16/01/2017

A royal liar

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There’s a much more interesting story behind my latest Reading Roulette pick, Emily Clark’s Ermina Montrose; or, The Cottage Of The Vale, than we find between its covers.

That reference on the title page of this sentimental novel from 1800 to “the late Colonel Frederick” is shorter and more discreet than that which graces the title page of Clark’s earlier novel, Ianthé; or, The Flower Of Caernarvon, where the author’s grandfather is boldly announced to be “son of Theodore, King of Corsica”: all in all, a statement which for all its brevity contains a considerable amount of misleading information.

Theodor Stephan Freiherr von Neuhoff was a German soldier of fortune who, in the course of a career dabbling in political intrigue all over Europe and the Mediterranean, convinced a group of Corsican rebels that he could help them overthrow the Genoese rule of their island—and promised to do so in exchange for being crowned king of Corsica. Somehow von Neuhoff managed to acquire military backing from the Bey of Tunis, and landed on the island in March, 1736. The locals held up their end of the bargain and had the adventurer crowned as Theodore I of Corsica, but the conflict against the Genoese forces was a failure. Theodore fled Corsica in November, ostensibly to raise more support and funds: a project which ended ignominiously when he was imprisoned for debt in Amsterdam.

Somewhat surprisingly, Theodore did not give up his efforts, but arranged to supply the rebels with arms, and himself returned to the conflict on several occasions; but the rebels made no headway against the incumbent forces. Theodore’s next stop was England, again with the aim of raising support—and where again he ended up in debtors’ prison, where he was confined for some six years. This time he did give up, freeing himself by declaring bankruptcy—and by making over his kingdom to his creditors (!). He died only a year later, in 1756, having been supported to the end by various friends, including Horace Walpole.

In 1750, shortly after King Theodore was imprisoned in London, a certain Colonel Frederick appeared upon the scene. He too was German, and had served in the army of Frederick II of Prussia, before entering the service of the Duke of Württemberg. When Theodore died, Colonel Frederick began publicly mourning his father and calling himself the Prince of Capera; establishing his position more firmly by publishing Memoirs of Corsica, Containing the Natural and Political History of that Important Island in 1768.

Over the following years, the Colonel managed to manoeuvre his way into high society, becoming an intimate of the royal princes (for whose benefit he tried, but failed, to raise loans on the Continent); but at length his life began to unravel. For many years he had been sustained – just – by a pension paid by the Duchess of Württemberg; and when this was stopped his situation became desperate. He began to show signs of mental instability and to talk of suicide—and in 1797 he acted on his threat, shooting himself outside Westminster Abbey. A kind coroner’s jury ruled that he had been of unsound mind, and he was buried in the churchyard of St Ann’s Church in Soho—next to his “father”. Friends who had failed to assist him while he was alive arranged for a plaque near his grave, declaring Colonel Frederick to be indeed the son of Theodore, and, A finished Gentleman; in honour, honesty, and truth, he was princely.

However, The European Magazine; and London Review, reporting the story, appended to it a statement from “a Gentleman who was for many years on terms of intimacy with him”, who declared his royal heritage a fabrication, but agreed that he was very like Theodore in being also a German adventurer:

“He arrived much about the same time that Theodore died, and finding the people take a kind of interest in the hapless fate of a man who they were told was a King, Mr Frederick hit upon the expedient of passing as his son, and it succeeded. The assertion could not easily be contradicted. The fact did not merit investigation, and it was everywhere believed that he was the son of Theodore… Excessive vanity was the weak point of Colonel Frederick’s character, but in almost every other point of view his qualities were of the most estimable kind.”

Aside from describing Colonel Frederick’s personal tragedy, the magazine report makes mention of the fact that he left behind, A daughter and, we believe, four grand-children. One of the latter was Emily Clark, already earning money as a painter of miniatures, and whose work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799. Like so many other women across the 18th and 19th centuries, Clark also tried to supplement her family’s slender income by writing. She published Ianthé in 1798, by subscription: the reviewers were kind, if not effusive, and subscribers – including the royal princes – were generous. When she tried the same expedient two years later, however, she was less successful; no doubt the story had worn a little thin. She continued to publish, writing poetry and three more novels over the following twenty years; but the truth is, she wasn’t a very good writer, and no-one took much notice.

Nothing much else is known about Emily Clark, although her situation and her attempt to address it via subscription publication was referenced in Peter Garside’s essay, Subscribing Fiction in Britain, 1780–1829, which brackets her with the unfortunate young widow, Lady Leigh, who published her husband’s Munster Abbey by subscription after his premature death.

Alas! – would that Ermina Montrose were half as entertaining as Sir Samuel Edgerton’s Leigh’s magnum opus

Though the subscriptions themselves dropped off, and princes and members of the aristocracy are largely conspicuous by their absence in spite of the novel’s dedication to the Countess of Shaftesbury, there is one name of interest on the list which prefaces Clark’s novel—though we may suspect it is there out of charity rather than judgement:

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(I’m guessing those are the same Dashwoods who subscribed to Munster Abbey.)

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12/01/2017

Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose

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To date we have seen the various tropes that would finally come together to form the Gothic novel appear in fits and starts, usually putting in only brief appearances within the framework of the sentimental novel. The next fictional step in the process was a mere fragment of prose, an experimental piece of writing that appeared amongst a number of non-fiction essays and critical writings that comprise 1773’s Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose.

John Aikin was a qualified doctor who practised for some years in the north of England before relocating to Norfolk and finally to London, where he gave up his medical career to concentrate on writing. Initially Aikin was known for his pamphlets of social criticism and his views on the liberty of the conscience, but later he became the first editor of The Monthly Magazine.

Anna Laetitia Aikin, now better known by her married name of Barbauld, is an important figure in late 18th century literature, until her political opinions (viewed as “radical” and “unpatriotic”) killed her popularity in the early 19th century, and saw her largely expunged from the record; although various feminist writers are now attempting to re-establish her. At the outset of her career, she worked as a teacher while publishing treatises on childhood education and stories for children; her theories on education were widely adopted. She was one of the first female literary critics, and later the editor of an anthology of 18th century British novels; she was also a poet and essayist of note. In conjunction with her brother, John, across 1792-1795 she wrote and published Evenings At Home, a set of writings intended to encourage family readings, particularly amongst the newly literate, which were hugely popular all over Europe.

However, John and Anna Laetitia Aikin first published together in 1773. Their Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose is exactly what its title suggests, a collection of writings of various themes and approaches, but mostly focused upon how art and literature achieve their effects. It has been asserted that Anna Laetitia wrote the bulk of these pieces, and while no justification for this view has been forthcoming, I’m inclined to agree with it for reasons of my own. Reading these essays close together, it is evident that there are two different voices within the writings, and that the major contributor (i) is familiar with the state of English popular fiction; and (ii) has a sense of humour.

Though only a sliver of this volume is relevant to our purposes, here is a brief overview of the rest of the contents:

On The Province Of Comedy: – an essay describing the functioning of “the ludicrous” in plays, and distinguishing between the effects achieved through character, and those achieved through incident.

The Hill Of Science, A Vision: – an allegorical sketch (populated with symbolic characters, a la John Bunyan) differentiating the pursuit of fame and the pursuit of happiness.

Seláma; An Imitation Of Ossian: – a florid tale of medieval conflict and doomed love. Although this passage doesn’t get highlighted in discussions of this collection (possibly because of the still-ongoing debate about “Ossian”), it too presents a number of the themes and situations that would later sustain the Gothic novel.

Against Inconsistency In Our Expectations: – a philosophical essay arguing for reasonable expectations and ambitions as the basis of happiness and content (and warning about the reverse).

The Canal And The Brook. A Reverie: – a romantic piece defending the irregular beauty of the brook against the sterile utility of the canal (with both bodies of water speaking for themselves).

On Monastic Institutions: – an essay arguing that despite the inherent failings of the whole Catholics-and-monks arrangement (the Aikins were Nonconformists), monasteries played an important role in education and the preservation and propagation of fine literature and art; and were also important in a broad moral sense.

On The Heroic Poem Of ‘Gondibert’: – the toughest piece of the lot, an overlong examination of the criticisms made of William Davenant’s epic poem, Gondibert, and an equally overlong defence of it.

A Tale: – another allegorical story, about the coming to earth of the children of the gods: Love, Joy, Hope, Sorrow, etc., etc.

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The remaining three pieces need to be examined in more detail, as they both shed some light on the peculiar mindset which we have noticed in many of the novels of this period, and point forward to the further development of this branch of writing.

On Romances, An Imitation is an essay commenting upon the peculiar place occupied in society by the writer of popular fiction, pointing out that while the products of most professions (concrete or theoretical) reach only a limited and pre-defined audience, the writer of fiction can reach almost everyone. It then segues into the question (so very pertinent in the second half of the 18th century, when the sentimental novel was at its peak and the Gothic novel on the horizon) of why reading about other people’s miseries should be so attractive to so many:

It is, indeed, no ways extraordinary that the mind should be charmed by fancy, and attracted by pleasure; but that we should listen to the groans of misery, and delight to view the exacerbations of complicated anguish, that we should chuse to chill the bosom with imaginary fears, and dim the eyes with fictitious sorrow, seems a kind of paradox of the heart…

(“Complicated anguish”—goodness me, what a perfect summation of 18th century fiction!)

An Enquiry Into Those Kinds Of Distresses Which Excite Agreeable Sensations is an examination of a phenomenon which we have noticed often enough at this blog: the tendency of sentimental novels to pile on the misery, not infrequently to the extent of a thoroughly unhappy ending, and featuring scenes wherein other people’s sufferings are not only treated as a kind of performance art, a perverse “entertainment”, but as a source of empathetic emotion so strong that it can induce crying and fainting in the other characters: which is, however, tacitly viewed as a desirable, even pleasurable, outcome. The underlying implication is that readers would, likewise, find scenes of misery pleasurable:

It is undoubtedly true, though a phenomenon of the human mind difficult to account for, that the representation of distress frequently gives pleasure; from which general observation many of our modern writers of tragedy and romance seem to have drawn this inference, that in order to please they have nothing to do than paint distress in natural and striking colours. With this view, they heap together all the afflicting events and dismal accidents their imagination can furnish; and when they have half broke the reader’s heart, they expect he should thank them for his agreeable entertainment…

(“Afflicting events and dismal accidents”— Note to self: write an analysis of 18th century sentimental literature and publish it under that title.)

Anna Laetitia (and I’m quite sure this is Anna Laetitia talking) goes on to reprove contemporary authors for overdoing it; or at least, for being indiscriminate in the kinds and degrees of miseries that they pile into their novels:

The view or relation of mere misery can never be pleasing. We have, indeed, a strong sympathy with all kinds of misery; but it is a feeling of pure unmixed pain, similar in kind, though not equal in degree to what we feel for ourselves on the like occasion; and never produces that melting sorrow, that thrill of tenderness, to which we give the name of pity. There are two different sensations, marked by very different external expression. One causes the nerves to tingle, the flesh to to shudder, and the whole countenance to be thrown into strong contractions; the other relaxes the frame, opens the features, and produces tears…

Of the latter she then goes on to add:

…there must be some other sentiment combined with this kind of instinctive sympathy, before it becomes in any degree pleasing, or produces the sweet emotion of pity. This sentiment is love, esteem, the complacency we take in the contemplation of beauty, of mental or moral excellence, called forth and rendered more interesting, by circumstances of pain and danger. Tenderness is, much more properly than sorrow, the spring of tears; for it affects us in that manner whether combined with joy or grief; perhaps more in the former case than the latter. And I believe we may venture to assert that no distress which produces tears is wholly without a mixture of pleasure…

While she is speaking in the context of the novel, we note that Anna Laetitia is here referring to the social theories expounded by the Deists (which we considered in detail with respect to James R. Foster’s History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England), who contended that the indulgence of positive emotions – those name-checked here, love, esteem, pity, tenderness – made the individual a better, a more moral person. (The downside of this is that the pursuit of “sensibility” produced a lot of ridiculous posturing, both fictional and in reality.)

The essay then goes on to argue that in this arena, the novel has a great advantage over the drama, because it is able to focus upon the small and the delicate, whereas plays have to strive for big effects. Yet it is the following criticism of where novels tend to get it wrong that really grabs the attention:

Tragedy and romance-writers are likewise apt to make too free with the more violent expressions of passion and distress, by which means they lose their effect. Thus an ordinary author does not know how to express any strong emotion otherwise than by swooning or death; so that a person experienced in this kind of reading, when a girl faints away at parting with her lover, or a hero kills himself for the loss of his mistress, considers it as the established etiquette upon such occasion, and turns over the pages with the utmost coolness and unconcern…

More ‘Advice To Aspiring Writers’ follows:

Scenes of distress should not be too long continued… It is…highly necessary in a long work to relieve the mind by scenes of pleasure and gaiety; and I cannot think it so absurd a practice as our modern delicacy has represented it, to intermix wit and fancy with the pathetic, provided care be taken not to check the passions while they are flowing… Those who have touched the strings of pity with the finest hand have mingled light strokes of pleasantry and mirth in their most pathetic passages. Very different is the conduct of many novel writers, who by plunging us into scenes of distress without end or limit, exhaust the powers, and before the conclusion either renders us insensible to every thing, or fix a real sadness upon the mind…

…or induce uncontrollable giggling, as the case might be.

Interestingly enough, the essay concludes by suggesting that the over-indulgence of “sensibility” tends to blunt the capacity for sympathy and pity, rather than augment it—as was contended by many of the Deists, who viewed the novel as a sort of training exercise, to be used to keep the emotions flexible when no real circumstances of misery were available. Specifically, it is argued, novels raise virtuous emotions without offering an outlet for them in action, and this in turn blunts and inhibits those emotions. Furthermore, by making misery too “pretty”, novels tend to give people a disgust of the real thing, killing the charitable impulse.

But the best novels do exactly what they are intended to do, make people better for reading them:

Yet there is a species of this kind of writing which must ever afford an exquisite pleasure to persons of taste and sensibility; where noble sentiments are mixed with well fancied incidents, pathetic touches with dignity and grace, and invention with chaste correctness.

Alas! – no examples are offered. Instead, the allegorical A Tale follows.

But while these views on the state of literature, circa 1770, are fascinating, what we’re really here for is a related essay.

One of the most influential pieces of writing published during the 18th century was Edmund Burke’s 1757 essay, A Philosophical Enquiry Into The Origin Of Our Ideas Of The Sublime And Beautiful, which first argued for the inherent pleasure of apparently negative situations and emotions. His arguments, much more thoroughly and emphatically argued, are generally those we have just seen used by Anna Laetitia in her contention that, No distress which produces tears is wholly without a mixture of pleasure. Burke, too, is the origin of the argument for two different physical reactions to different kinds or degrees of misery: One causes the nerves to tingle, the flesh to to shudder, and the whole countenance to be thrown into strong contractions; the other relaxes the frame, opens the features, and produces tears.

Here, however, we are concerned with the first reaction. It was Burke’s belief that:

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature…is Astonishment; and Astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.

Critically in respect of the development of the Gothic novel, which seized this idea and ran with it, Burke further contended that the ruling principle of the sublime was terror—that is, the sublime could be so overwhelming as to induce a fear that was nevertheless pleasurable.

This is the point picked up in On The Pleasures Derived From Objects Of Terror. Having considered in the previous essay the pleasures of misery, this one considers the still more perverse pleasures of terror, at least in the realm of literature. An argument is made here that the power of the tale of terror—one shared by all fiction, to a greater or lesser extent–is its capacity to create suspense and raise curiosity:

We rather chuse to suffer the smart pain of a violent emotion than the uneasy craving of an unsatisfied desire. That this principle, in many instances, may involuntarily carry us through what we dislike, I am convinced from experience. This is the impulse which renders the poorest and most insipid narrative interesting when we once get fairly into it; and I have frequently felt it with regard to our modern novels, which, if lying on my table, and taken up in an idle hour, have led me through the most tedious and disgusting pages, while, like Pistol eating his leek, I have swallowed and execrated to the end. And it will not only force us through dullness, but through actual torture…

(Hey, we’ve all been there!)

But is this really sufficient to account for the willingness, eagerness, of readers to be scared?

