome it.

Poor Emmie’s first experiences at Myst Court are not happy ones. As a prank on Bruce, Vibert drives off without him from the station, but then gets lost in the dark, overturning the small carriage and Emmie with it just as a storm breaks. The pair are rescued by passers-by, one a Colonel Standish, an American, the other a local man, Harper, who crowns Emmie’s misery by asking whether they are, “Some of the new folk as are coming to the haunted house.” At the house itself, Emmie is settled into the largest and most comfortable room, which Bruce has been at pains to furnish and decorate for her. However, when the housekeeper, Mrs Jessel, informs her darkly that it is adjacent to the haunted room, describing also her own ghostly encounters during her employment at Myst Court, Emmie’s terror overcomes her and she begs Bruce to swap accommodation with her – even though his room is small and stark. Bruce is hurt by her disregard of his efforts and disgusted by her cowardice, but agrees.

Nor do Emmie’s efforts to fulfil her obligations to her father’s tenants go well. After literally fleeing the field in a panic during her first attempt to help, a series of humiliating blunders sees Emmie giving money to the least deserving, neglecting to provide promised aid for the sick, and finally relinquishing her duties to Mrs Jessel – who is only too happy to have the family bounty in her charge.

But Emmie has not come to the end of her trials; and before much longer, the courage and endurance of all the Trevors will be tested to the utmost, as the dark and deadly secret of the haunted room is finally revealed…

[SPOILERS]

Charlotte Maria Tucker, who usually published under the sobriquet “A.L.O.E.” – “A Lady Of England” – was one of the most prolific of all 19th-century authors – even after giving her competitors a head start. Miss Tucker’s father, an important official in the notorious British East India Company, disapproved of women working; and it was not until after his death in 1851 that his thirty-year-old daughter felt she could devote herself to the two great passions of her life, missionary work and literature. For more than twenty years, Miss Tucker published stories intended for young people, which covered a wide range of topics from the strictly historical to the frankly allegorical, but always with overt moral and religious themes. Miss Tucker’s stories were successful and very popular; if her work was always didactic, it was also entertaining, and showed an understanding often missing from tales intended for the young. The considerable earnings of her efforts were donated almost in their entirety to charity.

The Haunted Room (in some editions, “Haunted Rooms“) was published in 1876. It carries a preface stating:

It is under peculiar circumstances that A.L.O.E. sends forth this little volume. As it is passing through the press its author is preparing to enter on a new field of labour in the East, as an honorary member of the Zenana Mission in India. Of the fact that the missionary cause has been dear to A.L.O.E. her readers may be aware from her former writings. She now hopes to be permitted to devote an evening hour of her life to that cause…

At the age of fifty-four, Charlotte Maria Tucker left England for India to work as a missionary, and spent the rest of her life there. The Reverend Worthington Jukes later recalled in his memoirs, She proved an inspiration to many, not the least, to the younger generation of Missionaries, men and women, who found in her the link which they had lost on leaving their dear ones in England. They found in her a sympathy and geniality born of the deepest spirituality and intellectual cheerfulness, and they were always happy in her company. Many of these Missionaries were deeply honoured by being allowed to call her “Auntie”, and I was one of the fortunate Nephews; of the nieces there were many…

Miss Tucker continued to write during her years in India – and to donate all the proceeds. Her stories often had Indian themes, and some were translated into local dialects. Miss Tucker died in 1893; tributes are paid to her memory in the form of plaques upon both the church in Batala, where she did much of her work and where she is buried, and Lahore Cathedral.  In 1895, the novelist Agnes Giberne published a biography of her entitled A Lady Of England: The Life And Letters Of Charlotte Maria Tucker.

While most of Miss Tucker’s stories were intended for children, The Haunted Room is aimed more at an audience that today we would call “young adult”. It is an extremely hardcore religious / didactic work. Miss Tucker is uncompromising in her ideas of religious duty. To her way of thinking, Bruce’s pride, Vibert’s selfishness and Emmie’s cowardice are not mere venal transgressions, but sins of the deepest order that a good Christian must fight against and subdue.

However, although much of The Haunted Room is given to considerations of duty and faith, these reflections are set within a realistic family dynamic, and a framework of the relations between the sexes, that any reader will recognise – and either smile or wince at:

“Come, come, there’s nothing to be terrified at now; the danger is over. You’re not hurt, are you?” asked Vibert, with some anxiety, for he loved his sister next to himself, though, it must be confessed, with a considerable space between.

“Of course I will change rooms with you if you really wish it,” said Bruce, willing to humour his sister, but making mental reflections on the fickleness and unreasonableness of the female sex, of which Emmie was the only representative with whom he was well acquainted.

   “You are the last person from whom I should have expected such a taunt,” said the spendthrift bitterly. “I thought that if I had no other friend in the world I should find one, Emmie, in you.”
   “Always! always!'”cried his sister eagerly: “I would do anything for you, dear Vibert!”
   “Will you lend me that five-pound note?”

While it would be incorrect to say that Miss Tucker sympathises with her young transgressors, there is certainly a sense of wry understanding in her presentation of them, particularly of the way in which family relationships tend to trap people in certain behaviour patterns.

Thus we have Vibert emotionally blackmailing the weak-willed Emmie into lending him money, even though (i) it’s all she has; (ii) she has earmarked it for charitable works; and (iii) she knows full well from past experience that despite Vibert’s protestations and expressions of hurt at her lack of trust in him, she’ll never see a penny of it again. Emmie’s chief desire is to be a mediator between her brothers, but somehow she always manages to put herself in the wrong just before attempting it, which gives her reluctant auditors an excuse to wave her gentle criticisms away. Vibert, in his resentment of Mr Trevor’s open reliance upon Bruce’s judgement, makes a point of defying his brother at every opportunity, no matter how foolish or hurtful to others his actions might be; while Bruce, in turn, equally resentful of what he views as his father’s over-indulgence of Vibert, consoles himself with the thought of how much better a person he is than his brother – hugging the very pride and self-satisfaction that his uncle has warned him against. And then there’s Mr Trevor himself, who never seems to be around when Vibert is jeering at and goading his older brother, but always manages to enter the room just as Bruce is losing his temper in retaliation.

Speaking of Mr Trevor, it is interesting that his main contribution to this story is his repeated absence from it for one reason or another, his children frequently left to their own control. While at first glance this may be seen as an “explanation” for their failings, in fact it becomes clear that Miss Tucker does not intend this interpretation. On the contrary, in her opinion, at the ages of 19, 18 and 17, Bruce, Emmie and Vibert are quite old enough to understand and execute their duties, without the need for adult supervision.

