Posts tagged ‘19th century’

27/01/2023

The Old Engagement

 

    “And you have not seen him from that period till now?” I asked.
    “No, not once,” she said.
    “And how very extraordinary it is that they should at last have met, and quite accidentally, too,” observed Mrs Grove.
    “It is indeed most remarkable,” said I; “and one cannot help believing that important results to them both will be the consequence of it.”
    “I sometimes suspect that it will only end in our complete and final separation,” said Miss Vaughan.
    “It will be your own fault if it should do so, I am persuaded,” I replied.
    “As far as I am concerned,” she answered, “events must take their course, there must be no endeavour on my part to renew a tie which was broken by himself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some {*cough*} time ago, Random Reading plucked from my lists an obscure novel from 1858, The Gilberts And Their Guests. Though billing itself as “A Story Of Homely English Life”, this novel is striking for its undertones of rebellion, touching upon such topics as—well, allow me to quote myself:

…the humiliation of dependence; a woman’s right to support herself through her own labour; the iniquity of the double standard; a plea for the revision of the divorce laws; and a smattering of religious scepticism.

The author of this unexpected piece of writing was Julia Day, and it was, as it turned out, her second and final novel: you have to wonder whether critical disapproval might not have dissuaded her from continuing in this new form of expression. Day was primarily a poet, whose verses may be found online for those interested. Of information about the lady herself, I can offer nothing more.

Day’s first novel, The Old Engagement: A Spinster’s Story, was published in 1851—and frankly I found it something of a disappointment. It is an altogether more conventional work, despite its tacit support for a woman’s right to singledom; and it lacks the sharp note of protest that marks its successor. There isn’t much plot to speak of here: the novel is set in a country area, with a background of visits, teas, dinners and dances involving more or less the same people. In between times the characters, in particular the three mature women at its heart, exchange views on marriage, the relations between the sexes and women’s lives in general, among other topics.

Yet despite this novel’s subtitle, and for all this airing of opinions, we never really seem to get inside the heads of, in particular, Miss Brooke and Miss Vaughan, the novel’s two spinsters, to see what motivated their choices. A sense of distance is maintained that progressively becomes frustrating.

This is not to say that The Old Engagement is not an enjoyable read: it still has Day’s rather acerbic wit to recommend it; but it is in all respects a lesser work than The Gilberts And Their Guests.

On the other hand, this should add up to a single short(-ish) post—which is good news for all of us.

The Old Engagement is narrated by Miss Brooke, a settled spinster in her forties (or perhaps a bit more). She does not begin by introducing herself, but rather her friend, Miss Anne Vaughan: a decade or so younger than she and also a spinster, though in her case less from choice than from circumstance:

She was not handsome, she was not young, she was not rich, she was not accomplished; she was simply Miss Vaughan, whom you could not look at without being sure that it was by her own choice she was Miss Vaughan, whom you could not converse with without feeling interested to know how it chanced that she continued to be Miss Vaughan, whom you could not think of without hoping that she would not always remain Miss Vaughan. There was an indescribable charm in her companionship that spontaneously gave rise to these thoughts; and yet, perhaps, her solitude was made cheerful by the very spirit that gave grace and animation to her manner in society, and which I am inclined to believe sprang from a contented mind, and if so there was no lack of wisdom in her perseverance in a life of singleness…

And having introduced her, Miss Brooke then makes the following revelation with a casualness both shocking and funny:

Admirers she had had in abundance, and twice she had been on the point of marriage; on one of these occasions the projected event had been broken off by the almost sudden death of the gentleman to whom she was engaged, on the other by her accidental discovery that the individual with whose fate she was about to unite her own, had been only a few months before the inmate of a lunatic asylum…

Miss Vaughan also has two current suitors, though neither is a particularly viable prospect: one is “a contemporary of her late father”, the other, conversely, a student “whose years certainly numbered not half her own”. Neither puts in an appearance.

Miss Brooke goes to stay with her friends, Dr and Mrs Grove, and discovers to her pleasure that Miss Vaughan will be there at the same time.

The Groves are the novel’s positive face of marriage. Mrs Grove is a devoted and happy wife and mother, who enjoys and takes pride in her housekeeping, and whose own happiness makes her inclined to push when it comes to her single friends.

Just the same, when she learns that Dr Grove has not merely invited an old friend, a Colonel Lawrence Estcourt, to dinner, but to stay with them for a week or two, her reaction is dismay:

    “Oh!” almost shrieked Mrs Grove, “what can be done! Edward, how could you be so injudicious?… I am thinking of Miss Vaughan.”
    “Well, my love, I can discern nothing alarming in that; you have a very pleasant subject for your thoughts; I think of Miss Vaughan a good deal myself too, sometimes.”
    “You could not have thought of her when you invited Colonel Estcourt.”
    “And why not? ” asked Doctor Grove, looking fairly puzzled.
    “Have you forgotten that there was an engagement between them, which was broken off?”

Miss Vaughan gets around.

Dr Grove admits he has no idea whether his old friend is now married or single; and he reacts with scepticism to his wife’s flustered insistence that Miss Vaughan has never gotten over this early affair—going so far as to cite all the evidence to the contrary. We then hear briefly about “poor Lacy”, who was “so long and so deeply attached to her” (presumably he’s the one who died); but for Anne’s “acceptance of Mr Conway, after a short acquaintance” (in between periods of confinement!), Mrs Grove has no explanation.

There is then a brief dispute on the subject of the broken engagement, each of the Groves taking the side of their own friend: Mrs Grove accuses Estcourt of “drawing in” Anne, then breaking with her when his family objected; Dr Grove counters that they were both too young, and the gentleman younger than the lady; and that whatever was done, he is sure it was for good reason and in an honourable way:

    “Depend on it, the marriage, if it had taken place, would not have proved a happy one. Miss Vaughan has escaped a host of troubles; she is a fortunate woman, Maria.”
    “Fortunate! Edward, in having that sweet nature of hers, that would have warmed and expanded so freely in domestic life, left to chill and run waste in solitude. Fortunate! in seeing me and so many of her early friends surrounded with living objects of love and interest, while her early affections, thrown back, as it were, upon herself, can have caused only heart-bitterness and regret. Do you call this fortunate?”
    “My dear little wife, rely on it Miss Vaughan herself does not view her position in the light in which you have placed it; there is a cheerfulness about her that is genuine; I will answer for it that she is not a discontented woman.”
    “Discontented!” repeated Mrs Grove; “no, she is too wise and too good for that.”
    “Then, if she be not discontented, she cannot be unhappy; and if she is not unhappy, I repeat that she is fortunate.”
    “Ah! you men never can be made to understand a woman’s feelings—you do not do justice to Anne’s…”

There is some discussion about whether the two unsuspecting parties ought to be warned about their upcoming reunion, and it is finally agreed that this would only make them self-conscious and the meeting even more awkward (a decision I profoundly disagree with, but anyhoo). There is also some debate about whether the reunion was “fated”. Mrs Grove brightens at this thought, though the question of Colonel Estcourt’s marital status continues to intrude. Mrs Grove also regrets that another of their dinner guests will be Mrs Pemberton—a widow, but young, beautiful, and the worst flirt in the neighbourhood: a practice in which she uses her lookalike young daughter as a sort of fashion accessory, dressing her up like a mini-me and posing as a devoted mother.

The meeting between Miss Vaughan and Colonel Estcourt takes place, not without emotion, but without anything to capture the attention of unknowing parties. However, Mrs Pemberton proceeds to fulfill Mrs Grove’s worst fears. The widow’s sights are currently set upon Mr Johnstone, the rector of the parish, whose somewhat advanced years are offset by his devotion to her and his large personal fortune; but no sooner has the widow laid eyes on Colonel Estcourt – younger, more distinguished-looking, and richer – than she changes course like an Exocet missile. Mrs Grove’s exasperation with her is tempered only by the fact that her impertinent questioning does establish that the colonel is indeed still single.

Also exasperating to Mrs Grove is Miss Vaughan’s own determination to avoid the tête-à-têtes that she tries to arrange between her and Colonel Estcourt. Thwarted in one direction, the would-be match-maker tries another:

    “Ah, Anne,” said Mrs Grove, as we adjourned to our dressing-rooms, “we must not be one minute too late to-day; but there will be quite time for you to put on that sweetly pretty brocaded dress, which I admire so much. I will send Priscilla to you directly: I dare say Miss Brooke will excuse her attendance for a few minutes.”
    “Pray do not send her to me at all,” I replied, “I am my own tire-woman on all occasions.”
    “And, my dear Anne,” cried Mrs Grove, stopping for a moment longer at the door of Miss Vaughan’s room, “that little cap with the wreath of winter berries, it is so excessively becoming; do wear it to-day, to oblige me.”
    “My dear friend,” replied Miss Vaughan, laughing, “I will wear anything you please.”
    “Can I oblige you,” said I to Mrs Grove, “by adorning myself in any particular manner? I have a turban which was in fashion some fifty years ago, in which I flatter myself I should look quite captivating…”

In spite of his hostess’s efforts, Colonel Estcourt shows no reluctance to accept Mrs Pemberton’s invitations, nor any disinclination for her company; something resembling a rivalry even seems to develop between himself and Mr Johnstone. Dr Grove sees the three of them out walking together one afternoon, when he is dashing by in his carriage on his way to see a patient:

    “I hope you ladies have been enjoying this fine day,” said our host, in an interval of carving a noble turkey that was before him; ” I hope you have been enjoying it, no less than a certain fair friend of ours, whom I met, over the hills and far away, under a very imposing escort, having the benefit of clergy and a guard of honour besides.”
    Neither of the gentlemen at whom this remark was levelled could refrain from smiling.
    “How was it. Doctor,” inquired Mr Johnstone, “that you did not pull up for a chat when you met us, instead of driving on in double quick time? Mrs Pemberton’s sensibilities were so much excited by the apprehension that your extraordinary speed was an indication of one of your patients being in the extremity of danger, that the Colonel and I had enough to do to pacify the dear creature, and to subdue a strong fit of hysterics.”
    “Then the Colonel and you must have been infinitely obliged to me, I am sure,” replied Doctor Grove, “since it gave you the opportunity of affording consolation to beauty in distress. But how did you manage the hysterics? As the pond was frozen over, I fear there was no water at hand to throw over the lovely patient in order to abate their violence.”
    “That was fortunate for the fine feathers, at all events,” said I.
    “And especially fortunate, as fine feathers make fine birds,” added Mrs Grove.
    “My little wife is growing quite severe, I declare,” exclaimed Doctor Grove; “I appeal to Miss Brooke. Did you ever before hear her utter anything so nearly approaching to satire?”
    “I never did; but I suspect she has never yet had so fair a subject for it,” I replied.

(Those of us with an interest in the evolution of the English novel might care to note here the derogatory usage of those great 18th signifiers, sensibilities and hysterics.)

Mrs Grove is, however, a less subtle observer than Miss Brooke: as she frets over Colonel Estcourt’s apparent willingness to fall into the unsubtle traps of Mrs Pemberton, she does not notice what Miss Brooke sees clearly enough, how intently the colonel watches Miss Vaughan when she isn’t looking at him, how closely he pays attention when she speaks. Though even she has her doubts, expressed during an evening party at the widow’s:

    This little scene was almost too much for the patience of Mrs Grove. “I wish,” said she to me, almost in a whisper, “that my advice had been acted upon, and that we had remained at home this evening; Anne’s quiet elegance is quite lost here. Colonel Estcourt, you see, has neither eyes nor ears for any one but the little widow, who I was sure from the first moment of their meeting, had determined to make a conquest of him.”
    “And if she should succeed,” I replied in the same low tone, “he will be a prize not much worth contending for; but in my opinion she is shooting above the mark.”
    “You think, then,” said Mrs Grove, her countenance brightening as she spoke, “that he will not be tempted to give up the thought of Anne.”
    “I think,” answered I, “that any sentiment which Colonel Estcourt may entertain for Miss Vaughan must be of a character so totally different to the feeling which may be awakened by the sort of attractions possessed by the lady who is at the present moment engaging his attention, that the interest of your friend can in no way be affected by the admiration which he appears to bestow on her supposed rival; and yet,” I added, again glancing at the party whom we had criticised, “one must not be too secure: it is an every-day occurrence to see the silliest of women turning the heads of the most sensible men, and leading them to commit acts of egregious folly…”

The further we read into The Old Engagement, the harder it is to believe that Julia Day wasn’t deliberately invoking Persuasion. (Note, for one thing, her heroine’s first name.) Certainly the exasperation expressed by Mrs Grove and Miss Brooke as they watch Colonel Estcourt with Mrs Pemberton echoes that of Lady Russell in the earlier work: …her heart revelled in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt, that the man who at twenty-three had seemed to understand somewhat of the value of an Anne Elliot, should, eight years afterwards, be charmed by a Louisa Musgrove.

Though of course what we have here is a gender-flipping of Persuasion’s central premise, with the man ending the engagement for what he believes to be the good of the woman, in doing so inflicting a wound that doesn’t heal—and only later being given the chance to realise the consequences of his actions.

It is presumably as Miss Vaughan’s determination not to let her wound dictate her life that we are to read her surprisingly numerous contemplations of other marital ventures; from which, however, she always manages to extricate herself, or is extricated by her author (albeit at the cost of death and lunacy). Perhaps Mr Conway was her version of Louisa Musgrove. More likely, however, is that Miss Vaughan was – at least to an extent – buying into the 19th century contention that only through marriage could a woman live a “worthwhile” life, if not be happy as such; and goodness knows that alternatives were thin on the ground until late in that century. We should not, however, underestimate the significance of Miss Vaughan’s creator (was Julia Day married? – was she not?) offering opposition to this dogma in the form of the contented, self-determining Miss Brooke.

But marriage and related topics continue to occupy the thoughts of the three ladies. One day, while the men are pursuing outdoor activities, they stay in to sew and read…a new novel that had fortunately just come to hand, would furnish us with ample occupation and entertainment till we should all re-assemble at dinner. The work in question happens to deal with, the difficulties attending a long engagement of marriage—

(—and you better bet I stopped to try and work out if a real mid-1850s novel was being referenced; though nothing sprang to mind—)

—which prompts some serious and rather sad conversation:

    “I can imagine few states so perplexing,” said Miss Vaughan, “few so precarious. Love—I mean that love which is combined both of sentiment and passion—must of necessity decline in intensity as years ripen the judgement and moderate the feelings. Attractions, on the woman’s side, at least, are certain to fail; and the result of all this is, as a matter of course, to produce, in one party, at all events, a disinclination to ratify, in mature life, an engagement formed in early youth. It is sometimes done, we know; but I doubt if it ever be with a full feeling of satisfaction.”
    “I am very much of your opinion,” I replied, “although within my own circumscribed range of observation I have met with more than one happy exception. As to marriages in general that are entered upon somewhat late in life, and that have not been preceded by engagements of unusual length, I am disposed to view them favourably. They are for the most part judiciously formed; and where there exists no striking disparity of station—no startling dissimilarity of habits and tastes—I am inclined to believe that as fair a share of happiness may be looked for in unions of this description as in the love matches of the young.”
    “I cannot agree with you there,” said Miss Vaughan. ” No, my dear Miss Brooke, it is the young only, I feel persuaded, who can find true happiness in marriage. Solace, protection, companionship, it may afford in after-life; but felicity in union can, I imagine, only be found in the sweet spring-time of youth.”
    “You mean, I imagine, that the romance of affection can only exist at that early period?”
    “Yes, something of that,” replied Miss Vaughan, “all that gives to love the inexpressible grace and charm with which it invests the object of its choice; this dies with our youth, certainly. In after-life, a rational attachment may spring up—a calm affection, founded on the high or endearing qualities which we perceive in another—but this has little affinity with the love that springs straight from the heart, and holds no consultation with the head; this last, I suspect, can exist only in youth—in early youth.”
    “Ah! my dear Miss Vaughan,” I exclaimed, “pardon me if I warn you against the encouragement of too tender a recollection of that transitory season, lest it lead you to value too lightly the sober happiness that in mature life may be both given and received.”

Miss Vaughan’s championing of “the love that springs straight from the heart” is thus set against Miss Brooke’s “sober happiness”; and we likewise recall Dr Grove’s contention that at the time of their engagement, Miss Vaughan and the future Colonel Estcourt were both “too young”. However, though by now we have learned to heed our narrator’s pearls of wisdom, there is no question that Miss Vaughan is speaking directly to her own experience of young love, young passion—which was taken away from her by the object of that passion.

And this, ultimately, is why I find The Old Engagement a disappointment: we never really get to the bottom of why the engagement was broken off. We are given only Dr Grove’s comment about the age of the couple, and this early exchange between the Groves:

    “I don’t see that, Maria,” replied her husband; “you seem to view this affair in a false and exaggerated light. The engagement was broken off, if I remember rightly, by mutual consent.”
    “To be sure it was. Anne had too proud a heart to enter a family who were unwilling to receive her.”
    “Well, then, I don’t see that any blame could attach to Estcourt himself.”
    “Indeed! How was he justified in winning her affections, in drawing her into a positive engagement, and then coolly writing to say that his family objected to a connection with hers, and leaving it to herself to determine whether, under such circumstances, their engagement ought to continue?”
    “My dear, the right or the wrong of this depended entirely, in my opinion, on the manner in which it was done; and I have no doubt that Estcourt expressed himself with as much consideration for Miss Vaughan’s feelings as, under the circumstances, was possible. There is no question that it was a most imprudent engagement…”

—and that is all we get: from the parties themselves we get nothing, beyond Anne’s assertion (quoted in the header) that the engagement was “broken by himself”.

As the novel progresses, Mrs Grove gets the tête-à-têtes she wanted; but what this means in practice is that she and Miss Brooke – and the reader – are not privy to the conversations of Anne Vaughan and Lawrence Estcourt as they work through their past and come to a new understanding; they, and we, see only the reactions of each until they are ready to make an announcement:

…we returned to the other room, where Miss Vaughan was still standing at the window. She did not immediately turn her face towards us, and when she did so there were traces of emotion visible on it. Colonel Estcourt now left us, to give orders for the carriage to be in readiness, and during the few minutes of his absence, Mrs Grove and I had recourse to the telescope and the distant prospect in order to give Miss Vaughan the opportunity of recovering her equanimity unnoticed by us. She was looking quite calm and happy when I next glanced at her countenance, as Colonel Estcourt was assisting her into the carriage and sedulously folding a cloak round her…

In context, I can’t help comparing this to Jane Austen’s fine forensic analysis of Anne Elliot’s motives in breaking her engagement, being persuaded that it was for Frederick Wentworth’s own good; of her immediate, and ongoing, regret; and of her realisation that she has wrecked her own life, if not his. Nor, as I say, do we get to listen in as the couple re-negotiates their relationship. And least of all do we get anything remotely resembling Anne Elliot’s indelible declaration of hopeless love.

And no, of course I’m not suggesting that Julia Day should be able to rival Jane Austen; but she could do better than this, and thankfully we saw that in The Gilberts And Their Guests.

Anyway—

There are two points further I want to consider in The Old Engagement

—well, three, if you count this from the sulky Mrs Pemberton: even a broken clock is right twice a day:

    “…it is a serious thing to be engaged, is it not, Mrs Pemberton?”
    “Indeed it is,” she answered, with a slight toss of the head, “and for my part, I think all people who are engaged to be married ought to wear an engaged ring, that everybody should know it.”
    “What! gentlemen as well as ladies?” said the Doctor.
    “Yes, gentlemen particularly,” she answered, “that the ladies may not be deceived by them.”

Meanwhile, there’s a subplot in this novel, and it is only a subplot, though it too leads to discussion of good and bad marriages, that involves another neighbouring family, the Willises. Emma Willis is young and pretty, but not very bright, and rather weak; it becomes evident early to the reader, if not her parents, that she is carrying on a secret romance with a young man who himself hasn’t the best of reputations: though he regarded as unsteady rather than “bad”. All this culminates in an elopement; and though there is reason at first to fear the worst, when the couple are found they have been married out of a relative’s house.

In a way this makes things worse: obviously the elopement was anything but spontaneous, but rather the result of a lot of planning and secret arrangements over quite a period of time; and it is the deceit of it that horrifies everyone.

Julia Day, via her characters, agrees with this line of argument; but then things take a more unexpected turn: she blames Emma Willis’ weakness of character upon bad parenting.

Parents per se, parenting generally, obedience to parents in particular, are subjects so sacrosanct in so much of 18th and 19th century English fiction that it is genuinely startling when you find someone willing to take that particular bull by the horns.

Longstanding visitors might recall my examination of Marion’s Path Through Shadow To Sunshine by someone called “Miss Meeke” (because if there’s one thing I need at this blog, it’s another author called “Meeke”). This short, didactic work intended for young readers ties itself into knots on this point, expressing utter horror at the very thought of childish disobedience, while at the same time cursing its titular anti-protagonist with an awful mother who clearly should not be obeyed. And it never even attempts to deal with this contradiction: Marion stays with her aunt for a while and from her learns to be a better person, but is then packed off again without any advice offered on how to reconcile her ghastly mother’s terrible parenting with demands for unquestioning filial obedience.