    This solution, however, does not satisfy me with respect to the well-wrought scenes of artificial terror which are formed by a sublime and vigorous imagination. Here, though we know before-hand, what to expect, we enter into them with eagerness, in quest of a pleasure already experienced. This is the pleasure constantly attached to the excitement of surprise from new and wonderful objects. A strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps it on the stretch; and where the agency of invisible beings is introduced, of “forms unseen, and mightier far than we”, our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid open to its view, and rejoices in the expansion of its powers. Passion and fancy co-operating elevate the soul to its highest pitch; and the pain of terror is lost in amazement.
    Hence, the more wild, fanciful, and extraordinary are the circumstances of a scene of horror, the more pleasure we receive from it…

(So the next time someone asks me why I like horror movies, I’ll have an answer.)

In this context, we are given some examples—One Thousand And One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights), in particular the stories of Aladdin and Sinbad; The Castle Of Otranto (naturally); and a particular segment of Tobias Smollett’s Ferdinand, Count Fathom:

…where the hero, entertained in a lone house in a forest, finds a corpse just slaughtered in the room where he is sent to sleep, and the door of which is locked upon him…

But is not this essay in itself which qualifies Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose for a place in the timeline of the Gothic Novel, but the fact that it is appended by an attempt at the sort of writing just described.

Sir Betrand, A Fragment finds its eponymous hero lost on the moors with night closing in. He is close to despair when he hears a tolling bell, and sees too a distant light. He follows these welcome signals to the edge of a moat surrounding a desolate and crumbling castle. He ventures across the draw-bridge into the courtyard, and finally works up the courage to knock upon the massive doors of the castle proper; even as the faint light comes and goes, sometimes plunging him into total darkness:

A third time he knocked, and a third time all was still. He then fell back to some distance that he might discern whether any light could be seen in the whole front—It again appeared in the same place and quickly glided away as before—at the same instant a deep sullen toll sounded from the turret. Sir Bertrand’s heart made a fearful stop—He was a while motionless; then terror impelled him to make some hasty steps towards his steed—but shame stopt his flight; and urged by honour, and a resistless desire of finishing the adventure, he returned to the porch; and working up his soul to a full steadiness of resolution, he drew forth his sword with one hand, and with the other lifted up the latch of the gate. The heavy door, creaking upon its hinges, reluctantly yielded to his hand—he applied his shoulder to it and forced it open—he quitted it and stept forward—the door instantly shut with a thundering clap. Sir Bertrand’s blood was chilled—he turned back to find the door, and it was long ere his trembling hands could seize it—but his utmost strength could not open it again…

Forced to go onwards, Sir Bertrand finds more strange and terrifying adventures awaiting him, including an encounter with a ghostly figure with a bloody stump instead of a hand. He makes his way into a huge room occupied only by a coffin:

At the same moment the lid of the coffin flew open, and the bell tolled. The flame still glided forwards, and Sir Bertrand resolutely followed, till he arrived within six paces of the coffin. Suddenly, a lady in a shrowd and black veil rose up in it, and stretched out her arms towards him…

And so on…but, critically, to no conclusion. Sir Bertrand, A Fragment is just a fragment, with no beginning or end, and no explanation of its events—and it is precisely this, the context-free and therefore disorientating nature of Sir Bertrand’s adventures, that gives it its power. (Whereas the later Gothic novels, feeling obliged to explain themselves, very often fall apart at the last.) This piece of short fiction, only 1500 words long, packing into its narrow confines an amusing plethora of touches later to become tropes, has long been recognised as an important step in the evolution of literary horror in Britain: no other piece of writing at this time is so intent upon horrors for their own sake.

We should note too that Sir Bertrand’s behaviour mirrors that attributed to readers by the author when explaining the attractions of the horror story, wherein he chooses to enter the castle rather than flee by, A resistless desire of finishing the adventure. Knowing, however terrifying, is better than not knowing.

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17/12/2016

The Holy Lover

holylover1b    John Wesley received Oglethorpe’s order with an emotion in which astonishment mingled with a wild and heart-shaking joy… The flood of his happiness almost succeeded in drowning his uneasy clericalism. For a brief, enchanted interlude, a sunlit pause, John Wesley was become like other men, a very human lover, quivering with the joy of being alone with his beloved.
    When he had threshed and winnowed his conscience, he yet had a good hope that he would be delivered out of this sweet danger, this perilous joy, since it had not been his own choice that had brought it upon him; and he coddled the notion that he still perceived in himself his old desire and intention to live celibate. Further, he tried to believe he believed Sophy’s statement, which all young girls make to all men at the beginning of their more intimate acquaintance, that he resolve was to live unmarried. He wished to believe that this resolution of hers would hold fast even though his own wavered. So much he understood a girl’s heart; so much he understood his own!
    The thought of Sophy invaded him even at his prayers. She appeared, a tender and seductive vision, with sweet, persuasive lips and ardent eyes; and this occasioned him so profound a pleasure that he was terrified. He knew it for a snare of the devil, and redoubled his prayers. But as if the heavens were deaf, he was unable to quell the passion that shook and tormented him. He forgot that he was at high noon and high tide, son of a cleric who begot nineteen children, grandson of another who begot twenty-five. And he was afraid. He was dreadfully afraid.

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We know from the very first sentence of Marie Conway Oemler’s 1927 novel, The Holy Lover, that we’re about to be confronted with a very different kind of book from the religiously-themed novels previously examined at this blog:

“Sukey!” his father once shrieked to his mother in a fit of exasperation, “I profess, Sweetheart, I don’t believe our Jack would attend to the most pressing necessities of nature, even, if he couldn’t give a reason for it!”

This up-front reference to its central character’s bodily functions serves two purposes, although only one of them is immediately apparent: to wit, to alert the reader to the possibility that this biographical novel might not contain an altogether flattering portrait of its subject. The other, evident only in retrospect, is to foreshadow the fact that The Holy Lover is, to a significant degree, about the bodily functions of John Wesley—or rather, the lack thereof.

All of which immediately begs the question of what audience this novel was intended for?—certainly not for the admirers and followers of Wesley, who would likely be angered and offended by it; though those opposed, for whatever reason, to Methodism might get an unkind kick out of its merciless exposure of Wesley’s early-life feet-of-clay. Ultimately this is a book perhaps best read from an historical point of view, for its description of the early days of Georgia, and of the challenges faced by those who ventured into what was, even in its more “civilised” regions, a wilderness.

Briefly, in 1733 James Oglethorpe founded a British colony in Georgia, which was intended to provide a military buffer between the English settlements in the Carolinas and the Spanish settlements in Florida. Oglethorpe’s plan was create an agrarian society on a principle of equality, and to populate the region with “the worthy poor”, in particular basically honest people who had fallen foul of England’s harsh laws against debtors. Oglethorpe carried cotton seeds to the region, and played an important role in the establishment of the South’s cotton-based economy, even while declaring slavery illegal in the colony (a decision which would finally bring about his downfall, when “the worthy poor” wiped their feet on the principles of equality and demanded slaves to work their land grants). And finally, Oglethorpe wanted the civilising influence of religion—and thus invited four members of Oxford’s “Holy Club” to Georgia, to undertake ministries and work at the conversion of the local Native Americans. These men were John Wesley; his brother, Charles; Benjamin Ingham; and Charles Delamotte.

History has generally condemned John Wesley’s mission to Georgia as an almost total failure; Methodist writers have tended to interpret this period as a time of chastening, preparing Wesley for the great “revelation” that would precede his founding of the Methodist Church. However, there has been some revisionism in this area in recent times, a suggestion that the perception of failure was based mostly on Wesley’s harsh judgement of his own performance.

The Holy Lover, however, goes to the other extreme, highlighting the lack of proportion, the thin skin and the ignorance of the world that, the novel contends, made Wesley’s failure almost an inevitability. It also takes a distinctly female view of the behaviour of John Wesley—arguing tacitly that believing you have a hotline to God is no excuse for wrecking a young woman’s life.

Much of this novel rests upon Wesley’s own words, supporting its contentions with quotes from his journal and letters, and those of others—but the material is used in a self-evidently highly selective way. Whether Marie Conway Oemler’s own Catholicism influenced this choice (the Oglethorpe colony explicitly welcomed people of all religions but Catholic), or whether Wesley’s treatment of Sophia Hopkey earned her ire, is difficult to judge. At the very least, however, this novel goes some way towards restoring the reputation of the unfortunate Sophia, who has been roughly treated by a number of Methodist historians, and viewed indeed as a “catch” and a “snare” for the holy Wesley.

The Holy Lover opens with a sketch of life at the Epworth parsonage in Lincolnshire, placing “Jacky” amongst his bustling family and emphasising the lifelong influence of Susannah Wesley upon her youngest and favourite surviving son—but emphasising too a legacy from his mother that would cause John and those around him considerable grief at a later date: the lack of a sense of humour. These early scenes highlight both the positive and negative qualities that would shape Wesley’s life: his profound faith, tireless labours and self-sacrifice on one hand; on the other, his convenient ability to see “God’s will” in whatever it suited him to do.

The same mingling of positive and negative is seen in John’s conduct at Oxford, where he draws followers with his faith and dedication, building a group that achieves much good, particularly amongst the prison population; but ultimately alienates the majority through his assumption of superiority, his demands for a damaging personal austerity, and his unshakeable conviction of his own essential rightness.

It is at this point that John Wesley is introduced to James Oglethorpe, on the lookout for young men willing to undertake missionary work in Georgia, and offered a position. After much heart-burning, Wesley accepts and sets out on the long and dangerous sea-voyage to Oglethorpe’s colony with his three companions, all surviving members of his Holy Club.

Overtly the most important consequence of this trip was that it served to introduce John Wesley to some brethren of the Moravian Church, travelling to Georgia to become part of an established settlement. The Moravians were, historically, the first Protestant missionaries, and in America the first to gain a converted congregation of Native Americans (although their success in interacting with the Mohicans drew accusations that the Moravians were, sigh, secretly Jesuits recruiting for the French, and got them expelled from New York). The narrative of The Holy Lover reproduces the famous shipboard incident wherein, confronted by a violent storm and the apparently inevitable foundering of their ship, the English passengers (clerical and lay) gave way to panic and the terror of death, while the Moravian congregation stayed calm, singing hymns together in the teeth of the gale:

    “But were you not afraid?” Wesley asked one of the Moravians.
    “I thank God, no.”
    “But were not your women and children afraid?”
    “Brother, no.” And the German added, with a gentle smile: “Our women and children are not afraid to die.”
    Women and children…not afraid to die! Wesley had no answer to that. These humble folk had something which he, with all his intellect, his logic, his learning, his fastings, prayers, formulas, rituals, had not attained. They had some emotion of the spirit, some instinct of the heart which he had missed… He was afraid: afraid of life, of death, of God, of circumstances, of men, of women, of himself…

Subsequently, the Moravians’ quiet practicality and common sense form an amusing contrast to the extreme emotionalism of everything connected with Wesley. They also, alone of the Georgia settlers, manage to keep patience with Wesley, even as he uses them as an ongoing sounding-board for his increasing woes, constantly pouring out his troubles to them and begging for advice which (since it doesn’t happen to coincide with his own wants) he never takes.

(But it was after John Wesley’s return to England that the Moravians exerted their most significant influence upon him. He and his brother Charles were accepted by a Moravian congregation, and were counselled by Peter Boehler, a young Moravian missionary about to depart for Georgia himself, whose ideas about faith and grace had a profound effect upon Wesley’s own thinking. [A future bishop, Boehler was instrumental in founding the Pennsylvanian towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth.] It was while attending a Moravian meeting in London that Wesley underwent his great “revelation”, which altered and crystallised his views on personal salvation, and which planted the seed for the creation of the Methodist Church. But all of this is beyond the scope of this novel.)

Wesley’s interaction with the Moravians highlights what is, at this point in his life, his most significant failing as a minister of God: a total lack of love for humanity. Looking around, Wesley sees only sinners, damned by their failure to practice religion as he practices it. Of course, a deeper failing lies beyond this: Wesley has no love of God, either, just a deep and abiding fear. Much of his behaviour at this time resembles that of someone he would no doubt designate a “heathen”, trying to placate an angry spirit by sacrifice.

Throughout the journey to Georgia, Wesley and his companions pursue their fellow-passengers: not merely conducting services but attempting to bring the others to their own way of thinking and believing and acting, and doing so with unrelenting energy. There is nowhere for the passengers to run:

Their zeal kept the passengers in a chronic state of exasperation. For John wouldn’t feed them as babes with the milk of the Word; already he was cramming them with great raw collops of theology, and drenching their unwilling stomachs with the sour wine of High Church formalism… That he honestly practiced what he preached made him all the more infuriating, since it left no saving doubt to soften his rigid righteousness. There was no love in him; only the horrid zest of sacerdotal selfishness which urged him, for the saving of his own soul, to save other souls willy-nilly. Quite as though there were a bounty on souls, redeemable by Deity. The wonder is that some exasperated sinner didn’t quietly heave Mr Wesley overboard some dark night.

One of the exasperated sinners—though less so than the rest, since he alone has the option of withdrawing himself—is James Oglethorpe, who early on sees signs that his future work with Wesley will be no easy collaboration. Though the soldier views the priest with amused tolerance, the priest is constitutionally incapable of returning the favour, instead taking advantage of his calling to lecture Oglethorpe on various aspects of his conduct, particularly the nature of his interactions with the female sex.

But ironically, it is not Oglethorpe but Wesley who gets into trouble with the female passengers. Susceptible to female beauty, though wary of it, Wesley is drawn to Beata Hawkins, the wife of a surgeon, who, seeking some new form of amusement on the dreary sea-voyage, expresses a great desire to be instructed in religion. The minister is no more than a new sort of toy for her, something to test her theory that men are just men. Wesley, in turn, becomes obsessed with “saving the soul” of the pretty young wife, stubbornly ignoring the warnings of his companions, who see only too clearly that she is playing with him, and who have heard the shipboard gossip about her conduct—gossip that is now encompassing him. Over his friends’ strenuous objections, Wesley takes his infatuation to the extreme of administering Holy Communion to Beata Hawkins: an act which will have bitterly ironic echoes in his future life…

Did he really believe he had converted Beata Hawkins? Or was the wish father to the thought? Or was it that she attracted him more than he himself knew? To a temperament like his, sex-attraction was dangerously troublesome. He must repress it, stamp it out, become a celibate, a eunuch of the spirit. Sex to him stood for sin, so that when a woman intrigued his imagination and threatened the control which he wished to achieve and maintain over his natural impulses of a man, his immediate reaction was to desire to save her soul, shift his sex-emotion to the religious plane, and thus placate and enlist God, whom he was convinced his natural passions offended, and of whom he was afraid.

After a long, tedious and often dangerous journey, the Simmonds arrives safely in Georgia. John Wesley assumes his ministry in Savannah, with Charles Delamotte to assist him, while Charles Wesley and Bejamin Ingham travel on with James Oglethorpe to the island township of Frederica, a much rougher and less civilised settlement of Oglethorpe’s own making, and vital to his plans for the area. For a few brief, glorious weeks all seems well, the future bright:

Everything promised plenty. The people who greeted him so cordially seemed to him good and happy. And of the Indians he had not seen enough to dampen his ardour and dispel his illusions. He shared the curious notions of his age as to the Indians, picturing them as childlike souls panting for conversion, and with no preconceived errors of doctrine to keep them from ardently embracing the faith once delivered to the saints—his faith. They were clean, empty vessels into which should foam the pure milk of the Word. So he came to Georgia with his heart singing hymns in his breast.

But the narrative that follows is one of good intentions appallingly executed, for reasons jointly accounted for by the peculiar nature of the settlement and the ingrained nature of John Wesley.

Despite the clash of their personalities and morals, James Oglethorpe had high hopes for John Wesley’s contribution to his colony, recognising his honesty, his capacity for hard work and – where his own emotions and beliefs weren’t involved – his judgement. The austerity of his religious practice and his inflexibility did give the soldier some considerable concern, yet Oglethorpe’s hope was that the realities of life in Georgia would bring the minister to a more reasonable state of mind.