That said, Miss Tucker does admit that the children’s early loss of their mother has been damaging, and for Emmie in particular. There is a sense that, the world – and female education – being what it is, girls do need more guidance than boys, being given less chance to learn through experience and thus more susceptible to poor influences…including the usual suspects:

…the images of Harper and Jael Jessel mixed themselves up with the phantoms which their weird stories had raised in the imaginative mind of the girl. Emmie, early deprived of the guidance of a sensible mother, had often made an unprofitable use of her leisure; she had read much of the literature which is called sensational; she had pondered over tales of horror; her mind had been fed on unwholesome food. Emmie had let fancy lead her where it list, and it would be no easy task to undo the mischief wrought in idle hours in the name of amusement.

And I doubt we’ll find a clearer declaration of Miss Tucker’s own literary manifesto anywhere in her extensive oeuvre.

Of the three Trevor children, Miss Tucker is hardest upon Emmie. Although she admits the peculiar difficulties of being a girl, it is evident that she also feels that as a girl, Emmie has the best chance to be a true Christian. From the beginning of this story, however, it is made clear how very long and thorny is the path before her. The description of Emmie’s various blunders and shrinkings and retreats during her abortive attempts at charity work is unflinching and painful, a graphic account of the consequences of what this story calls Emmie’s “mistrust”, her lack of real, practical faith in God, which leads on to other failures little less serious:

It was not the love of God, but the dread of incurring His displeasure, which made the poor, hesitating, unwilling girl combat the fear of man. And if Emmie was not impelled forwards by a loving desire to please a loving Master, still less was she influenced by tender concern for the souls of those whom she felt that she ought to visit. The child of luxury, in her pleasant home, had scarcely regarded the poor as being of the same class of beings as herself. They were creatures to be pitied, to be helped, to be taught by those trained for the work; but as beings to be objects of sympathy and love, as children of the one Great Father, Emmie could not regard them. Charity was thus to her but a cold dry duty…

Although at times I found Miss Tucker’s attitude towards Emmie perhaps a little too unrelenting, I do have to say that reading a work in which a girl being weak, timorous and helpless was treated with scorn and derision, rather than being regarded as proper female behaviour, was remarkably refreshing.

And the haunted room? The real haunted room, that is, not those figurative dark chambers within the human heart, against which the concerned Captain Arrows warns his niece and nephews at the outset of our tale, for so long to no good effect. Well, the sealed-up room at Myst Court does in fact have a terrible secret, but as you’ve probably concluded by now, given the nature of the tale in question – and Miss Tucker’s opinion of horror stories and other sensational literarure – that secret isn’t a ghost. The secret is revealed, separately, to Emmie and to Bruce, with dire consequences. By the conclusion of The Haunted Room, the entire Trevor family will have suffered through an ordeal of the most dangerous and terrifying nature, a test by fire – in Bruce’s case, almost literally – with all three of the children confronted by and compelled to overcome their worst individual failings, finally emerging tempered in both body and soul…

Not in the least degree doubting that the woman had addressed one of the household, and eager to find herself once more amongst familiar faces, out of the darkness and chilly night air, Emmie quickly followed Mrs Jessel into the room. No sooner had she crossed the threshold than she stopped short in surprise and alarm, gazing in motionless terror at the unexpected sight which met her eyes.—for Emmie stood in the haunted chamber!

.

Footnote:  Even in the didactic literature of the 19th century, it seems I cannot quite escape the political turmoil of the late 17th and early 18th centuries:

“Let’s imagine ourselves as we would have appeared some hundred and fifty years ago. I’m a young Tory gallant (of course, I’m a Jacobite at heart, and drink to the king over the water); Bruce is a decided Whig.—I’m not sure that he is not a Dutchman, and has come over from Holland in the train of the Prince of Orange.”
—Vibert Trevor, 1876.

09/04/2011

Madame Margot: A Grotesque Legend Of Old Charleston

“Crouched in a high-backed chair sat a shriveled, dead-alive, mummy-like figure, as thin and fleshless as a skeleton,—an apparition, sinister, white, and wasted as a corpse new-risen from the grave. Its chin upon its folded hands, its hands about one knee, the knee upheld by the heel crooked at the chair-seat’s edge, the other gaunt leg dangling across the upraised foot, the spector smiled on Margot a bleak Saturnine smile. Its face was greatly wasted; all the life of it seemed gathered into the brilliant, terrible eyes, which blazed with infernal light, in a splendid scorn, without remorse, sardonical; a countenance such as God alone endures to look upon unmoved…”

The circumstances surrounding John Bennett’s 1921 retelling of the legend of Madame Margot are at least as interesting as the story itself, and as informative. Bennett, a native of Ohio, moved to Charleston in 1898 and not only fell in love with his new home but, most rarely in those days, fell in love with the reality he saw about him and not with the myth of “the Old South”.

Fascinated by the black culture of Charleston – and this at a time when to the vast majority of white people the notion that there could be such a thing as “black culture” was ridiculous, outrageous and even insulting – Bennett began to study the Gullah language spoken by the local black population and to collect spirituals and folk-tales, some of which emanated from Africa, and some which had grown up over the decades of slavery.

Immersed in his studies and entranced by the richness and beauty of the material he was gathering, Bennett evidently failed to perceive how far he was wandering from the realm of acceptable behaviour, or how infinitely differently the “nice” people of Charleston felt about such matters. Early in 1908, he found out. Having earned an early reputation for his writing on more mainstream topics, Bennett was invited to speak before the Federation of Women’s Clubs. He accepted, giving his talk the title of “Old and Grotesque Legends of Charleston”. It is fair to say that both the audience and John Bennett got more than they bargained for.

The centrepiece of Bennett’s talk was a recitation of the legend of Madame Margot, a story not only of illicit love, but of love across the colour barrier. Bennett saw only the passion and the beauty of the tale; the ladies of Charleston, however, saw a calculated insult, in which the guest speaker’s use of the scandalous word “chemise” was the final straw. And so John Bennett awoke the next day to find himself an outcast in his adopted home.

Several miserable years followed for Bennett, and he did not regain something of his standing until after America’s entry into WWI. This was a time of growing racial tension in Charleston, and after an outbreak of rioting local officials appealed to Bennett for help, as a white man who could “talk to the blacks”. Whatever Bennett may have thought of owing his invitation back into society to the same perceived transgression that saw him exiled in the first place, he did as he was asked; and in fact, Bennett’s reputation amongst the black population as an honest and unprejudiced individual allowed him to help resolve the conflict.