The Old Engagement, however, concludes that while Emma Willis is certainly at fault, her parents are too: they have made her this way. Emma, we learn, is inflicted by, on one side, an overly-indulgent father, but one who pays insufficient attention; and on the other, by a cold and nasty mother who seems to enjoy making her daughter’s life miserable (possibly out of jealousy over Mr Willis’ fondness for her): and in negotiating between the two, Emma has learned to tell fibs and be secretive and go her own way—something that Julia Day, although by no means uncritical, treats as only to be expected:

    “It is a very sad business, I fear,” said Colonel Estcourt.
    “These runaway matches usually prove most disastrous, and are soon bitterly repented of,” I remarked.
    “In this case,” said Miss Vaughan, “I think the young man must be exceedingly culpable; for Miss Willis appeared simple as a child.”
    “He practised a good deal of artifice to-night, in his apparent devotion to Mrs Pemberton, and thereby most completely succeeded in lulling to rest the suspicions which Mrs Willis had begun to entertain of his being an admirer of her daughter, and thus rendering her less vigilant than she otherwise might have been,” said I.
    “Mr Willis so doted on his daughter, that I pity him exceedingly: Mrs Willis, whatever her affection might have been, had not a happy manner of showing it in her behavior to the poor girl,” observed Miss Vaughan.
    “She had not,” I acquiesced, “but perhaps the young lady needed a little more severity than we were aware of. I have noticed on more than one occasion some indications of self-will and stubbornness on her part, that were anything but pleasing; and worse than this, she did not scruple to have recourse to subterfuge when she thought it might screen her from her mother’s displeasure; but these faults were likely enough the fruits of the injudicious mode in which she has been brought up…”

(It is inferred, by the way, that in making this runaway match Frank Edwards is calculating on Mr Willis being indulgent enough to capitulate quickly and settle a tidy income on his daughter…and he’s right.)

Julia Day’s cool assessment of all points of this situation, and her willingness to ignore the prevailing social dogma in her various criticisms of the Willises, is far more like what we get from her in The Gilberts And Their Guests.

One final point:

We do eventually get some conversation about Miss Vaughan’s other engagements. Speaking of capitulation, that with Mr Lacy was out of “pure compassion” (in other words, he wore down her resistance); but it is, of course, the other engagement that we want explained:

    “With that unfortunate Mr Conway,” cried Mrs Grove; “I confess, my dear Anne, I never could comprehend how that came to pass.”
    “Through my own weakness,” she replied: “I was fairly captivated by his brilliancy of conversation; and I looked on his eccentricity as the result of extraordinary talent, never for a moment suspecting that it was the offspring of a diseased mind…”

Dear me.

 

 

22/01/2023

So where were we? (Part 4)

To resume:

All of my reviewing threads are absurd, but some are more absurd than others.

In this I include Authors In Depth, not least because the writers who end up being recruited tend to be those whose oeuvres would, on their own, make a ridiculously complicated project—let alone all of them at once.

Be that as it may.

So far my progress in this area looks like this:

Mary Elizabeth Braddon:

The Trail Of The Serpent (1860)
The Octoroon; or, The Lily Of Louisiana (1859 / 1861)
The Black Band; or, The Mysteries Of Midnight (1861 – 1862)
Lady Lisle (1862)
The Captain Of The Vulture (1862)
Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales (1862 / 1869)

E. D. E. N. Southworth:

Retribution; or, The Vale Of Shadows (1850)
The Deserted Wife (1850)
The Mother-In-Law; or, The Isle Of Rays (1851)
Vivia; or, The Secret Of Power (1857)

Frances Trollope:

The Refugee In America (1832)
Hargrave; or, The Adventures Of A Man Of Fashion (1843)

Mrs (Mary) Meeke:

Count St. Blancard; or, The Prejudiced Judge (1795)
The Abbey Of Clugny (1796)
Palmira And Ermance (1797)
Ellesmere (1799)

“Gabrielli” (Elizabeth Meeke):

The Mysterious Wife (1797)
The Sicilian (1798)

Margaret Minifie and Susannah Minifie Gunning:

The Histories Of Lady Frances S—, And Lady Caroline S— (1763)
Family Pictures (1764)
The Picture (1766)
Barford Abbey (1768)

So which of these threads do I intend to continue with?

Don’t be silly: none of them.

Instead I’ve read the second and final novel by someone even more obscure than these ladies—by which means I can fool myself that I have at last ticked something off the list…

 

10/11/2022

Alfred Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers

 

The society of the Dudleys soon rapidly extended beyond their own hitherto narrow, though happy circle; all that friendship could suggest was exerted to make those previously known to them, not only reconciled, but delighted with the resolution they had adopted of seeking a home in this distant region. While those who did not possess the advantage of a previous acquaintance with this amiable family were not neglected, but immediately experienced the benefits of the kindest attention and most cordial assistance. Thus emigration was robbed of all its bitterness; for could any grieve at an exile from their own country, where they had so long been the victims of difficulties and anxieties, when their arrival at their new home was greeted with such warm-hearted benevolence and hospitality, and where they at once found themselves in society, which while it was graced with every charm of refinement and elegance, possessed also the more solid qualities of high intellect and sterling worth, and over which good-humour, sincerity, and a warm feeling, ever presided?

 

 

 

 
 

First things first: Alfred Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers is a frequently misattributed book—one often credited to the historian and sociologist, William Howitt, who in the 1850s spent two years travelling through Australia, chiefly Victoria, and wrote a number of observational books about it upon his return to England. My best guess is that there was confusion between this work and Howitt’s A Boy’s Adventures In The Wilds Of Australia, which was published in 1854 (and which I may or may not take a look at, anon).

So while you can still find an annoying number of references to this book as by William Howitt, its author was actually Sarah Ricardo Porter—and this is not the only way in which history has shafted her.

I am very indebted to Sergio Cremaschi’s conference paper, “Sarah Ricardo’s Tale of Wealth and Virtue”, later published in the History of Economics Review, for not only providing an outline of the author’s life, but for explaining some of the stranger touches in her only novel.

Briefly, Sarah Ricardo was the sister of the political economist, David Ricardo, and married George Richardson Porter, a government statistician who made important contributions to British economic, sociological and educational writings from the 1840s through the 1860s. Consequently, Sarah has too often been treated just as a footnote to either her brother’s career or her husband’s (she is often referenced as “Mrs G. R. Porter”), without due notice being given to her own achievements in the area of children’s education. She was an active member of the Central Society for Education, a radical organisation – so it was considered in the 1830s – which advocated not only the establishment of primary schools for the working-classes, but the removal of religious teaching from the curricula: it was on this point that previous school planning had generally foundered, since by definition any given religion would exclude a large section of the target population.

Meanwhile, Sarah Porter wrote essays on educational theory, including her belief in the importance of engaging the imagination of children when teaching them (she was, as Cremaschi puts it, an anti-Gradgrind), and a mathematical textbook, in addition to her one novel.

This background, as I say, explains some of peculiarities of Alfred Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers, which – alas! – is not really a novel about Australia, but rather one about English social problems in that nebulous period between the Regency and the Victorian era (and, significantly, before the passing of the First Reform Bill), and how some of them might be solved: Australia is merely the chosen forum for the working out of Porter’s theories.

This is also very much a “novel of sensibility”, with the characters making emotional speeches at one another while they contemplate their circumstances, and a great deal of it devoted to Porter’s ideas about the existing structures of English society and the more desirable social arrangements that might be possible elsewhere; her aspirations for human interaction; and the responsibilities of people to one another—particularly the responsibility of the rich to the poor.

As Sarah Porter acknowledges in her preface, her knowledge of Australia was likewise all theoretical: her background information was drawn from The Present State Of Australia; a description of the country, its advantages and prospects, with reference to emigration by Robert Dawson, chief agent to the Australian Agricultural Company, a business founded by the Macarthur family which had negotiated a grant of one million acres of land to be used for experimental projects in emigration and farming. (There’s a much bigger story here, but it is beside our present point.)

Though her novel is aimed at a younger audience, Porter’s preface is addressed to their “judicious parents”, who—

    …are always desirous of ascertaining how far truth is blended with fiction, and what accurate ideas their children may obtain from the perusal of any work which may fall into their hands.
    The following short tale is founded on the circumstance of a gentleman, with his highly-educated son, settling in Australia, and there for a long period cheerfully submitting to all the hardships and privations attendant on such a situation. Although the events leading to and arising out of this fact, as here narrated, are purely fictitious, yet the Author has been careful to make the latter in strict accordance with a settler’s life and habits; while implicit reliance may be placed on whatever is found in these pages relating to the natural history of Australia, and to the manners and character of its native inhabitants…

We will return a bit later to the implications of that last phrase.

Alfred Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers opens in England, where Mr Dudley is the squire of a small country estate and lives quietly and (another of Porter’s favourite words) “usefully” with his wife and four children. The eldest and only boy, Alfred (thirteen when the narrative opens, just of age when it closes), is the apple of his parents’ eye; he is also, in spite of an estrangement between his mother and her brother, heir presumptive to the estate and property of his uncle, Sir Alfred Melcombe:

He had accumulated immense wealth by his parsimonious habits, and always declared that his property should devolve on the person who should bear his title. Such an education was therefore sought to be given to Alfred, as should best fit him for the high station in society which he appeared destined to fill. Under the judicious guidance of his parents, ably assisted by an intelligent tutor, his character gradually developed itself, giving promise of future excellence; and many a dream of parental ambition saw in him the future luminary of his age and country.

Storm clouds are on the horizon, however. Mr Dudley is approached by a relative of his own about a business partnership—his contribution to which is described in terms guaranteed to make anyone familiar with 19th century English literature shudder in horrified anticipation:

[He] sought to induce his kind friend to enter with him into a banking concern in the neighbouring town. He professed to require nothing from Mr Dudley but the use of his name, which would at once give character and stability to the establishment. Mr Dudley, unfortunately, was not a man of business, and did not exactly understand the responsibility he should incur by such an arrangement; being also of a confiding, unsuspicious temper, he in a fatal moment consented to become the partner of one whom he had always believed to be a man of strict integrity, as well as of good abilities and practical knowledge.

The inevitable happens: the man of strict integrity embezzles the funds and does a bunk, and Mr Dudley is left to face the defrauded bank customers. It never occurs to him to do anything other than meet the full responsibility and he is able to do so, but only by selling Dudley Manor and emptying out the family coffers. On the remnants of their property, the Dudleys then retire to an obscure corner of France (where they find a small colony of English people in similar straits), where they work at picking up the pieces and learn to support themselves:

    Alfred proved himself a valuable and persevering coadjutor to his father; while the little girls were delighted at the wonderful effects produced by their own industry. When the parterres had, by the united exertions of the whole family, been tolerably cleared from rubbish, healthy fruit-trees and valuable plants were discovered, which had been choked up by the noxious weeds.
    In a surprisingly short time, that which had been unsightly and unproductive, exhibited a pleasing and flourishing appearance. While Mr and Mrs Dudley contemplated, with no small complacency, the improved condition of their present abode, they were astonished how soon their minds had accommodated themselves to circumstances, and how much of content and cheerfulness already surrounded them. They were still a happy family, and were pleased to find that this happiness did not depend on adventitious circumstances.

Sir Alfred Melcombe, in spite of his “immense wealth”, does nothing to assist his relatives; on the other hand, their new “poor but happy” arrangements offend his pride: he demands that, his heir shall not be contaminated by plebeian modes of subsistence, or by coming in contact with penury and privation; in short, that Alfred be sent to public school in England. Mr and Mrs Dudley’s ambitions for their son’s future lead them to acquiesce; and though Alfred begs to be allowed to stay with his family and share their difficulties, he reluctantly obeys when they insist.

While he is away, his parents’ thoughts turn to their future. They long to return to England, but recognise that the country in its present condition offers little hope for them beyond mere subsistence; and Mr Dudley begins to consider emigration. He is still trying to resign himself to this course of action when he receives a letter from a friend, who has settled in Australia—

This gave a brilliant account of prosperity in that far distant land; enlarged so enthusiastically on the benefits almost certain to accrue from obtaining a grant of land there; and dwelt so warmly on the beauty of the climate, that Mr Dudley’s fancy was caught by the alluring picture…

But there are many practical objections to the scheme, including the frail health of the youngest daughter, Mary; and finally Mr Dudley proposes that he go on ahead, alone, to prepare a home for his family in the new land; and that they join him when he has built a secure future for him. Mrs Dudley doesn’t like this idea one bit, and nor, when he returns home during his holidays and hears of it, does Alfred—though his suggestion is not that his father give up the scheme, but that he accompany him to the new land and be his partner in re-establishing the family.

Alfred and Mr Dudley, as is their wont, then makes speeches at one another:

    “I cannot consent, my son,” his father would say: “you are destined to fill a higher station than that of an Australian settler: your uncle is willing, nay, anxious to continue to you the benefits of what is considered the best education, and to confer on you all the advantages arising from wealth. Amid our misfortunes it is an inexpressible consolation that you at least are spared the vicissitudes of our lot. We have not to mourn over the extinction of those ambitious parental aspirings with which we have been wont to illume your future path. You will not, my child, disappoint our hopes: you will yet fulfil all our fondest wishes: you will shine among the first stars of your country—the eloquent orator, the incorruptible legislator, the enlightened statesman, and perhaps the benefactor of your species.”
    “And will this,” exclaimed Alfred, “will this be fulfilling all your fondest wishes? Would you have me become the undutiful, cold-hearted son—the neglectful, selfish brother—who could see his parents and sisters, they who had always showered upon him all the tenderness and affection which give value to life, could calmly see them become exiles from their country, to seek a refuge where his protecting arm might shield them from danger—a home which his unwearied exertions might deprive of its desolation, while he should bask in all the luxuries bestowed by a capricious relative, and unfeelingly withheld from those nearest and dearest to him? Should I fulfil all your wishes by becoming such a wretch? Oh, my father!”—he hid his face in his hands, and sobbed aloud…

Well. His father’s desire that Alfred become an “eloquent orator” comes back to bite him, as after much more similar back-and-forth, Alfred’s arguments finally win out. The two begin to make their preparations for departure (including, as is mentioned in passing, investing some of their small resources in a starter flock of Merino sheep); while the womenfolk give up their ramshackle property and move in with some friends to save expenses.

The journey is slow and frustrating, five months in duration; and it is eleven months before the first letters from the emigrants reach France. (From this point, the narrative toggles between straight description and excerpts from Alfred’s letters.) Alfred, we find, has mixed feelings about his new surroundings:

“We had several fellow-passengers who, like ourselves, were voluntary exiles, seeking an asylum in that country to which the criminal is banished. There is certainly something unpleasant associated with Botany Bay—it always brings with it ideas of disgrace and coercion; and I should, for my own part, have been much better pleased if my father had decided on some other place of destination; but after all, this is nothing but prejudice, and I can be as virtuous and free in Australia, as if it were not contaminated by vice and misery…”

That attitude doesn’t stop Mr Dudley from acquiring a couple of convict labourers, we should note; and later descriptions of the immigrants’ living arrangements include assurances of strictly separate living-quarters—tents at a distance to start, and later a designated cottage, with the convicts banned from ever setting foot in the main house.

(The use of the c-word is mine, however: on the whole Porter prefers “servants”.)

The Dudleys do not linger in Sydney. On board they found new friends in Mr and Mrs Pelham, who likewise has been brought to emigration by their circumstances and by positive reports from friends; and the two pairs of newcomers acquire adjoining land grants, so that they may be company for each other and share their resources as they work to build their new homes, which are to the north of the main settlement (near Newcastle, in the region now known generally as the Hunter Valley or just “the Hunter”), which is accessible by boat up a river.

One of the most interesting things about this book is its attitude to manual labour—at a time when no man who wanted to be considered a gentleman would dream of soiling his hands with work of any kind (recall Sir Alfred’s horrified reaction to “plebeian modes of subsistence”). Porter, conversely, finds not only dignity in labour, but in self-sufficiency; and though they need the assistance of their, ahem, servants, both Mr Dudley and Alfred not only throw themselves into the hard physical exertions needed to get themselves established, they end up finding pleasure in the work itself, and take pride in their accomplishments:

    The first dawn of day saw them at their work, which they did not quit until night. Their industrious example and liberal remuneration induced their servants to extra diligence; and in a very short time some acres were cleared, enclosed, and planted. They had then time to think of their present wants, and of providing themselves with a more substantial habitation. For this purpose the father and son turned carpenters: assisted by their servants, they cut down trees, stripped the bark, and sawed the trunks into logs and planks. While thus so unremittingly employed, they were far from being unhappy. This may best appear from a letter Alfred, about this time, addressed to his sisters:
    “How often, my dear sisters, I wish you could take a peep at us; you would scarcely recognise your sunburnt father and brother in their linen jackets, busily engaged in their multifarious occupations… For the first month we were nothing but labourers in the field: we could then afford no time to the conveniences of life, and were forced to be content with the provisions with which we had plentifully supplied ourselves from Sydney. The flour and the Indian corn-meal were prepared à la hâte, merely as we required it; and we were right glad at night to stretch our weary limbs under the shelter of a tent…

Once the clearing and the planting are under control, however, Mr Dudley and Alfred turn their attention to the building of a real house, to accommodate their womenfolk. Their long-term plans envisage a new Dudley Manor, as far as it can be replicated; but sensibly they attack the work piecemeal, getting their absolute necessities in place first.

The Dudleys are assisted in all facets of their work not only by advice from the Pelhams, who have the property next door (and are also getting a house built; deliberately, front door to front door is about a mile), but the fleet of boat-borne pedlars who ply their trade on the river, bringing goods of all sorts upriver for sale, and for a commission carrying produce to Sydney, to the farmers’ agents. The Dudleys’ first crop of “maize” goes that way and sells for a good price, giving them a measure of financial security and enabling them to move to the next phase of land development and house-building.

We hear a great deal more about all this, and the Dudleys’ adjustment to their new life, but most of it we’ll take as read. A far more important plot-thread is now introduced, as Alfred – having gained more spare time after his father hires more servants, and more “servants”, to do the heavier physical work – begins to explore the terrain surrounding the property.  Out riding, he comes across an aboriginal woman who has injured her ankle, and her toddler; he helps them onto his horse and leads them to their encampment—which we now hear is some “two miles away”. We also learn that Alfred had seen some natives before this, though previously “they avoided him”.

Alfred’s rescue of the woman and child breaks down the barriers, however, and he is welcomed, thanked and invited to stay for dinner (at this stage, mostly through sign language, we gather). It is getting late, so Alfred declines; he also, against the tacit advice of the natives, insists that he will be fine on his own. Fortunately for him, a young native boy is sufficiently doubtful of his bush navigation skills as to follow him—and just as Alfred is contemplating his dilemma, the boy – called “Mickie”, whatever his name actually is – emerges from the falling darkness to lead him home.

The natives, Mickie in particular, become a constant presence in Alfred Dudley from this point on. Unsurprisingly, this aspect of the novel sometimes makes us clench our teeth: the natives fall all too easily into “serving” the white settlers; their speech, a mixture of real terms presumably culled from Robert Dawson and a form of pidgin English, contains the word “massa” far too frequently; and Alfred himself evinces a rather patronising attitude when recounting tales of the Dudleys’ black neighbours, Mickie in particular, in his letters.

However – and this is a very big HOWEVER – Porter’s subsequent depiction of the peaceful co-habitation of the black natives and white settlers, and the habits of friendly give-and-take that develop, is striking—and all the more so because, I gather, here she rejects the views of Dawson (who, like the majority of those in charge of settlement, considered the natives as just one more obstacle to be cleared off the land).

Mr Dudley even encourages the natives to live on his property, a touch unprecedented (and possibly even unique) in this sort of literature: Alfred finds the natives – with their “their inoffensive manners and kind-hearted dispositions” – an extremely pleasant change of company from the convicts. While Mickie’s attachment to Alfred has more of the “good and faithful servant” about it than we might like, the boys share adventures in which Mickie is able to show off-his bush-lore; and when various disasters afflict the settlers, it is usually the young native who saves the day with his quick thinking and local knowledge. Furthermore, Alfred later explicitly interdicts the use of the word “savage” by another young settler; and when this boy makes Mickie the butt of a practical joke, Mickie promptly pranks him back—and there is no suggestion that he is out of line in doing so. Towards the end of the novel there is mention of a new school, in which the white and black children were, without any distinction, admitted.