But in this respect, Oglethorpe was too optimistic. Much good John Wesley certainly tried to do—he was active in fighting the growing demand for slaves in the new colony, for instance, and he did sterling work in the founding and operation of schools—but his capacity for rubbing people the wrong way made him enemies at almost every turn, many of whom opposed his efforts out of personal dislike:

Oglethorpe wanted a colony for England, as against Spain. The colonists wanted everything they could get, including ease and pleasure. The Holy Club wanted a theocratic State, with God as Governor, John Wesley as Grand Vizier, and Charles, Ingham and Delamotte as Chief Deputies. These diverging aims brought them all one thing in common: Trouble.

Wesley’s fantasy with regard to the conversion of the local tribe is the first casualty. Whatever illusions the new minister may have cherished about them, the natives have met white men before and are under none whatsoever:

    This was the Holy Club’s first contact with the red men they had come out to convert—and didn’t. Wesley never had any closer contact with them. When Tomochichi was urged to become a Christian, the fine old Mico said vehemently:
    “Why, those Christians at Savannah! Those are Christians at Frederica! Christians lie! Christians steal! Christians beat men! Me no Christian!”

The new minister’s good opinion of his own parishioners soon undergoes revision too, with his initial positive outlook suffering from the contrast he cannot help drawing between the godly Moravians and his secular parishioners. Many and varied are the clashes between John Wesley and his congregation over the next two years, some provoked by his conduct, some by theirs, but all playing their part in the minister’s eventual downfall.

Meanwhile, Charles Wesley, too, is busy making enemies in Frederica, where his solemn condemnation of of anything secular is particularly offensive to the settlement’s female contingent. Charles Wesley, it is concluded, has to go…

On shipboard, even as John tried to “save” Beata Hawkins, Charles backed his own judgement about women by similarly adopting a Mrs Welch. At that time the women were bored enough to welcome even male attentions that came in the form of religious instruction and lectures about the state of their souls; but now in Frederica, Charles has become an intolerable nuisance. Both women, with unsatisfactory husbands and too much time on their hands, are pursuing James Oglethorpe: an amusement which the persistence of the Wesleys is making impossible. Well aware of the ministers’ credulity and their willingness to believe the worst of everyone, the two women put their heads together and come up with a daring plan: one which involves a public falling out and Mrs Welch’s assertion – made to Charles in the strictest confidence – that Beata Hawkins is in fact James Oglethorpe’s mistress; this on the back of the women complaining to Oglethorpe that the Wesleys’ pursuit of them isn’t entirely about religion.

The escalating trouble caused by the women and their circulating rumours and gossip finally drives Charles Wesley away: the Holy Club needs someone to return to England and report on conditions, and he is only too glad to go—and James Oglethorpe to see the back of him.

John takes over Charles’ duties in Frederica, and finds a hornet’s nest of resentment and criticism waiting for him. Even as the Wesleys believe the worst of others, Frederica is only too willing to believe the worst of them; and John veers between being shunned and being abused. Matters reach a climax when he feels himself bound in duty to call upon Beata Hawkins, who has been busy painting herself publicly as a victim of the Wesleys’ slander—by which she means, of course, that she she didn’t count on her invented adultery being made public; but in this, she and Mrs Welch bargained without the Wesleys’ habitual indiscretion:

    “You have wronged me!” she exclaimed suddenly and violently. “I am going to shoot you through the head this minute with a brace of balls!” and bringing her hands from behind her with a jerk, she showed him in one a large pistol, in the other a pair of shears.
    The startled man caught hold of the hand clutching the pistol, then of the other armed with the shears. With a piercing shriek, she hurled herself upon him, forcing him backward on the bed.
    “Villain! Let go my hands!” she roared at the top of a pair of lungs that carried half a mile. “You dirty dog, let me go!” And she began to swear like the mate of a troop-ship, pouring into his outraged ears a torrent of personal abuse, mingled with frightful imprecations. All the while she struggled to free herself.
    “I’ll have your hair, you lousy beast, or I’ll have your heart’s blood, damn you!” howled Mrs Potiphar, straddling the meagre stomach of the unlucky Joseph and making furious thrusts of the shears at his head. Weakened by fever, almost swooning with horror, John Wesley used all his enfeebled strength to keep the shears at bay.
    He feared to cry aloud, for very shame, unwilling to make public that which for her sake as well as his own, he wished to keep private. He dared not attempt to rise, since that would have made her ride him like a nag. Indeed, she rode him all too strenuously now, gripping his flanks with her knees, and using her heels to spur his shins black and blue…
    Her two men servants now rushing in: “Hold his hands!” she yelled at them. “Come here and hold his hands for me!”
    “Take her off me!” cried Wesley. “Take me off her, and hold her!”
    But they dared do neither. And in a burst of sudden, furious strength, the woman broke Wesley’s hold upon her wrists, and seizing his hair, sheared one side of his head…

This incident, a humiliating nadir in John Wesley’s time in Georgia (because of course it cannot be kept a secret) occurs in a period of unusual happiness for the minister—for he has been introduced to Sophia Hopkey, the young niece of Mr Thomas Causton, a magistrate of Savannah, and his bustlingly social wife, to whom the quiet, gentle and deeply religious girl is an annoyance and a burden:

You thought her pretty when you met her. You thought her beautiful when you knew her. She was in the the first flower of her youth, a tall and very slender girl topping John Wesley by the head, a girl whose quiet loveliness embodied as it were the freshness of an April morning softly shadowed by clouds. Her light brown hair was full of gold, her eyes a clear hazel, her lips a pink, sweet curve, soft lips at once innocent and provocative, the lips of a woman born to be loved… There was intellect in the clear brow, and when the veiled lifted, the hazel eyes were full of light. She wore her plain dress with a simple elegance that impressed the fastidious Wesley…

James Oglethorpe has already decided that what Wesley needs to settle him down and soften his hard edges is marriage, and he is quick to sound Mr Causton on the girl’s situation. One declared lover there is, the wild, violent Tom Mellichamp, who has frightened Sophy into a promise not to marry anyone else, if she will not marry him; while another, the cautious, long-sighted and rather cold-blooded William Williamson, a man of no birth but strong ambition, has also turned his eyes in her direction. Oglethorpe soon makes his feelings on the subject known to Mr Causton, who is willing enough for the connection. There’s just one problem…

    “You would wish me to encourage this?”
    “I should regard it as helping the welfare of the colony, Mr Causton.”
    “But I must tell you that I have heard from others, and once from himself, that he has a notion to remain celibate,” said Mr Causton. And he added: “As an aid to holiness.”
    “We must trust Miss Sophy to wean him from so deluded a notion, then,” said Oglethorpe, with what in a less superior person might have been called a grin.

And it is the battle between John Wesley’s austere and self-sacrificial religious beliefs, which include a determination never to marry, and his natural passions as a man that comprise the rest of The Holy Lover.

Through the giving of French lessons, Wesley soon has the opportunity to know Sophy better; while her desire for religious instruction sees her offering him the sweet incense of submission and obedience, as she joins his pre-dawn prayer sessions, attends his services, and in every way shows herself a willing follower and a devout believer. Her intelligence, her seriousness and her faith, combined with her physical attractions, are enough – almost enough – to overcome the minister’s long-held resolutions. When Wesley falls ill, as he does at intervals due to overwork and a near-starvation regime, Sophy insists upon nursing him—much to the silent anger of one particular observer…

One of the most peculiar details in The Holy Lover—a novel consisting almost entirely of peculiar details—is its sketch of the relationship between John Wesley and his Holy Club companion and assistant, Charles Delamotte. Though inevitably expressed in terms of the “snare” represented by women, and his fears for John Wesley’s soul in the face of such a temptation, Delamotte’s resentment of Sophy and his seething anger in the face of Wesley’s growing passion for her is impossible to read as other than a jealousy sexual in nature.

The long-suffering Moravians have become accustomed to John Wesley pouring out his troubles to them, albeit without ever taking their gentle, understanding, common-sense advice. Now Charles Delamotte likewise turns to them, and gets as little joy:

    “If the maiden is as pious as she seems, and loves our brother with a holy love, she might make him the godly and modest wife that he, and all men, need,” said David Nitschman, mildly.
    “Marry him? Ye would have her marry him?” croaked Delamotte, aghast.
    “We believe in holy matrimony, my brother,” said the Moravian. “It is a help to holiness. It trains and disciplines and restrains. If the maiden be what she seems, let us sing for joy!”
    “And if she is what I think she is—?” asked Delamotte.
    “Then must ye fast and pray,” said the Moravian.
    Delamotte fasted and prayed…

It is around this time that matters reach a crisis for Charles Wesley, with his departure for England requiring John to take over his duties in Frederica. Delamotte is overwhelmingly relieved, but the conspirators are before him: Mr Causton dispatches Sophy to visit friends in Frederica, and the relationship between herself and John Wesley continues and deepens—all under the watchful eyes of a community that has learned to view everything the Wesleys do with suspicion.

Despite their growing closeness, Wesley makes no definite sign to Sophy, apparently content instead to keep their relationship wholly in terms of their religious interchange. It is not until James Oglethorpe takes a hand, arranging for Wesley to escort Sophy back to Savannah by boat that circumstances begin to overwhelm the minister’s self-command. Days and nights spent in each other’s company bring the couple’s mutual but unspoken passion to a fever pitch. Finally a declaration of passionate love escapes John Wesley—but even then, he goes so far and no further; his demand for a life together does not include a proposal of marriage. Instead, he imagines a lifelong – and wholly celibate – companionship between himself and Sophy, with (although he does no express it like this, of course) all of their sexual passion channelled into religious devotion:

Presently, as if to lay the turbulent spirit which moved him, he entered upon the topic of Holiness, which seems to obsess the Christian mind. And as the ascetic in him feared he was in instant danger of losing this fine Holiness by becoming a natural human being, he held Holiness up to the young girl as a peculiar hope and grace, using all his powers of persuasion.

To this point in The Holy Lover, Marie Conway Oemler has shown sympathy as well as understanding in her portrait of John Wesley, albeit that criticism and a certain mockery sometimes creep in too, in the face of his blindness and self-absorption. But from here there is a distinct shift in tone, in response to the selfishness of Wesley’s treatment of Sophy: a selfishness dangerously blended with ignorance of, even contempt for, the ordinary usages of the world. A note of overt anger enters the text as Oemler describes the egoism which is the foundation of John Wesley’s conviction that he has been singled out by God, and the consequent crushing of Sophy Hopkey under the wheels of his relentless chariot of self:

    Had he loved the girl less passionately, or had she been older, he would not have feared her so much; for he would not have been afraid to take an older woman in marriage, as an act of expediency, somewhat as one might have put on a flannel shirt in a chill. Had there been no passion, no glamour, there would have been no terror of sin…only two stodgy Christians ambling heavenward in a sort of second-hand celibacy.
    But as it was now, Sophy with the dew of her youth sparkling on her bright hair, threatened his God-ordained mission—whatever it might prove to be—and so endangered his freedom, and his pride of supremacy, that his colossal selfishness saw in her the Great Temptation.
    He might talk of sacrifice; but to any artist, any priest, any professional man, nothing can be a sacrifice that does not call upon him to give up his work. There is no sacrifice in letting go anything that might interrupt or endanger the work… From the day he stepped out of his cradle, John Wesley had been at work moulding and fashioning and shaping his life in his own image and likeness, in his own way, to his own ends. Against that enormous egoism, what chance had any mortal woman?

As for Wesley’s obsession with physical chastity, his belief that only so can God’s work be done:

    Celibacy, virginity, a state of physical being too overrated among sentimental unthinking Christians, is an excellent restrictive regulation, good enough when not overemphasised and unduly enforced; but it is not, per se, virtue. Nature respects continence; she is apt to fill the unploughed, unsowed, and barren field with briars.
    Steeped in clericalism, with the bones of the ancients hung around the neck of his soul, John Wesley made a fetish of celibacy. It was, he thought, the most potent means to the end he sought—the saving of his own soul. It never seemed to dawn upon him that he might be involving a young girl’s happiness; nor did his own great selfishness occur to him. Men who seek heavenly riches are too often quite as ruthless and rapacious as they who are determined to gain the more obvious wealth of the world.

Sophy herself is understandably hurt and bewildered by John Wesley’s behaviour towards her—making passionate declarations and demanding eternal fidelity one minute, the next coolly suggesting that if she is unhappy at home she might go and stay with the Moravians; but being a modest young woman there is little she can do to help herself. Mr and Mrs Causton, looking on, grow increasingly frustrated, wondering how they might bring matters to a crisis. Already there is gossip about Sophy and the long hours spent at the parsonage—hours spent in prayer and religious discourse, as we know, but who outside could believe that their interaction has gone no further? – particularly in light of the lingering doubts in the colony about the probity of the Wesleys. The Caustons begin to fear that the talk will damage Sophy’s reputation to a point where no other man will marry her, should John Wesley disappoint them all.

The hot-tempered Tom Mellichamp, having gotten into trouble with the law, is more ineligible than he ever was, though still determined to prevent Sophy’s marriage to any other if he can. Eager to get the girl off her hands, Mrs Causton has always encouraged Tom, and continues to do so—until a more viable prospect emerges in the form of William Williamson who, with an eye on Sophy’s position as the Caustons’ heiress, has watched the non-progress of her romance with John Wesley with great interest.

Mrs Causton dislikes John Wesley intensely, but is willing enough that Sophy should marry him—partly to curry favour with James Oglethorpe, partly to rid herself of responsibility for the tiresome girl. But failing Wesley, another will do. In the spirit of getting Sophy married to—whoever—Mrs Causton undertakes the amiable task of making the girl’s home-life miserable. Having always encouraged Mellichamp herself, she now turns on Sophy for receiving from him the letters she is too soft-hearted to refuse, abusing the girl for encouraging a worthless young man and threatening to turn her out of the house. She makes sure that John Wesley is a witness to this last threat:

    “If your uncle and me did what we ought to do he’d give you a whipping for the hussy you are! Nothing but trouble with you! I am heart-scalded. Get out of my house!” she was yelling, as Wesley entered the room. “Get out of my house! I won’t be plagued with you any longer!”…
    For some minutes she continued to pour out a torrent of abuse and reproaches, mingled with threats. Then, as if becoming aware of Wesley’s presence, she turned to him:
    “Mr Wesley, I wish you would take her. Take her away with ye this minute, Mr Wesley! Take her out of my house!”
    Sophy raised her desperate eyes… She was driven to such a pitch of misery as to be careless of who saw her shame and anguish. Those uplifted, weeping eyes were full of an almost unbearable appeal. Oh, why didn’t he do something, say something, that might save her?
    If you love me, said her eyes, save me now or never! You must see how I am beset, how driven, how tormented; you must see, now, what they do to me; you must see that I am come to the end, that I can bear it no more!
    He said nothing at all. Had he allowed his heart to speak for him, he would have snatched the forlorn young creature in his arms, and rushed forth with her out of that wretched house, away from that virago. He said nothing at all…

John Wesley leaves the Causton house; and when the following day dawns, after a night of bullying, abuse and threats, Sophia has agreed to listen to Mr Williamson. She stands on a conditional agreement, however: insisting that she must have her minister’s advice and approval…

But Wesley chooses to misinterpret this:

    Mrs Causton was worrying about these stipulations now, as she looked at the clergyman. She said hurriedly as if against her will: “Mr Wesley, if you have any objection, pray speak. She is at the Lot. Go to her there. She will be glad to hear anything Mr John Wesley has to say.”
    After a moment’s reflection, he said, in a grave voice: “No, madam. If Miss Sophy is engaged, I have nothing to say. It will not signify for me to see her any more.”

And he walks away, wholly conscious of what he is doing:

She loved him, John Wesley, and because she loved John Wesley, she must know that William Williamson had no power to make her happy. He turned that thought over and over; but yet, with the obstinate man’s cruel struggle with himself, he could not make up his mind to save her by marrying her himself.

Sophy Hopkey is not the only young woman to whom John Wesley has expressed his conviction that a state of celibate devotion is the ideal one: her friend, Miss Bovey, likewise a young woman of faith, has also had the dubious benefit of his tenets—and has offended him by engaging herself to a worthy young man, a Mr Burnside. Wesley’s response is to counsel both of them to give up their plans of marriage, hectoring Miss Bovey until she loses all patience with him. The lovers agree that being married by John Wesley after this would be too absurd; they make plans to travel to Purysburg, to be married there by the town’s Swiss Protestant minister.