In the years immediately following the war, Charleston underwent great and rapid change. “Old Charleston”, as John Bennett saw, was disappearing fast, and this compelled him to try once more to preserve the old legends and folk-tales. Of all of them, however, it was still the story of Madame Margot that held him in thrall; and in 1921 John Bennett submitted his version of the tale for publication. Madame Margot: A Romance Of Old Charleston (Bennett’s publishers disliked his original subtitle) was praised by critics everywhere, and a commercial success in the northern states – but in the south it was déjà vu all over again, as Bennett’s tale was dismissed as “obviously the work of a Northerner” and Bennett himself as “no gentleman”.

Madame Margot is a strange and often disturbing work. John Bennett’s use of language is closer to poetry than prose, as he piles adjectives and descriptors on top of one another in an evocative rush that is sometimes intoxicating, sometimes frankly suffocating. Bennett may not have bought into the revisionism of “the Old South”, but his vision of Charleston is equally mythic. His tale takes place in a never-never land of endless summer, of flowers perpetually in bloom, and of young people chastely in love:

“Those were charmed days indeed. The town has changed since then. The world seems to have grown weary and gray, and the hearts of men bitter. The young were younger then; the old not so sorry for everything as they have been since. Then, someow, it seemed to be always summer morning, morning before the sun had burned the world to a dun crisp with his meridian heat, scorching bitter and blinding bright; before the advent of gasping afternoon with its languid leafage and evaporated sap. The calendar seemed to have paused among the daffodils, between the jessamine and the June, in that paradise of the year. The delicate and virginal camelia bloomed then, untarnished by rough wind or rain; its petals were sweet, which since then have grown so bitter…”

Everything is beautiful; everyone is beautiful; but most beautiful of all, with perhaps one exception, is Marguerite Lagoux, Charleston’s leading milliner and a woman of mystery…

“Her passionate, rich-colored, handsome face was like a line from an old enchantment, which took men’s souls captive, then cast them away without the least regret, or with a Circean spell that turned men into beasts. Her neck was a deep-colored, ivory tower poised perfectly over her breast. The dazzling orange-tawny skin of her broad bust turned to golden-russet before it reached her cheeks, and was there flushed to dusky rose, like the skin of a ruddy-gold peach. In the burnt splendor of her cheek the darkly eloquent blood in her veins made its golden proclamation…”

While it still upset Charleston, it is evident in the light of the novella’s history that the written version of Madame Margot is not quite the same story as John Bennett told to his shocked audience on that fatal afternoon in 1908. For one thing, the racial aspect is played down to the point of being almost unobservable, unless the reader is already aware of it. Madame Margot herself is known by a variety of names to her various classes of acquaintance – Marguerite, Rita, Margoton – evidence of her ultimate “unknowability”. She is a tawny beauty, but no clear reference is made to her mixed blood; except perhaps in that deliberately contradictory description of her neck as “deep-colored ivory”. In a passion, Margot breaks not into Gullah, but into French. The word “creole”, used to describe the community in which she dwells, is ambiguous, as indeed is Margot’s “darkly eloquent blood”.

Still more extreme, and more misleading, is Bennett’s description of Margot’s daughter, Gabrielle, whose golden beauty is so rapturous that it takes a full five pages to describe (Margot’s own takes three and a half). In this dizzying word-picture, the original significance of Gabrielle is quite lost. The tale that offended John Bennett’s audience was one of a love affair between a white man and a woman of mixed blood; their daughter, although like her mother condemned as “coloured” by the world outside, is a vision of golden perfection able, and with ease, to pass as white.

Or at least, she could if her mother ever allowed her to be seen. As it is, Margot and Gabrielle inhabit a tiny, enclosed cottage in a secret corner of Charleston, a house surrounded by high walls and thick vegetation, where Gabrielle matures and blossoms in secret, hidden from the world by her terrified mother, who can foresee none but a tragic fate for such transcendent beauty: “Ever before her imagining was Gabrielle, dishonored and betrayed, abandoned to scorn and poverty…”

And so Gabrielle lives a life of lonely innocence behind the barriers, the “cloistral hedges”, of her mother’s creation. Moved beyond words or understanding by the burgeoning loveliness of early spring, Gabrielle discovers a great yearning in her heart for something she does not understand and can barely give a name to, until the day when the inevitable happens:

“As she stood thus, brooding on life’s inexplicable theme, she was aware of a sudden shadow which fell on the grass beside her, and turned in voiceless terror. There was a face in the green hedge, smiling, two butterflies hovering over it,—a lad’s face, laughing and debonair, with yellow hair curling around it like crisp little golden flames… Gabrielle, startled and terrified, shrank back against the magnolia’s black bole, one trembling, hesitant hand extended in doubt. Speechless she stared at that bright, boyish face with its nimbus of sunlit, yellow hair, until her dry eyes gushed tears, dimming her sight,—stared in wonder and adoration…”

There is a shy reaching out, an embrace, a tender kiss, a promise of a further meeting… For Margot, one glance at her enraptured daughter is enough to tell the tale; the cloak of happiness that envelops Gabrielle repels her mother’s despairing railing against love as folly, as a lie, as the source of all wretchedness: “God keep you from it. Two parts are pain, two sorrow, and the other two parts are death…”

Margot has already prayed that Gabrielle be saved from this fate – “she prayed for her daughter as she had never prayed for herself” – and that night, as a violent storm builds, she throws herself down before her crucifix and implores heavenly intervention, first begging, then demanding, a sign from God that He has heard her prayer and will answer it. Hour after hour she prays, but no sign comes:

“Margot clung to the foot of the crucifix. ‘Pourquoi, O Dieu, rejettes-tu?’ she asked in a voice grown shriveled and thin. She crouched a moment, motionless, her head on one side, listening. There was no reply. Heaven maintained its brassy silence. Her face went gray; her eyes were hard as stones; she turned her back on the crucifix, saying, ‘I will call upon You no more.'”

And with that, Margot directs her prayers in another direction, towards someone terrifyingly prompt to answer them…and who does so in person…

We are left, in Madame Margot, to draw our own inferences about the life-history that drives Margot to this desperate pass; and here too there is a sense that John Bennett’s renovation of the story has interfered somewhat with its original intent. Clearly, Margot’s terror is rooted in her belief that her own sins are to be visited upon her daughter, her knowledge that Gabrielle, however immaculately innocent herself, is a child of sin. Yet this is contradicted somewhat in the text itself, where Margot’s cry to God that, “You breathed into her life; by your law she was made”, implies that Gabrielle was indeed born within wedlock, albeit a marriage kept secret, brief and unhappy.