Along the way we get scenes like this:

    Mickie was now quite in his element, and was on the alert to do the honours of his native woods to me. Our first care was directed to the horses, which we tethered to a tree, and abundantly supplied with long grass. He next, using his knife with great dexterity, stripped some large pieces of bark from the trees, cut some forked sticks, and made a very comfortable bark covering, resembling the hood of a chaise, under which I could creep and lie as snug as under a curtained canopy; while daylight allowed us, we collected together a heap of dried leaves and branches, and soon made a glowing fire.
    Mickie supplied my little hut with plenty of long grass and soft bark from the tea-tree, and every arrangement seemed to be made, necessary for passing the night most comfortably. My companion, who knew every inch of the ground, now went in search of a narrow streamlet, which he recollected ran near this spot; he succeeded in bringing a small supply of water for the horses… He next produced a bag, which was suspended to his belt, and which had been filled with biscuit and bread by his friends at Newcastle; he poured the contents into my lap, and with an air as if he considered me his guest in the bush, apologised that he had nothing better to offer me…

Of course—there’s both idealism and naivety in all this from Porter; but the generosity of her vision, another face of the “human connection” that she emphasises so much in this book, is admirable.

Now— This may or may not be the best time to mention that Kate Grenville’s prize-winning historical novel, The Secret River, is curiously enough set at the same time and in exactly the same geographical area as Alfred Dudley, and includes a number of similar details including the river pedlars—though alas, its depiction of race relations is rather more realistic.

And Porter, too, allows a more realistic touch to intrude, when Alfred comes across Mickie being literally treed by an angry, gun-wielding white man:

“‘What is the matter?’ I exclaimed to the man; ‘why do you seek to hurt the boy?’ ‘He is a little black rascal,’ he gruffly replied, ‘and if he do not come down I will shoot him.’ ‘Don’t let him tchoot me, massa—don’t let him tchoot me,’ vociferated Mickie, still continuing his oscillations. ‘What has he done,’ said I, again addressing the man, ‘that you should seek a fellow-creature’s life?’ ‘Fellow-creature!’ he scoffingly answered; ‘that little twisting black thing my fellow-creature! If such vermin not only refuse to be useful but are mischievous likewise, they must be put out of the way.’ I know not whether it were indignation or prudence which restrained my tongue, and prevented me from telling him, how much superior in the scale of being was the kind-hearted Mickie to the brutal wretch before me…”

When the white man is reinforced by two others, Alfred decides that discretion is the better part of valour, and he and Mickie escape the scene om horseback (the others fire at them as they go). Alfred is not quite satisfied with himself for what he can’t help feeling is just running away, however—

“As to my father, he has nothing of the old Spartan in him, and would rather rejoice over my flight than weep over my grave…”

Another interesting touch then emerges. We’ve seen hints before of a changing societal attitude towards the treatment of animals, in books like Milistina and Family Pictures; here Sarah Porter takes it a step further, having Alfred reject animal killing as a measure of manliness, particularly killing for pleasure:

“Our dear mother, from my earliest childhood, so constantly and so forcibly impressed on my mind and heart the inhumanity of being cruel in sport, and of finding pleasure in the exercise of any pursuit which would cause pain to even the meanest creature that has life, that both my taste and my principles revolt from scenes of blood. I could never understand what amusement a man of any refinement could feel in witnessing the writhing agonies of his feathered victims, or in following the chase in the unequal contest of one poor terrified creature against a concourse of biped and quadruped assailants…”

This is another way in which Alfred Dudley separates itself from the vast majority of colonial fiction, which almost always included a hunting scene in which the (inevitably male) protagonist would prove himself by killing an elephant, a tiger or a bear, according to which colony we happened to be dealing with.

(Australia of course was always rather awkward in that respect, not having any large predators: no-one looks tough bagging a Tasmanian devil.)

Mind you, you could accuse Porter of having her cake and eating it, as in spite of a number of critical comments from Alfred, she does include a hunting scene that ends with him killing something—but only for the best of reasons (and note Porter’s choice of language). Mickie’s move to manhood requires that he hunt and kill a kangaroo on his own, and Alfred tags along purely as a spectator:

At length a herd of kangaroos did actually appear in sight, and we were off in various directions in pursuit, seeking to surround some of our prey and prevent their escape. Mickie and I kept together, and we had a long chase after one. Mickie begged me not to use my gun, as he wished to prove that he was a man to-day, and ‘to catch kangaroo all by himself.’ He was fired with ambition, and had set his heart on signalising himself in this important expedition. I promised to be an idle though admiring beholder of his prowess; and after much creeping, dodging, and watching, the poor terrified creature, hemmed in at all sides, took to the water. Mickie, first darting at it his spear, plunged in after it…

This is almost the last thing that Mickie ever does, and Alfred finally intervenes to save his friend’s life:

Now the fearful contest commenced: it seemed a trial of strength and dexterity. The creature caught hold of his assailant, hugged him close, and held him down with his head under water… Mickie’s strength appeared gradually lessening; and at length the kangaroo kept his head under water for so long a time, that I could no longer remain an inactive spectator: I levelled my gun, and shot it through the body. It was evidently mortally wounded; but yet little Mickie did not take advantage of this rescue, and floated, still fast locked in the embrace of his dying foe. I was alarmed, and instantly plunging into the water, with some difficulty disengaged him from the convulsive grasp of the kangaroo…

Mickie is more angry than grateful for the rescue, but is mollified when Alfred subsequently lets him use his gun (which I would have thought against the rules, but anyhoo).

Things continue to progress well for the Dudleys (unrealistically well: applying English farming methods to Australian conditions was exactly why many settlers crashed and burned, but once again, anyhoo), until Mr Dudley begins to make plans to bring his wife and daughters out. Initially he intends to travel back to Europe to escort them, though he frets over leaving Alfred alone for so many months; but he is forestalled when the female Dudleys seize an opportunity and set out on their own behalf, and the family is unexpectedly reunited.

A few months later the little society is expanded again by the arrival of Frederick and Emilia Egerton, the orphaned niece and nephew of Mrs Pelham. Frederick is a rackety young man, whose thoughtlessness causes trouble for his new companions on several occasions; but he learns a few stern lessons about responsibility, and has besides Alfred as a model:

“That Alfred, about whom my uncle and aunt used to fill their letters, whom you know I had predetermined to dislike, and moreover to quiz unmercifully, is indeed ‘a pattern fellow’ but not that pedantic prig which we understand by that term. Dislike him! Had I made a thousand vows to that effect, they would all have dissolved in thin air when I first saw his bright smile, and when, as he cordially shook my hand, he welcomed me home, and hoped we should be brothers. Quiz him! Not I, nor all the choicest fellows of our school could do that; he has a greater talent for quizzing than any one I ever knew. In this he has ‘a giant’s strength,’ though he rarely ‘uses it as a giant.’ He is the very prince of fun; but he seems to have an innate feeling where fun ends and mischief begins—there he makes a dead halt.”

Over the final stretch of Alfred Dudley, Sarah Porter turns her attention back to her social and economic theories. The Dudleys and the Pelhams thrive in their new environment, and the former almost forget their English connections—Sir Alfred having fallen silent since his heir made his choice to throw in his lot with his parents, after sending one last sneering letter to assure Alfred that though he might inherit the title, he will never get the property. But years later, a letter from a lawyer announces that, on his death-bed, Sir Alfred could not bring himself to separate title and fortune, and Alfred inherits the lot.

This event throws a pall over the happy little Australian community, as these events seem to demand Alfred’s return to England. Mr and Mrs Dudley are caught in a bind, dismayed at parting with their beloved son, but still nursing those early ambitions for him, as “the eloquent orator, the incorruptible legislator, the enlightened statesman” of his country.

I am reminded here of the amusing passage in Anna Karenina in which the hero of the novel that Anna is reading is described as, “Almost reaching his English happiness, a baronetcy and an estate.” This was thought at the time to be a wink at Anthony Trollope, but it serves as a summation of rather too much 19th century English fiction.

And of course—“a baronetcy and an estate” are exactly what Alfred is offered here. He has ideas of his own on the subject, however—one of which is that England isn’t his country any more.

We may or may not consider Sarah Porter’s ideas on education for the working classes or on race relations “radical”, but she does something in the final section of her novel that, writing in 1830, definitely raises eyebrows: she chooses wealth over birth; not in a grasping way – on the contrary – rather, she argues that birth only helps you; but if you have wealth, you are in a position to help others.

What’s interesting in all this is Porter’s gloomy contemporary view of England—and she was not wrong: at the time it was a country beset by social ills and, although it never succumbed to revolution as many other nations did around this time, it was closer to it than history tends to acknowledge; and indeed, the passing of the First Reform Bill is itself an acknowledgement of just how scared those in power were of what might happen.

How bad things were getting is suggested in the sense here of Porter washing her hands: she sees no immediate solution for the masses, only an escape for the few via emigration. Alfred’s final decision is to turn his back on his inheritance—rent out his property, put trustworthy agents in charge, and stay in Australia to work with his parents and the Pelhams on building a model community filled with the right sort of people:

…his benevolent mind delighted in planning vast schemes for removing a portion of human misery. Living already in comparative affluence and comfort, his wealth could but little increase the enjoyments of his family and himself, except by being expended in the blessed office of doing good to others. It is always a source of the most gloomy reflection to every feeling heart, that so many fellow-beings should appear to be inevitably consigned to irremediable poverty and wretchedness, and Alfred rejoiced in the idea that he should now perhaps be enabled to rescue a small portion of these from their cheerless and apparently hopeless lot; to effect this, he was desirous of obtaining as large a grant of land as he could, in the neighbourhood of his father’s location, with which he hoped to be the instrument for doing extensive good in proportion to the means employed…

(Note the emergence of that critical signifier of the novel of sensibility, benevolence; though later, note also Porter’s own qualifier, judicious. There speaks the economist.)

The plan agreed upon involves seeking out those of the middle classes and the landed gentry who, like Mr Dudley, have come a cropper through no fault of their own; but also those of the working- and farming-classes who have proven themselves to be “honest and industrious”. The Dudleys’ goal here is not only to give those who deserve it a second chance, but to raise the general moral tone of Australia.

For which I’m sure we thank them.

Alfred does have to travel to England to settle his inheritance. While there, he also sets this picking-and-choosing process in motion, inviting those who meet the criteria to emigrate, and arranging for local agents to take over the work. He then returns to Australia—and his parents have an epiphany:

As Mr Dudley contemplated this scene with gratified delight; as he reflected on the judicious benevolence which had converted so large a mass of misery and privation into so vast a sum of human happiness now collected around him, (happiness which but for Alfred would never have been called into existence, and the extension of which appeared to have no other boundary than the immense sea-girt tract of land which they inhabited,) he said, “Yes, my son, you have indeed more than fulfilled my most ambitious, fondest wishes; if you have renounced worldly honours, you possess far more valued distinctions. If you have not the admiration of the world, you have the love of a grateful multitude; while your dominion is more exalted than the most extravagant dreams of parental ambition could have desired—your sway is higher and purer than that of terrestrial sovereigns, for you reign in the hearts of the many whom you have rendered happy. Blessed reflection! Yes, you are indeed fulfilling the end of your being, and my cherished child is the benefactor of his species.”
 

 

27/10/2022

So where were we? (Part 3)

Well, this is a cheat, or at least the softest option—since of all the sub-sections of this blog, my examination of the roots of Australian fiction has travelled the least distance. However—

My posts in this area have chiefly addressed the arguments surrounding the various definitions of “first” – provenance vs publication – while we have also taken a look at a random piece of poetry, the earliest piece of fictional writing of any kind to be published here.

So far, our Australian bibliography looks like this—

The Beauty Of The British Alps (1825): written and published in England by Mary Leman Grimstone before the author’s journey to Tasmania; not strictly part of this series
The Van Diemen’s Land Warriors, or The Heroes Of Cornwall (1827): an anonymous poem satirising the failure of the Tasmanian authorities to deal with the local bushranger problem
Louisa Egerton; or, Castle Herbert (1829): written partially on shipboard and completed in Hobart by Mary Leman Grimstone, but sent to England for publication; set in England
The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land (1829): a collection of satirical sketches by Henry Savery, lampooning prominent Hobart citizens, which appeared in the Colonial Times before being published in book form
Quintus Servinton (1830 – 1831): by Henry Savery, the first novel written, published and (mostly) set in Australia

But as we all know, I can never take a step forward without taking one back; and there is another work from 1830 that I need to take a look at before we can actually make some progress.

It’s an odd work, written in England by an Englishwoman who never set foot in Australia, and dealing predominantly (although not always overtly) with English problems; but it is mostly set in Australia, and was certainly the first such piece of writing to be aimed at an audience that we would today call “young adult”.

Next up, then—

Alfred Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers by Sarah Porter.

Beyond that, we take a leap into the unknown. There are plenty of non-fiction works out there, particularly travel diaries and memoirs, and a surprising amount of poetry; but the dogma is that very little Australian fiction of any description was written over the next decade and a half. My next efforts here will be focused upon trying to determine whether that is true.

 

 

27/08/2021

Louisa Egerton; or, Castle Herbert (Part 2)


 
He had studied Louisa, as only the peculiar circumstances of her fortune could have permitted him to have done. He had seen her virtues, like the white blossom of the almond-tree, adorning the bare and leafless bough of withering poverty; he had seen her choose the path of difficulty, rather than accept the aids which would have made her way more easy, lest the breath of suspicion should sully any part of her conduct. He had seen her pass through the ordeal of distress, of insult, and of injury—and the sudden reverse of prosperity, of flattery, and of homage—unchanged through all;—in adversity undebased, in success uninflated; in suffering, meek and patient; in gratitude, deep and fervent; and hiding, under an apparent fortitude, the bleeding sensibility of her heart. No weak appeals, no permitted tears, sought to move interest and compassion; the convulsion that shook her soul, was only revealed by its influence on her frame; and her courage held her on her way, long after her strength was exhausted. Such a being comes not often from the hands of Nature—such a being was not easily resigned…

 

 

 

 

Be all this as it may, its provenance is the only Australian thing about Louisa Egerton…other than a tiny, throwaway detail towards the end, which we shall deal with in due course.

Set almost entirely amongst the English aristocracy, this is a rather serious, domestic / didactic novel: an improvement on The Beauty Of The British Alps in a literary sense, but generally a lot less fun. It is also overlong and frankly overwritten, full of moralising lectures and detailed descriptions and analyses of even minor characters; although its most exasperating touch is a lengthy – and unnecessary – interpolated narrative inserted right in the middle of its climax. (And there’s a second, shorter one only 50 pages from the end!)

In fact, it seems likely to me that the two-volume, 1830 edition of Louisa Egerton used Grimsone’s original, unedited (and already typeset) text, because this version of the novel is believably the work of a woman with a lot of time on her hands, but who hadn’t gotten around to doing any revision.

My suspicion is that while Grimstone’s first novel was popular with the public, it may have been criticised for its mixed characters and its general lack of didacticism: something which makes it appealing today, but would have been frowned upon in 1825. If so, Grimstone took the criticisms to heart: while she retains her penchant for mixed characters in Louisa Egerton, she does not this time go so far as having a hero and heroine who fit that description. On the contrary (as the quote above makes clear), Louisa is all but flawless; and so is the man who recognises her as his soulmate.

In such a long novel, this might have been hard to bear, particularly as Louisa’s perfections take the form of an absolute determination to immolate herself on the shrine of “duty” and “honour”. However, Grimstone leavens the dose in a number of ways, including the creation of an effective co-heroine in the Lady Alicia Herbert, whose outspokenness and force of character make a welcome contrast to Louisa’s sensitivity and shrinking silences. Furthermore, in what is a very crowded, multi-plotted story, Grimstone permits different characters to dominate the narrative at different times, with Louisa slipping into the background.

Now—what I don’t want is for this post to fall into the same trap as Louisa Egerton itself, and end up overlong and overwritten: this is a book whose importance in context is its background rather than its contents. So even at the risk of doing this novel some injustice – and despite my strictures, it is interesting and well-plotted – I’m going to try and keep to a single, summarising post.

(Yes, yes…I’m picturing the sceptical looks…)

For backstory, we are first given the history of Sir William Egerton, a man out of step with what Grimstone paints as a materialistic and rather licentious society by virtue of his benevolence and his interest in his fellow man. During one of his regular, incognito excursions to examine social conditions and help those who need it, Sir William encounters and befriends Lieutenant Wilton, a former soldier struggling with poverty, who lives in a tiny cottage with his devoted wife and two daughters. Sir William ends up falling in love with the younger daughter, Eva; and his proposal is viewed as a blessing from God by everyone but Eva herself: she does not love Sir William, and struggles to reconcile herself to what she is told is her duty to her family.

Not long before the wedding, Eva is thrown into the society of Sir William’s much-younger brother, Frederick, who is the baronet’s polar opposite: handsome, reckless and rather dissipated, and inclined to resent his brother’s authority—though he stays on terms with him, since he regularly needs his debts paid. Driven partly by real feeling, but partly also by a sense of satisfaction in cutting out the perfect Sir William, Frederick embarks upon a desperate secret courtship of Eva, which culminates in an elopement to the Continent.

The shock nearly destroys the Wiltons; it literally kills Mrs Wilton, whose dying injunction to her husband and Sir William is to forgive Eva and take her back, should she need it. However, much to everyone’s surprise, it turns out that Frederick has actually married her; and in his hurt and resentment, Sir William allows himself to interpret this as Eva being “all right”. He therefore takes no further steps to find the delinquents.

No real explanation is ever offered for the marriage that Sir William eventually does make to a beautiful and (again) much-younger woman, with whom he has little in common. Unlike her husband, Lady Egerton is worldly and ambitious, the latter becoming focused in the one child of the marriage, a daughter called Julia.

The one point upon which Sir William and Lady Egerton agree is their hope for Julia’s marriage to Eardley Herbert, the young Earl of Elville, though their motivations are quite different. With the former, it is a matter of friendship with the earl’s late father; with the latter, her dream of seeing her daughter at the heights of society. Lady Egerton having a fair grasp of her wilful daughter’s character, Julia has been kept in ignorance of her parents’ plans, so as not to put her off. However, we later learn that Lord Elville had Julia pressed upon him as his bride when his father was dying—which may or may not account for his subsequent dilatoriness in returning to England and taking up his new honours.

While being kept waiting in this manner, Lady Egerton has made it her business to court a friendship with the Lady Alicia Herbert, Elville’s sister and a relative of her own.

These two women are perhaps Grimstone’s most interesting characters, being almost mirror images of one another. Both are beautiful and aristocratic, and accustomed to leading their society and having their own way; but under pressure, different aspects of their personalities come to the fore. Lady Egerton has some good qualities, but her most prominent traits are her pride and her ambition, which finally subsume her better nature.

Lady Alicia, meanwhile, has a somewhat impatient, domineering nature and, in reaction to her disappointment in the very society in which she moves, she metes out fairly harsh treatment to anyone who earns her dislike or disapproval. She also does more damage than she knows or intends through her determination to be witty at others’ expense.

Here is Lady Alicia as seen by the susceptible Cecil Dudley and the misanthropic Major Selton:

    “Is she not a magnificent creature? What an air she has!—what intelligence in her large dark eye!—what archness in the expression of her beautiful mouth!”
    “All this I grant you,” cried the Major, “but she’s a devil for all that. She moves in society as Boadica in her war chariot through the Roman legion, armed at all points, and dealing wounds and death wherever she comes. At best she is a polished Amazon. Satire is the science of her life. She has all the arrogance of high rank, and all the insolence of superior intellect.”

And the Major is not wrong; though he fails to add (probably having had no experience of that side of her) that Lady Alicia also possesses a wealth of generosity, and is capable of great kindness. She is a shrewd judge of character, and her singling out of Louisa for her rare friendship says much about both young women—as does Alicia’s polite but determined avoidance of Julia, despite Lady Egerton’s efforts to create an intimacy between them. She is also devoted to her brother, Eardley.

At this early stage of the novel, however, we see more of Lady Alicia’s bad points, with the narrator both conceding and expanding upon Major Selton’s strictures: something which gives weight to his opinion when he and Cecil Dudley turn their attention to the Egerton girls:

    “They are now standing together, and we have the means of comparison. Is there not something in her countenance which speaks to the soul, and which Julia wants?”
    “Much of that is to be attributed to the circumstances in which she is placed,” said Cecil; “recent and true sorrow has yet left its traces on her cheek, and like a veil softens every charm it shades. She is new to the scene in which she is introduced, and that adds the sweetness of timidity to a form naturally graceful.”
    “There may be something in that,” cried Major Selton; “yet I cannot but perceive a distinction beyond what you have remarked. In height and figure they are almost the same, but, in countenance, Sir William’s niece has the advantage of his daughter. She has more sense, more sweetness, although, from her paleness and want of excitement, she is less striking.”
    “Brilliancy, I should say, was Julia’s characteristic,” said Cecil.
    “It is so,” replied his friend; “the consequence of a highly polished surface…”

Recently, Lady Egerton has acquired a parasite in the form of Emma Dickson, a connection of hers who, after much persistence and pushing, has managed to get a foot in the door at Sir William’s and is determined to keep it there no matter what. In pursuit of this end, Miss Dickson sets about making herself indispensable to Lady Egerton—and she is not slow to perceive that she can best do so by furthering her ambitions for Julia, and conversely by attacking the person who, all unwittingly, poses a threat to their accomplishment.