But there is more to this journey than immediately meets the eye. After consultation with Mrs Causton, Miss Bovey and Mr Burnside persuade Sophy to go with them, as bridesmaid; while Mr Williamson is invited to be the one to escort her home, after they have departed on their wedding-trip. But by the time they do return, thanks to a judicious but unrelenting course of pleading and pressure, Sophy has become Mrs Williamson…

The blow is almost more than John Wesley can stand:

    Sophy a wife. Sophy, in another man’s arms. Sophy, who belonged to him. He had never desired her as he desired her now… He experienced an agony so frightful that it all but deprived him of reason. He experienced a sense of desolation so immense it seemed to him he was lost, in time and in eternity.
    His imagination dragged him by the hair of his head into that bridal chamber, and though he winced, and cringed, and would have fled, it held him fast…

But when the first pain recedes, its place is taken by overwhelming anger. Here we see the very worst of John Wesley, the monstrous egoism that allows him to believe that in offending him, Sophy has offended God; by rejecting him—that’s how he sees it, she rejected him—she has rejected God. It is incredible to him that she continues to attend church, his church, as if she had done nothing wrong; without a sign of her sin upon her. He soon sees that her religious practice—that is, his religious practice, including pre-dawn prayers and regular fasting—has fallen away since her marriage, and he is glad of a concrete transgression to charge her with. The truth never crosses his mind: that she has been forbidden such extremes of behaviour by her husband, because she is pregnant. Nor would he – nor does he – consider obedience to her husband an excuse for anything, greatly as he always valued her obedience when it was at his own disposal. All it means now is that she has put another man before him God:

Sophy no longer came to him; no longer sought his advice. He doubted that she adhered to the strict rules he had laid down for her guidance. She was disobeying God and John Wesley, choosing rather to obey—her husband. Brooding on this terrible fall from grace into carnality, he began to doubt whether he would admit her to the Communion until she had, in some manner or other to be determined by himself, admitted her fault and declared her repentance…

Sophy’s faults have, by this time, achieved immeasurable proportions in his warped imagination. Her sins against him prove her guilty of countless other sins—falsehoods innumerable, misconduct with Tom Mellichamp, deliberate deception of himself right from the beginning of their acquaintance, a falling away of her duty to God… A scene conducted in the middle of the street, which ends when Sophy turns her back upon him in righteous anger, drives him to new heights of rage and jealousy.

And John Wesley’s mind begins to turn on what he does not recognise for what it is—revenge:

If angels, principalities, powers, thrones, dominions, seraphim and cherubim had said or seen or hinted otherwise, John Wesley, in the state he was then, would have rejected them all as lying spirits, false voices, evil cousellors trying to turn him aside from his plain duty: which was to punish Sophy. He had to punish Sophy. God Almighty meant him to punish Sophy. John Wesley meant John Wesley to punish Sophy.

And when Sophy next presents herself for Holy Communion, John Wesley—the same John Wesley who administered Holy Communion to Beata Hawkins onboard the Simmonds—publicly repulses her:

    His conscience licked its paws before the fire of content. He felt exalted—his punishment of Sophy had fulfilled the law… Confusing the will of God with his own will, he couldn’t see himself in the role of self-appointed harsh judge, the disappointed lover. Rather he saw himself as the Christian pastor doing his duty, nobly, unselfishly, refusing her even whom he had loved the Bread of Life, because she was unworthy to partake of it.
    The home-made robe of martyrdom is by no means uncomfortable in rough weather. Wesley wrapped it around his shoulders now and it kept him snug; it kept warm his sense of righteous superiority.
    He had, like many another, set the seal of duty to the Lord upon an act of self-will. He had been as autocratic, ungenerous, and unjust as only the godly can be in such crises. He had done exactly what he wished to do—punished and humiliated a woman who had married another man; and he did it in the name of duty and God.

Fittingly, it is this act of ungodly spite, recognised by Savannah for exactly what it is, that seals John Wesley’s fate in Georgia:

Admitting the most notorious sinner on earth to the Lord’s Table—as Jesus himself had admitted the Magdalene—would not have offended any congregation as much as John Wesley’s repelling of the girl whose only sin was that she had married someone else offended the people of Christ Church Parish.

—though the surrounding circumstances degenerate from tragedy to farce soon enough, when William Williamson brings an action for defamation of character against John Wesley, on behalf of his wife, which sees the minister summoned before the magistrates, and bound over to appear during the next session. Upon hearing the news, much of Savannah laughs in anticipation of rare entertainment—particularly when Williamson responds to Wesley being granted bail by setting up a public advertisement:

    …forbidding any person or persons to take John Wesley out of the Province of Georgia, under penalty of one thousand pounds sterling, Mr Wesley being “guilty of divers notorious offences”.
    All Savannah thronged to look at it and read it, those who couldn’t read hearing it from the lips of those who could. “Di-vers no-to-ri-ous of-fen-ces!” repeated the populous, and smacked its lips. “Eh, sirs!”

By the time the proceedings open the list of grievances lodged against Wesley is “divers and notorious” indeed, although most of them have to do with the way he does things rather than what he does. An undignified air of public brawling surrounds the entire affair, with opinions being aired on every street corner, Wesley arguing that most of the charges made lie within the purview of an ecclesiastical, rather than a civil, court, and the magistrates uncertain of their own authority and the public will—particularly with James Oglethorpe away in England. The case brings to flashpoint many of the religious and cultural dissensions with which the fledgling colony is rife, and pits faction against faction; John Wesley’s guilt or innocence soon ceases to be the issue.

Finally, the only thing left for John Wesley to do is leave—to return to England—and this he does in spite of William Williamson’s continued threats of action should be break bail, or anybody help him do so. By this time Georgia is aching to see the last of “the Holy Club”; the magistrates’ attempts to detain the errant minister are an empty gesture indeed:

    If he elected now to return to his own stamping ground, should they say him nay? But…there was the Majesty of the Law. They had to make the gesture of upholding the Majesty of the Law! Hence the Notice in the Great Square.
    It is quite possible that if any citizen of Savannah had taken that Notice seriously enough to try to prevent Mr Wesley’s departure, the magistrates would have mobbed him and then kept him in jail for the term of his natural life.

It is only at the very last that Marie Conway Oemler removes her foot from the throat of John Wesley, alluding obliquely to great deeds that would sweep away the memory of the bitter disappointment and failures of his time in America. But though the final paragraphs of The Holy Lover hint at this future, they do so without losing sight of what – and who – John Wesley sacrificed to achieve it:

Never, no matter what great hour might lie ahead; never, no matter what high destiny, what great and holy mission God might have in store for him; never, never more to know such joy, such love, such ecstasy, such high tide of ardour, and emotion, and despair…

.

12/12/2016

Equal opportunity religious agony

I’m not sure what’s going on with Reading Roulette, but my random book picker seems determined to land me on works of fiction dealing with religion. First we took a look at Low Church doctrine with Steepleton: or, High Church And Low Church by Stephen Jenner, and then we balanced the ledger with William Gresley’s High Church polemic, Bernard Leslie; or, A Tale Of The Last Ten Years. Now, it seems, it’s time to visit with the Methodists.

Sort of.

Though she was a successful and popular writer in her day, there is little information available about the life and career of Marie Conway Oemler. She was born Mary Conway in Savannah, Georgia, in 1875, and did not take up writing until she was in her mid-thirties, after marrying and having two children. Once begun, however, she was quite prolific, publishing poems and short stories regularly before publishing her first full-length work, Slippy McGee (aka The Butterfly Man), in 1917. Her first novel was also her most successful, being widely praised and twice adapted into films, in 1923 and 1942. However, Oemler continued to write fiction until the early thirties, when her health failed.

By this time, Oemler and her husband were living in Delaware, but they returned to the South in the hope of her recovery. Unfortunately, her heart condition grew more serious, and Oemler died in 1932.

Oemler was a Catholic of Irish descent, which throws an interesting light upon our next Reading Roulette selection, The Holy Lover. Published in 1927, this biographical novel is an account of the early years of John Wesley, in particular the time he spent in Georgia during the 1730s, prior to his return to England where, at one of the lowest points in his life, he underwent the personal revelation that led eventually to his establishment of the Methodist Church. However, though the novel describes John Wesley’s religious development as a young man, its focus is on the conflict between Wesley’s austere, self-sacrifice based practice, with its basis in celibacy, and the temptation towards love and marriage represented by the lovely young Georgian settler, Sophia Hopkey.

17/11/2016

Lady Lisle (Part 3)

ladylisle3b    “I tell you,” cried Olivia, her voice vibrating, clear and loud, through the lofty room—“I tell you that I know all about the base and wicked plot that has been carried out by that vile tool, and I know your infamous share in it, Major Varney. Why, look at him!” she cried, with passionate vehemence, pointing to her husband as she spoke—“look at him, as he sits there in his stupid drunkenness—more brutal than the oxen that sleep in his fields—lower than the lowest brute in his stables. Good heavens! what a pitiful dupe I must have been to have been deceived by such a thing as that!”
    The Major quietly took the key from the lock of the door, and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket; then, advancing to Lady Lisle, he tried to take her hands into his.
    “Lady Lisle,” he said, “listen to me.”
    She snatched her hand indignantly from him.
    “Lady Lisle!” she cried. “Hypocrite, plotter, trickster, cheat! how dare you call me by that false and lying name! which has never—no, never, not for one hour been my own. O, fool, fool, fool!” she moaned, her rage and scorn changing to a tone of anguish. “Fool, to sell my soul for pomp and grandeur, to sacrifice an earnest and noble heart, for what—for what? For an imposter, whose name is a lie, and who fattens upon the wealth of another man.”

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The implied past relationship between Olivia Marmaduke and Walter Remorden and the sins of the former are interestingly handled by Braddon, and in a way that does her heroine no favours. At this point she chooses to leave matters just as they stand and Olivia without excuse, as she commits just about the worst sin that a novel-heroine of her class and position can commit, jilting a good poor man for a bad rich man in an openly declared mercenary marriage. It is not for some time that we get the rest of the story: that there was indeed an exchange of promises between Olivia and Walter Remorden, just before he left to take up his curacy, and when she was barely seventeen; an exchange kept secret from Colonel Marmaduke. Because of that, and because, perhaps, of an imperfect knowledge of the girl to whom he had plighted himself, Walter made no attempt during the following two years to contact Olivia, not a visit, not a letter, not a message; while she, growing into young womanhood amidst loneliness and poverty, was left to eat her heart out—and then to harden her heart.

The wedding goes off as planned, despite Sir Rupert’s fears, and a splendid wedding it is—on externals. The bride and groom depart on their honeymoon, while those remaining for the night at Lislewood—even Mrs Walsingham—find the atmosphere much improved by the absence of the master of the house. The Major, who, after a serious conference between himself and Sir Rupert the night before, which ended with the baronet’s signing of his name to a certain document, seems to have let go of his objections to the marriage, and is in a genial mood:

    “How well Lady Lisle looked this morning!” said the Major.
    Mrs Walsingham started at the mention of the name which had once been her own. Olivia’s four sisters felt a simultaneous thrill of envy at the sound. Lady Lisle! Yes, it was really true—she was indeed Lady Lisle!

The narrative of Lady Lisle then follows Walter Remorden to his new curacy in Yorkshire, where he tries to bury the past in hard work and good service. Mr Hayward, the minister, is new to Belminster, replacing a lazy old man who neglected his duties, and consequently has much lost ground to make up: work in which his energetic, devoted young curate is invaluable to him.

Though only a minor character, Mr Hayward is entirely typical of his author who, as we have seen before in her novels, had nothing but scorn for polite hypocrisy and platitudes, and who herself knew only too well what it was like to be poor (a fact which shows itself in her sympathetic attitude towards Olivia). When she diverts into a description of how Mr Hayward goes about his work, we suddenly hear the voice that Braddon usually kept for her working-class readers:

He reprobated the vices of his people; but he took care to show them how they might be amended. He was not afraid of sin; he never shuddered at its aspect; but he hunted it down, and hand to hand with it struggled and conquered… Mr Hayward never tried to beguile grown men and woman with pretty lollipop sayings that nobody ever yet believed in. He did not tell wretched creatures living in stifling hovels, to which the pure air never penetrated, that it was a pleasant thing to be poor and comfortless, and that if they were only good they would be sure to be happy. No; he told them that they must not be contented with dirt and filth, but that they must cover over drains and break open blocked-up windows, and scrub, scour, whitewash and purify… And when all was done, and the house cleansed, and the eldest girl rescued from the wretched streets…when the little ones were in the National School, and the father had succeeded in getting a job at his own trade; then the rector set to work to teach these people how to be good Christians…

The rector’s right-hand person in all his efforts is his daughter, Blanche, who is not a pretty girl, but whose intelligence, good-humour and compassion win her wide popularity. Blanche is as tireless as her father in her labours, and also tirelessly friendly and interested in people. She takes an immediate liking to her father’s new curate who, she is quick to see, has something preying on his spirits, for all his focus and dedication. For his part, Walter finds Blanche invaluable as a companion, a friend, and a workmate. Further than that his thoughts and feelings do not carry him, whatever hers might be doing…

One day Mr Hayward consults with Walter and Blanche about a problem that has been presented to him, regarding a young man, a pupil at the local school, who was placed there more than twelve years earlier by a man who said he was the boy’s uncle, and who wanted him (he said) kept in the country for his health as well as his education, the boy having just gotten over a serious illness. After placing him at the school, the uncle paid his nephew’s fees with perfect regularity, though making only brief and infrequent visits to see him; but no new remittance has been received for some eighteen months, nor can the uncle be found. Richard Saunders is now twenty-two, and what is to be done with him?

In answer to Blanche’s eager questions, Mr Hayward explains that the young man seems to know nothing that can help them: his uncle is his only known relative, and his memory of his childhood is erratic due, it is supposed, to his long illness. He even gets frightened and upset when anyone asks him to recall the time before his illness; though, Mr Hayward assures Walter, his intellect is in no way impaired.

It is Blanche who comes up with a practical answer to the situation: getting new National Schools built is one of Mr Hayward’s pet projects, and schools need schoolmasters. With Hayward’s approval, Walter agrees to meet the young man, and sound him out about this prospect.

Richard Saunders is a fair, pale young man, so nervous and inarticulate that Walter begins to doubt the assertions about his intellect; but as he overcomes his shyness, he shows himself as he has been represented. The young man is delighted and grateful for the offer of a position at the new school, particularly as it will enable him to repay the generosity of Mr Daunton, who kindly kept him on at his own school as a boarder of sorts, despite the ceasing of his fee-payments.

A great collector of lame ducks, Blanche adopts Richard as a special project; and while she has no more success than anyone else in getting him to talk about his childhood, she does get at the reason why he won’t talk:

    “No, no, no,” cried the young man, with the same look of terror that Walter Remorden had seen in his face the day before; “no, I remember nothing of that time. My thoughts and fancies about that time are nothing more than delusions; nothing but delusions—nothing!”
    “But, Mr Saunders,” urged Blanche, her curiosity more and more excited by the young man’s strange manner, “but these these delusions, what are they?”
    “Do not ask me!” he exclaimed. “I have taken a solemn oath never to speak of them to any human being.”
    “An oath? But to whom?”
    “To my uncle George. He told me that my only chance of being saved from becoming a madman was to resolve never to speak of those things again.”

In time, Blanche’s kindness, sympathy and support have the inevitable effect upon Richard, who falls very deeply in love with her—but, as she assures him as gently as she can, hopelessly. When Walter walks into this unhappy scene, he decides to tell his own story, by way of illustrating that although it might seem like it now, this need not be the end of the world. It is during the following conversation that we learn what exactly went on between Walter and Olivia—of course, from his point of view—but still, the period of separation and silence, measuring almost three years, is revealed. It is already evident that Blanche is suffering unrequited love for Walter, as Richard is for her, and her indignation on his behalf is boundless. Walter’s response contains both an indication that he is aware of her feelings, and a tacit apology that he cannot return them.

As Walter concludes his sad story, dwelling not upon his own situation, but Olivia’s, there is a sudden cry from Richard:

    …he started from his seat, and, ghastly pale in the dusk, cried, in wild and terrified accents,—
    “Sir Rupert Lisle! Are you mad, as well as I? It is the very name—the very name—which I have neither heard nor spoken for twelve long years.”
    “What do you mean, Richard?” exclaimed Blanche Hayward, almost alarmed for the young man’s sanity.
    “I mean that when I was a child I had a dangerous fever which made me mad, and my madness was to fancy myself Sir Rupert Lisle!”