This uncertainty about Gabrielle’s standing, along with the omission of any detail about the identity of her father, leads to an unsettling ambiguity. Margot’s anguished prayers finally settle into a mantra – “Plus blanche que la neige! Gabrielle, ma fille, mon Dieu! plus blanche que la neige!” – in which it is disturbingly unclear whether she is asking that Gabrielle be kept pure, “whiter than snow” – or that Gabrielle literally be turned white.

“Forgive in her my transgression; pardon in her my sins; deliver her from her inheritance…O my God!…let her be white!” she first prays to God; and then, when her re-directed prayers are answered, she begs for her “heart’s desire”: “That my daughter, Gabrielle, should be white to all eternity.”

At the time of John Bennett’s writing, the word “white” was used – by white people, of course – to imply not only purity, but honour; to “be white” was to behave in an honourable fashion. This jumbling of racial, social and linguistic issues and the triple-loading of the word “white” within the text makes it impossible to dissect out Bennett’s meaning here, or to be quite certain what it is that Margot is asking. Is Gabrielle’s “inheritance” her mother’s sin, or her mother’s blood? Or are the two inseparable? Does one signify the other? – and conversely, is to be white to be without sin?

With frightening promptitude, Margot’s prayers are answered. Gabrielle is whisked away to “a convent-school for orphaned girls kept by the nuns in New Orleans”, and there she remains until the memory of the golden boy has faded: “God made memory cruel, that men might know remorse; but the Devil devised forgetfulness, anodyne of regret.” She is in time married to a wealthy planter’s only son, and, “Secure in a faithful man’s unaltering love, she dwelt serene, in a country where the fruits of the earth and the flowers of the forest spread natural loveliness about fields of unsurpassed fertility. She never knew winter, want, nor war…”

(Given what we know or suspect of Gabrielle’s heritage, however, there is something singularly disturbing, in the midst of the account of her life of perfect happiness, about hearing that, “A thousand slaves were happy, being hers…”)

Margot’s bargain with her midnight visitor, then, yields the desired result; the promises made were kept. But there was another aspect to that dark agreement, and in due course, Margot must pay her outstanding debts. And if we are in doubt about how to interpret the language in which the bargain was struck in the first place, those doubts are perhaps resolved by the fact that, even as Gabrielle is kept whiter than snow, white to all eternity, her mother begins to change colour

“As unbleached muslin sallows to dingy isabella, as metal tarnishes from neglect, as white paper dulls in the sun, as the spot on bruised fruit turns brown, Margot Lagoux was changing; she was becoming tawny, swart, bisblanc as the Creoles say. Her golden-ruddy cheeks had turned a morbid olive-brown as if a somber fountain were playing in her blood… She changed like a portrait whose shadows, painted in bitumen, have struck through and distempered the rest. Like a strange, nocturnal creature she seemed to absorb the gloom. Her glorious eyes grew jaundiced; her rose-brown lips grew dun; the delicate webs that joined her fingers grew yellow as bakers’ saffron. Malice laughed at her thickening lips…”

05/03/2011

The Interesting Story Of Edwin And Julia

“It is neither to catch the admiration of the ignorant, nor to make proselytes of the more sensible, that I now lift my pen. To wish for the former, below the dignity of common sense, and to hope for the latter, would be downright vanity. Merely to expose error and falsehood, and to stand votarist for the truth, are I trust the motives which induce me to write and publish these letters…”

As I sit down to write this review, I must first give myself an admonitory smack on the hand. Using reading challenges to random up my reading is all very well—but I have, I think, an obligation to at least try to meet the spirit of the challenge. The intent of my latest, “read a book by or about or featuring a doctor”, was clear enough; and it was hardly an invitation to dig up an obscure epistolary novel from 1788 whose only authorial attribution is to “A Doctor of Physic, M.A. &c.”.

I’ll try to do better in the future, I promise. In the meantime, let’s take a look at this very odd publication entitled The Interesting Story Of Edwin And Julia; Being A Rational And Philosophical Enquiry Into The Nature Of Things. In A Series Of Letters, and consider what might be the significance of that ominous frontispiece motto: If Fiction persuades, what should Facts do?

And indeed, though it masquerades as one, The Interesting Story Of Edwin And Julia is not a novel at all: it simply uses the epistolary form as a vehicle for a series of bizarre rants by its anonymous author. As such, it isn’t possible truly to review this publication: what I’ll do instead is simply give you a taste of it via a series of excerpts.

So—the framework. Edwin is the illegitimate son of a noble father, who at his death leaves his “real” family to decide on Edwin’s fate, and whether he is acknowledged and/or inherits any money. The family’s response is to shun Edwin and cut him off essentially penniless, a reaction that for some reason takes Edwin by total surprise.

Julia, meanwhile, is the daughter of a man who contracts religious mania and ends up confined; her mother withdraws from all society, including that of her daughter. Julia is taken in by her uncle who, despite being a clergyman, is simply intent on getting his hands on Julia’s money via this act of “kindness”.

At some point, Edwin and Julia met, fell in love, and were separated; the “novel” never gives us details. When the “interesting story” opens, the two of them have been apart for four years. Edwin is in Paris for reasons that are never made clear (although he may be studying medicine), while Julia is travelling around England with her uncle and his family, also for reasons that are never made clear. The two of them correspond, which seems an unlikely concession on the part of Julia’s uncle – unless he’s keeping her hopeless love for Edwin alive with the aim of preventing her from marrying someone else and therefore taking her fortune out of his control. Amusingly, as we also saw in the roughly contemporaneous Valentine, the anonymous author has his correspondents telling each other their life stories, despite the fact that they’ve known each other for years. And also like Valentine, we are favoured with some hilariously jolting shifts from high pathos to simple commonplaces, without any sense that the author was aware of the incongruity of his tone.

For the most part, The Interesting Story… works itself out as follows: Julia will write a letter to Edwin in which she will relate an anecdote, or repeat a conversation. Edwin will respond with a lengthy lecture on the subject in question. Julia will thank him solemnly for his interesting / enlightening / touching letter, and beg for more of the same. Wash, rinse, repeat. At length, Julia is so overcome by Edwin’s brilliance, she begs his permission to have his letters published – the world must hear of this! Edwin kindly gives her permission, being equally convinced of his own brilliance and the world’s desperate need for his wisdom. The fact that Edwin has trouble constructing a grammatical sentence and spelling correctly is, of course, irrelevant. (And let me assure you: anything italicised below that looks like a typo, isn’t.)