Louisa Egerton’s arrival in the narrative is low-key and indirect: the reader first hears of her during a nasty conversation between Emma Dickson and her own connections, the Browns (who she in turn patronises as Lady Egerton patronises her); and soon a whisper is abroad that Louisa is really Sir William’s illegitimate daughter: something that, though she never knows of it, will cause her great grief in the long run.

The rumour is perhaps bolstered by the warmth with which Sir William takes his niece to his heart. Much neglected by his worldly wife and daughter, remorseful over his dismissal of the erring Frederick and Eva, and the latter’s early death, and learning that Louisa has fled to him from solitude and destitution, Sir William finds her both a consolation and a means of making amends for past errors.

Accepted into the Egerton household and placed on an equal footing with her cousin Julia, Louisa is introduced to London high society and finds herself becoming involved in the tangled interactions of the Egertons’ circle.

Much of the interest of Louisa Egerton lies in the fact that it is a post-Regency or pre-Victorian novel – whichever term you prefer – Williamite? – and evinces a more pragmatic attitude than would be required of a later work, particularly one from a female author. Mary Leman Grimstone manages to have it both ways here: she presents Louisa Egerton and Lord Elville as examples of what should be, while filling her pages with a realistically variegated cast of characters moving in a society that, whatever lip-service it pays to convention, shows in practice a rather flexible morality.

For example— One of the most significant of this novel’s many subplots involves Sir Harry and Lady Arden. The latter, having been married for her money at the age of only fifteen, has since been cast adrift by a husband who evinces his dislike and contempt for her at every opportunity, while having a good time on her money and almost openly pursuing Julia Egerton—although to what end, no-one dares think. Sir Harry has in fact fallen sincerely in love with Julia, and his hatred of his wife rises in parallel with the growth of his illicit passion. He devotes much of his time to running interference between Julia and any man who seems a viable marital prospect: a fulltime job, as Julia’s own energies are devoted to attracting admiration and flattery.

Society shakes its head, but of course does nothing so forthright as closing its doors to Sir Harry – not even the Egertons forbid him their house – and in fact, if anything, sympathy is rather with him: the drooping, unhappy Lady Arden being viewed more or less as the skeleton at the feast.

An emotional support group eventually gathers around Lady Arden – rather belatedly, we might think – led by Louisa and Lady Alicia; and one of its members is Cecil Dudley, who is presented at the outset as a highly susceptible and rather feckless young man, but who proceeds to fall seriously in love with the neglected wife—and to an extent vice-versa, though Grimstone is more skittish about delineating the married woman’s state of mind. Their struggle to do the right thing is placed side-by-side with Sir Harry’s habitual libertinism and his manoeuvring pursuit of Julia, and presented not just without judgement, but with real understanding. The situation is even depicted as the making of Dudley, calling forth depths in his character that no-one knew he had.

But while subplots proliferate, the heart of Louisa Egerton remains the at-first unwitting and then acknowledged rivalry that develops between Julia and Louisa—or more correctly, the growing resentment of Julia and Lady Egerton at the threat posed by Louisa to their ambitions.

These do not take quite the same direction. Determined upon a marriage between Julia and Lord Elville, Lady Egerton does not, at first, consider Louisa any danger to her plans. When she first arrives in London, she is in mourning for her father and worn down by her struggles with poverty: subdued and retiring, she seems without any capacity to rival her cousin. However:

…the more she saw of Louisa, the more reason she discovered to fear her powers of attraction. Her beauty was of that dangerous kind, that grows upon the beholder; her artlessness, her unconsciousness, awakened no suspicion, and the unalarmed, unguarded heart found itself taken, ere it knew it had been touched. Her intellectual resources, the extent of which her ladyship did not, as yet, even pretend to guess, were to her beauty what the sun is to the world, giving it lustre and animation; and as the cloud of sorrow wore away, of course they would break forth with full spendour. Louisa was, evidently, the modest possessor of much intellectual treasure, and many natural advantages, which intimacy must inevitably elicit, and they would all come forth with the more powerful effect, from being unexpected. Julia, beautiful and brilliant as she was, had much to fear from such a competitor, especially as it was generally understood that the Earl of Elville was no man of fashion, but highly cultivated and a lover of the arts.

Lady Egerton is particularly concerned by Lady Alicia having attached herself to Louisa: she knows how close are the brother and sister, and fears that Alicia’s influence may turn Lord Elville from Julia to her cousin. She begins to interfere in the friendship, when she can, and her manner to Louisa becomes cold and repulsive, causing the sensitive girl to shrivel and withdraw—which serves her aunt’s purpose perfectly.

Lord Elville’s tardiness in returning to England has been a frustration to Lady Egerton, but now she welcomes it. It occurs to her that if she can get Louisa married off, or at least engaged, before the earl does arrive, it will be a danger circumvented. Immediately to hand for her purpose she finds Major Selton: though a misanthrope rather than a misogynist, the Major has no opinion of the female sex; but Louisa has become to him the exception that proves the rule; and he finds his awkward courtship being given far more assistance than he ever anticipated—much to its object’s dismay.

However, perhaps Lady Egerton’s scheming and cynicism are best illustrated in the way she tolerates the attentions of Sir Harry Arden to Julia:

It would appear strange to the eye of common observation, that Lady Egerton should be so regardless or indifferent to the Baronet’s devotion to to her daughter, and which, if paid by one likely to have interfered with her scheme of making her a Countess, would have called all her vigilance into play. But her ladyship looked upon it in no other light than the harmless gallantry natural to the Baronet’s character, and consequent of Julia’s beauty, while it acted as a sort of safeguard to the approach of admirers less safe, she thought, and more sincere; thus, so long as her own views were undisturbed she suffered her daughter to imbibe the poison of flattery from the unhallowed lips of a libertine…

But Grimstone isn’t done: she follows up this shocking glimpse into the workings of Lady Egerton’s mind by revealing that Julia is every bit her mother’s daughter:

This laxity of principle might have carried its own punishment, but Julia was as cold as she was vain, and, intent upon inspiring passion in all, she was incapable of feeling it for any…

The Egerton household acquires another member when Stafford Monteith is placed under Sir William’s guardianship for the final months of his minority. The young man is handsome, wealthy and high-principled, having been raised away from the pernicious influence of society; and Sir William, having taken his measure, begins plotting a marriage between him and Louisa.

Louisa, indeed, finds herself falling in love with the accomplished young man—and suffers the mortification of having her inclination become public property when Emma Dickson brazenly invades her room and her diary. Her awareness that her secret is in another’s keeping causes the hypersensitive Louisa to start avoiding Monteith, almost to the point of rudeness; and he, having initially been drawn to her, is offended by what he perceives as her fickleness—or coquetry. (He, too, has heard the circulating rumours about Louisa’s birth…)

Monteith’s misinterpretation of Louisa’s behaviour is perhaps not to be wondered at: for all his perfections, the very nature of his upbringing has left him inexperienced with women; and in the wake of Louisa’s apparent defection he proves it by falling in love with Julia.

She, of course, has automatically turned her batteries upon the handsome newcomer—only to end up hoist with her own petard when she discovers herself developing some real feeling for the first time in her career of vanity and ego-stoking. Monteith’s passionate sincerity, so different from the calculated flattery and game-playing she is accustomed to, catches Julia off-guard; and though her instinct is to draw the situation out, she is hurried into giving him a promise of sorts.

And more petard-hoisting follows, when Lady Alicia also finds herself falling for Monteith.

In expressing her low opinion of her society, Alicia has certainly never spared the opposite sex, to the point of openly declaring her intention never to marry. She maintains her position in vigorous argument against Louisa and Lady Arden, both of whom cherish a belief in an ideal of love:

    “Hush! hush!” cried Louisa, “we must not allow you to abuse one half of the world at this rate; it is not generous, as they are not here to defend themselves.”
    “Oh! believe me, I am no back-biter,” rejoined her ladyship; “I do not think there is one of the race can accuse me of ever having said a civil thing of or to them.”
    “Well, that is certainly meritorious,” replied Louisa, laughing.
    “It is consistent, at least,” said Lady Arden; “but I cannot subscribe to your opinions. You are robbing the world of its sunshine, if you destroy our faith in the existence of a confiding and devoted love—you are robbing life, at least youth, of its poetry, if you deprive it of romantic feeling.”

But Lady Alicia is having none of it. In particular, these views coming from Lady Arden, whose dutiful efforts to “love” her appalling husband she has witnessed, along with the constant humiliation that requite those efforts, rouses her to complete exasperation:

    “It is the folly of most women, and of none more than women of genius, to heighten, to quicken their feelings to a morbid excess—to lay both mental and physical strength prostrate at the shrine of emotion—and for what? For the fraction of a passion prostituted to hundreds—for a love, pure, original, and undivided, never warmed the tide that rushes through the heart of man…
    “And for whom do you make this sacrifice or moral and mental energy?—For a being, who has no superiority except in vice, and whose universal employment is to degrade you to his own level; who, with every weakness common to both natures, pretends a proud exemption in his own person, and has the impudence to pretend to pity their existence in yours. Colleges have been endowed, and some learning thrust into his dull head; exercises have been invented, and they have invigorated his robust limbs; in these, consist his triumph, and his means of triumph; while ye,” and, as she looked at Louisa and Lady Arden, she apostrophised the whole sex—
        “‘Ye would be dupes and slaves,
        ‘And so ye are.'”

But in Stafford Monteith, raised outside this system, high-principled, clean-handed and with the strength of character to avoid the lures and traps laid out for any young man of wealth, Lady Alicia finds her own exception that proves the rule. She nurses no hope for herself, however, having seen with her usual insight Monteith’s hesitation between the Egerton girls: sympathising with his initial attraction to Louisa, deploring his surrender to Julia—for him even more than for herself.

Alicia’s private disappointment has a curious effect upon her character. In conjunction with her shift to spending less time in general society, and more with Louisa, Lady Arden and her aunt, the Duchess of Ancaster, she begins to set aside her sarcastic and domineering manner, showing the better nature that lurks behind it and softening to a kinder, more generally pleasing manner that is both a surprise and a relief to those who come into contact with her.

Meanwhile, Sir William has confided to Lady Egerton his hopes for Louisa and Monteith. The latter, still determined to get Louisa married off as quickly as possible, but unfussed as to who serves her purpose, is content to have it so—although Sir William’s encomiums and his evident preference for Louisa over Julia – or at least, his higher opinion of Louisa’s character – arouses her resentment and, for the first time, some suspicion that those persistent rumours might be true. Nor does Louisa endear herself to her aunt by receiving – and rejecting – a proposal of marriage from Lord Harwell, the heir apparent to a dukedom: Lady Egerton is suddenly painfully aware that her own daughter has never received any comparable offer. Though she has so far done her duty as Louisa’s relative and hostess, from this point Lady Egerton’s heart hardens cruelly against her.

By this time the London season is over: the Egertons have withdrawn to a villa at Chiswick, and Lady Alicia and the Ancasters to her house at Windsor, within visiting distance: Alicia hardly acknowledges to herself the reason for her preference for Windsor over Herbert Castle, her brother’s seat in Devonshire, where she usually passes the summer.

It is Sir William who is summoned to Herbert Castle. Having accepted management of the estate when Lord Elville and his father left England for the benefit of the latter’s health (unavailing, as it turned out), with the young earl’s failure to return he has continued to oversee the estate; and now receives a letter from the steward that convinces him his presence is required.

His announcement of his intended departure prompts Stafford Monteith to request a private audience. The conversation that follows is mortifying to both, with Sir William’s own plans leading him to assume Monteith is referring to Louisa, and enthusiastically giving his consent—and Monteith learning that the Earl of Elville has (as it were) got dibs. In exchange from an assurance from Sir William that Julia will not be compelled, a promise is wrung from the anguished young man that he will say nothing of this arrangement. Unable to deal with his disappointment, he makes a long-intended visit to his mother and sister an excuse to withdraw from Chiswick.

Word of the situation has already reached Lady Egerton via Emma Dickson (who was eavesdropping when Monteith and Julia made their mutual declarations), and she takes steps of her own by encouraging Sir William to carry Julia away to Herbert Castle—partly to ensure her ongoing separation from Monteith, partly on the assumption that when Lord Elville does return, that will be his first destination. Sir William agrees, and suggests taking Louisa too: her struggle with her own emotions and the misery of her separate persecutions by Major Selton and Emma Dickson are undermining her health, as her uncle has seen without grasping the cause. Lady Egerton, however, has plans of her own for Louisa, and insists that she stay behind. There is, consequently, an unhappy parting between Louisa and Sir William, with the latter conscious that his own health is none too good.

In the absence of Sir William, matters go swiftly from bad to worse for Louisa—the first intimation of dreadful storms to come a wholly unexpected letter from her step-mother.

We get Louisa’s back-story here: her parents’ peripatetic, hand-to-mouth existence, her mother’s early death, and Frederick Egerton’s disastrous second marriage to a scheming widow, whose vicious enmity Louisa secured to herself by trying to open her infatuated father’s eyes before it was too late. Soon enough, the new Mrs Egerton showed her true colours, bleeding her husband dry and then leaving him to suffer the consequences of her actions in a French debtors’ prison, while she herself parlayed her new surname into a measure of social success.

Far from having any hope of freeing her father, in order to support both him and herself Louisa was driven to sell the few pieces of jewellery she inherited from her mother. She was fortunate, in finding a goldsmith both sympathetic and honest, and who gave her a fair price for her trinkets; and it was during one of these transactions that she caught the attention of a young Englishman who happened to be passing through Dieppe. Learning the details of the situation from the goldsmith, the young man visited the Egertons in their prison and, introducing himself as Mr Leslie, offered his assistance.

Overcoming the proud resistance of the Egertons, Leslie paid Frederick’s debts and had him removed to lodgings. However, it was soon clear that his physical and emotional sufferings had irreparably damaged his health.

Louisa’s subsequent nursing of her dying father was made only more difficult by the reappearance of Mrs Egerton, demanding her rights purely to supplant and hurt Louisa, and attempting to put an end to Leslie’s help via her sneering innuendos as to what he was getting in return for his money. Remorse setting the seal on his collapse, Frederick did the only thing he could do by way of reparation to his daughter, sending a last letter to his long-estranged brother and begging a refuge for her.

Frederick’s death was the signal for Mrs Egerton’s departure, with Louisa left to manage her father’s burial—and to find some way of keeping herself while waiting with trepidation for Sir William’s response. With her step-mother’s ugly taunts ringing in her ears, and now without even nominal chaperonage, Louisa shrank from any more of Leslie’s assistance, however delicately offered; and in the end accepted a loan instead from the elderly goldsmith to pay for her journey to England—slipping secretly away and leaving no trail for the dismayed Leslie.

Mrs Egerton, we now learn, is a connection of the wealthy but vulgar Stubbs family – who are connections of the Browns – who (you may remember) are connections of Emma Dickson: and so she learns that her much-hated step-daughter is living in luxury and rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy. Mrs Egerton sees in the situation a double opportunity: the chance for a little shoulder-rubbing of her own, while continuing to torment Louisa.

The arrival of her step-mother’s letter, in which Mrs Egerton declares her intention of exerting the authority of her position over her, is a blow that, in her weakened condition, Louisa cannot withstand: she collapses. Recognising that she is seriously, even dangerously, ill, Lady Egerton “acquits her conscience” by summoning the best medical attendance; however—

…Lady Egerton retired to mediate on the measures she should adopt as to Sir William, Immediate information on such a subject he would expect—yet such she had no intention of transmitting. She argued, with a great deal of philosophy, that, in the event of Louisa’s death, she might urge that she had not deemed the danger so imminent… The knowledge that Louisa was, in all human probability, on her death-bed, would, she felt convinced, call Sir William to her side, perhaps leaving Julia in the inefficient charge of other people; or, if bringing her along with him, at least it would be to the neglect of the Elville interest…

The situation is complicated by a series of letters intimating Sir William’s inability to deal with his wilful daughter, and urgently requiring the presence of his wife and niece. Lady Egerton is still pondering the matter when she meets her sister-in-law—recognising at once a likely co-conspirator.

Matters take another serious turn when a frantic message arrives from Herbert Castle, announcing that Sir William has suffered a paralytic stroke and is not expected to live. Lady Egerton makes immediate plans for departure, resigning Louisa to the tender mercies of her step-mother, to whom is confided the plan to force her into marriage with Major Selton. Mrs Egerton is also granted full authority in the Chiswick villa.

Louisa recovers from her own illness, though when confronted by the twin horrors that await her she sincerely regrets doing so:

    “Oh! you must shake off this melancholy,” rejoined Mrs Egerton, with offensive pleasantry; “we must talk of weddings, not burials. You will sleep with as much security, and less cold, in the arms of Major Selton, who is dying to throw himself once more at your feet.”
    Description can do little justice to the expression of Mrs Egerton’s eye.—There was cunning, malice, and a cast of levity…

Unexpectedly, though she is still very physically weak, the need to deal with her step-mother goes some way towards snapping Louisa out of her funk.

And something else happens at this point that, in terms of 19th century literature generally, is worth highlighting. We have spoken before, chiefly in the context of Catherine Cuthbertson’s Santo Sebastiano, of the reluctance – particularly on the part of male authors – to concede that a woman might love more than once. Female authors tended to be more realistic. In Cuthbertson’s novel, it is a matter of a young women getting over an unworthy man. Here we get something even more pragmatic: as she deals with her various physical and emotional crises, Louisa discovers that her inclination for Stafford Monteith has burnt itself out. Though the language used is much more high-flown, the implication is that she has had a first crush, and gotten over it: something that, despite its absolute naturalness, I can hardly recall from any other book of this period.

In practical terms, however, this leaves Louisa with one less weapon in her armoury, when it comes to holding off Major Selton—armed, conversely, with the approval and encouragement of Lady Egerton, Mrs Egerton and Emma Dickson, who between them have puffed him up to such an extent, Louisa’s coldness does nothing to dissuade him. Besides, once they are married— The major, as he tells Louisa ominously, is a great believer in “the husband’s prerogative”…

Louisa’s resistance is sorely tried by the receipt of a letter from Lady Egerton informing her of her uncle’s parlous condition, and tacitly reminding her that she is a destitute orphan living on her relatives’ charity: the implication is clear enough:

    There was then no refuge for her, but a marriage with one she did not love! No other alternative, to preserve her from her iniquitous step-mother! Lady Egerton had evinced a heartlessness—a determination to abandon her, which left her neither a hope or a desire to receive the smallest aid from her hands. Could she so far humble herself as to entreat her ladyship’s continued protection, she felt it would but be to meet repulse…
    To make up her mind to some decided plan of conduct, was now necessary. The conflict was great—the decision difficult. Whether to cast herself upon a yet untried world, or to accept the offer of Major Selton, equally presented ample field for apprehension…

Louisa is still hesitating painfully when the decision is made for her. During the night, the villa catches fire. Louisa has a chance to save herself, but she stops in a effort to wake and save her maid. This takes enough time that the two are all but trapped, and it is only through the efforts of Major Selton that the two are saved. After this, Louisa feels that she has no choice, and agrees to an engagement; though she never succeeds in disguising her indifference and reluctance. She also resists the demand for an immediate marriage, with which she is immediately assaulted.

Meanwhile, Sir William is making a recovery of sorts, although his intellect and his memory are impaired: Louisa, when they are at length reunited, understands that she has nothing to hope from his protection. Her father’s situation is more or less forcing a discontented Julia to behave, but she is pining for society. Seeing this, Miss Dickson sets to work on her—in the first place pointing out the likelihood of a permanent withdrawal from the great world as the wife of Stafford Monteith, who has even – quelle horreur! – mentioned the church as a possible future career.

Having sown her seed, Dickson then for the first time informs Julia of her parents’ intentions—following up with a word-picture of the endless glories that await the beautiful young Countess of Elville. Needless to say, her promise to Monteith slips rapidly from Julia’s memory…

Amusingly, Julia here turns out to be more of a pragmatist than even Lady Egerton ever realised: if only she’d known, she laments, she would have sucked up to Lady Alicia like her mother always wanted!

Speaking of Lady Alicia— She has been off the scene for some time, nursing and comforting the Duchess of Ancaster, who lost a baby; but now she comes roaring back. Lady Egerton made it her business to keep Louisa’s illness quiet; Alicia has heard of Sir William’s, but assumed, naturally enough, that Louisa was in Devonshire with the rest of the family. It is the news of the fire at the villa, however, that results in Alicia turning up at Castle Herbert. She is furious at Louisa’s abandonment in London, appalled by her engagement to Major Selton, and has knowledge of the true character of Mrs Egerton: and on all three counts she reads Lady Egerton the riot act.