And what of Sir Rupert Lisle?—or at least, “Sir Rupert Lisle”?

Sir Rupert and Lady Lisle are away six months, travelling through Europe; and, well, if Olivia has sinned, she has her full measure of punishment in being known everywhere as the wife of a bad-tempered, petulant, drunken boor. Fortunately (at least from one perspective), Olivia’s contempt for her husband has reached such proportions it acts as a kind of armour: she so far beyond caring what he is or what he does that she does not feel his behaviour as otherwise she might.

When the newlyweds return to Lislewood, they find Mrs Walsingham on the verge of departure. She has made up her mind that it will not be fitting for her to go on living in her son’s house now that it has a new mistress. She has also taken a strong dislike to Olivia, whose worst side she has certainly seen glaringly emphasised; although whether she can admit it to herself, the thought of being separated from her son has quite as much to do with her decision. But an unexpected scene makes her alter her plans somewhat: when she grasps the significance of Mrs Walsingham’s baggage, the previously cold and detached Olivia breaks down into a storm of tears, begging her mother-in-law not to leave her. Startled and touched, Mrs Walsingham compromises, removing from the house but only so far as the village, to the house she shared with her aunt when she was Miss Claribel Merton, which she still owns.

Olivia’s life then takes on a strange, divided quality. She spends her husband’s money without stint, devising a series of lavish entertainments and filling the house with a constant stream of people; while any spare time on her hands is devoted to the welfare of Lislewood’s tenants. What she won’t do is sit still. During this time a tacit truce is called between Olivia and Major Varney, who quietly makes himself useful to her in all sorts of ways, and manages to lull the suspicions which Olivia conceived about him upon their first acquaintance.

But a deeply ugly incident is about to tear the mask from more person than one…

Olivia is riding home one day when she is witness to a confrontation between Lislewood’s lodge-keeper and a woman in a state of extreme distress. The lodge-keeper explains that Sir Rupert has already refused to see the woman, and that he has been trying to send her away as ordered, but she won’t go—even though Sir Rupert has threatened to have her arrested.

Seeing something more in this than a simple request for charity, Olivia takes the woman under her own protection. Getting a straight story out of her is almost impossible, though between tears and excuses the woman finally reveals herself as Rachel Arnold. Olivia knows well the story of Sir Rupert and Gilbert Arnold, but is inclined to believe the hysterical woman when she swears she knew nothing of her husband’s plot. Mrs Arnold further explains that, once they arrived in America, Arnold abandoned her; she subsequently found work as a servant and scraped together enough money for a passage home. Now she asks only for enough to live upon, which she seems to feel that Sir Rupert owes her for reasons that Olivia can’t quite get at…

A puzzled Olivia takes the direct route of leading Mrs Arnold to Sir Rupert, who is playing billiards with Major Varney and several other guests. The effect of Mrs Arnold’s appearance is electric: instantly the baronet flies into a violent rage, cursing her and Olivia before committing an act that horrifies the involuntary witnesses to this scene:

The poor creature, still kneeling on the ground and clinging to his hand, lifted up her face in supplication as she spoke. In a mad fury the Baronet, with his disengaged fist, struck the wretched woman full in the face; so violently, that the blood trickled fast from a cut across her upper lip…

And well as he he knows the baronet—better, indeed, than anyone else—even Major Varney is shocked by this; so very shocked, he is provoked into showing a side of himself usually carefully concealed:

…he caught Sir Rupert Lisle by the collar of his coat and flung him violently against the wall of the room. “You ruffian!” he cried, “you mean pitiful hound! you contemptible villain! without one redeeming touch of common humanity! I swear to you that, if I had known what you really are, you might have rotted piecemeal in the garret where I found you before I would have soiled my hands by lifting a finger of them to help you. I don’t believe in all Newgate there is a wretch who would have done what you did just at this moment. Dog! I loathe and detest you! and hate myself for being mixed up with you!”

But we should not be misled by this into sympathy for Major Varney who, when he cools down, and sees the comfortable and lucrative nest he has been at such pains to acquire for himself and his wife threatened, will reveal himself every bit as vile and contemptible as Sir Rupert. His methods are merely less crude.

Olivia has Mrs Arnold carried to a room and arranges medical attendance for her—and she needs it. The physical and emotional scene with Sir Rupert, coming on top of exhaustion and even starvation, reduces her to a pitiful condition of suffering. The doctor—who knew her when she was the abused wife of Gilbert Arnold—tells Olivia there is little hope.

Sir Rupert seems eager to make what amends he can for his actions, not opposing Mrs Arnold’s residence under his roof, and constantly inquiring after her health. He seems particularly interested in what she talks about… The one thing he won’t do is see her himself, despite her entreaties.

At this time the baronet finds himself back in his old position of being wholly reliant upon Major Varney—and wholly in fear of him. All his old habits, his tendency to check with the Major before he speaks or acts, re-emerge. And it is to the Major he turns for advice about the sick woman:

    “What can I do?” he said. “She’s always worrying,—sending sickly romantic messages about wanting to be forgiven, and all such foolery. And what do I care about seeing her, you know?” he whined, in his peevish treble voice.
    “Very little, I should think, Sir Rupert,” replied the Major. “I can see the glitter of that superb sapphire ring upon your right hand at this moment. I’ve heard you say that you gave a hundred and twenty napoleons for that sapphire in the Rue de la Paix, and it was the ring that cut Rachel Arnold so severely over the mouth. No, I should think you would scarcely care about seeing your—your old servant.”
    “I’ll tell you what,” muttered Sir Rupert, “I think you might keep your tongue between your teeth. You’ve made a good thing out of it…”
    “As to what I get out of you, or what I may intend to get out of you in time to come,” said the Major, looking full at Sir Rupert, “that is of very little moment. But remember, that I have got that out of you which makes you as much my slave as if I had bought you for so many dollars in the Southern States of America; as much my dog as if I had paid a dog-fancier for you, and had you chained and padlocked in my kennel.”

Major Varney makes it his business to visit Mrs Arnold, who recoils in terror at the sight of him, and learns from the weary, disinterested servant-girl assigned to attend her that she is much given to wild, rambling talk about her son. The Major then requests a consultation with the doctor, who emerges from it agreeing that there should be no difficulty acquiring the necessary certificate…

One day, however, Mrs Arnold’s talk takes another direction: she demands to see Lady Lisle, even going to the length of threatening the maid with a knife when she cannot immediately get her way. Betsy Jane flees the room in terror and does as she is bid, but Mrs Arnold repudiates her visitor, demanding the other Lady Lisle. Olivia explains to her that Mrs Walsingham is away from her home in the village for a few days, which causes Mrs Arnold to cry out in despair, afraid that she may die before she can unburden herself. Olivia offers to hear the woman’s confession, but this only distresses Mrs Arnold even more: she sobs that Olivia has been injured too, and could never forgive her.

Finally Mrs Arnold agrees to tell her secret. Olivia sends Betsy Jane away, and listens to an incredible story…

Mrs Arnold chose her moment well: Olivia was alone in the house, Major Varney and Sir Rupert having gone out for the day; it is hardly to be supposed that she would have been permitted a private interview with the sick woman otherwise. When the men return, Sir Rupert is drunk; nothing unusual these days. He turns on Olivia:

    “Curse her for a kill-joy; what do I want with her white face and great black eyes, and her grand airs? I’ll teach her to treat me to her airs. I’ll make her know who I am, d–n her!”
    So vile a coward was he on ordinary occasions, that the factitious audacity engendered of strong drink was a surprise to himself. He felt proud of his own temerity, and he slapped his hand upon his thigh with a triumphant gesture as he looked about him.
    Lady Lisle rose from her low chair and walked straight over to the young man.
    “Suppose I do know who you are!” she said, standing before him, and looking down at his face with an expression of unutterable disgust.

Sir Rupert does not immediately grasp her meaning, but Major Varney does. He quickly intervenes, trying to scoff away the implication, to convince her that she has been listening to an hysterical, deluded woman and has become deluded herself, but Olivia is having none of it. Major Varney then turns judicial, forcing Olivia to admit that she has no proof of what she asserts:

    “You say that our friend there is not the real Baronet, and that the actual Sir Rupert Lisle is now living. May I ask where?”
    “I cannot tell you?”
    “I thought not,” murmured the Major. “It is not in your power to produce him, and it is not likely to be in your power to produce him, eh?”
    “I fear not.”
    “Good. And pray may I ask when Mrs Rachel Arnold last saw him alive?”
    “When he was removed from the hospital, upwards of fifteen years ago.”
    “Fifteen years!” repeated Major Varney; “a long time, my dear Lady Lisle. And on the strength of the ravings of a woman who has been pronounced by her medical attendant to be out of her mind and without any other proof whatsoever, you would charge your husband as an imposter. We are not afraid of you, Lady Lisle, for our position rests upon substantial proof, and if you choose to bring forward the witness of a madwoman, we can show the evidence of that madwoman’s husband, in the shape of the formal deposition made by Gilbert Arnold, and duly signed by him, in the presence of the Baronet’s lawyers.
    “Heaven help me!” cried Olivia, clasping her hands together passionately; “my instinct tells me that the woman has spoken the truth.”
    “Your instinct would go very little way towards the support of your case in a court of law, my dear Lady Lisle,” said the Major. “We are not afraid of you, are we, my Rupert? We are not afraid of you, or of Mrs Arnold either; indeed, there is only one person whom Sir Rupert Lisle need fear, and that is Major Granville Varney.”

And it is he who Olivia also needs to fear, as he makes brutally clear to her. Olivia is a witness to the terrified Mrs Arnold’s forcible removal to the County Lunatic Asylum, with the Major warning her that a similar fate might be arranged for her, if she isn’t very careful…

This is clearly a favourite tactic of the Major: we know already that it was with threats of confinement that Richard Saunders was taught to keep silent about his delusions. And while this is all very melodramatic in context, we should note that during the 19th century it was terrifyingly easy—if you were a man with money—to get people committed against their wills, and that this was not an uncommon way for inconvenient relatives and other connections (usually women, so given to “hysteria”, but not always) to be disposed of. The Major’s threat has weight behind it, and Olivia knows it.

But when things seem darkest for her—when the Major’s triumph seems absolute—we learn that Nemesis is on her way…

Nemeses, actually—one in the form of a grim, gaunt man with murder in his heart, recently returned from America, who must make his way by foot from Liverpool to Lislewood, but who is sustained through hunger, cold and exhaustion by his rage and hatred. Finally he has a stroke of luck when he falls in with a troop of gipsies who happen to be heading his way, and who amicably take him in and offer him shelter and food. The man, who calls himself John Andrews, soon realises that something is wrong within the troop: there is a young woman whose wild, muttered talk of vengeance sounds remarkably like his own, and whose story Andrews manages to extract from the leader of the troop, a man named Abraham. The young woman once had a sister, a virtuous and most beloved sister, who had the grave misfortune to attract the obsessive attention of a dissolute young gentleman, and could not with all her efforts avoid him:

“Half way between the town and the common, where the road was most lonesome , we found her lying in the shallow water, cold and dead. There was footmarks upon the bit of grass alongside of the ditch, a woman’s and a man’s, and there was marks of horses’ hoofs upon the road. The grass was trodden down as if there’d been a struggle, and a broken riding-whip lay among the reeds hard by. I’ve kept that whip ever since, and it was his. I knew it by the gold handle, shaped the same as his crest.”

John Andrews has been listening with the greatest of attention ever since the geography of the story told by Abraham was made clear to him; and when he hears of the young man of the whip, and his older friend, and how they laughed at Abraham when he confronted them—and how Abraham ended up serving three months for assault—he can contain himself no longer:

    “But I do mind his name,” answered the other, with a strange eagerness, “and if you won’t tell it me, I’ll tell it to you.”
    “You!” exclaimed Abraham; “how should you know it?”
    “His name is Sir Rupert Lisle,” answered Andrews; “and he lives at Lislewood Park, about nine miles from here, and the friend you see along with him was a stout chap in a yellow waistcoat, with yellow chains and lockets hanging all about it, and his name is Granville Varney, and he’s the biggest villain as walks this sinful earth!” cried John Andrews, his voice rising with every word, until it ended in a savage scream..

If we were so inclined, we might at this point say of Sir Rupert Lisle and Major Granville Varney, “God help them both”; but I doubt we’ll be so inclined…

Braddon never hesitates to dispense rough justice, and in this case she has her twin Nemeses catch up with their respective quarries on a dark and lonely road between Brighton and Lislewood; Major Varney is driving their open carriage, and Sir Rupert Lisle is in an alcoholic stupor. The physical confrontation between Granville Varney and Gilbert Arnold ends with a pistol-shot to the face, and a corpse rolled down a long slope into a stagnant pond and plundered of its ready cash; although the pocket-book chained to the Major’s person must stay where it is. Abraham the gipsy, meanwhile, more intent upon something that looks like an accident, sends the carriage and its insensible occupant careening down the dangerous road…

It is some days before the Major’s body is found. When the pocket-book is inspected, found within it is a signed and witnessed statement from James Arnold, declaring the imposture, and that the real Sir Rupert Lisle may be found in the county of York. James Arnold himself, crushed and broken by the overturning of his carriage, lingers some days; long enough to confirm the truth of his statement; while the signatory witness to the undated confession—none other than Alfred Salamons, who grieves most sincerely for the Major—boldly asserts that it was only very recently that he became aware of the substitution and, being unable to find any trace of the missing Sir Rupert, held his peace.

The law eventually catches up with Gilbert Arnold, who has in his possession objects that make his guilt clear enough. Having carried through his plan of revenge, Arnold is almost disinterested in the grim fate that necessarily awaits him…

Curiously, however, none of the novel’s other transgressors are punished. We never, for one, hear another word about Abraham, who slips quietly from the narrative with the rest of his troop.

But Braddon’s most interesting non-fate is reserved for Mrs Varney who, when all is said and done, is in many ways the most intriguing character in Lady Lisle, albeit that her creator never dares bring her out into the clear light of day. No wonder. Though never an active participant—at least, not when we are watching—Mrs Varney is au fait with all the Major’s schemes, and benefits from them. Furthermore, what we already know by inference is finally spelled out here, that she was the first Mrs Walsingham, an “infamous woman” even before she entrapped the reckless young officer into marriage; and that she and Major Varney were therefore living in sin. Yet for all this, Braddon is prepared to present the Varneys as very sincerely in love; even though, as we belatedly learn, the Major “married” the lady for payment, thus assuming her support—this being the service he rendered Arthur Walsingham, and subsequently held over his head—and to allow that Mrs Varney’s grief at her husband’s death is equally sincere.

(We do not know whether the Varneys marry after Walsingham’s death. Of course, Braddon herself was living in sin at this point in her life, and probably didn’t think that marital status necessarily spoke to the true state of a relationship.)

With the Major gone, Mrs Varney turns Arthur Walsingham’s letters over to Claribel, so that they may finally be destroyed—and then she, too, is allowed simply to walk away, and to live in comfort for the rest of her life on the proceeds of the Major’s wrongdoing: presumably sharing her inheritance with her brother, Alfred Salamons, who likewise gets away scot-free!

(I should, perhaps, mention that it was Mr Salamons who took on the role of “Uncle George Saunders”…)

But while Braddon amuses herself with these background details, she also lets all of her good (or perhaps we should say, “better”) characters off their various hooks. Her plot-threads come neatly together when, after the discovery of James Arnold’s confession, Claribel Walsingham advertises for anyone knowing anything of Sir Rupert Lisle—an advertisement which comes to the attention of Walter Remorden…

So poor Claribel finds her real son at last; the unfortunate Rachel Arnold is released from her incarceration, and placed once more in her old home, where she recovers her health and even her spirits (once, Braddon implies but does not say, her husband and son are both safely dead); Walter returns to Lislewood to find Olivia a widow; and in the year that must pass before the reconciled lovers may marry, Blanche Hayward, recognising the futility of her first love, strives to banish it from her heart, and succeeds so well that she is able, in good faith, eventually to accept the second proposal of marriage made to her by “Richard Saunders”.