The main topic of conversation is religion: Edwin is a firm believer in God, but a firm disbeliever in the church, and also in hell. He despises atheists, deists and Catholics equally. He contends that the bible has been misinterpreted, accidentally (through ignorance) or intentionally (through malice), and that the church has been using these mis-readings to increase its own power and to keep mankind, particularly women, powerless. (There’s almost a feminist subtext in this, but it gets drowned out by the floodtide of bile.) Furthermore, Edwin doesn’t believe in original sin. This particular revelation prompts Julia to ask why, in that case, mankind needed a Saviour? – a question which I don’t believe Edwin ever gets around to answering.

However, the two of them find many other topics on which to give their opinions pro and con – although mostly con. It’s remarkable, really, how much Edwin and Julia have in common: the enormity of the chip each carries on their shoulder; their endless dislikes and prejudices; and above all, their profound conviction that everyone in the world is stupid and wicked except for them. The publication’s attribution to “a doctor of physic” becomes rather interesting in retrospect, as members of the medical profession and medical opinions of the time attract a significant proportion of whatever vitriol Edwin has left over after dealing with organised religion.

Let’s listen in on a few of the opinions of Edwin and Julia, shall we? This opening passage, in which Edwin airs his views on the state of the world, essentially sets the tone for everything that follows:

“My only friend is dead, which loss has pressed very heavy upon me; Heavens grant you and me the necessary fortitude, for two of the most unfortunate mortals that ever trode the stage of life; and may the faults which we have committed, be as barriers against us in future, when we would slide from the path of virtue. Let us rather than reproach our relations for their follies, learn to correct our own errors. You know the world is made up of caprice and vanity; the ignorant thinks the wise foolish, and the rich hold the poor in despite; the wife betrays her husband, the father often ushers the child to destruction, and the son frequently brings his parents and himself to a morsel of bread. Thus you see the inhabitants of the earth destroying one another, and doubtless will continue so doing till they are totally extirpated from it…”

And here’s Edwin on himself (a favourite topic):

“According to your request, I must now begin to give you a short but faithful account of myself. I believe you know that my pride and ambition may be put into a small circle. I am not very ill-natured, not very severe, although I have the misfortune to be sanguine. I hate flattery and lies; I detest the rogue and despise the villain, but have severely suffered by them. Ever since Nancy S*****, the midwife, whirled me into this ill-advised world, I have been treated not as one of my own species, but as a monster, and will probably not be  used as a human creature, till death whirl me out of it…”

And now Edwin on adultery, of which he has evidently made quite a study (I’m glad, by the way, that Edwin helpfully categorised himself as “not very severe” in his opening remarks on himself; otherwise, there might have been some confusion on that point):

“Adultry and seduction are two of the most heinous sins that man can be guilty of.—Moses both in his livitical and civil laws, rewarded the former by death, and the wisest among the ancients followed his example, and looked on the adulterer and seducer to be equally wicked. The Babylonians, Arabians, Tartars, Javans, Brazilians, and Mexicans, made adultry a capital offence. Among the Turks the offending woman is sentenced to be drowned, and the man still put to greater torture.—The Hungarians force their daughters, their husbands, their wives, their sisters, and their brothers to the place of execution, as soon as found in this abominable crime, or rather the crime of crimes, of which none will be guilty, but those who are actuated by satan, to destroy the peace and happiness of all around them…”

Edwin again, on how a dignified silence is the most powerful weapon:

“…yet I must own, it is below the dignity of Innocence to wage war, or even to defend herself against the unmanly attacks of her enemies; because she can quench the most malignant reproaches of the wicked, and is that good which cannot be taken away even in the time of torment. Silence is the most defensive weapon with which an injured man can defend himself, and is generally the child of innocence, keeping consolation and quiet in the breasts of the good, and an outward peace amongst the bad…”

It is, perhaps, worth mentioning that this paean to Silence comes at the beginning of 200 pages of Edwin’s ranting, and about 150 before he admits to Julia that he always intended publishing his “private reflections”. The publication of Edwin’s various pearls of wisdom will of course be of great benefit to the world, unlike most of what passes for literature and learning in this degenerate day and age; and as for the men who write it – !—

“How they rejoice in evil, and delight in folly; and how anxious they are to raise vice to the dignity of virtue. How they drink, how they blaspheme, how they consume the tobacco, and take away their neighbour’s good report. They have called your sex women, but they ought to have called themselves women-woe and their own! They have jumbled a parcel of lumber and worthless things together, which they call learning, but I would advise you Julia, not to meddle with it, because it is real nonsense; it can neither refine your imagination, nor elevate your understanding; and indeed you may be convinced of what I say, when ever you associate with those who deem themselves of the true literati. They are disagreeable in their manners and conversation, and are often at a loss what to do with their own legs and arms. They are diffident and mistrustful, and delight in saying ill-natured things…”

And could Edwin have had anyone in particular in mind? Like, oh, I don’t know…

“…the late Dr Johnson, whose harsh and rude manners proved him to be a mere pedantic churlish clown, in his heart and principles; altho’ he was stuffed up with verbs, nouns and pronouns, and a quantity of other such rubbish, which his disciples, especially Mrs P— and Mr. R— call learning!…Should education make us disagreeable, ill-natured and hoggish? Or can we deem a man who is so, properly educated?…”

And such is the blighted character generally of the men credited with “learning” that Edwin feels it is his duty to warn Julia away from anything resembling an “education”…among other things:

“The politics of men are such an effusion of nonsense, their philosophy such an unintelligible jargon, and their religious tenets so absurd and contradictory, that one would really think they had not a single grain of judgment or good sense left them. Therefore Julia, I earnestly entreat of you again, to study neither Latin or Greek; laugh at their politics, and scorn their philosophy; avoid the pedant and detest the fop, as also the rigidly religious, be sure to mark them down in your pocket-book…”

But Julia is, after all, just a girl, so much of this is too high-flown for her. But being just a girl, she is able to give her opinion on such topics as the “pernicious” effect of novel-reading on young women (not that this is a novel, heavens no!):

“…their minds are tainted by the pernicious, but insinuating poison of novels and romances.—The imagination heated, and the passions excited in the most pernicious of all schools, the Circulating Library, the man of gallantry makes an easy conquest; and perhaps it may be some extenuation of his guilt, that the object he has devoted to ruin, is ready to surrender on the first summons…”

And indeed, I don’t want to give you the impression that the perverse entertainment value of this thoroughly eccentric polemic lies entirely with Edwin and his ranting. Julia contributes too, as with this rather marvellous example of her habit of going abruptly from the sublime to the ridiculous:

“Do we think that the Son of God came down in vain, or that he ever wished to enforce laws and duties on his creatures, which they are unable to keep or perform? Surely, if we think so, we are mistaken: and I trust, nay, am confident, that the eternal and incomprehensible Being, who is the fountain of all goodness, and the source of love and mercy, can have no respect of persons, or desire for revenge.—But let me finish this letter, by giving you a short description of Southampton…”