The same conversation, unpleasant though it is in most respects, offers Lady Egerton a balm in the announcement of Lord Elville’s expected arrival. Lady Alicia’s passionate championing of Louisa still alarms her, however, and it is this that prompts her to try and force an immediate marriage.

Lady Alicia returns to London and carries Louisa off from under the nose of the furious Mrs Egerton, inviting her to stay with her at the Ancasters’, until the arrival of her brother: they may then travel to Castle Herbert together. This, as Alicia well knows, is in direct defiance of Lady Egerton’s own plans for Louisa: she intends sending Emma Dickson for her, and for the two to travel with Major Selton; further rivetting Louisa’s bonds with a public display of their connection.

And Eardley Herbert does indeed make his much-belated appearance upon the scene, to be greeted rapturously by his sister, and welcomed warmly by his uncle and his guests.

At this critical moment, Louisa enters the room—and all but faints:

    “What, my dear Louisa, my dear Eardley, is the meaning of this?” cried Lady Alicia, as soon as they were alone.
    “Spare me—spare Miss Egerton any inquiry now, my Alicia,” cried his lordship; “I have had the pleasure of knowing her long since, although, perhaps,” he added, taking Louisa’s hand, “she did not know me so well…”

Lord Elville is, of course, that “Mr Leslie” who came to Louisa’s rescue in Dieppe—and who then fell in love with her, despite the reluctant promise wrenched from him by his dying father, with regard to Julia. It is the latter that has kept him away; and, as he later confesses to Alicia, he has returned to England now only because word reached him through channels that Julia was engaged to Stafford Monteith, and he thought the coast was clear.

Instead of which, he finds Julia not only apparently free but pantingly eager—to be Countess of Erville, at least—and Louisa engaged to a man for whom she self-evidently cares nothing:

    “I must not listen to the dreams of your fancy,” he cried, smilingly.
    “No—trust to something better,: she rejoined, “trust to my agency, my ardent and devoted interest in your happiness. Give me, Eardley, that which I covet beyond all else—your confidence; repose in mine the secrets of your bosom, and see whether or not I can minister to your malady.”
    “Such a confidence,” replied his lordship, relapsing into gloom, “might make you a partner of my grief, of my regrets—no more. There is a valedictory decree gone out against me, and the seal of death has made it immutable.”
    “Eardley, you talk enigmas, which I vainly endeavour to expound. Hear me speak plainly and intelligibly, and, if wrong, contradict me. You love Louisa Egerton—and she is worthy of even your love—you find her engaged, by some fatuity, to one whom her heart abhors—you feel it a point of honour not to step in between the accepted lover and affianced bride. But this hateful marriage shall never be—so I have this very morning told Lady Egerton—Louisa shall be free—shall be yours.”
    Various and deep was the emotion expressed in Lord Elville’s countenance, as he listened to his passionate and ardent sister. When she became silent, he shook his head, and after a pause cried in a deep voice—
    “What shall it avail me that she is free—when I am not? When I arrived here, it was under the impression that Julia was on the point of marriage!”

But Julia, it turns out, is not the main stumbling-block. Having made a fatal misstep at the outset in her dealings with Elville, upon his arrival at Castle Herbert – showing herself in full dress regalia and turning upon him all her charms, flirting and laughing while her father is critically ill upstairs – Julia soon recognises both Elville’s indifference to her and his preference for Louisa, and recoils from him in mortified self-love.

Ultimately, it is Louisa – caught, as Alicia accuses her brother of being, “on a point of honour” – who is the real problem: she simply will not help herself, in spite of Elville’s pleading and Alicia’s arguments. She has given her word to Major Selton—and having done so, she has given up the struggle. Her health, never fully re-established, is failing again; and she has resigned herself to an early marriage and an early death; the one, we gather, to follow naturally from the other…

Well. Having gotten her characters into this appalling mess, Mary Leman Grimstone then spends another two hundred and fifty pages getting them out out of it again – some of them – dispensing catastrophe and retribution with a liberal hand, and happy endings a bit more sparingly.

None of which I intend to get into…with the exception of this revelation, which comes on the very last page of Louisa Egerton:

An Australian novel, remember?—

Mrs Egerton was suddenly arrested in an impudent career of successful imposition, by the appearance of her first husband, whom she had erroneously supposed dead; but who, having fulfilled his sentence of transportation, returned to his country, little amended by the discipline he had experienced…

 

18/08/2021

Louisa Egerton; or, Castle Herbert (Part 1)

I have previously discussed, with respect to Henry Savery and Mary Leman Grimstone, the difficulties associated with bestowing the title of “the first Australian novel” upon any one work.

While there is no doubt that Savery’s Quintus Servinton was the first novel to be published in Australia – and the first also have a significant part of its content set there – this work has a challenger for the title of first novel to be written in Australia, in Grimstone’s Louisa Egerton; or, Castle Herbert (also known as Louisa Egerton: A Tale From Real Life).

The matter is complicated, and has been the subject of much debate. Michael Roe, an Australian academic and historian (now retired), is the leading expert in this area. Roe’s own research, conducted while he was Professor of History at the University of Tasmania, was later supplemented by that of Peter Arnold, a Melbourne-based bibliophile. In 2016, Roe published what he called “Final Words On Mary Leman Grimstone” in Volume 63 of the Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, in which he summarised his own and Arnold’s conclusions.

According to the two men’s account of the matter, the success of Grimstone’s first novel, The Beauty Of The British Alps, in 1825, prompted a publisher (who they assume to be George Virtue) to contact her, requesting a follow-up work. Grimstone had been married and widowed in what seems to have been rapid succession, and may have written her first novel (she was also a poet and essayist) either to distract herself, or as a way of earning money. She appears to have begun her second work while still in England, but made so little progress that, when asked about it by her sister Louisa, she had not even thought of a title. (Is this how / why she named her heroine? – or because that Louisa was being left behind?)

In September of 1825, Grimstone embarked with her second sister, Lucy Adey, and her brother-in-law on the Cape Packet, bound for Tasmania, where Stephen Adey was an official with the Van Diemen’s Land Company. The novel that would become Louisa Egerton was written partly on board, but chiefly during Grimstone’s time in Hobart—and, it seems, in fits and starts. Having come into possession of a second edition of the novel, which was published in three volumes by George Virtue in 1830, Peter Arnold discovered that it carried a preface by Grimstone in which she states:

“…the volumes were written at very distant intervals and, as they were thrown off…were transmitted to England, and without my knowledge, printed as they came to hand… On my late arrival from a remote country, with the completion of my task, and purposing to review the whole, I found that all opportunity of so doing was gone bye…”

The publishing history of Louisa Egerton is therefore complicated in itself. Evidently, a first edition was published piecemeal in 1829, as George Virtue received Grimstone’s “transmissions”. It is not clear whether there was a misunderstanding between the two, or whether Virtue went ahead against her wishes and/or their agreement. However, when Grimstone returned to England in 1829, and discovered how her manuscript had been handled, she negotiated for revision rights, and in May of 1830, a second, revised edition of her novel appeared, carrying the explanatory preface.

But there is an additional, rather confusing aspect to the publication history of Louisa Egerton, which is that the copy of the novel held by most of those libraries that do hold it – and the source of the GoogleBooks ebook that is today the only practical (or semi-practical) way of reading it – is a two-volume edition clearly dated 1830.

So where did this come from? I’m inclined to wonder whether, confronted by an angry author (who, perhaps, he did not expect to actually return from Australia), George Virtue placated her via a limited, three-volume edition carrying her revisions—but made the book generally available via a less-expensive, unrevised, two-volume edition. The fact that the latter is available today, whereas only two copies of the former survive (one of them, that held by Peter Arnold), would seem to support this; and if so, this would have the side-effect of increasing the novel’s “Australian-ness”.

Now, unclear as some of this is, there at least seems no doubt either as to when Louisa Egerton was written—or, more importantly, where; and I am inclined to accede to Michael Roe’s description of the work as the first novel of Australian provenance.

It also turns out that a copy of the two-volume, 1830 edition of Grimstone’s novel is held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney—and the very fact that it is held further supports the “provenance” argument: someone, at some point, recognised Louisa Egerton as “an Australian novel”.

And these discoveries being made in those long-ago, fondly remembered days when it was actually possible to visit a library (sigh), I went in to take a look at the book for myself, to see if the text offered any more clues to its origins.

Broadly the answer is “no”; but three details are worth highlighting: (i) this version carries the second-edition title of Grimstone’s first novel, which was altered upon its re-release to Love At First Sight; or, The Beauty Of The British Alps; and (ii) it reproduces the illustrations included in the first, 1829 release, a frontispiece of Grimstone among them, which the three-volume version of the novel does not. (These also appear in the GoogleBooks edition.)

And (iii)—the book’s spine incorrectly calls its title / heroine Louise!—

 

  

   

 

08/08/2021

How you do go on!

I noted in a previous post the 108-word sentence with which Catherine Cuthbertson opens Rosabella; or, A Mother’s Marriage; but that effort pales beside the one she produced in summing up the fate of one of her characters in Forest Of Montalbano: a 251-word masterpiece built on a framework of one colon, three semi-colons, and three dashes.

It’s not quite up to Sydney Owenson’s astonishing closing passage for The Wild Irish Girl, nor Henry Neville’s anti-climactic conclusion to The Perplex’d Prince; but it still made me giggle.

(Spoilers, I guess.)

The refinements, the accomplishments, the allurements of his son, once the pride of his toils—the basis of expectation’s aggrandisement—now debased and sacrificed at the shrine of dissipated folly; the honour of his family for ever tainted by the infamy of so many individuals of it, and from the virtues of his own conduct deriving no consolation; Lorenzago wandered from spot to spot of the habitable globe, a miserable man: sometimes in the bustle of cities, sometimes in the shade of the most secluded retirement, striving to amend his life, but oftener plunging into the vortex of dissipation’s Lethe, endeavouring to lose the poignancy of the stings his sensitive pride and ambition smarted from, or in vain to vanquish the deep and everlasting anguish of that passion he had, by the retribution of Heaven, imbibed for her whose ruthless assassination he would not have shrunk from prior to the moment in which his speculating interest led him to commence her friend and champion—a speculation caused by his powerful penetration having led him to develop through a discovery he had made of the embryo treason, that the agent of it, the pretended merchant Mahmoud, was the Conte Nicastro; and that the Duca di Montalbano was yet in existence, and his imprisonment caused and continued by this very Conte Nicastro, whom he began to mine for ensnaring into his toils, at the same moment he commenced his plans for uniting the heiress of the existing Theodore di Montalbano to his son.

 

 

08/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 3)


 
    “Fredrico, with fame aspersed, is not the husband your virtuous, tender parents would sanction, for your acceptance.—Should not the duteous Angelina have considered their judgment, as still living, still presiding over her?—Should she not, in fancy’s sacred intercourse, have consulted their wishes, and their decree, by reason’s aid? her choice would then have never fallen upon a man whose fame was tarnished by even the shadow of suspicion—would never, as now, have rested on him, who yet—Oh! avenging justice!—Oh! Fredrico, my child, my child! and does conscience bid me speak such horrors?—may yet suffer as a homicide.
    “Nay, my love, my Angelina, weep not so piteously,” said Zarina, with melting sympatliy, after a pause of terrible agitation—“I mean not utterly to consign you to despair.—Oh! no, no, for in heart I am still the partial mother, and cherish hope, as misers do their treasure; but, Angelina, I would now divide you from Fredrico—I would encourage your thoughts, as mine have learned the horrible task of sometimes admitting the possible belief, that he is not calumniated…”

 

 

 

 

Angelina spends the next three weeks immured in her room with only her attendant, Isabella (acquired between lockdowns), for company, unwell and living in fear that this time, Minora will succeed in having her “encloistered for life”, and with bad news rolling in on almost a daily basis:

Isabella had learned that the Duca di Montalbano was seriously ill, but Father Jeronimo was no longer allowed to attend him, in whose place the duchessa’s physician was substituted; that Grimani and his wife were banished from the castle, for the latter having conspired with Lady Angelina to destroy the infant Theodore, for whom a new nurse had been provided; and who, although evidently indisposed from the effect of his immersion, was sent off the third day after his unfortunate accident had occurred, with his nurse, Signora Zola, and other attendants, to be reared under the immediate care of the duchessa’s mother, at Treviso; the pretence for such a hasty measure, that his safety was insecure where Lady Angelina resided. She also heard that the Contessa Lorenzago having sent an express with her dying request to see her son, he in consequence had hastily set out for Pavia: that the princess and her daughter had also departed; as well as poor Father Patrick, whom the duchessa herself had dismissed in great ire, for having dared so roughly and unceremoniously to treat her brother…

Of this catalogue of misery, it is the last point that catches our attention; and, yes – though, alas! we are not privileged to witness it – when Father Patrick hears how Vasco is talking about Angelina, he loses his temper and pops him one.

But as is so often the case, what looks like the Tolmezos triumphing actually works in Angelina’s favour. Turned out of the castle, Father Patrick carries Angelina’s woes to Fredrico, who packs him off to Rome to find Cardinal Gulielmo; ordering him on to Spain, if necessary. Once arrived, Patrick finds Father Marsilio still waiting patiently for a summons to the Cardinal’s presence. The Irish priest is having none of that, and he horrifies the meek monk by threatening to storm Gulielmo’s private villa, if that’s what it takes to see him; and it finally turns out that it does.

On his way back to Rome, Gulielmo had a carriage-accident, and is seeing no-one while he recuperates. However, able to brook no more delay, when he is turned away from the villa’s doors Father Patrick makes his way surreptitiously into the grounds, where he encounters a plainly dressed individual who he takes to be merely part of the Cardinal’s household – and addresses accordingly – but who of course proves to be Gulielmo himself. Having heard Father Patrick’s account of matters, the Cardinal waves away his doctor’s advice and goes straight to the Pope.

To Angelina’s initial dismay, she now learns that an ancient treaty between the Vatican and the Montalbanos has been invoked, allowing her to be, in effect, “adopted” by the pontiff. She fears from this that she will end up in a convent after all, but Father Patrick hastens to reassure her. Furthermore, though she is technically the Pope’s ward, it is Cardinal Gulielmo who becomes her guardian.

The first action of Angelina’s new “father” is to have her removed from the castle; and he sends a nuncio to Montalbano to ensure that his orders are carried out—and that the Tolmezos understand their implications:

    “Well, jewel, the duchessa, as demure and sweet-spoken as if butter wou’d n’t melt in her mouth, demanded what were his holiness’s commands with the Duca di Montalbano; when the proud legate produced his credentials, and read, in an audible voice, the pope’s demand for taking you under his especial care, whom, henceforth, he should deem it sacrilege for any one to insult or injure, or to imagine insult or injury against: and who, with your own consent obtained, were with convenient speed to be conveyed by him (the reverend nuncio) to the protection of the Contessa di Alviano.
    “The curiosity of the duchessa kept her alive until the last sentence the nuncio read, but that kilt her at once, and back she fell in a grand hysteric fit of screeching and kicking…”

Angelina’s only regret is that she is unable to see Sigismund before she leaves. She reaches out to him but, far from evincing any desire for a reconciliation, he sends back a letter full of cruel denunciations and repudiation.

Once Angelina is removed to Rossarno Castle, the plot of Forest Of Montalbano shifts to a focus upon Fredrico.

For all of its excesses, perhaps the touch in this novel that is hardest to believe is Zarina’s belief in Fredrico’s guilt; though Cuthbertson excuses this as well as she can. In addition to her horror and grief at the loss of her husband, and the crushing weight of evidence against her son, since the tragedy occurred the contessa has been entirely under Guiseppe’s thumb—and he has made it his business to build an insuperable barrier between the two, with Zarina, as we have seen, forbidding Fredrico her presence and stopping barely short of cursing him.

Her contending emotions are now destroying the contessa’s health; and though Angelina devotes herself to her new friend, her care is perceived as a mixed blessing, as her unshaken faith in Fredrico’s innocence acts upon Zarina as both a challenge and a temptation.

Angelina, meanwhile, has new troubles of her own: though she believes him innocent of the crimes of which he has been accused, she has increasing reason to believe that she has been mistaken in assuming she has won Fredrico’s affections—or worse, that he has played her false.

Also living at Rossarno Castle is Elouisa di Soranzo, Guiseppe’s ward; and barely has Angelina set foot in her new residence than the garrulous Claudia lets drop hints of secret meetings between her and Fredrico. Angelina tries either to disbelieve this, or to put a positive spin upon it; but before long she must contend with confidences made by Elouisa herself, about a secret engagement…

Now— In light of what I have previously suggested about the connection between Catherine Cuthbertson and Jane Austen, this subplot is rather interesting. Though it is much more drawn out here, and much nastier in its details, Elouisa’s conscious tormenting of Angelina bears a remarkable resemblance to Lucy Steele’s similar tormenting of Elinor Dashwood in Sense And Sensibility—which was published the following year.

Elouisa brings plenty to the table to back up her claims, including letters in Fredrico’s handwriting—in one of which, he specifically disclaims any warmer feeling for Angelina than admiration—and though she tells herself that they could be forgeries, she has to admit that, if so, they are very good forgeries…

Angelina tries to stand firm – the more she sees of Elouisa, the less she believes Fredrico could love her – but she permits the suspicion that, in seeking information to prove his innocence, Fredrico has somehow gotten entangled with Elouisa in a way that binds his honour.

(Angelina cries more in this section of the novel than all the rest of it put together!)

Elouisa finally overreaches, however—claiming to have had a secret meeting with Fredrico at just the same time that Angelina was having a secret meeting with him of her own; besides, of course, what Fredrico has to say for himself. Unaware, Elouisa continues with her efforts to publicly link herself with Fredrico; and, say what you like about Lucy Steele, she never went to these lengths:

Elouisa, who had been for some moments standing thoughtfully at a window, turning quickly round to answer Conte Giuseppe, who had asked her, “would she not make one of the pedestrians?” her feet entangling in her long flowing drapery, drew it, as she turned, so tightly around her, that instantly the whole contour of her shape became visible to all who were looking that way. Amongst that number was her guardian, whose eyes were riveted upon her form…

Denounced by the enraged Guiseppe, Elouisa goes into what Cuthbertson wryly calls “a determined swoon”; and when she finally emerges from it—

…her eyes unclosed; and in a moment more, staring vacantly around, she murmured out—“Oh! where, where are you, cruel Fredrico?”

Unfortunately for the plotters, a few days before, while walking in the woods, Zarina and Angelina had been witnesses to something almost as startling:

…but now the rays of the setting sun glanced its illuminations so obliquely and penetratingly beneath its umbrageous shelter, that to the astonishment of Zarina, she beheld the entrance of the hermitage; but with more amazement still, saw too the Archbishop di Mazzerino, and Elouisa, on the turfed seat before it.—Elouisa! who had, since her guardian’s return, on every occasion evinced so much awe of him, that she seemed scarcely to dare to speak or smile in his presence, now sitting on Giuseppe’s knee, his arms encircling her waist, while in playful dalliance she patted his cheek, or took or gave a willing kiss…

Thoroughly unimpressed by the scene being enacted for her benefit and that of her guests – who include, by the way, Gulielmo! – Zarina draws a line in the sand:

    “Miscreant! demon! this this tallies with your other crimes!—and could not the ward of his own uncle escape his profligacy? Could not the roof of his own mother afford an asylum to innocence, secure from his atrocities?—Oh ! sister, sister! I pity you from my soul for giving birth to a monster of iniquity.”
    “Your pity is misapplied; I was not your mother, Giuseppe,” replied Zarina calmly; and then rising with dignity from her seat, continued—“As to you, Signora Soranzo, you have performed the part assigned you to such a miracle of perfection, that should your immaculate guardian abandon you for your trespass against that virtue he set you the rigid example of, you will readily find a lucrative engagement at some of our numerous theatres for human art in fiction’s representations; but when you again perform the dalliance of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra with the sanctimonious Archbishop di Mazzarino, let me advise you to choose your scene more judiciously secure from observation than you did on the evening of this day fortnight, in the Hermit’s Isle…”

This exposure of Guiseppe of course throws a whole new light upon his persecution of Fredrico, and allows Zarina to give in to the promptings of her heart and embrace a belief in her son’s innocence. However, as she points out to the joyful Angelina, just because they believe Fredrico innocent, doesn’t mean that he will be able to prove it…

…and, typical of this subgenre of fiction, no sooner has she reconciled with her son than Zarina takes advantage of the moment to scold him for allowing Angelina to involve herself with him while he is under a cloud, and to extort from him a promise that he will see her no more, until the matter is resolved; never, if he cannot clear his name…

In Part 1, via Claudia, we got what we might call the “public version” of the di Alviano catastrophe: Rolando eloping with Violante, with the Conte’s sanction; Fredrico pursuing them and, in the ensuing confrontation, killing both his father and his half-brother. It is not clear, in this version, what happened to Violante.