One bright morning, there is a double wedding at Lislewood Church:

    …there is no fashionable crowd, no long string of carriages; only a simple procession of two happy couples, attended by about a dozen friends. First, Mr Hayward’s daughter, Blanche, leaning upon the arm of Sir Rupert Lisle, and smiling brightly on the schoolchildren, who throw their flowers under her feet; while close behind them comes Walter Remorden, with Olivia by his side. Colonel Marmaduke has given his daughter into the curate’s hands with a pride and happiness he never felt in the marriage which seemed such a splendid one.
    The worthy rector of Lislewood obtained a better living from the bishop of the diocese, and abandoned the pleasant rectory, shut in by shady gardens, and close under the shadow of the grey old church tower, to Walter Remorden and his wife.
    The poor of Lislewood learned to bless the day which brought them Blanche, Lady Lisle; the third who had borne that name within twenty years…

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14/11/2016

Lady Lisle (Part 2)

ladylisle1b    “I can say nothing plainer than this, Mrs Walsingham—I believe the young man now living with Gilbert Arnold, the ex-poacher, the sham Methodist parson, to be no son of his; I believe him to be the child of parents in a superior rank of life, and I believe him to be the victim of some diabolical plot, some hideous conspiracy, at the bottom of which is Mr Gilbert Arnold. This, Mrs Walsingham, is what I believe; and until you yourself have seen the boy, I will say no more.”
    “O let me see him! Take me to him, I implore you! Now—this moment—this very moment! The suspense will kill me!”
    “My dear madam, I rely upon your Christian forbearance—your self-control. This is not a matter in which impulse can serve us. One rash step might destroy all. Patience and caution are vitally necessary to us. Remember we have to meet cunning with cunning—to combat the ruses of others by other ruses of our own. Before you see the young man, nothing can possibly be done. I shall trust entirely to your instinct as a mother. See him, talk to him, examine every feature, watch every look, and if after that you say to me, ‘Granville Varney, that young man is my son, Sir Rupert Lisle’, I will move heaven and earth to prove the young man’s identity to the world, and reinstate him in his rights.”

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After the death of Arthur Walsingham, the narrative of Lady Lisle shifts to London, and takes an interest in a certain Joseph Slogood, who has set himself up as an Independent minister, and found a measure of success in this capacity amongst the local people; though not everyone cares for his violent, denunciatory style, in which some claim to find not only vulgarity and profanity, but blasphemy. But still Mr Slogood fills his pews.

After one sermon, Mr Slogood gets a nasty shock in the form of a past acquaintance—who knows him under at least two other names. This particular acquaintance expresses an interest in a boy raised by Mr Slogood; he has heard of this boy through a mutual acquaintance, a Mr Salamons, and has a desire to see him.

Mr Slogood takes his visitor to a house in the vicinity of his chapel, and then up to a small, grimy room on the first floor, where they find a young man of about twenty years of age:

    “My dear young friend,” he murmured softly, gazing at the young man with an expression of supreme compassion, “they don’t treat you well—they don’t treat you well.”
    The dear young friend sprang from his chair with a bound, and faced the Major. His pale sickly face lighted up at the sight of the fat rosy cheeks and the shining yellow moustache.
    “At last,” he exclaimed,—“you’ve come at last. I’m sick of this hole,—I’m sick of all this juggling and conjuring. Who am I, and what am I, and what’s the difference between me and other people?”
    The young man’s face flushed with a faint, unhealthy crimson as he spoke. His pale blue eyes dilated, and his thin bloodless lips quivered nervously. The Major watched him with a smile, nodded gently, and murmured to himself, “Salamons is very clever, Alfred Salamons is a great creature.”

And then the Major sits down with his young friend and tells him everything he wants to hear—more than he ever expected to hear, even in his wildest dreams—that indeed, he is not like other people; that Joseph Slogood is not his father, though he has posed as such; and that the “minister” has been guilty of a great crime, in withholding from him his true identity and all that he is entitled to on account of his birth. Slogood’s outrage and indignation, which come very close to bursting free during this speech, are quelled with a reference to a Mr Bird…

The young man, who now looks upon the Major as his preserver, his rescuer, his good angel, swears eternal fidelity to his interests, and agrees to remain patient for just a while longer, in the face of the Major’s promise that all will shortly be revealed.

The Major then rejoins his wife in their house in Kensington Gore, finding the lady in a dissatisfied mood. The couple’s recent hand-to-mouth existence has worn very thin for her; so much so, she finds herself thinking longingly of a return to the stage: anything being better than having to rely on the Major’s luck at the card-table and race-track.

Mrs Varney is both startled and sceptical when her husband declares that they are done both with India, and with their present peripatetic existence; that within a very short period of time, they will be able to settle down permanently, and live luxuriously on the bounty of Sir Rupert Lisle:

    Mrs Varney’s black eyes opened to their widest extent. “Sir Rupert—?”
    “Lisle,” said the Major. “That injured young man will have to thank me for his restoration to name and fortune. Poor dear child! he had very nearly fallen victim to an infamous conspiracy.”
    “But,” exclaimed Mrs Varney, “you will never—”
    “Suffer the poor boy to be separated from his devoted mother, to be deprived of his place in life, to be robbed even of his name amongst men. No, my Adeline, never!” said the Major, pulling his moustache in a transport of virtuous indignation.

There is, it turns out, a reason why the Major has chosen this particular time to take action: he directs his wife’s attention to the newspaper, where the firm of solicitors that has long represented the Lisles is advertising for Major Granville Varney. The Major does not respond to this appeal directly, but instead writes to Mrs Walsingham, explaining that he dislikes lawyers, but would be delighted to see her if he can serve her in any way. To his puzzled wife he explains that he has been watching for such a notice since hearing of Arthur Walsingham’s death:

“This advertisement…convinces me that my poor foolish Arthur spoke before he died. Dear boy, it was like him to speak—it was like him to die; he has always been consistent, and he has been very useful to me. O Adeline! no man would ever commit a punishable offence, if he knew what a nice little income may be made out of the peccadilloes of others.”

Mrs Walsingham responds almost immediately, calling as suggested, and impatiently waving aside the Major’s condolences and his explanation of his failure to call, since he and his wife have only just returned from India, you see… Mrs Walsingham tells him of her husband’s last words—that he said so much, but no more, thus soothing away the Major’s one concern—and begs him to tell her whatever he knows. To this, the Major expresses great surprise; how should he know anything? Even in the unlikely, the very unlikely event that Sir Rupert is still alive? And if had any such knowledge, what should he gain from concealing it?—no more than Walsingham himself.

Despite his denials, the Major manages to convey a hint that he does know something; although he does not admit it until he has driven Mrs Walsingham almost frantic, and his admission causes his visitor to fall into a fainting-fit. When she recovers, she pulls herself together, and demands sternly that the Major be explicit with her. Emphasising again that he has no real information to go on, only his own excellent memory for faces, he tells Mrs Walsingham about a young man glimpsed recently at the theatre, who in his judgement bore a startling resemblance to Sir Rupert Lisle, even allowing for the passage of years. As luck would have it, his servant, Mr Salamons, was in the pit that night, and therefore available to undertake the task of finding out all about the young man in question. Salamons followed his quarry to his home, discovering that his name was Slogood, the son of a preacher calling himself Joseph Slogood—but in whom Salamons recognised the former lodge-keeper of Lislewood.

Of course, adds the Major, this proves nothing, since there was always a striking resemblance between Rupert Lisle and James Arnold—at least, he always thought so, though he sees that Mrs Walsingham disagrees—but the suspicious behaviour of Gilbert Arnold, his angry refusal to let him see his son, raised a question in the Major’s mind. He managed to lure Arnold away from home and see the young man for himself—coming away convinced that whoever he might be, he was no son of Arnold.

More than this, the Major will not say. He tells Mrs Walsingham sternly that it is all up to her—her memory of her son, the instinct of the mother’s heart. Then, far more gently, he promises to support her through the coming ordeal:

The Major took both Mrs Walsingham’s hands in his and pressed them affectionately. He looked so brimming over with benevolence, so overflowing with devoted attachment to the cause of oppressed innocence, that the most suspicious of women could scarcely have doubted him; and Claribel Walsingham had never suspected anybody in her life. She looked at the Major with confiding earnestness, as to a guardian angel, and as she looked up, the sun, shining through a window behind him, lit up his yellow hair, and seemed to encircle his handsome head with an aureole of golden light…

At the house near the chapel, the invaluable Mr Salamons is waiting, having taken steps to ensure that both Joseph Slogood and his unfortunate wife are away from home when the Major brings the trembling Mrs Walsingham to see the house’s other occupant. In solemn silence, the three make their way to the small room at the top of the stairs. The two men stand back, allowing Mrs Walsingham to advance:

    The young man with the pale face and fair hair had thrown himself upon the bed, and lay with his head on his arm in a sound sleep. His flaxen hair, which grew rather long, had fallen away from his low, narrow forehead. His clothes, though rather shabby, were of the prevailing fashion, and such as only a gentleman’s son would wear. His hands were white and delicate…
    Mrs Walsingham uttered a faint scream, and, rushing to the bed, fell on her knees, and lifting the fair face in her arms, kissed the young man’s forehead passionately. He awoke with a startled look in his widely-opened blue eyes, and stared about him wildly. It was rather a delicate regular face on which the widow looked so tenderly, but it was a face that gave no promise of a powerful intellect.
    “My poor boy! my poor injured boy!” said Major Varney, “remember what I told you the other night, and prepare yourself.”
    “Yes, yes,” cried the young man; “yes, I know. And you are my mother,” he added, turning to Claribel…

So let’s see—

So far in Lady Lisle we’ve had bigamy and blackmail and murder, to name only the outright crimes, and ignoring for the moment instances of immorality and other dishonourable conduct; but what else we may have had remains for quite some time delightfully ambiguous.

Certainly the implication is clear enough, yet Braddon tells her tale so that we cannot be quite sure. We have had, after all, Sir Rupert Lisle declared both dead and alive, in the aftermath of his accident; and such is the Major’s handling of the incident, there is a possibility that Arthur Walsingham’s dying declaration was based upon what he thought he knew, rather than his actual knowledge. Even the nasty crack about the young man’s lack of intellect could apply either to Rupert Lisle or James Arnold. As for the identification—well, we know better than to rely upon Mrs Walsingham, for all the Major’s unctuous speeches about “a mother’s heart”. And it will be some considerable time yet before the narrative tips its hand one way or the other.

The statement made by Gilbert Arnold—once Major Varney has manoeuvred the other participants into agreeing to an immunity from prosecution, in exchange for a full statement and proof of the baronet’s identity—supports either theory. According to Arnold, he found Sir Rupert after his accident, and spirited him away. He had always been struck by the resemblance between his boy and Rupert Lisle (a resemblance which the helpful Mrs Walsingham has again indignantly repudiated, in making her identification), and thought that something might be made out of it:

    “I picked him up, took him home, and kep’ him hid for a day or two, bein’ all that time queer in his head and knowin’ nothing nor no one; and then I contrived to take him to London by the train one night. I put him into a hospital there, and he picked up and got round in a few months, and then I moved up to London myself, taking my wife and child with me.”
    “And what did you mean to do with the two boys?” asked the Major.
    “Why, I meant to let the time slip by till they grew older and bigger; and when there was a chance of my lady there having forgotten the looks of hers, I meant to have gone to her and told her as how I’d found him a poor lad in London streets, and how I thought he was stole by gipsies, and my boy would have been taught his lesson, and would have bore me out in what I said, and then my boy would have passed as Sir Rupert Lisle, and been master of a fine house and a fine fortune.”
    “But your boy died?”
    “Yes, a twelvemonth after Sir Rupert’s accident he took ill of a fever and died. There, will that do?”

In support of his statement, Arnold produces the clothes Sir Rupert was wearing on the day of his accident; while inquiries at the hospital locate a long-serving nurse with vague memories of a small boy with a head injury, who seemed to be suffering delusions, and his rough, offensive father.

Through various disapproving lawyers, all this is conveyed to the incumbent, the elderly and childless Sir Launcelot Lisle—still living in Italy—who accepts the identification and surrenders his position, and even offers to restore the income he has enjoyed from the estate; but this offer Sir Rupert, on the advice of Major Varney, rejects.

And so Sir Rupert is received again at Lislewood Park:

    The servants were ranged in the hall waiting to welcome their master. How they all exclaimed when they saw the pale-faced young gentleman, whom his mamma and Major Varney led into the house! How little Sir Rupert had changed, they said. He had only grown taller, and perhaps, if anything, handsomer. The young Baronet was a little embarrassed by their honest greetings, and seemed to look to his champion, the Major, for assistance.
    A close observer would not have been long in the society of the young man without discovering that he appeared to appeal to Major Varney on every occasion, however trifling. He was leaning on Major Varney’s arm when he pointed out to his mother…the portrait of his father in the dining-room, the oriel window in the library, in which he had been so fond of sitting when a little boy…

And while Sir Rupert Lisle settles down at Lislewood Park—albeit not without displaying some awkwardness and ignorance about his surroundings and his expected behaviour, natural enough in one raised by Gilbert Arnold—of course Major and Mrs Varney settle down there too, after all the Major has done for the Lisles. Mrs Walsingham, though various points about her restored son wound and puzzle her—the effect of evil associations, which will wear away in time, the understanding Major assures her—is at peace at last. The only person who isn’t happy is young Arthur Walsingham, called home from Eton to meet his half-brother, and still grieving for his father. Arthur is unimpressed by the baronet, and suspicious and wary of the Major, who goes out of his way to charm the boy but, for perhaps the first time in all his endeavours, fails utterly.

Nor does Arthur hesitate to speak his mind to his horrified mother:

    “Get rid of him? My dear Arthur, do you forget the part he has taken in the restoration of my son? Do you forget that to him we owe the discovery of the vile plot against my boy? How can we ever sufficiently prove our gratitude to Major Varney?”
    The boy shrugged his shoulders. “Well, I suppose you’re right, mother,” he said; “but if I were you, I’d give the Major a few thousands as a repayment for his services, and kick him out of doors.”
    “Arthur! As if he would accept money!”
    “Not from you, very likely, mother; and shall I tell you why not? He knows that he will get double and treble from Sir Rupert Lisle. My brother is little better than a puppet in his hands.”

A brief respite from the Major is granted the household when he travels to London to see Gilbert Arnold for one last time. Sir Rupert baulks at giving Arnold money, but as usual he does as the Major tells him, and writes a cheque for six hundred pounds. Arnold, who had not calculated upon being cut off completely from the restored Sir Rupert, is in an angry, resentful mood. It recedes slightly when the Major requests him to write a receipt for the six hundred—then comes back with a vengeance when the Major informs him that he will, without delay, pack up himself, his wife, and his possessions, and embark for America—and not, if he knows what’s good for him, ever come back. Compelled by the thought of the money, Arnold obeys; but just as the ship is to sail – and having waited until then to make sure of his collaborator’s departure – Major Varney hands over a mere three hundred pounds:

    “And when this here’s gone, what am I to do?” roared Gilbert, clutching hold of the Major’s coat-sleeve, as if he would have detained him by violence.
    “What are you to do?” said Major Varney, turning round, as he stood on the topmost rung of the ladder, “rot, starve, steal, die in a workhouse, or live in a gaol! I’ve done with you!

The reappearance of the long-lost Sir Rupert Lisle is naturally a bombshell in district of Lislewood; the discovery that the young baronet is “sufficiently good-looking” as well as titled and rich of interest in more households than one. Once over his initial apprehensions, Sir Rupert begins to explore his neighbourhood; and he causes a variety of emotions under one roof, and heart-burnings in all the rest, when he falls in love with the youngest daughter of Colonel Marmaduke.

Colonel Marmaduke is not a pleasant man, violent with almost everyone, including his five daughters. Circumstances have seen the Colonel’s income dwindle to vanishing point; the Miss Marmadukes have lived all their lives in a state of poverty, with few joys at home and fewer abroad, since their father’s pride will not allow them to venture out in any carriage but their own, and they can no longer afford to keep one. Long, dreary days are their almost unchanging portion, and their only expectation for the future.

Four of the Miss Marmadukes resemble their mother in both looks and disposition, which does nothing to endear them to their father; the youngest is as unlike them as possible: dark, attractive, and spirited; as proud as her father, and with his temper; not merely unquailing in the face of the Colonel’s frequent outbursts, but given to reading the riot act over him for his own rough language and behaviour.