Not that Julia has things all her own way in this respect. Here is how Edwin’s rant on adultery, which goes on quite some time after the conclusion of the quotation above – and which runs four full pages, beginning to end – actually finishes:

“…to live with an adulterous woman, is to live with the devil’s companion; and I should think it is much better for one to be happy than too be miserable, or at least I am of opinion that every man should leave his wife when she loves another better than himself. But if I go on in this way, I shall never give you a description of Paris…”

But a talent for anti-climax isn’t all that Edwin and Julia have in common. As it happens (no wonder the two of them fell in love!), Julia also shares Edwin’s opinion of Samuel Johnson…

“…the former of whom I have been repeatedly informed, was so loaded with ill-nature and sarcasm, that he could scarcely speak a good word even of his own poor father and mother… I have read the greatest part of Dr Johnson’s works, and must confess myself totally at a loss to see in what he surpassed the common class of authors. ‘Tis true, I am but a weak judge of literary productions, however, I am inclined to think, that the public, who too often judge wrong of things, have raised Mr Johnson to that dignity which his merit never justly entitled him to…”

And is there anything stupider than “the public”? Hardly. Just look at its habits

“Julia, although I have sent you the above lines on a tobacco-pipe*, be assured I do not wish you should carry a box, or call for a pipe. Snuff is not such a harmless thing as many take it to be, and I believe we owe a great number of of our disorders to it, and that cursed plant Tea, which you ought never to drink above twice a week, and then eat a great deal of bread with it… One half of the people in England are dead years before they are buried, and seldom or never enjoy life!—Gouts, rheumatisms, nervous complaints, scurvies, declines, consumptions, &c. &c. are their continual attendants, all which I attribute, with many more, to the irregularity of diet. They drink such quantities of tea…”

(*And yes, Edwin does send Julia a poem on tobacco – the romantic devil!)

But even more than in its general habits, just look how stupid the public is when it comes taking medical advice (and this is probably a good moment to remind you of this pseudo-novel’s attribution to “a doctor of physic”):

“Physic is surely the most difficult and intricate science under the sun… When I was at the colleges of Edinburgh and Paris, I knew numbers of dunces, especially students in physic…who ought to blush in putting any initial after their names, except F.R.S. which I believe may signify a fellow remarkably stupid, or the foolish remains of a simpleton… Our quack medicines, our brewers, our bakers, and a set of men who pretend to have arrived at a competent knowledge of physic, only from making pills, filling bottles, and running through the town with bladders and gallipots, send us to the grave in multitudes; and we composedly say, The will of the Lord Be done!…”

And if mankind’s willingness to trust these medical frauds with its health is criminally stupid, what are we to make of its religious practice? – in particular, how it allows itself to imposed upon by that set of scoundrels known as “the clergy”!—

“Man must be a stupid being indeed to suppose than the Almighty, who wanteth no counsel, hath established a parliament of popes, liars, arch bishops, arch rogues, bishops, villains, deans, drunkards, poor curates, whore-mongers, and other such imposters, as the judges of his creatures…”

BUT—I don’t want to send you away from this abbreviated version of Edwin and Julia’s Theories Of Why The World Sucks (and believe me, there are many, many more things that they despise, which I haven’t mentioned here) thinking that there is nothing whatsoever of which they do approve. There is one thing…and so I’ll leave you to ponder the following:

“I have not the honour of being personally acquainted with Mr. C—, and therefore I am not at liberty to say much about him; only tell you that I coincide with the greatest part of the sentiments laid down in his letter…especially that respecting woman’s milk, in which I believe there is a something divinely good, though very seldom prescribed by our physicians. It is the softest, the most light, and nourishing fluid that exists, and according to my humble opinion, the most sovereign balsam in the world, and the greatest restorative in nature…”

26/02/2011

Valentine

Orlando, the amiable Orlando, returns then to Magdeburg, to his Isabella; and Oh! dreadful, dreadful recollection! demands her hand—compels her to meet him at the altar, and pledge those vows she cannot assent to.— Orlando, truly worthy, how sensible I am of your merit, and your love, but I cannot return it— Valentine, your still more happy brother, possesses it, and I am born to make you wretched.

One of my plans for this year was to participate in reading challenges as a way of bringing more obscure novels to light. This month, I had the chance to join in a very February-focused challenge, to read a book by someone called “Valentine”, or a book with the word “valentine” in the title. My choice was an anonymous novel from 1790 called Valentine.

What can I say? I have a very literal mind.

One of the stranger eruptions of the 18th-century was that of “sentimentalism”. This was a movement that went far beyond the merely “sentimental”: it was a reaction to the tenets of the Age of Reason; and far from celebrating rationality, it condemned it as an approach to life that encouraged self-interest and calculation; the worst kind of secularism. In contrast, sentimentalism saw emotion as a hotline to God. Man’s natural impulses and passions were, it argued, literally God-given, that is, everything that was pure, unselfish and generous, until corrupted by a wordly education. While the rational individual protected himself from harm by distance and a refusal to be involved, the sentimentalist opened himself to every emotion; and not only his own, but those of others with whom he came in contact, via an intensely cultivated empathy.

For all the age’s broad emphasis on rationalism, in artistic terms the first stirrings of this kind of deliberate emotional indulgence were evident quite early in the 18th century. We recall in Pamela, for example, Richardson’s staging of the reunion of Pamela and her father, which is organised to take place in the presence of the entire household, while everyone else stands around and watches them. The emotion of the two and the sentiments uttered by Mr Andrews upon learning of his daughter’s rise in the world are “feasted upon” by the gathered gentry, who analyse the scene afterwards as if they’d just watched a play. This vicarious pleasure in the extreme emotion of others is the key to the novel of sentimentalism, the model of which is Henry Mackenzie’s The Man Of Feeling. The novel’s naïve hero, Harley, travels around with all his nerve endings exposed, trying to help those in need, feeling every pain of every unfortunate he encounters, and being repeatedly taken advantage of by “rationalists”. He weeps, he suffers, he collapses and grows ill under the weight of his own emotion. In the end, discovering that the woman he loves, loves him, he dies of joy.

It seems incredible today, but The Man Of Feeling was an enormous success. People read it in groups for the specific purpose of crying over it publicly: to react in this way was a measure of a person’s “sensibility”. It’s not a spoiler for me to tell you that Harley dies. The very hallmark of the novel of sentimentalism is that almost everyone dies; the hero and/or heroine, certainly. Usually the final scenes leave just a person or two still standing, so that they can look back over the literary carnage and mourn. It is the strangest aspect of this very strange movement that it openly admits its inability to survive in the world of the rationalist; but to the sentimentalist, this very incapacity is evidence of an inherent moral superiority. They’re too good to live, you understand.