Across Volumes III and IV, we get progressively detailed accounts of what actually happened that night; none of them complete, though, because only one person knows the whole story, and he ain’t talking.

Fredrico finally does tell Angelina all he knows, though there are still gaps in his knowledge. Above all, he assures her that, far from being enraged by Violante’s elopement with Rolando, by that time he was more than happy to let him have her. His pursuit of the couple and his father was prompted not by revenge, but because of information received that officers of the Inquisition were out hunting for them, to prevent the marriage of Violante. Supported by a band of his father’s soldiery, Fredrico set out to the rescue and, coming across the holy officers, attacked, overwhelmed and made prisoners of them; then having them conveyed to a “labyrinthine cave” in the neighbourhood and left there loosely bound to work their way free in a day or two.

Then, on his own, Fredrico set out once again to find the others—only to discover the Conte and Rolando fighting for their lives against a second band of soldiers. His arrival turned the tide; although the attack was mysteriously called off, with the officers suddenly withdrawing. In the battle, the Conte was badly wounded; while the attackers succeeded in carrying off Violante.

With Fredrico caring for their father, the desperate Rolando went searching for Violante—and was never seen again. Meanwhile, Fredrico and the Conte were confronted by another, single attacker. Despite his wound, the Conte wrestled the stiletto from the man’s hand and turned it upon him—only to discover that he had slain not a soldier, but a High Inquisitor.

Recognising the enormity of the situation, Fredrico hurriedly conveyed his father to the caverns below Rossarno Castle – from which, of course, there are secret passages into the castle itself – and where he has, in fact, been hiding him ever since, almost under the noses of his mother and uncle. (Remember that passing reference to Fredrico locking himself at night in his father’s library? – yes: one of the passages comes out there.)

But meanwhile, forces are gathering against Fredrico: he has been seen in blood-soaked clothing; his father and brother are missing; and then a disfigured body is found, dressed in clothes recognisable as the Conte’s, and with Fredrico’s own, equally recognisable dagger buried in its heart… Soon, Fredrico finds himself accused of his father’s murder—and cannot defend himself without giving his father away to the Inquisition…

Friends in Rome move, however, to secure Fredrico’s temporary freedom. He and the Conte have one hope, a man called Rialto, who was a witness to the bloody encounter; who knows Fredrico did not kill his father, and that the Inquisitor was killed in self-defence. For nearly a year, Fredrico has been hunting this missing witness—and now the period of his freedom has almost expired…

So much Fredrico tells Angelina—but at that point, he has no idea how far from the truth of the matter he is.

Unsurprisingly, Guiseppe is the main mover here: having long lusted for his brother’s title, estates and wealth, and determined to prevent the marriage of either of his nephews, he took the opportunity of the escalating family conflict over Violante to remove all impediments from his path. Long hand-in-glove with Salimbini, he arranges for the two bands of “holy officers”: the first was supposed to waylay Fredrico and keep him out of things, but that didn’t really work out; though the second succeeded in carrying off Violante to “the dungeons of the Inquisition”, where she was later terrorised by Salimbini into a statement declaring herself a witness of Fredrico’s murder of his father.

The Conte and Rolando were supposed to be killed, but that didn’t work out either; though hasty rewriting of the script landed Fredrico in every bit as much trouble as initially hoped.

(I should mention that, for particular reasons of his own, Salimbini needs Fredrico alive; and on this point he works against his co-conspirator. Moreover, Salimbini knows that the Conte is not dead, though he can’t find out where Fredrico is hiding him: a piece of information he does not share with Guiseppe.)

Meanwhile—there were actually soldiers of the Inquisition in the woods that night, hunting a different eloping nun (!); and Rolando walked smack into them, said several self-implicating things, and landed in the real dungeons of the Inquisition. He later managed to escape, however, and fled to England, where he has been in hiding ever since.

It is finally via tortuous paths, and “the intervention of Providence” (not to mention the practical aid of Gulielmo), that the problems of the di Alviano family are resolved. Having gathered a household of guests, Zarina shocks them by appearing not just out of mourning, but in full celebratory regalia; and even more so by summoning Fredrico to join them: reminding everyone that this day is both her wedding anniversary, and Fredrico’s birthday:

    “Come,” said the contessa, endeavouring to subdue her trembling emotion, and filling out a glass of wine for herself, “come, my friends, however this experiment may terminate, you will not object to unite with me in drinking many happy returns of this day to my son.”
    A death-like pause ensued; and those very few who were preparing to comply with her request had their attention called to the re-entrance of Fredrico, with a man of majestic appearance leaning on his arm, who instantly quitting the aid of his graceful supporter, took the long-vacant seat at the bottom of the table, and impressively exclaimed—
    “No one can refuse to join you, my Zarina, when I!—I set them the example! When I appear to drink many and many a happy return of this day to our dutiful, our affectionate, our exemplary son, Fredrico di Alviano!”
    The astonishment of every beholder, the superstitiously alarmed horror of the weaker part of the assemblage, on viewing before their very eyes the identical Conte di Alviano who for many a past month had been consigned by universal belief to the tomb of his ancestors, far transcends our powers of description to delineate…
    In the general commotion and astonishment occasioned by this most unexpected resurrection of Conte di Alviano, the dismay, the guilty dismay, of the villainous Giuseppe passed unnoticed, except by those who, before acquainted with the existence of the conte, had power to observe the effect his re-appearance had upon his diabolical brother, who gazed in appalled amazement, panting and trembling, in more direful consternation than if he there beheld the real spectre of a brother whom he had been taught by his coadjutor, Salimbini, to believe had perished by the hand of an assassin…

This seemingly climactic scene takes place about midway through Volume IV; and on either side of it, while matters are resolving themselves for the di Alvianos, Angelina is facing unimaginable trials.

Guiseppe’s hypocrisy takes the form of (among other things) a great display of piety in the company of any other man of the cloth; and while Angelina is staying at Rossarno Castle, he one day invites a travelling pilgrim to break his journey there. To Angelina’s astonishment, the “pilgrim” later reveals himself to her as the Conte Nicastro, who she remembers as a friend of her father’s, and who was supposedly slain with him by the Turks. Nicastro tells her that her father is still alive: that the two of them, though severely wounded, survived to be sold into slavery. He himself was fortunate: his owner’s mother had been a Christian, and had imbued him with a certain sympathy; and he was able to work his way to freedom. Having done so, he devoted himself to discovering what had happened to the Duca di Montalbano; finding him at length in the power of a cruel slave-dealer, Mazuma.

Mazuma rejected Nicastro’s efforts to buy his friend’s freedom, but told him that he was willing to exchange him. Newly married, and still in the honeymoon phase, Mazuma wished to obtain for his music-loving bride a female slave skilled in singing and the playing of instruments; and as everyone knows, none are so skilled as the Italians…

Nicastro explains to Angelina that he searched the households and slave-markets of Turkey, seeking a female slave to fill this role; but having failed, all he can now suggest is that she, Angelina, offer herself in exchange for her father.

Angelina is beyond appalled, but – of course – does not hesitate. On the contrary, she urges expedition, not just for her father’s sake, but so that she won’t have time to think about it. She and Nicastro arrange to leave the following morning, before dawn: disguised as pilgrims, with Angelina wearing a wig under her cowl as a further disguise, they set out on foot; though Nicastro has arranged for a carriage to meet them on the far edge of the wood. Barely have they set out, however, when they are met upon the road by two horsemen—none other than Fredrico himself, in the company of Orsino:

…the retreating Angelina, who now believed she had braved all of suffering that ruthless destiny could inflict.—She had flown from the pity-softened voice of Fredrico!—She had looked upon him, and yet knowing it was for the last time, she still had power to walk away!—She had in one fleeting moment drank ail of the cup of misery that could be presented to a mortal’s lip; and now she feared not the form of any affliction that might arise to threaten the destruction of her fortitude…

She thinks; but not much further down the road, she and Nicastro fall foul of two of the banditti, and find themselves being carried away, prisoners. Angelina is locked up alone and left to contemplate her probable fate; but when she is summoned forth again, she has no idea what awaits her…

To Angelina’s astonishment and unspeakable indignation, she learns not only that certain incriminating – indeed, treasonous – papers have been found upon Nicastro, but he claims merely to be carrying them for her, now dismissed as “a chance acquaintance of the road.” Pointing out his own firm, courageous bearing, and the quaking terror of the “young pilgrim”, Nicastro declares his own innocence, swearing it in no uncertain terms.

It is, however, Orsino who is questioning the captives; and though he listens to Nicastro’s denunciation of his companion, he refuses to act hastily; his words reassuring Angelina that he knows very well who it is hiding under the cowl:

“Youth, you seem appalled—overpowered by wonder and dismay; but cheerly, cheerly.—I once was encompassed by dangers perilous myself:—an angel then, in generous credence of my own simple attestation of my innocence, succoured me; and, in return, she bade me—‘should ere a friend of hers be in my power, to evince my recollection of the service she had done me.’—All who are good and innocent I class amongst that angel’s friends; and until I prove you guilty, I rank you with the unerring, and with the innocent; my gratitude to her protects you:—and now, encouraged by the sacred shield I guard you with, read, without fear, that letter, found in the possession of this man, who affirms you confided it, with other papers, to his keeping.”

The paper in question is a letter to Nicastro from Vasco: Angelina now discovers that her actual destination was the seraglio of the sultan; that by these means Vasco intended both to take his revenge upon her and buy the sultan’s favour in other business matters. Her focus, however, is on the phrase, phantom father; and in pleading with Nicastro for the truth, she gives away her identity.

As it happens, she is safe enough amongst Orsino and his “sub-bandits”; though Nicastro damns himself with his misunderstanding of the situation:

    “Youthful chief! this maid, I perceive, is not unknown to you.—Many a brigand hero has loved a lady fair; and if I have penetration, the case is paralleled here.”—She is now in your power. Retain her.—Give me up my papers, with my liberty, and the seal of secrecy shall rest for ever on my lips of where I left her; but ere—“
    “Miscreant! diabolical, profane!” loudly sounded forth the voice of Fredrico, as bursting from ambush, he flew to the support of Angelina.—Orsino resigned her to his arms; but saying, as he did so—
    “Why this impetuosity? Could you doubt my honour, or my faith?”
    “I had no doubt of your rectitude, believe me,” Fredrico impressively replied—“but could I endure to have the ears of this angel of filial heroism insulted, distressed, alarmed, by the profane propositions of an unequalled villain?”

Angelina is then conveyed back to the castle via the Roman ruins and the subterranean passageway by which she entered it the first time; and so expeditiously is this managed, that no-one realises she was ever gone.

As for the disappearing pilgrim, well…

During this episode, Fredrico admits to Angelina that, in the papers carried by the treacherous Nicastro, there were ambiguous references to her father that might indeed mean he is still alive; that, perhaps, Nicastro’s story was true up to a point. This thought torments Angelina; so that finally, once his own difficulties are resolved, Fredrico vows to go in search of the Duca.

Consequently, when Angelina’s greatest challenge arises, she must face it alone…

The threat comes from an unsuspected source—particularly given its enormity. We might recall that there was dissension among the Tolmezos, with Lorenzago distancing himself from the rest in order to pursue his own agenda of aggrandisement. Summoning Hilario to the Castle of Montalbano, he sets his son to court Angelina, which he does with some reluctance and (of course) absolutely no effect; though Hilario’s inability to conceive that any woman might not fall in love with him keeps him plugging away.

It is not long, however, before Lorenzago begins to regret this approach—and to perceive with no disappointment that Hilario is getting nowhere. In short—he decides that he wants Angelina for himself.

Granted, Lorenzago has a wife already; but he’s not the man to let a detail like that intrude; and as it happens, the unfortunate woman conveniently expires (and, greatly to our surprise, of natural causes).

Eventually Lorenzago discovers that Angelina’s heart is long gone; but that, too, is a mere detail. As his obsession with her grows, he determines to possess her at any cost; and finally, inspired by the story of Angelina’s willingness to sacrifice herself for her father, he conceives a scheme of even greater cruelty…

While all this has been going on, Angelina has not, of course, forgotten Sigismund: one of Lorenzago’s main ways of gaining her company is to carry news of her uncle between the two castles, and he finally brokers a visit for her. She finds Sigismund so ill, but so pathetically glad to see her, that she decides she has to stay—to the great dismay of everyone else:

The feeling-hearted Zarina could not say a negative to a petition of such a nature, and so urged; but most reluctantly she acquiesced, in. full alarm at the Tolmezo treachery; and ere she would depart without her sacred charge, she called for Father Ezzelino, and solemnly consigned her to his protection as a precious deposit, for the safety of whom he must be responsible to his holiness;—a solemn charge that was repeated in less than an hour by the alarmed Conte di Alviano, with the addition of no very pleasing hints of the pontiff being aware of the enmity of the Tolmezo family to Lady Angelina, and having the eye of his suspicion steadily rivetted upon them… As soon as possibility would admit of it, Isabella arrived at Montalbano castie, full of alarm and grief at beholding her beloved lady again an inhabitant there…

(Angelina discovers, in time, that Sigismund’s apparent denunciation of her was in fact aimed at the nurse who dropped the baby, in his initial impassioned grief at believing the child and Angelina both dead; and that while he was tricked into signing the letter, it was written by Vasco and Ezzelino.)

Sigismund is so very ill – for real this time – that Angelina resigns herself to staying with him, even though this traps her in the the very unwanted company of Lorenzago:

Nor was the disconsolation of her bosom lessened by finding herself thus chained, as it were, to the society of Lorenzago, and momentarily receiving offices of kindness and friendship from him;—Lorenzago, whom the Cardinal Gulielmo, that shrewdly penetrating man, had assured her, was seriously attached to her: and even without that intimation, the impassioned language of his expressive eyes, the half-revealed sentences of love which were perpetually escaping his lips, in defiance of the retiring formality of her conduct to him, must have disclosed the secret of his heart. And now, often with a sigh of regret for moments of comparatively inferior misery, she wished she could exchange her present hours for those even in which she had been imprisoned, insulted, bereaved of her accustomed sustenance, in that very castle…

Angelina spends as much time as she can at Sigismund’s bedside; but she can’t help noticing the evolving nature of the castle’s inhabitants. Father Tommaso, Sigismund’s confessor in the absence of Father Patrick (off in Naples on family business) is refused readmission after leaving the castle; the servants have been changed again – even the helpful Florio is gone; and gone too are her father’s old soldiers, to be replaced by armed men of alarming demeanour. Meanwhile, the castle is filling with guests—and not the kind usually summoned to the dignified halls of the Montalbanos:

    …nor were her alarms or dismaying presages of danger decreased by the daily multiplication of guests of no prepossessing aspect as visitors to Vasco.
    Nor were the manners of these guests likely to inspire more confidence than their boldly daring appearance, since profligacy seemed the guide of their actions, and their banquets to be those of bacchanalian revellers, each night concluding with a ball (for several females arrived with this fast-increasing assemblage), and the orgies of dissipated mirth resounded through the castle, while its lord was supposed to be rapidly approaching the awful moment of his dissolution…

Lorenzago poses as outside whatever these arrangements portend; he even draws Angelina’s attention to the fact that her father’s pensioners have been replaced. He finally persuades her to a meeting in the castle chapel, at which, he insists, he has much important information to impart to her; though, having learned her lesson from Nicastro, she comes attended by the loyal Isabella, much to Lorenzago’s chagrin.

But Lorenzago cannot help making her declarations of admiration and passion, until the offended Angelina tries to withdraw from him. This prompts him to get to the point—and the point is her father: alive, nearby, and in Lorenzago’s protection; so he says.

But far more than the life of the Duca di Montalbano is at stake:

    “Angelina, I have well studied your matchless heart—I have well studied my own—and firmly am I convinced our union will yet prove one of mutual felicity; since the moment your present apparent ruthess destiny compels you to bestow your hand on me, the high, the rigid notions your heart has formed of every duty, will lead you on to regard the husband you have vowed to love; whilst I, adoring, venerating to idolatry, can I—can you—shelter an apprehension, but that to win the love I pant for will be the effort of my future life, when once the painful moment is past in which, to secure my happiness, I am arbitrarily compelled to act the part of an ungenerous, unfeeling, selfish spoiler. But, although with horror I recoil from the ferity of my project to attain you, yet no power less than Divine interposition shall force me to relinquish it; and so securely have I drawn my toils around you, my Angelina, that nothing but superhuman intervention can now deprive me of you.
    “Learn, then, my lovely agitated prize, this castle is filled with daring sanguinary traitors to the state of Venice, resolved on he destruction of your noble father, your uncle, your matchless self—to seize the possessions of the house of Montalbano, and revel in the spoils—to murder thousands of your father’s worthy countrymen, and deluge the soil of the Venetian republic with the blood of human victims. In me is vested the power to subvert this dire treason: in my hands is your father securely, irremediably placed.
    “On you rests solely the alternative of your own, your father’s, your uncle’s, your country’s fate. Bestow your hand on me at this very hour and in this very place tomorrow, and the dire fate impending over Venice and the family of Montalbano shall be averted.—Refuse to unite your fate with mine, and your parent I yield to the power of Vasco, and withdraw from this devoted castle to provide for my own safety…”

 

 

07/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 2)


 
    To this castle, and all the possessions of her illustrious ancestors, she had now conviction that she still might prove the only lawful heir; yet now she was about to enter as a poor persecuted dependent, despoiled of the favor and courtesy of all; where once every sweet smile of affection, kindness, and respect, most fondly greeted her. She sighed; tears trembled in her eyes. “But, are not these trials,” whispered pious reflection, “which you are thus doomed to endure, inflicted by the all-wise and unerring Ruler of the universe?” — Angelina blushed, in penitent acquiescence. “Assuredly they are,” she firmly, but mentally ejaculated—“and, Oh! may I never, never, falter in the task of submissive duty; never murmur at the thorns which strew my path of life, but still cherish, in the memory of my heart’s veneration, a lively recollection of the sacred hand which sheds them there.”
    These were the thoughts, and such the aspirations, that gave fortitude to the heart, firmness to the steps, and serenity to the fascinating countenance of Lady Angelina, as she once more entered that castle, where pained reminiscence told her, “how she had been loved, and how severely tortured…”

 

 

 

 

My five-and-a-half-thousand words on the subject notwithstanding, all we’ve dealt with so far in Forest Of Montalbano – which occupies no more than the first half of Volume I – is basically just the back-story to the main narrative. Though Fredrico’s problems – and Fredrico himself – continue to come and go, the rest of Volume I and all of Volume II is primarily devoted to the increasingly dangerous situation in which Angelina finds herself after returning to the castle of her ancestors.

Along with all the expected melodrama and emotional excess, there’s some interesting writing here. In Santo Sebastiano, we found Cuthbertson attempting, in the character of Lord Delamere, to delineate a complex psychology; and she follows that up in this novel. Naturally, the heroes and the villains are writ large in unsubtle font; but between these two extremes we find some mixed characters, and others whose personal hang-ups drive the action to a surprising degree.

In fact, to an extent the entire plot of Forest Of Montalbano hangs on two pairs of contrasting brothers. Theodore di Balmero, the future Duca di Montalbano, was in every respect his father’s son: strong, fearless, a warrior; while Sigismund, the younger brother, fell to the care of his doting but unwise mother, who turned him into a frail, scholarly hypochondriac with a raging inferiority complex; though this expressed itself in worship of the brother who was everything that he, Sigismund, could never be, and later of Theodore’s daughter. Convinced that no-one did or could love him except his mother, Sigismund fell easy prey to the seductive wiles of Minora di Tolmezo…only to discover (as he effectively says later to Angelina) that he should, in fact, have trusted his inferiority complex: she certainly did not love him for himself. Sigismund is by now almost literally crippled by guilt over the marriage which has come between Angelina and her inheritance.

Trouble of a similar sort lies – or lay – between Fredrico and his older half-brother, Rolando; but there, we discover, Guiseppe had been working his poison. For reasons of his own, he convinced Rolando that, as the son of the Conte di Alviano’s first, political marriage, he could never compete in his father’s affections with the son of Zarina, who the Conte passionately loved; and moreover, that Zarina and Fredrico were working to supplant him. And Fredrico accidentally does: it was Rolando who really loved Violante—and as we find out, she really wanted him: except that, working from within her convent, with imperfect information, she appealed for help to the wrong brother; thus setting disaster in motion.

Violante’s involvement with the di Alviano family binds to them also the Cardinal Gulielmo, who is one of Cuthbertson’s more interesting creations. We find out in time that the fears of the nuns of Santo Valentino were not entirely unjustified: in his younger days, Gulielmo was indeed a man of unsavoury reputation; but much upheaval in his life later, he honestly repented and embraced his new calling; and the present time finds him, simultaneously, a devoted man of God, a shrewd politician, and a cynical man of the world—and able to toggle between personas in a manner than makes him a powerful ally and a dangerous enemy. Gulielmo’s name strikes fear into the heart of almost everyone; but when he finally appears upon the scene he proves, somewhat unexpectedly, to be on the side of the angels.