Olivia is, naturally, her father’s pet, much to the indignation of her well-behaved but spiritless sisters.

Olivia is, in addition, her creator’s pet; sort of:

What shall I say of my heroine? for, unfortunately, faulty and imperfect as she is as this young lady may be, she is nevertheless my heroine. What shall I say of her? She has by no means an amiable temper. She is vehement and impulsive. But, on the other hand, she is generous and truthful…

We shall see a great deal more of Olivia’s faults before we see anything of her virtues: her behaviour, indeed, is of a kind to put her beyond the pale with many of Braddon’s brother- and sister-novelists (always with the exception of her contemporary and rival, Wilkie Collins, who himself had a soft spot for flawed, headstrong young women), and see her cast, most likely, in the role of the good girl’s foil.

Olivia is much given to riding out alone, albeit on a bony old horse and in a made-over habit of her mother’s; and on one of these expeditions she encounters Sir Rupert Lisle. She isn’t impressed, either with his uncertain horsemanship, his evident fear when her dog briefly worries his horse, or the language in which he expresses that fear.

Unfortunately, Sir Rupert is impressed; so impressed, the next day he forces himself upon the Marmadukes in an ill-timed morning-call:

    “I know I’ve come too early,” he said, “and I’ve caught you all in your morning gowns, as he said I should, and he said I oughtn’t to come till one o’clock; but I couldn’t wait any longer, and I should have come last night, only he wouldn’t let me.”
    During the delivery of this very obscure speech, the young Baronet grew every moment redder in the face. Insolent and self-sufficient as he usually was, he seemed today affected by a painful sense of his own insignificance…

But he gets over that, chiefly by dwelling on his various material advantages and the Marmadukes’ poverty. Presents of all sorts rain upon Olivia, and when he discovers that the Marmadukes do not dine out or attend other entertainments, Sir Rupert concocts wild schemes of having them come to stay in his house. When Major Varney attempts to dissuade him, reproving him at the same time for the inappropriate violence of his language, it provokes a startling explosion:

    “Rupert!” exclaimed his mother, “can you forget?”
    “O, I don’t forget anything,” said the Baronet; “people take precious care that I don’t forget anything. My banker could tell how often I get reminded of things; but as to that,” he added, turning to the Major, “you’re free to stay as long as you like, and eat and drink what you like, and to get all out of me that you can, but I won’t be interfered with when I set my mind on a thing. Do you hear me? I won’t be interfered with.”
    The Baronet walked out of the room, slamming the door after him. It was the first time he had ever resisted Major Varney’s authority by so much as a word…

We can only be surprised at the experienced Major’s underestimation of the effect that sexual attraction might have upon the feckless young man, for all that he dignifies his passion for Olivia under the title of “love”. Trying to rectify his error, the Major makes a point of seeking Olivia’s acquaintance, and for the second time in recent weeks finds himself confronted by someone wholly unimpressed by him, and who does not bother to hide it. Recognising in Olivia not only an inconvenience to the comfortable unfolding of his plans, but potentially a formidable adversary, he does his best to undermine her influence over Sir Rupert, but without success.

(We get a typical Braddon moment here when the Major temporarily separates Olivia from Sir Rupert by inviting her to play a game of chess—and much to his surprise and indignation, she beats him.)

But if Sir Rupert is not to be put off by Olivia’s own constant rudeness towards him, and her habit of laughing at him, the Major’s criticism can have little effect. Shortly afterwards, during another meeting on horseback, Sir Rupert blurts out a graceless proposal, offering to make her the richest woman in Sussex.

And Olivia—after coolly noting that not a word of love has been spoken, either offered or asked for—accepts him.

The announcement of the engagement has a curious effect in both affected households. When it is greeted with dismay and doubt under his own roof, Sir Rupert grows furiously angry. Most of his tirade is aimed at the Major, whose silence in the face of it makes Sir Rupert foolishly believe that he has at last put him in his place. A later confrontation, when the two are alone, disabuses him of this notion, and leaves him pale and shaken. Nevertheless, Sir Rupert refuses the Major’s command to break off his engagement, which prompts a midnight visit from the ubiquitous Mr Salamons:

    “Why, you see, Sir Rupert,” said the valet, looking round the room cautiously… “what I’ve got to tell you is a bit of a secret, perhaps I’d better whisper it.”
    Mr Salamons bent his lips close to the Baronet’s ear, and whispered two or three sentences.
    Sir Rupert Lisle burst out laughing. He laughed till his shoulders shook under the bedclothes.
    “Is that all?” he said, when he had done laughing. “Is that all that such a clever man as Major Granville Varney could send you here to tell me? Tell him, with my compliments, that I’ve known it all along, and that I shall marry Olivia Marmaduke less than a month from to-night.”

It cannot, however, be said that Sir Rupert is finding much joy in an engagement to a girl who does not trouble to hide her own indifference to it, or her contempt for him personally:

    “Egad! I think if I were not Sir Rupert Lisle, and the rightful owner of the Lislewood estates, I should have a very poor chance with you, Miss Livy.”
    “I think you would, Sir Rupert. Pray let us never quarrel about that. Heaven forbid that I should deceive you! Yes, you are quite right; I marry you for your title, and I marry you for your estate, and if you had neither title nor estate, I wouldn’t marry you. I am candid enough—am I not? And now, if the honest truth displeases you, let us shake hands and say ‘good-bye’. I am quite willing to do so, I assure you.”

But of course, the more she shows herself willing to call it off, the more determined he is to possess her, whatever her behaviour towards him.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s situation (in spite of the grim reality of her bridegroom) driven the eldest Miss Marmaduke, Laura, with whom Olivia has always been at loggerheads, past her breaking-point. She sees and grasps an opportunity for revenge, however, waiting until Olivia and Sir Rupert are together at Colonel Marmaduke’s house to break an interesting piece of news:

    “Well, papa, poor Walter Remorden has been compelled to abandon his duties on account of his very delicate health, Mrs Milward says…”
    “What!” exclaimed the Colonel, “is Walter Remorden staying at the Rectory?”
    “Yes; he only arrived yesterday. He has been dreadfully ill, and is quite a wreck they say. But I must not bore Sir Rupert by talking of an invalid curate. Such congratulations, Olivia. Everybody is talking of the future Lady Lisle, and congratulating me upon my sister’s brilliant prospects.”

The effect of this upon Olivia is everything that Laura hoped, nor is Sir Rupert so stupid as to not understand the significance of her reaction. Yet the only immediate consequence is that Olivia begs Sir Rupert either to call their engagement off, or set an early date for their wedding. Naturally he chooses the latter. An unprecedented money gift from an aunt allows the preparation of a proper trousseau, but Olivia takes no interest in this; nor indeed in anything, spending her days in her room, silent and alone, refusing even to ride out on the splendid horse that Sir Rupert has bought her. As the wedding draws near, the baronet understandably continues to live in fear of a belated rupture.

And it is very near when Olivia walks over to the Rectory one evening, despite the falling rain. She hesitates long outside the door, and finally only being caught by one of the servants compels her to go inside. Mrs Milward welcomes her warmly, but she barely exchanges greetings with Mr Remorden, found lying on the couch in front of the fire, the signs of his long illness clear upon him; and once exchanged, he returns to the perusal of his newspaper.

Over tea, Mrs Milward finds plenty to say; it is not until she leaves the room that Olivia makes an awkward inquiry about Mr Remorden’s curacy, and learns that he has had the offer of a more advantageous place in Yorkshire, once his health is re-established:

    Olivia seemed scarcely to hear what he said, but sat pulling her dog’s ears and looking thoughtfully into the fire; presently she said, with strange suddenness,—“Walter Remorden, how utterly you must despise me!”
    He had been so entirely calm and self-possessed before, even when he could scarcely have failed to perceive her agitation, that a stranger would have set him down as incapable of any strong emotion, but as Olivia spoke his face changed, and he lifted one thin hand entreatingly, as he exclaimed,—
    “For pity’s sake, for the sake of all that is merciful and womanly, do not speak one word to recall the past. I have wrestled hard. I have prayed so many prayers that I might be able to bear my sufferings, and it is not for you to reopen old wounds, which are healed, which are healed,” he repeated passionately. “I live for nothing in this world but to do my duty as a minister of the Gospel. For that end I pray to be restored to health and strength; though, Heaven forgive me! the day has been when I have wished that I might never leave this house, except to be carried to one of yonder graves.”

The two are then interrupted by the arrival of Sir Rupert, sent after Olivia by Laura, furious and jealous over her unconventional call, and apparently determined to display himself at his very worst. Olivia finally agrees to leave with him as he demands, but obtains a few more private moments by sending him out to see about the carriage:

    “Olivia,” said Mr Remorden, in a voice which trembled with emotion, “there is no dishonour in my asking you if this marriage is irrevocably determined upon?”
    “It is.”
    “And it is no longer in your power to withdraw from your engagement to this man?”
    “It is no longer in my power.”
    “Heaven help you, then, unhappy girl!”

.

[To be continued…]

12/11/2016

Lady Lisle (Part 1)

ladylisle2b    “My dear Arthur,” said Major Varney, “do you think that if I ever left the course of my life to be directed by accident, I should be the man I am? No, I knew where I was coming and why I was coming; and now you may know it too. I come to claim my share in your winnings, according to the old bargain. I come to exact my rights established by precedent long ago. Whatever amount of your wife’s fortune may fall into your hands, I claim the half of that amount. Whatever of your step-son’s wealth and power can be wrested from him by you, the half of that wealth and power is mine. Whatever comfort, luxury, indolence, and extravagance you may enjoy, I claim my right to enjoy the same. And now get up, dear boy, and come back to the house. Walk on, Arthur Walsingham and Company, but remember your senior partner walks behind you, though he may choose to keep in the shadows.”
    Pale and shivering, Arthur Walsingham walked along the avenue, across the bridge, and through the gardens. Some doomed and wretched criminal, stumbling up the steps of the gallows, might have walked as he walked…

While she was spinning out the insanely complicated, year-long penny dreadful, The Black Band; or, The Mysteries Of Midnight, which ran between July 1861 and June 1862, Mary Elizabeth Braddon was simultaneously writing a second serial, Lady Lisle, which was intended for a more “respectable” audience—but which, for all that, offers plenty of shocking material.

Lady Lisle was serialised in The Welcome Guest between May and September 1861, before appearing in book form during 1862. It is, as these dates suggest, a shorter and less complicated work than its companion-piece, and differs from it in several other ways that offer an intriguing glimpse into Braddon’s own mindset. The thing that was most striking to me upon a first read is the dearth of sympathetic characters. Whereas The Black Band, which has large sections of its narrative set amongst people of the lower-middle class and the working-classes, offers no shortage of interesting, likeable characters, in this novel set amongst the gentry we struggle to find anyone to attach ourselves to…

…at least until the novel’s villain shows up.

Whether this aspect of the novel is to blame or not, Lady Lisle remains one of the more difficult of Braddon’s novels to obtain, at least in English: a modern edition was reissued a few ago, but only in French. (Sacré bleu! J’étais tellement énervé…) However, I was fortunate in eventually gaining access to a copy through one of our academic libraries; though, mind you, when I say “fortunate”— Mary Elizabeth Braddon was insanely popular in Australia, with book after book achieving best-seller status here, so it is less surprising than it might otherwise be that our older libraries do hold copies of her works. (Whether it was her focus upon crime, or her frequent assertion that “nice” people are often secretly terrible, that was the secret of her success, well, I wouldn’t like to say…)

Lady Lisle opens with a startling confrontation between the young widow of the title and Captain Arthur Walsingham, just returned from service in India. A wild, one-sided exhortation from the latter ends in a proposal, or rather a demand, of marriage, which is accepted.

The narrative then steps back some nine years to tell the story of the obsessive love of the dashing young Arthur Walsingham for the beautiful Miss Claribel Merton; of the intervention in his frantic courtship of her friends; and of her subsequent marriage to the wealthy Sir Reginald Lisle—with whom Walsingham was staying during his pursuit of Miss Merton, and had considered his best friend…

Braddon’s scorn for all three points of this romantic triangle is evident from the outset; so too is her personal exasperation with the persistent English taste for “doll-like” blue-eyed blondes, pretty on the outside but empty on the inside (with her irritation shortly to find its fullest expression in her breakthrough novel, Lady Audley’s Secret). Though Lady Lisle opens in company with its title character, it is soon evident that we are not to regard her as the novel’s heroine:

    “You must think me a fool, because I am going mad for a wax doll!” Arthur Walsingham cried out one night at Lislewood Park, when he had been drinking more than usual, and the baronet and his other companions had rallied him upon his silly passion. “I know, as well as you, what a foolish school-boy’s fever it is; but that makes it no better for me, if I die of it.”
    But if Miss Claribel Merton had, as her enemies declared, many attributes in common with a pretty, blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, waxen image fashioned by the toy-maker, she was not the less a beautiful woman and an heiress…

Too much of an heiress to be allowed to bestow herself upon an impecunious army officer; at the same time, beautiful and fashionable enough to catch the tepid interest of Sir Reginald, with the added appeal of cutting out his friend:

She was the rage; and, eight weeks after the Captain’s arrival, Sir Reginald Lisle—who rarely in the whole course of his brief and useless existence had desired to possess himself of anything, except for the pleasure of taking it away from somebody else—proposed for her hand, and, after a brief delay, was, at the instigation of her aunt, duly accepted.

There is, of course, an appalling scene between Walsingham and his erstwhile friend, but when Sir Reginald coolly refuses to be duelled with, the shattered officer shakes the dust of England from his boots and returns to his duties in India, dividing his time between reckless pleasure-seeking and trying to get himself killed in action.

As for the bride:

As usual, they could discover nothing from her face. It was at all times a face which revealed no secrets. Perfect in feature, most delicate in colouring, but inscrutable, enigmatic, almost expressionless. She married Sir Reginald Lisle without loving him, as passively as she had taken her music-lessons without having an ear for harmony, and her drawing-lessons without being blessed with an eye for form. Whatever other people bade her do, she did. She would have married the Captain at his command, being utterly incapable to resist the influence of a stronger mind than her own, had she not been restrained by the counter-influence of her aunt, which, from the force of long habit, was more powerful still. She was entirely at the mercy of those who controlled or counselled her. She saw with their eyes, thought with their thoughts, and spoke with their words…

The marriage works out about as well as you’d expect, although Lady Lisle is not long troubled with her disinterested husband. The Lisles are not a long-lived race, but have a history of dying young; though in spite of this, having acquired the habit of marrying young for obvious reasons, they have as yet managed to propagate the line and pass on the baronetcy. Such is again the case, with Lady Lisle a widow after eight years of marriage, and the title and estate inherited by her boy, Rupert. The child is an unfortunate combination of his father’s weakness of constitution, and his mother’s lack of personality (“…like her, unblest with brilliant talents or energy of character…”); yet from somewhere he has acquired a certain spirit which makes him quite a physically intrepid little boy: a quality which causes his mother endless distress as, far from nursing his health as she wishes, Rupert is given to overtaxing his fragile strength.

Mother and son are playing together on a hillside overlooking Lislewood Park when Lady Lisle is confronted by the ghost from her past—who has left India for England immediately upon seeing the death-notice for Sir Reginald. Before she knows it, Lady Lisle has been overpowered into another engagement; although to her credit, as she gazes once again upon Arthur Walsingham, she finds more genuine feeling in her heart than was ever there for her first husband.

Walsingham, meanwhile, has no illusions about the step he is taking:

“Listen to me, then. I hate you as much as I love you. My heart was rent asunder by these two passions, and I scarcely know which of these two has brought me from India, and to your feet to-night. It was a murder which you committed by your treachery of eight years ago; and it is the ghost of the Arthur Walsingham whom you killed that stands by your side at this moment. For your sake, and through your treachery, I have been a gamester, a drunkard, and a rogue. The memory of you, pursuing me in every hour of my life, has driven me to the brandy-bottle, the hazard-table, and the smiles of artless women, for relief from its cruel torture…”

Despite the unpropitious signs, the two are married; a quiet, private wedding, quite different from the bride’s first; and after a six-week honeymoon, the couple settle at Lislewood Park. There, awake to the bitter irony, Arthur Walsingham finds himself smothering in his bride’s wealth and his step-son’s grandeur: the house, indeed, has not changed at all since the night of the terrible scene between himself and Reginald Lisle.