As always, other authors were swift to react to the emergence of a new subgenre; and for a couple of decades in the second half of the 18th century, tales of misery, death, doom and despair flooded the marketplace. Amongst this deluge was Valentine, a “pre-Minerva Press” novel – that is, it was published by William Lane before he introduced the Minerva Press imprint. I can’t say I’m exactly surprised to find Mr Lane cashing in on a trend.

One of the most interesting things about Valentine is its preface. This novel was, as I say, published anonymously, and I’ve been unable to decide in my own mind the sex of the author. The preface has a male persona, however, and the distance that its writer tries to put between – himself? herself? – and the text makes me suspect it was a man. Women writers at this time, whether publishing anonymously or not, were generally swift to reveal their gender as (hopefully) a way of warding off critical attack. On the other hand, a certain fixation upon the minutiae of dress in the story proper might suggest a woman.

In the preface, the writer tells us about being stood up by the friend he was supposed to having dinner with, and being instead left with a manuscript to read until the friend finally arrived, Which I was to give my candid opinion upon, on his return. As he found the manuscript, …worthy your notice, I send it unvarnished by any eulogium of mine, a tale unadorned by fiction. So he didn’t write it, and he didn’t find it, and anyway it’s not a work of fiction.

Typical of the genre, the preface is almost a novel of sentimentalism in itself. At completely unnecessary length, Mr I-Didn’t-Write-It tells us about his inheritance of a fortune, his retirement from business, his move to the country – and his belated discovery that, on the whole, he rather wishes he hadn’t retired from business and moved to the country: A recluse and still life is not calculated to raise content, when the mind has been busily employed for years in a Court of Law. Man is born for society, the hours hang heavy when crowded with too much reflection; Books will not always entertain or relieve; there is a vacuity in solitude; to pass the tedious hours alone is burdensome, and I cannot solace the day by the sports of the field, which afford me no enjoyment…

And why is he so burdensomely alone? You have to ask?

I have felt a severe affliction in my earliest days, by a disappointment in the tenderest of passions, that of Love!—Dear amiable woman! why was I fated to know you and to love you? Can I ever forget the innocence and beauty of your first appearance? No, never; never will the impression be effaced from my still bleeding heart. Love, early implanted, is not soon eradicated— I felt it in its full force, and could tell a very tender— But I am not addressing myself to you, for my own history, but to inform you that a few days past I was under an engagement to dine with a very particular friend…

Welcome to the world of the novel of sentimentalism, where explaining how you went to dinner with a friend will inevitably entail a recitation of the romantic woes that have scarred your life.

The story of Valentine  takes place in 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession, opening in the aftermath of the Battle of Sohr, which took place on the 30th September, and finishing after the Battle of Kesselsdorf on 15th December. Its sketched account of the relevant campaigns is, as far as some quick research can ascertain, accurate. This grounding in reality is rather unusual for this kind of novel. However, the setting isn’t all that important except so as to ensure a high body count amongst the male characters, every one of whom is a soldier.

But while the background of this novel is concrete, the plot is, far more typically, rudimentary. The children of the families of Dholte and Marluritz have been raised together. Count Marluritz literally wills his only surviving daughter, Isabella, to the older of the Dholte boys, Orlando. This engagement is ratified by Isabella’s brother, Ferdinand (just before he dies, too), and has royal approval. However, Isabella is in love with Orlando’s brother, Valentine, and he with her; the two finally declare their feelings for one another. As pressure mounts on Isabella to go through with the wedding to Orlando, Valentine convinces her to run away. He conceals her with a family he befriended after carrying the son wounded from the battlefield. They are noble, but the widowed Baroness has raised her two children far from the corruption of the Court. She confides to Valentine that Eleanor is not in fact her daughter, but a foundling who carried with her indications of a high birth. Valentine finally persuades Isabella to a secret marriage, but a call to arms separates them almost immediately…

Now, you could probably make a decent story out of this, but Valentine doesn’t even try. Instead it settles down into a competition to see which of its characters can behave and speak in the most unnecessarily extravagant manner – while remaining at all times blissfully unaware of its own absurdity. Therein lies the enduring charm of the genre. Indeed, Valentine is the most hilariously awful piece of tosh it’s been my pleasure to read in a long, long time. I giggled from the opening soliloquy of the hero, completely absorbed in his own romantic problems although up to his armpits in battlefield dead, to the inevitable body count in the final pages.

The novel is written in semi-epistolary style, alternating between letters between the characters and prose when straight narration is required. These interpolations have their own little chapter headings – for example, The Widow Woolstan’s Affecting And Pathetic Narrative, The Tale Of Woe Continued, Valentine’s Morn Of Happiness, and (since one “morn of happiness” is as much as any character in one of these stories is ever allowed) A Pathetic Conclusion.

Valentine himself sets the tone from the beginning, unable to refrain from dragging Isabella into everything he thinks, says or does. When we meet him he is soliloquising as he gazes around the body-strewn battlefield, his high-blown moralising on the empty glories of war rapidly and idiotically turning into a speech about how if Isabella doesn’t love him, then he wishes he hadn’t survived, either. He is interrupted in his self-pitying musings by a cry for help from a wounded soldier. This, naturally, brings on another soliloquy about how Isabella doesn’t love him, so really, what’s the point?—

“Can compassion be extended,” said he, “amidst this scene? I will assist thee, perhaps thou hast an Isabella who may mourn thy loss, may sooth thy pains. These wounds were gained in the field of honour; thy plaintive fair too may even now be weeping for thy loss; while mine, insensible and regardless of my life or fame, gives all her anxious cares and fears to her Orlando. Distraction’s in the thought, but I will assist thy enfeebled strength.” When looking around he beheld a youth wallowing in blood…

It must be said, some of the fun goes out of Valentine once its lovers come to an understanding, and Valentine stops being compelled to drag Isabella and her supposed cruelty into every single random thought that crosses his mind. On the other hand, this plot thread does climax in a passage that is a masterpiece of incoherency, when upon placing Isabella with the Baroness and her family, Valentine begins to worry that his friend Woolstan might prove a romantic threat; while at the same time he remains oblivious to Eleanor’s attraction to himself:

They parted, inviolable secrecy was promised by all parties—Isabella sighed, Eleanor sighed—the eyes of Eleanor followed him ’till out of sight. Eleanor loved Valentine better than any man on earth, Woolstan excepted, but Woolstan was her brother. Valentine left Isabella in safety, yet Woolstan was young, was susceptible! Isabella attractive! But Woolstan, bred with Eleanor from their infancy, must love her in preference to all the sex, and Eleanor is not Woolstan’s sister.