(It is belatedly revealed to us that, though she passes in the eyes of the world as his niece, Violante is actually Gulielmo’s illegitimate daughter.)

At the other end of the spectrum, and as we did also in Santo Sebastiano, we find Cuthbertson indulging her sense of humour—but in a new and quite complex way. Father Patrick O’Carrol is one of the novel’s Good Priests, and the one we see the most of; and Cuthbertson manages the not-inconsiderable task of making him both the novel’s comic relief and a fully-rounded, important character. For the former, we find the good Father continuing to speak broad Irish despite the fact that he is, of course, speaking Italian; and his rambling, idiom-riddled speeches pepper the next volume or two. For example—

“Just,” said the sensibly-affected Father Patrick, “as when my self was starved to death, and thought my skeleton was ready made, for the anatomists, the beautiful gift of heaven’s own daughter Pity, came glittering in the sterling form, of a pistole, pop into my badge of poverty, my tatterdemalion hat; that lay beside me; and allowed me to foster my poor uncle Pat; and what but Providence, sent the bedpost to come whack against me, to the rescue of Signora Modo’s child, from the devouring flames, that would have made tinder of him? and what myself would be mighty glad to know, but divine mercy, sent me to Montalbano Castle, to be with you, and comfort, and befriend you, in this time of trouble?”

(We should note two phrases on Father Patrick’s lips that we might be surprised to find extant in 1810: he makes reference to, and then explains – in quite modern terms – the black dog; and he calls someone a son-of-a-gun.)

Father Patrick’s presence in the Castle of Montalbano is one of the Tolmezos’ greatest tactical blunders—not that anyone realises it for quite some time. When introduced, he is more of a hindrance than a help to Angelina and Sigismund: he is at that time quite unable to keep a secret, and guaranteed to say exactly what he shouldn’t at the worst possible time; though seeing the damage he does, he works hard at this and eventually learns to keep his mouth shut.

A poor man of peasant stock, education and religious training have elevated Patrick O’Carrol far above what everyone at this time considers his “natural station”; and it is because of his background and poverty that Lorenzago di Tolmezo has him assigned as Sigismund’s confessor—assuming that such a man will be easily bribed to assist his family’s dark purposes. Patrick, however, is an honest man, a good priest, and a devoted friend; scorning the Tolmezos, he becomes a passionate adherent to the cause of Angelina (who he addresses as “my jewel” and “my honey”) and a serious thorn in the side of the conspirators.

We are so far here from the eek-Catholics! attitude of Santo Sebastiano that it almost makes your head spin. It is impossible to deduce from her novels what Cuthbertson’s own sentiments were, though it is worth noting that she had a foot in each camp: her father was an English soldier, but her mother was Irish, and she was born and raised in Dublin before relocating to London at the turn of the 19th century. Given the prevailing English attitudes of the time, Cuthbertson must have understood that she was taking a significant risk with her Irish Catholic priest; yet she does not merely make Father Patrick a good and devout man, but turns him into one of her heroes; in fact, she makes him – almost literally – her deus ex machina.

The other character worth mentioning in this context is Orsino, the young bandit. Cuthbertson takes an unusually pragmatic approach here, suggesting that the young man’s main shortcoming is that he is lazy-–good or bad according to whose influence he is currently under. Orsino was therefore once an actor, like his father; and now he’s a bandit, like his father. However, there is a hint even at this point of better stuff in the young man: he has taken the initiative and formed a gang of sub-bandits, so to speak, from those of his father’s followers who, like himself, draw the line at shedding blood. Circumstances progressively bind Orsino first to Fredrico, then to Angelina; finally prompting him to change sides altogether, and to reform himself.

The Tolmezos, meanwhile, merely come in degrees of black. Since arranging the marriage of Sigismund and Minora, they have been working assiduously to remove Angelina from the succession, and to remove Sigismund altogether—one way or another.

Knowing that Sigismund’s love for Angelina and his guilt over his marriage are his most vulnerable point, the Tolmezos hatch a two-birds-one-stone plot:

Lady Angelina was, therefore, immediately sent for; as the almost enthusiastic tenderness of affection he bore his niece; the unrestrained joy he evinced at the idea of once more beholding her; and the slender thread, they believed, he held the continuance of existence by, had inspired them with the determination of adopting a diabolical manoeuvre, which, they doubted not, would fatally operate upon his sensitive nerves… They congratulated themselves in the happy prospect of having thus laid a successful train for the removal of every impediment to their revelling on the spoils they panted to obtain, by the death of Sigismund, through horror and dire affliction at the cruel fate of his niece, in becoming a hapless victim to sanguinary banditti; and by that of Angelina herself, by the fell hand of assassination, which they each, in their own bosoms had resolved to give their pitiless mandate for…

However, the plot is thwarted, as we have seen; and Angelina, having uttered the magical word “Gulielmo”, is safely conveyed to the Castle of Montalbano, and reunited with her overjoyed uncle.

Though Sigismund’s situation is presented as a tragedy, and one of his own making, there is a note of black humour lurking in it. Sigismund, as we have said, is a hypochondriac; and one so devoted to the conviction of his own ill-health, he gets angry and offended if anyone suggests he is not at death’s door. Angelina and Father Patrick nearly lose a useful ally in Father Jeronimo when the physician-monk tries to cheer Sigismund up by telling him there’s nothing much wrong with him.

This situation explains why the Tolmezos’ efforts to dispose of Sigismund have so far failed: taking him at his own assessment, they have adopted a course of – in modern parlance – trying to shock him into a heart attack; and they grow increasingly frustrated with his refusal simply to die. (The impatient Vasco begins importing poisons…) However, they remain confident of their ultimate success – to the point that Minora is already in treaty for a second marriage – while they are also propagating rumours of Sigismund’s “lunacy”, chiefly to lay the groundwork for contesting any provision he might make for Angelina; with the side-benefit of having nothing he says believed.

To counter all this, Angelina and Father Patrick devote endless patient hours to trying to get Sigismund up and about. Angelina tries to convince him of the need to show himself to the neighbours, to spike the Tolmezos’ guns by demonstrating that he is neither dying nor a lunatic; but every time she almost gets him to this point, something happens to drop him back into his useless funk.

And action of some sort is urgently needed. It does not take long for Angelina to discover the complete ascendancy of the Tolmezos: Minora’s brother, Lorenzago, has been appointed major-domo, and all the castle domestics have been changed; loyal to their new paymasters, they insolently refuse to follow Sigismund’s orders. Moreover, by the time that Angelina realises she needs to make good on her threat and send word to Gulielmo, she, Sigismund and Father Patrick have been made prisoners—prevented from leaving the castle, sending messages, or having anything or anyone brought to them.

The only immediate hope Angelina can find lies in the ongoing presence at the castle of a small band of pensioned veterans still loyal to her father, and a new young page named Florio, who she is able to assist, and who in turn occasionally defies his orders to help her and Sigismund.

But as it turns out, Angelina has two very unexpected and powerful champions.

Though for the most part they work in concert, each of the Tolmezos has his or her own agenda; and while Minora and Vasco devote themselves to tormenting and humiliating Angelina, and Vasco and Ezzelino to disposing of Sigismund, Lorenzago sees Angelina as the means of achieving his ultimate social ambition: he plots to marry her to his son, Hilario, who he has raised with the single purpose of making such a marriage. Lorenzago therefore sets about recommending himself to Angelina and Sigismund by taking their part against his family—relieving many of their wants and, when Hilario arrives, spending hours in Sigismund’s rooms with his son.

(In the character of Hilario, we have another touch of humour: he is indeed a handsome, intelligent, cultured young man—and one completely enamoured of his own perfections; so much so, when he meets Angelina he is deeply aggrieved by hers.)

Angelina’s other ally is far more mysterious. From the time of her arrival at the castle, she begins finding notes hidden within her rooms: encouraging her on one hand, on the other offering advice—or a warning. It is evident that whoever is leaving these messages is deep in the Tolmezos’ confidence, and has the freedom of the castle; but who it could be, Angelina cannot begin to guess. She does, however, quickly learn to do as the messages instruct.

One of Minora’s manoeuvres is to intercept the new wardrobe ordered for Angelina, forcing her to appear in public only in the simple conventual robe that was all she had to wear at Santo Valentino. Overtly this is another means of humbling her perceived rival, but a deeper plot is afoot.

Minora organises a lavish masquerade at the castle, summoning all the highest-ranking people in the district—and insisting upon Angelina’s attendance. However, Angelina receives another message, warning her at all cost against appearing in her familiar conventual robe. By this time, Angelina’s new wardrobe has appeared in her rooms, as mysteriously as the note itself; however, the note urges her not to wear her new dresses yet, or to let Minora know.

After consultation, it is agreed that Angelina, Lorenzago, Hilario and Father Patrick will attend the masquerade in full costumes that will conceal their identities, and from this hiding-place try to discover what plot is afoot. Angelina is the less reluctant, as it has occurred to her that, under cover of a disguise, Fredrico might be able to infiltrate the party. Focused upon that aim, she does not notice that she has become the party’s cynosure:

But, at length, so loud and general became the at first murmuring eulogiums of the admiring throng, drawn in fast-increasing numbers from herself to gaze on the all-attracting Neapolitan peasant, that Minora with dismaying pangs of envy and alarm feared she was equalled, if not outdone; and, writhing in the agony of apprehensive, jealous curiosity, she employed many of her satellites to discover who this fascinator and her party were; but so effectually were the two contes and Father Patrick disguised by their style of habit, and so convinced were all employed in this investigation of the poverty of Lady Angelina’s wardrobe, that no suspicion whatever was entertained of who this attractive group was composed of…

And soon enough, the point of Minora’s plot becomes clear: another masked figure appears clad in an exact duplicate of Angelina’s well-known robe—and behaving in a manner that draws shocked notice from the other guests—flirting with and encouraging the attentions of every man who comes near her:

…now, in the almost stationary situation she was doomed to, she heard remarks uttered…which increased her painful fears of existing active malice, in the unequivocal disgust and surprise each remark conveyed at the levity of conduct this copy of herself displayed; but one grave and dignified looking man, in the habit of a Spanish grandee, as he passed her audibly saying—“Although la duchessa prepared me for it, I could not have believed it, unless thus clearly demonstrated to me, that such a face of heavenly innocence could index a mind of such reprehensible levity…”

And the counterfeit Angelina’s behaviour then switches from the general to the specific, as she openly pursues a guest whose face is hidden under a pilgrim’s robes, and addresses him in a way that reveals his identity to everyone in earshot. There is a general movement from the guests – many genuinely horrified by finding themselves in the presence of the notorious Fredrico di Alviano, others pleasantly shocked by the scandal – until their attention is arrested by another figure in disguise, who intrudes herself into the painful scene:

    “If those steps would lead you to the shrine of Virtue, pilgrim, turn from that false votary, and seek it in the citron groves of Naples, whither those honest peasants will conduct you,” said a female, advancing towards Conte di Alviano, and pointing to the group of which Lady Angelina formed one.
    For a moment the voice which thus accosted him aroused the astonished attention of Fredrico, and rivetted his eyes upon the speaker; who, modelled in one of the most perfect moulds of female beauty, appeared before him in the most resplendent dress that wealth and fancy ever formed to portray the habit of a sylph. The rich treasures of the earth seemed here combined to adorn surpassing loveliness, and emulate attire appropriate for a celestial wearer.
    The eyes of every gazer seemed, now, like Fredrico’s, enthralled by admiration. Again the resplendently-clad sylph waved her silver wand, with fascinating grace, towards Lady Angelina :
    “Pilgrim,” she said, “would you seek the shrine of Virtue, yonder pure votary will conduct you safely to it. Sent from the spheres to watch over individual happiness, I must hasten to fulfil my further mission… False semblance of innocence, you are detected…”

With the attention of everyone now focused upon the sylph, Fredrico is able to slip away with Angelina. However, they are soon interrupted, first by the persistent Hilario, whose complacent manner towards Angelina gives Fredrico great alarm, and then by Minora and her entourage—the latter prompting Fredrico to flee, so that Angelina will not be seen in his company. Lorenzago, meanwhile, is approached by the sylph, who counsels him to conduct Angelina back into the castle, and to ensure that she is seated during supper at the Duchessa’s own table.

He obeys, and to her horror Angelina finds herself seated opposite her counterfeit, who is escorted to the table by Vasco, in the costume of a knight. The real Angelina and her party have still not been recognised, and Ezzelino, at his niece’s urging, tries to turn out the group of “intruders”:

    “First,” replied Lorenzago full as arrogantly, but completely disguising his voice—“First answer me, most reverend judge in this court of equity, by whose authority yonder boarder of the grey order of Santo Valentino sits at the table of la duchessa?”
    “Who,” returned Ezzelino, haughtily, “can question the right of Lady Angelina di Balermo to a distinguished place of honour at the Duchessa di Montalbano’s table?”
    “Certainly no one ought!—Then why did the reverend and ever-correct Father Ezzelino do it?” said Lady Angelina, gracefully, but blushingly, taking off her mask.
    “Or why,” said Lorenzago ironically, while taking off his, ” did that sapient padre dispute a brother’s right to feast at a sister’s banquet?… Come, off with your obscuring clouds, Father O’Carrol, and Conte Hilario of Tolmezo, and shew this reverend sire you have not usurped the right of sitting here.”
    The Duchessa di Montalbano, totally unprepared for such a direful wound to her torturing envy, as beholding Angelina in the fascinating, all-attractive form of unrivalled beauty, splendor in dress, and taste in adornment, whose superior allurements had taught her to sicken with the pangs of agonising jealousy for so many hours of that evening, no sooner beheld her face revealed, than, in rage and agitation too powerful for concealment, she uttered a shrilling shriek, and fell in a strong hysteric fit…

Meanwhile, the sylph is busy again:

    …availing herself of the advantage this universal throng and confusion afforded her, the wary sylph, to prove herself indeed the guardian of innocence, placed herself immediately behind the counterfeit of Angelina, and, by an ingenious movement of her wand, contrived to sever the string which fastened on this impostor’s mask, which in consequence instantly fell from her face upon the table, and discovered to the numerous assemblage of eagerly-observing gazers the well-known countenance of Signora Rosa Franchesis, a celebrated courtezan and admired opera-dancer of Florence.
    “D–n!” audibly vociferated the almost-infuriated Vasco…

With Minora having been carried away, still having hysterics, Lorenzago’s rage and indignation are turned upon Rosa. She is unrepentant:

“On mine honour, I was bidden to the feast. My ticket, my dress, and one hundred pistoles, invited me hither, to personate the Lady Angelina di Balermo; but had I sooner seen the model I was set to copy, I should more sedulously have studied every grace, to better suit me for the undertaking. By accident, or by Lady Angelina’s friends, the counterfeit has been discovered; and being in consequence no longer useful to my employers, I shall instantly take my departure. No possible censure can attach to me for acting what I am not;—I live by the mimic art: and, in gay scenes like these, we professional people are often hired to aid the project or amusements of our employers; and so dexterously did I perform the part I was this night hired for, that had the imposture not been so publicly detected, I should, as my employers wished it, have left behind me the fame of Lady Angelina di Balermo as nearly blasted as my own…”

In the chaos that follows, Fredrico – having shed his robes for a second costume beneath – is able to bear Angelina away for a private conversation under the chaperonage of Father Patrick, who realises for the first time the relationship between them, and so both keeps guard and removes himself from earshot. Their subsequent exchange is peppered with unfinished declarations; however, its most important point is that, via Father Marsilio, Fredrico has sent a message to Cardinal Gulielmo, alerting him to the situation at the castle: he assures her that relief from her imprisonment and its attendant humiliations should be imminent.

(As it happens, Gulielmo has been dispatched to Spain on business, and Marsilio’s message does not reach him, nor succour arrive.)

The night has other serious consequences: Minora’s hysterics lead to premature labour and the birth of her baby—a boy. You would think she’d be delighted at an event that cuts Angelina so thoroughly from the succession, but no: her henchwoman, Anfania, carelessly remarks on the child’s resemblance to the Montalbanos – specifically, to Angelina – which prompts not just more hysterics, but the absolute repudiation of the child by Minora.

In the short term, this is the best thing that could have happened to the poor little thing, named “Theodore” for his late uncle: he comes under the immediate care of Sigismund and Angelina, with the wife of one of the pensioner-soldiers as his wet-nurse.

Sigismund’s guilt, however, now reaches new heights; and in a state of utter collapse, he confesses to Angelina something he has so far kept to himself: that after his marriage to Minora, and Angelina’s banishment to the convent, he began to be visited by the angry ghost of his brother; and though the visitations stopped after his reunion and reconciliation with his niece, with the birth of the future Duca di Montalbano, the ghost has appeared again…

And so Angelina finds herself secretly sitting up in her uncle’s room, prepared to confront the spirit of her father…

    Sigismund groaned in anguish; and a semblance of the late Theodore di Montalbano entered, in solemn measure, armed cap-a-pee, clad as a very celebrated portrait in the castle depicted him, but with a countenance cadaverous and expressive of stern vengeance, frowning in direful menace; his morion, cuirass, and part of his cuish, off, to render visible the deep and ghastly wounds which bereft him of life, and from which the sanguinary gore seemed yet to trickle.
    The sight was direful, and the chill ague of fear paralyzed the limbs of Angelina; her heart, stunned by the shock, ceased at once its firm throbbings, and seemed, with the feeble flutterings of the last efforts of receding life, to be fast fleeting with her senses to inanimation.
    The spectre began to advance, in solemn, awe-inspiring movement; the refulgent lamp which he bore illuminated the surrounding atmosphere, and gave in fullest horror the complete view of his appalling aspect…

But Angelina, as I have said, is not a fainter: she pulls herself together, reflecting that if this is Theodore’s ghost, she has nothing to fear; and she confronts the seeming shade of her father:

    The spectre had started on beholding her; and for a moment, deprived by surprise of self-possession, had seemed to forget his mission! A preternatural agent, sent from the world of shades, would have been better instructed than to meet surprise; since gifted with omniscience, to fit him for his embassy, he would have anticipated all…
    As the spectre frowned in menace, Angelina smiled in scorn; and as he now moved to the foot of the duca’s bed, and still motioned, with angry, threatening gestures, for her departure, she firmly moved with him; but soon quickly preceding him, she flew to the bedside to support her uncle, who, in direful and almost convulsive trepidation, had raised himself on his knees, to endeavour by prayer to deprecate the wrath of angry Heaven, thus appallingly evinced to him.
    “Fear nothing, my uncle!” she exclaimed, as she clasped him in her arms to protect him, “that impostor shall not harm you.”

Meanwhile, the intrepid Father Patrick pursues the “ghost”; and though he does not catch the midnight visitor, he does find evidence of a hasty undressing; including one revealing detail:

    …they discovered near a pile of armour, which appeared as if hastily thrown there, a casque and blood-stained scarf; both so remarkable, that Angelina positively recognised them as having formed part of the spectre’s costume: and Father Patrick, in raising them from the ground to take possession of them, perceiving the scarf to be a former acquaintance, he vehemently exclaimed—
    “Och! the blackguard! I’m murdered with rage!… Here ’tis for you, jewel; take this token to your creature of an uncle, and bid him be sending it,  ‘with his kind love and service, to one Signore Vasco, and that by a cross-accident, in the cross-examination of witnesses to convict a scoundrel, his chaplain came across this scarf, which formed part of the accoutrements of the gallant crusading knight who performed, with natural ease, the part of Satan’s gentleman-usher to one Signora Rosa, of infamous memory, at a late masquerade.’ So now, darling, you need not be stopping here a morsel longer, since ’tis yourself has got proof for your uncle of a brother’s regard. ‘Twas he that knew it for a fraternal visit, sure enough, only he was after mistaking a d—l for a saint.”

(This, by the way, is not the only hint that Cuthbertson had been re-reading Hamlet: the climax of her novel – or as I should say, one of the climaxes: Volume IV is peppered with them – essentially reworks the play-within-a-play.)

Angelina is on her way back to Sigismund when she comes face-to-face with Orsino. She learns that he has been secretly visiting the castle by secret means, to visit a secret friend – “A present mystery encircles her, and I dare not name her to you” – but Vasco, in hastily fleeing the scene of his own exposure, has cut off his retreat by locking the door of the armoury, and trapped him. Knowing his life is now in Angelina’s hands, he begs for her assistance.