To the world at large, however, Walsingham is a damned lucky man; so lucky, he is not without enemies. One of these is Gilbert Arnold, the husband of the Park’s lodge-keeper. Once a poacher, with a prison-sentence behind him, Arnold was supposedly reformed by the efforts of an evangelical chaplain, and at that time married the hard-working, God-fearing Rachel; but in fact all Arnold learned was a prevailing hypocrisy. Now, living upon his wife, his habitual discontent has escalated into a passionate hatred of anyone more comfortably situated than himself; and although he expresses this in terms of an unjust social inequality (and often uses the language of the evangelical tracts given to him by the still-deceived chaplain), at base it is a combination of selfishness, laziness and envy.

Arnold’s most bitter hatred has always been directed at the Lisles—because, not in spite of, all they have given to himself and his wife; why should they be able to give?—and in particular at the young Sir Rupert, who is almost the same age as the Arnolds’ child, James, and, as it happens, rather like him in general appearance, but with one boy having so much while much the other has so little. That his own son tends to cry and run in the face of any sort of danger or confrontation, while the small baronet displays a definite pugnacity, is another source of grievance for Arnold, feeling obscurely that some sort of cosmic injustice has been committed with respect to the two children, and hating Sir Rupert all the more as a consequence. Now, however, the focus of his anger redirects itself towards Arthur Walsingham, married to a fortune and an estate.

Be all this as it may, things are fairly serene at Lislewood Park six months after the wedding, when Walsingham opens the Brighton Gazette—and almost instantly proposes to his wife that they leave Lislewood for a time—go travelling—and do it immediately. Mrs Walsingham is bewildered but acquiescent, and only the need for packing and making arrangements with the servants prevents their departure that very night. While these preparations are underway, the Walsinghams walk out—and come home to find that two visitors have called, and are waiting to see them:

“Why, Arthur, nothing ever was so strange, I think; they are the very people whose names we saw this morning in the Brighton paper. Your Indian friends, Major and Mrs Granville Varney.”

The Major is a big, bluff, laughing man with auburn hair and moustaches; Mrs Varney is dark, quiet and very beautiful. Both are friendly, the Major almost effusively so. If Arthur Walsingham is not exactly delighted to see them, he at least does not repulse them; and before much time has passed, the Continental trip has been postponed, and the Varneys installed in the best guest-rooms. Over dinner, the Major exerts himself to captivate Mrs Walsingham, and succeeds very well.

Afterwards, as the others talk, Arthur Walsingham goes out for a walk, finding one of the loneliest and most secluded spots on the estate—but before he can take the action he intends, the pistol is snatched from his hand: he is not getting off that easily…

And then the two men talk over old times:

    “Some years ago, Arthur, you were in such a hobble, that, but for the assistance of a kind friend, it’s exceedingly unlikely that you would ever have got out of it.”
    “Granted,” said the Captain.
    “Dear boy, if you will only show an amiable and conciliating spirit, we shall get on as well as ever. Well, the friend did help you, and by his aid you were extricated from the hobble. As might be reasonably expected, a very lively attachment sprang up between you and the friend in question. People in Calcutta began to talk about Damon and Pythias. It was something more than friendship. It was a mysterious and masonic fellowship, which nothing but death could destroy. Was it not, Arthur?”
    “If you ask me whether we were useful to each other,—I shall say yes,” answered the Captain.

Graceful badinage and innuendo are the Major’s stock-in-trade, but here he is provoked into stripping off his gloves; and it is a chastened, indeed thoroughly frightened, Arthur Walsingham who eventually staggers back to his house. No more is heard about the Walsinghams’ departure for the Continent…

We are in a curious position at this early point of Lady Lisle: on one hand, Major Varney is clearly revealed as a thorough villain; on the other, we have been given no reason at all to sympathise with either of the Walsinghams, but on the contrary plenty of reason to think that both of them are getting what they deserve. It becomes, in fact, increasingly difficult for the reader not to start siding with the Major, if only because he is interesting in a way that his victims are not—in the same way, I suppose, that we hope that the criminals in a heist movie will succeed, for the pleasure associated with watching highly-skilled people working together to pull off a complex plan. The Major is a schemer and a plotter, a master-manipulator; a man of few if any scruples, for whom other people’s secrets and weaknesses are a ready source of income; yet he does what he does with such panache—hardly ever stooping to the blunt talking just felt necessary in the case of Arthur Walsingham—while maintaining all the while such an air of invincible good-humour, that it becomes harder and harder not to feel some sneaking sympathy with his proceedings, even when they take an honestly shocking turn.

Moreover, Braddon has enormous fun with the contrast between the Major’s bright appearance, all golden hair and blue eyes and genial expression, and the darkness of his deeds (at the same time, of course, making a serious point about the infuriating tendency of some writers to equate “beautiful” and “good”). Whenever we find the Major in the very depths of his plotting, there is sure to be a pull-away to his physical appearance at the time, and the effect if that appearance upon the people being, inevitably, taken in by him.

One of the Major’s many talents is planning for the future. He is a man who is capable of biding his time with great patience, and for a period of years, if the eventual reward is great enough…

The Varneys remain at Lislewood Park for a further five weeks, during which time the Major captivates Mrs Walsingham, quietly bleeds Arthur Walsingham, and looks around for more grist for his mill. His interest is caught by Arnolds—angry, glowering husband, unhappy wife, cringing little boy. As a guest of the Walsinghams, Major Varney has come in for his share of Arnold’s hatred; while the experienced eye of the Major, in turn, has noticed certain significant signs that point to a secret in Arnold’s past.

It is unfortunate to note that in Lady Lisle we find Braddon pandering to her readers’ prejudices, and in a way peculiar to the time of her writing: Major Varney’s valet and right-hand man is repeatedly described, not as Jewish, but as Jewish-looking—I suppose this approach was meant to imply an extra layer of deceit, since the only thing worse than a Jew was someone pretending he wasn’t one. This particular side-stereotype shows up again and again in novels of this period (half of the plot of Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister turns on precisely this is-he-or-isn’t-he? sort of characterisation, if you can call it characterisation), but it is disappointing to find the usually broadminded Braddon playing this nasty game. It is worth noting, however, that it is a tactic that seems associated only with her writing for “nice” people, not that meant for the working-classes. Make of that what you will.

But whatever else Mr Alfred Salamons may or not be, it seems that despite being in a position of servitude with respect to Major Varney, he is nothing more or less than the Major’s brother-in-law—the beautiful Mrs Varney escaping with a descriptor of “oriental” rather than “Jewish-looking”. How exactly this ménage works is left largely to our imaginations, but we do see that Salamons is not only entirely in his employer’s confidence, but a vital cog in his various activities. To him the Major confides his suspicions about Gilbert Arnold, sending him away to hunt into the lodge-keeper’s past. A scheme of vastly greater magnitude than anything he has attempted before, and with the potential for a yield so rich he can retire upon it, has suggested itself to the Major’s vivid imagination:

    The Major finished his toilette, and dismissed his servant. The door of the inner room opened, and Mrs Varney, dressed in white, with natural flowers in her dark hair, stood upon the threshold.
    “You look very lovely tonight, my soul’s idol,” said the Major, tenderly. “Those flowers have an air of innocence that becomes you admirably. Ada, otherwise Adeline Varney, how would you like to be mistress of Lislewood Park?”
    “Don’t talk nonsense, Granville!” said the lady; “but come downstairs. I thought you would never have finished dressing.”
    “Ada, this train must be a very long one that would undermine this house, and we should begin to lay the gunpowder a great way off, should we not? But don’t you disturb yourself, my darling. The grand system is at work. Alfred Salamons has received his instructions. Great things may be done yet, and all with a clear conscience—with a clear conscience, and no fear of prison dress from first to last.”

That nothing can ever be brought home to him that could result in a prison sentence is the Major’s great pride and boast, although we gather from this that his ideas and ours about what constitutes a “clear conscience” may not be quite the same.

On the day of the Varneys’ intended departure from Lislewood Park, the Major takes a moment to drop a sovereign into Gilbert Arnold’s hand, adjuring him to take very good care of his boy, before insisting upon Arthur Walsingham accompanying him on a last walk. The two are joined by the young Sir Rupert Lisle, who is mounted on his pony. The three take the winding path up the steep hills overlooking Lislewood Park where, with the boy safely out of hearing, the Major makes one last blunt demand for money. When Walsingham digs his heels in, the Major produces a packet of letters, threatening to send them to Mrs Walsingham if five thousand pounds aren’t forthcoming.

Somewhat to the Major’s surprise, Walsingham calls his bluff. He is momentarily disconcerted by this rebellion, but is not a man to let the grass grow. If one scheme fails, why then, he has another in mind…

    “No, you’re right. I don’t want to tell the secret. I don’t want to see poor Lady Lisle, or Mrs Walsingham, or whatever else she may choose to call herself, break her heart. I don’t want to see you kicked out of Lislewood Park, or sent to some unpleasant colony, where they might have the impertinence to ask you to pick oakum or break stones…
    “I am not one of those unlucky wretches to whom ready money is of vital importance… I would rather have fifty thousand pounds ten years hence than I would have five thousand today. Arthur Walsingham, what is the age of that boy yonder?” Major Varney pointed, as he spoke, to Sir Rupert Lisle…
    “He was seven last July.”
    “Seven years old. Very good. What would you say, Arthur, if I were to tear these silly letters and that other little document into a thousand pieces, and not ask you for another farthing for fourteen years?”

We are not privy to the details which Major Varney whispers into his companion’s ear, only to Walsingham’s appalled reaction—which extends so far as threatening to expose the Major, whatever the cost to himself, should he take one step towards putting his scheme into effect. The Major takes this easily enough, only shaking his head over Walsingham’s short-sightedness, and pointing out that he may have to use those letters after all…

Then, apparently putting all unpleasantness out of his mind, he requests an explanation for the name of ‘Beecher’s Ride’, given to a steep hill nearby. Walsingham tells him impatiently that it was named for a certain Captain Beecher, who won a wager by riding his horse down the face of the dangerous slope.

Walsingham then walks off, and the Major turns his attention to Sir Rupert, who has listened to this with great interest, and immediately declares that he could ride down the slope. The Major scoffs at this assertion—which gets exactly the response he expected, and perhaps the outcome, too…

    The Major, with every one of his white teeth displayed in an insolent laugh, and with his face towards the sun, was provokingly bright to look at.
    “No, no, my little Baronet,” he said, “you’re not brave enough to try that; for you’re too sensible not to know that it can’t be done.”
    The boy’s pale face flushed crimson with passion. “Can’t it?” he screamed at the top of his shrill treble voice. “Can’t it be done, Major?”
    He turned the pony’s head, galloped once round the summit of the hill, and then, lashing the animal violently with his whip, flew over the narrow ridge and down the hill-side… The pony reached the bottom of the hill, the boy swaying backwards and forwards in his saddle, but keeping his seat, but in the impetus of the last rush, the animal lost his balance, and fell, rolling over his rider. From where the two men stood, the pony and the boy looked like one confused mass, which rolled over and over for a few moments, and then grew suddenly still…

The two men rush to the scene via a less dangerous path. The pony is not seriously hurt, and scrambles to its feet; but when the Major kneels to inspect the child…

The Major is not slow to take advantage of Walsingham’s state of grief and shock—and guilt—arguing that he never intended such a thing to happen—he promised, did he not, that the boy would not be harmed?—but now that this has happened…

The numb Walsingham does not intervene as the Major springs into action, whipping the the pony to drive it deep into a nearby pool of muddy, stagnant water, from where it scrambles up into the woods beyond. He then wraps the child in his own plaid, telling Walsingham to go home and alert everyone that the boy is missing; to tell them that he galloped away from his companions and became lost; no more than that.

The Major carries his grim bundle to his carriage, waiting nearby with Mrs Varney and Alfred Salamons, and places it upon the seat inside. As he climbs in, he tells the others that Sir Rupert has been badly injured, and must be taken to Brighton immediately for more expert care than may be found near Lislewood:

    The Captain laid his hand upon the carriage-door. “What are you going to do with—with—the boy?”
    For the first time since the accident, Major Granville Varney smiled.
    “You know, or can guess,” he said. “Au revoir, dear boy.”

When the alarm is given at Lislewood Park, a wide-ranging search is put into effect; with the wet and muddy state of the pony, which wanders back to its own stable, suggesting the worst. Mrs Walsingham all but collapses in shock and grief, clinging desperately to the fact that her son’s body has not been found; and it never is…

No suspicion that the boy’s disappearance, and presumed death, is anything but a tragic accident crosses anyone’s mind. After all, with the boy dead the estate will pass to a distant cousin; while the profound grief and perpetual mourning of the boy’s mother, and the unyielding gloom of his step-father, speak for themselves. The entire district is affected by the tragedy—with one exception. Though Mrs Arnold mourns for the boy, and the sorrow of her patroness, Gilbert Arnold himself is in a state of high glee, delighted that adversity has finally struck the Lisles in a way that not all the wealth and property in the world can help.

But late one night, Arnold’s unwontedly cheerful mood receives a severe check when he has a visitor in the person of Major Granville Varney. Polite and urbane as always, the Major sends Mrs Arnold to bed, then settles in for a long talk with Arnold: one which encompasses the doings of a certain Josiah Bird, wanted for the murder of a gamekeeper in Kent, and includes the fact that Bird is a man identifiable by a gunshot wound in his right leg, such that he might be supposed to have a limp…

After this, the conversation takes an abrupt turn. Gilbert Arnold is advised—strongly advised—to pack up his family—including his boy; he must take great care of his boy—and go to London, where he will be met at the station by Mr Alfred Salamons, who may have some good news for him.

And so the Arnolds depart from Lislewood; although under the circumstances, this is not much noticed, nor is Arnold at all missed.

In London, the invaluable Mr Salamons directs the Arnolds to their new lodgings, taken in the name of “Green”, and further informs Arnold that if he behaves himself and does as he is told, particularly with respect to the care of his son, he will receive a weekly stipend until further notice. Arnold, typically, snarls at what he considers the smallness of the amount; but on the other hand there is the shadow of Josiah Bird…

Fourteen sad years then slide by at Lislewood. The cousin who has inherited the baronetcy is comfortably settled in Italy, and has no desire to return to England, instead leasing his estate to the Walsinghams in exchange for their management of his property. Mrs Walsingham’s grief for her son finally settles into resignation, a process assisted by the birth of her second child, also a boy: a healthy, happy, good-natured boy, who becomes the pet of the whole household, and the apple of his father’s eye.

But in spite of this, the loss of Sir Rupert Lisle is a blow from which Arthur Walsingham never recovers. His health deteriorates; far more seriously, indeed, than he allows his wife to know; but it is not until a short time before what would have been Sir Rupert’s coming-of-age that he speaks to her of any of the things on his mind.

At last, sure within himself that he has a very short time to live, he is moved to tell her a certain sad story—about a young army officer, who fell passionately in love with a beautiful girl who jilted him—and who responded to her perfidy by going sixteen ways to the devil. In particular, the young man completely lost his head over an actress, who was even more beautiful than his lost love, and unlike her in every other way, being dark, stately and mysterious. A brief but violent courtship conducted chiefly through wild letters ended in marriage. It was only after the ceremony that he ran into an acquaintance from India, who, recognising the new Mrs Walsingham from her earlier days in Calcutta, told the new bridegroom all about his wife…

On the instant, the young man abandoned the woman he had married, although not without giving her money, and returned to his old life in India. Some years later he saw his wife again, by then calling herself the wife of another man; well-contented, he did not interfere. Soon afterwards, a terrible temptation was placed in his path, one to which he succumbed—and so left himself the perpetual victim of a conscienceless villain. For the young man learned that the girl he had loved, the girl who had jilted him, had been widowed…

Claribel Lisle—not Walsingham—is appalled by the story unfolded to her, as well she might be; but her years of suffering have strengthened her, and she rises to the occasion with forgiveness and pity.

But for Walsingham, the stress of the moment brings about the crisis he has long expected. He collapses in a fit of apoplexy; only managing to utter, before he dies, a few incoherent words:

“Claribel—the boy, Rupert,” he gasped with a painful effort, “the boy is alive—Major Varney—ask—ask—“

.

[To be continued…]

01/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29/10/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is Roger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[To be continued…]

25/10/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[To be continued…]