Since story is a minor consideration here, we can amuse ourselves instead spotting the various tropes of sentamentalism. Some of them are stylistic, like the insistence of the characters upon addressing each other by their names instead of ever using pronouns, and the use of archaicisms (“Dost thou, Isabella, truly intend such cruelty to Valentine?”) Others are philosophical, like the constant harping upon the superiority of the cottage over the court, the country over the city; a belief that here takes the author to such extremes, he feels compelled to insist upon the natural elevation of every aspect, every single action, of country life…even knocking on the door:

    No burnished knocker graced the portal of the cottage door—no party coloured lackies with leaded canes preceded on before the carriage, and by their thundering reiteratinf rap, told their master of their errand.—These were not wanting here to grace the entry of Valentine at Staudentz, ever expected, ever welcome.
    His whip performed the necessary notice, two taps, gentle as the breathing bosom of the lovely Isabella…

Mind you, the author’s determination to extol “simplicity” at every opportunity sometimes causes certain difficulties, such as when it clashes with a desire to bestow everyone with enormous fortunes (various solemn descriptions of death are interrupted to tell us who inherited what), or to to paint lengthy word-pictures of Isabella and her “elegant” wardrobe:

The beautious form of Isabella, which required no ornament, was neverthless elegantly dressed; her robe, of white muslin (according to the fashion of the country) was long, but not tuck’d up, for the convenience of walking, covered with an azure coloured petticoat; round her waist was a zone, or cestus, of black velvet, fastened with a gold buckle, on her head was a bonnet, originally the manufacture of Leghorn, decorated with white ribbon…

Eleanor’s whole attention was fixed on her diamond clasps, her gold buckle, and the flowing elegance of her robe… She viewed Isabella as a Deity; while, on the contrary, Isabella beheld Eleanor as a model of perfection, luxuriantly adorned by nature! for Isabella was truly insensible to the power of her own attraction—and for dress, she subscribed to it more from custom than any intention she had to embellish those charms, in which nature had been so lavish to her…

Another idiocy here, one that to be fair is quite common in epistolary novels generally, is the author’s inability to give us the characters’ back-stories without having them tell each other at length things they must already know. Here the main culprit is Isabella, writing to her friend Bertha; the tone of their correspondence is entirely set by the opening paragraph of its opening letter:

And will Bertha still favor with her friendship the unfortunate, the unhappy Isabella? Will the daughter of the amiable Baroness Waesneri, still give sanction to her friend, removed from her to a distant home? Will she honor with her confidence the former partner of her heart, intrust her secrets, tell her inquietudes, pour the torturing anxieties of disappointment or expectation into her faithful bosom; and receive, in exchange, the heart rending troubles and distresses of her Isabella? Yes, you have told me you will…

At one point, Bertha addresses Isabella as, The friend of my infant, as well as my maturer years. Heaven knows what the two of them were talking about all that time: in an earlier letter, Isabella states, That Isabella is the daughter and only surviving child of Field Marshall General Count Marluritz, is all my Bertha knows of a life, young and already seasoned in the disappointments of this world’s glories… – before proceeding to edify her (and, of course, us) with her life story.

I’m sure it won’t come as any surprise to anyone to learn that Isabella is a crier. Well – that is to say – they’re all criers; that goes without saying; but Isabella takes the prize. Here are just a few, a very few examples of how she seems to pass most of her time:

At the mention of his name her eyes were suffused in a briny torrent…

I weep, Bertha—an involuntary flood of tears comes to my relief.— You will, at parting from the Baron Schwerin, let fall regretting tears; yet not with such poignancy of sorrow as these which fall so abundantly, so incessantly, from the eyes of Isabella…

“No, Valentine, I love but you alone. I cry incessantly, it is Valentine draws the tears…” I threw myself on my knees, and with a flood of tears eased the bursting heart of Isabella…

The letter however from the first friend of Isabella drew those crystal drops that were wont to fall from her eyes…

Isabella’s tears ceased not to flow, and more, for Valentine was now her husband, she need not now conceal the cause…

“…yet Valentine I waked in tears, and the pillow which supported the head of your weary Isabella, was wet with the gushing suffusion…”

And really, I can only say with Oscar Wilde— Anyone who doesn’t find Isabella’s relentless and determined misery quite hilarious must have a heart of stone.

However, perhaps the single outstanding quality of the novel of sentamentalism is the gap that develops between the reader’s perception of the characters’ actions, and that of the characters themselves; a gap that, granted, may have been a great deal smaller, or even non-existent, in 1790. These days, however, it is impossible not to be struck by the way in which the characters in novels like these view everything through the distorting lens of their own total self-absorption.

In Valentine, the best example of this is the sneaking behaviour of our putative hero after his hiding of Isabella. An increasingly frantic Orlando begins to suspect every man he knows of being responsible for Isabella’s disappearance – well, except for his noble and honourable brother – and finally challenges one of them, Baron Schwerin, to a duel. Does even this cause Valentine, who has looked on silently at his brother’s growing distraction, to confess himself responsible? Of course not. Instead, he lets his brother and his good friend go off and try to kill each other – as they very nearly do. In fact, it is evident during the duel that Orlando has stopped caring whether he lives or dies, and it is only due to Schwerin’s generosity that he escapes with his life. Even Isabella, more than a little self-absorbed herself, is disturbed by this event – although it is only the danger to Orlando to which she reacts. Her lover’s self-serving passivity doesn’t seem to bother her, nor that the man her best friend loves could have been killed just to preserve her secret. I guess that things like that are all in a day’s work, when you’re a sentamentalist.

Anyway…it all ends in tears, of course. Valentine has a double-barrelled ending, its final miseries described first in a letter from Schwerin to Bertha, and then again by the author in the third person; I suppose in case we hadn’t all suffered enough the first time. And since we’ve been studying the various lengths and forms of the run-on sentence, it pleases me enormously to be able to report that Valentine ends with one even longer than that which opened Rosabella…which of course gives me an excuse to wrap up this nonsense by quoting it:

Orlando left the chief of his fortune to Eleanor, which with her own, made it very considerable; they were at a proper time married in Berlin, and though it was not possible for a man to be more attached to beauty, than the Baron was to his lovely Eleanor, with whom he had been brought up from their tenderest infancy, yet had she not influence sufficient over him to make him quit the path of fame and glory, in which his father and all his progenitors had trod, a path of fame, although so unhappily fatal to his dearest friends, in the lamented, the valiant and brave Valentine with the amiable Isabella.