As it happens, earlier that night Angelina overheard part of a conversation between Orsino and his unknown friend, which helped set her mind at ease about him; and she does not let him down. She leads him back to the armoury:

    …she, unused to dissimulation of any species, blushed the deepest tint of ingenuous shame, as the first untruth she had ever voluntarily uttered passed her lips:—
    “This gentleman,” she said, “has been some time waiting for Father Jeronimo, to accompany him to his home ; but, as the duca is much too ill for the good padre to leave the castle this night, the signore wishes to go without him; and as, upon account of the numerous sentinels placed around, it is necessary that he should have an escort out, Grimani, I will thank you to convey him safely through the outward gates.—Grimani, I well know you would do more than this to oblige me.”
    Grimani, with alacrity, proceeded to obey; Orsino profoundly bowed his thanks, which he feared to trust a faltering voice to utter; while Father Patrick, keenly regarding the ill-concealed emotion of Angelina and Orsino, looked doubt and amazement, which Angelina perceiving, she made one successful effort to regain her firmness, and, smiling in courtesy at the grateful Orsino as she waved her hand in adieu, said with ease and dignity—
    “Heaven speed you, signore! and assure your good mother she has my best wishes for her speedy—her permanent recovery.”
    This was a chord that, vibrating keenly on the sensibility of Orsino, combined with his gratitude to nearly overset him; yet prudence forsook him not, and his reply, only expressive of thankfulness for her kindness to his suffering mother, implicated him not in any further suspicion of his being an improper visitor…

It is this act of generosity – the last time Angelina saw Orsino, he was abducting her and being forced on her as a husband – that binds the young bandit so firmly to her cause—and that will lead him to repay her services many times over.

(Grimani is the soldier-husband of the baby’s nurse, and an adherent of the late Duca.)

Things settle down for a time: Angelina devotes herself to the baby and to her uncle, both of whom thrive under her care. But storm-clouds are not long in gathering again; and a pleasant outing on the lake almost leads to tragedy when Theodore’s nurse, altering her grip on the wriggling infant, loses hold of him and drops him in the water.

Angelina, though she does not swim, does not hesitate to jump in after the child; but though she saves him in the short term, her wet clothes begin to drag her under. No assistance is forthcoming from the boat: the nurse has fainted, Hilario can’t work up the courage to jump in, and Vasco, in charge of the oars, rapidly sets out in the other direction—not to get help, as he claims, but to tell Sigismund as quickly as possible that the baby has drowned, and that Angelina deliberately threw him in…

Rescue is at hand, however: Fredrico, lurking as always, pulls both Angelina and the baby from the lake and escorts them back to the castle. Angelina confronts Vasco and Ezzelino in the anteroom of Sigismund’s suite: they join forces to stop her seeing her uncle:

    The pompous confessor looked ludicrously disconcerted; but after a momentary pause oi mortification, he said, “In the dismay and distraction your cruel plot, which has most providentially been frustrated, has involved me in, you cannot expect to find me consistent in any thing I utter. But, however I may express my negatives, you may rest assured I am firm to my purpose of not admitting you here.”
    “Assuredly not!” said Vasco imperiously; “for although her diabolical plot has proved successless, the turpitude of the attempt is still as heinous.”
    “Alas!” said Angelina in a tone and with a look of horrorised despair, ” you have killed my dear, dear uncle, with your cruelties, and fear to let me know it!”
    “Well-parried, most atrocious hypocrite!” exclaimed Vasco, affecting horror at her dire iniquity.
    “We fear not the candid acknowledgement of any action of ours, whatever you may do, Lady Angelina,” said Ezzelino haughtily; “and, to convince you how you have calumniated our humanity, if you promise to advance not a step until you hear the duca’s own decree, I will inform him you are here, and request admittance.”

Angelina agrees to this readily enough; but the decree she waits for, when it comes, is so cruel and so shocking – and coming on the back of her own near escape, and the baby’s – she faints for one of the few times in this narrative:

…instantly the almost-ever gentle Sigismund exclaimed, in the loud commanding voice of an infuriated maniac, “She! that wretch! that murderess of my treasure! dare ask admission here!—never, never shall my sight be blasted by a view of her, barbarian as she has proved to me, who entrusted her with my babe! Oh no, no, no! take her—tear her hence to direct torture, accompanied by the bitterest maledictions of the dying parent whose heart she has broken…”

 

[To be continued…]

04/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 1)

 

    The holy man now returned to attend his devotion, and the trembling Angelina proceeded with Fredrico along the damp and chilling vaults of the monastery of Santo Stefano.
    A gloomy silence reigned, whilst our fugitives trod many paces of their sombre route; for Fredrico had many perplexities to engage his meditations, and the pensive Angelina had no longer a wish for conversation; the pang the sound of ‘the contessa’ had given to her bosom, ere reflection had told her what contessa was most probably meant by Fredrico, had conveyed to her trembling heart the sad and firm conviction, that she loved the long betrothed of Lady Violante St. Seviero, the man accused of direful crimes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circumstances finally led me to a long-delayed reading of Catherine Cuthbertson’s Forest Of Montalbano, her third novel, which was published in four volumes in 1810—making it her shortest (!) work to date. It is also a better novel than either Romance Of The Pyrenees or Santo Sebastiano—although consequently a bit less fun, lacking as it does both the hilarious everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach of the former and the histrionic excesses of the latter.

Not to worry, though: there is no shortage here of insanely complicated plotting, secret identities, evil deeds, hair’s-breadth escapes, and all manner of other goodies. And in fact, for this sort of novel, Forest Of Montalbano is very well plotted indeed, holding together surprisingly well and successfully explaining most of its various mysteries; though of course, with a very heavy reliance upon coincidence and sheer good luck. (Sorry: I mean, of course, “the inscrutable workings of Providence”.) As usual with Cuthbertson, a good memory on the part of the reader is a necessity, with unexplained incidents, tossed-away details and side-comments from Volume I suddenly coming back to haunt us in Volume IV.

This is also “a Catherine Cuthbertson novel” in a variety of other respects, including her idiosyncratic use of language. Several of her established favourites make an appearance here, including “insulated”, and there are foreshadowings of Rosabella in one character’s – not the heroine – “death-resembling swoon”. Anyone suffering an emotional shock is declared to be “heart-rived”; and though fainting generally is toned down here, the characters, male as well as female, tend to turn “the hue of death” in moments of stress. However, our Word For The Day is “direful”, which appears with almost obsessive frequency over the course of the narrative (sometimes twice in the same paragraph!).

The most immediately striking thing about Forest Of Montalbano is that it feels as if Cuthbertson set out to write a novel that was in all respects the opposite of Santo Sebastiano. In place of that novel’s domestic English setting, here we have a late-Gothic novel set almost entirely in Italy; and since the entire cast is Catholic, there’s none of the earlier work’s religious bigotry, just good and bad people who all happen to be Catholic. The Inquisition does play a role, but it is relatively minor and only in the main narrative’s back-story; while the Jesuits are conspicuous by their absence. A couple of the novel’s villains are priests, but they have become priests purely out of ambition or as a smokescreen, with their religion beside the point; while we can hardly move for good churchmen; and most of the villains are lay-people.

The heroine of Forest Of Montalbano is Angelina di Balmero, daughter and only child of the Duca di Montalbano. Angelina is, of course, superlatively beautiful and practically perfect in every way—and it is to Cuthbertson’s credit that she manages to make her an engaging protagonist in spite of this. Of course Angelina is profoundly devout; and of course she spends most of the novel agonising over the finer points of “delicacy”, and splitting the hairs of “duty” and “rectitude”; but on the other hand – certainly not by the standards of this sort of literature, nor of her sister-heroines – she is neither a crier nor a fainter, doing both with relative infrequency and never without good cause. On the other hand, she is intelligent and proud (the latter offered as her main “sin”), and is called upon to display a remarkable degree of courage: Cuthbertson really puts her through the wringer here. She also has a nice line in sarcastic contempt, which she displays whenever someone treats her with what she considers insufficient respect or (not to put too fine a point upon it) tries to bullshit her.

Our hero, meanwhile, is a more ambiguous character—as least for the first volume or two. He is Fredrico di Alviano, and may or may not be the Conte di Alviano, according to the nature of the mysterious fate that overtook his father and elder brother…

Forest Of Montalbano is set predominantly in Tuscany, reasonable travelling distance from Florence. The eponymous forest is not as individually prominent in the narrative as the title might suggest, but the same wooded district does contain the Castle of Montalbano, Angelina’s home; Rossarno Castle, home to the di Alviano family; the monastery of Santo Stefano; and – of course – the headquarters of a dangerous gang of banditti.

The opening stretch of the novel is its most difficult phase for the reader: in her eagerness to start setting up her mysteries, Cuthbertson overdoes it, throwing unidentified characters and unexplained events into the mix with bewildering frequency and, at one point, forgetting to mention a particular plot-point until well after it becomes relevant. She also slides back and forth in time without sufficient explanation, leaving the reader confused over what happened when.

All that happens here is later explained; but it takes some time for each individual penny to drop, and for the introduced relationships to be clear.

Despite its main setting, Forest Of Montalbano opens in the convent of Santo Valentino, in the northern part of the Kingdom of Naples. A new abadessa (sic.) is appointed to the community, under the auspices of a certain Cardinal Gulielmo, who is a powerful, high-ranking official with the Pope’s ear; although the gossip about him is such, the senior nun who is being supplanted initially fears he is foisting a discarded mistress upon them (!). However, Lady Constantia’s behaviour soon changes everyone’s mind, and she wins her convent’s love and affection.

During his visit, Gulielmo is much struck by a young boarder at the convent. He is staggered when he learns that she is Angelina di Balmero, and has conveyed to her a note assuring her that should she ever need “a protector, an advisor, a friend”, he is entirely at her disposal.

Santo Valentino is obscure, and the nuns occupy an old, crumbling building that threatens to collapse. However, the order unexpectedly becomes the recipient of a generous bequest that lifts its standing, and provides alternative accommodation in the form of a castle in the same district, once it has undergone appropriate consecration—and which suffers only the slight drawback of being haunted…

But while several of the sisterhood, including Angelina, have strange experiences in a certain cypress grove, it is Lady Constantia who has the most terrifying experience, albeit not a supernatural one:

…the pensive prioress slowly pursued her way, often pausing to listen for the light footfalls of her friend, when, in turning to move on, after one of these lingering pauses, she suddenly beheld a man, incased in grey armor, standing before her, with his visor down…

The intruder demands of Lady Constantia that she provide asylum for a certain woman—and by “asylum” he means locking her up and throwing away the key. Constantia refuses, scorning both his bribes and his threats:

    “The convent of Santo Valentino is not for your purposes, therefore depart.”
    “Not until I tempt thee, paragon of firmness! further. Although gold cannot lure thee, because you want it not, cannot Fear operate upon this vaunted, virtuous stability of thine?”
    “Fear!” she calmly repeated. “What can I fear, from you? you can, it is true, here rob me, nay more, can aim at my life, but still you have no power over my integrity.”
    “I have power,” he exclaimed, in the determined tones of implacable vengeance; “I have power, whensoever I have inclination, to annihilate thee, or to blast at once thy fondly-coveted reputation for virtues, which you possess not; and to prove such is my power, doubt longer if you dare;” and he raised his visor.
    The abadessa uttering a piercing shriek, fell senseless to the ground…

(And some 1400 pages later, this scene is explained to us.)

Though some years younger, Angelina becomes the chosen friend of Lady Constantia, and in the nature of things tells her (although not, at the time, us) everything about herself. We do learn that she is an orphan, her father having been killed fighting for the Venetian forces against the Turks, and that subsequently her uncle – or rather, her uncle’s wife – banished her from her home and sent her to what was then the most unimportant and poorest convent she could find. She has been two years a boarder with the nuns of Santo Valentino when our story opens, and is now seventeen.

After listening to a conversation amongst the nuns, Angelina begins to worry that the admiration she feels for a certain young man may be something warmer: an interdicted emotion, as he is engaged if not married already; although during her last glimpse of him, in the dilapidated church attached to the abandoned convent, he appeared crushed by grief.

She tells Lady Constantia of her series of encounters with the young man, nearly three years before: his rescue of her dog, stolen by gypsies; a subsequent mutual visit, during which she learned that he had just returned from the Venetian campaign, and of his engagement to Lady Violante St. Seviero; of his risking his life, during the Carnival in Venice, to prevent the assassination of an elderly man; and, in turn, her subsequent rescue of him and his companion, Father Marsilio, from a plot of revenge by the thwarted assassin.

Above all, she describes the last letter she received from her father, in which she learns that the same young man once saved the Duca’s life:

    “In that letter of my sainted father, dear Lady Constantia, what do you think he said ? Why, he bade me ‘seek out the expected inhabitants of Rossarno Castle, the moment of their arrival there; but from all to select out Fredrico di Alviano, as the individual amongst them he most wished me to regard.
    “‘I would have you, my child,’ this now-sainted parent said, ‘to venerate this young man, for his eminent virtues. I would have you cherish him in your affection with a sister’s love, for his excellence claims your highest esteem, and your gratitude will aptly pay him the incense of it’s most lively inspirations…'”

Lady Constantia’s reaction to all this is hardly what Angelina expects:

    “It was then Fredrico di Alviano! Go on, go on, my friend,” exclaimed Lady Constantia; her countenance blanched to the tints of death.
    “It was indeed—and, and you know him, dearest friend?” said Angelina, in a voice of interest.
    “Yes, I do know him,” repeated the abadessa, in a tone of horror.

This is at the outset of Angelina’s lengthy and detailed tale. Towards its conclusion, we get the following exchange:

    “At length, dear Lady Constantia, a very short period prior to my expulsion from the castle of my uncle, the duchessa one day informed me, with a kind of mysterious exultation I could by no means account for, ‘That Fredrico di Alviano was to be united on the morrow to Lady Violante.'”
    “No,” exclaimed the abadessa, in trembling emotion, “the direful morrow never arrived to unite Violante and Fredrico.”
    “Not united!!!—Lady Violante and Conte Fredrico not united!!” exclaimed Angelina, staring in amazement, and blushing with sensations she had yet to learn the definition of. “But I believed they were, dear friend,” she tremulously added, “and my sad heart ceased for a moment to sorrow for it’s own woes; for, in truth, it did rejoice at hearing of this union— ‘For now,’ I mentally said, ‘Fredrico, the preserver of my father, will be happy.'”
    “Happy!” repeated the abadessa, in a tone of solemn wildness, that struck with the chill of horror to the heart of Angelina, “Fredrico can never be happy—not here—not hereafter!”

This split-vision of Fredrico di Alviano sets up one of the two main narrative threads of Forest Of Montalbano: though to Angelina he is everything that is most noble, brave and loving, to the world at large – including his own mother – he is a despoiler of women, the confederate of banditti—and the murderer of his father and half-brother…

The second narrative thread describes Angelina’s own increasingly desperate situation.

The main villains of this novel are the members of the Tolmezo family, who start out as mere social climbers but, as their ambition spirals, become ever more deeply involved in plots and crimes. They are, briefly, Ezzelino, one of the story’s two Bad Priests, and his nephews and niece: Lorenzago, steadily climbing the ladder through his own cynical marriage and his plans for his son; Minora, beautiful but bad; and Vasco, violent and dangerous.

Ironically enough, all this comes about because the one decent member of the Tolmezo family, Viletta, becomes Angelina’s governess: taking this estimable lady as a measure of the rest, Angelina becomes entangled with a nest of vipers who will threaten everything she has in the world—and eventually, her life.

This is where the back-story (and its timing) gets particularly confusing, but if we carefully pick it apart, we discover that, while her father is still alive, Angelina is invited to the home of the Tolmezos, who have targeted her as their way into higher society. It is while she and Viletta are on the road that Fredrico rescues her dog; he is invited to join them at the Tolmezos’ villa, and there she learns who he is—and about his engagement. Later, Angelina is a witness of the thwarted assassination (which, ironically enough, is the attempted murder of a father by his son); and she is returning to the Castle of Montalbano when she, or her carriage, is able to rescue Fredrico and Father Marsilio.

At this time, Angelina is only about fourteen years old, but her romantic difficulties have already begun. At the Tolmezos’, she attracts the attention of Vasco, and is far too unsophisticated to hide her horror and disgust when he pours out his passion for her—thus converting his love into a deadly hate.

But it is after the rescue of Fredrico and the priest that trouble really starts. By this time the Tolmezos have foisted Minora onto Angelina as a friend and companion, and after the rescue of Fredrico and Father Marsilio, she becomes obsessed with the handsome young man—to the point of openly declaring her passion for him. He lets her down more easily than Angelina did Vasco, but with the same sort of finality; showing Minora clearly enough that he considers a vast gulf to lie between herself and Angelina; though at this time, and in light of his engagement, he thinks of the latter only as the daughter of his friend and patron.

Angelina and Fredrico separate at this point and do not meet again for about three years. It is soon after this that the news comes of the death of the Duca di Montalbano, with his brother, Sigismund, inheriting the title and estates. There is a series of increasingly ugly (and frankly confusing) passages between Angelina and “the new duchessa”, which culminate in the girl’s expulsion from her home and her entrance as a boarder to the convent of Santo Valentino—

—and it is only then that we learn that the Duchessa di Montalbano is Minora Tolmezo, who succeeded in luring the helpless, hypochrondriacal Sigismund into marriage. Despite this, Minora still hates Angelina, blaming her for Fredrico’s rejection, and sets about ruining her life—including preventing Sigismund from making any provision for her. In a stroke, Angelina is demoted from “the heiress of Montalbano” to the position of poor relation.

And after Angelina has been in the convent for two years, our story proper opens—phew!

BUT—

Before we really get on with things (sorry!), in the spirit of this blog there is one more touch I really have to mention:

In her quest to ruin Angelina, Minora is determined to produce a baby as soon as possible; and since, we gather, this might not have happened of its own accord – Sigismund having had plenty of leisure in which to repent – she pulls a Mary-of-Modena and hires a pregnant servant to deliver the goods, as it were. Minora is therefore stuck with it when the baby turns out to be a girl; but when, later, she falls pregnant herself, with the possibility of sealing Angelina’s disinheritance by producing a boy, the poor little thing becomes an inconvenience and is disposed of by the Tolmezos. Horrifying as this is, the completely casual way in which Cuthbertson reveals it is pretty hilarious. The only thing funnier is that when Minora’s own baby is born, everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – is astonished to discover it actually resembles the Montalbanos…

So:

Angelina concludes her lengthy tale by describing to Lady Constantia the last time she saw Fredrico, at the church attached to the now-deserted convent. Startled by the abrupt entrance of a man, she instinctively hid—

    “The Conte Fredrico, whom two years since I had left at the Villa di Castrioto, in all the bloom of health and beauty, smiling in all the animated vivacity of a man greatly, deservedly happy, now stood before me, pale, haggard, attennuated, with agonizing grief, horror, and despair, legibly, touchingly portrayed upon every line of a countenance eloquent in proclaiming the feelings of his heart…
    “Upon his knees he meekly sunk to pray—to pray: oh! how devoutly did he pray! The influence of the sacred intercourse soon was visible; the Christian’s resignation diffused itself in mild affecting calmness over a countenance so lately distorted by despair, tranquilising it to a submissive serenity, that promptly thrilled to the heart of sympathy; while by degrees his grief-dimmed eyes emitted rays so bright, so resplendent, they seemed beams of the sublimated fire of virtue, sparkling in consciousness of some heroic greatness, approved by him whose holy spirit could alone inspire it; and as he arose from the altar, a smile beamed over his countenance, a smile so sweet, so celestial, it surely was formed in heaven, and only given to innocence to wear…”

And it is primarily because of this stolen glimpse of Fredrico’s devotions that Angelina initially refuses to believe him guilty of anything, despite an accumulation of appalling evidence. It also seals what she now recognises as her love for him.

Shortly afterwards, a message arrives unexpectedly recalling Angelina to the Castle of Montalbano; and we are given a nice sample of Minora’s letter-writing style—and her attitude to her niece-in-law:

“At the earnest request of your dying uncle, I have been induced graciously to forgive your past unprecedented insolencies to me, and to grant you admission once more beneath the roof of my castle. You therefore cannot but, in justly-awakened lively gratitude for this my unparalleled kindness, come unaccompanied by your former unbecoming supercilious arrogance, and, from my condescension, learning to be grateful, acquire the necessary knowledge of your own dependent situation; and, remembering the respect you owe your superiors, come in meek humility, bending with that just submission, which, as my right, I am determined to exact from all beneath me…”

A carriage arrives, and Angelina is forced to part from her friends and companions of the past two years:

    The heart-chilled Angelina now entered the grated parlour with her agitated friend, and there beheld Father Ezzelino di Tolmezo, uncle and confessor to the Duchessa di Montalbano; Anfania, a favorite woman of la duchessa‘s; and a monk, who seemed so lost to worldly cares and ceremonies, that he sat with his arms folded across his breast, with his head bent towards the ground, and his cowl overshadowing every feature of his face…
    Father Ezzelino was bearing her away in his arms (for grief, and unwillingness yet to go, had robbed her of the faculty of walking), when the hoodwinked monk approached the powerfully-affected abadessa—
    “Doubt you longer my power of vengeance?” he lowly said, raising his cowl.
    “Treacheryl” Lady Constantia shrieked; and ere she could accomplish her intention, of snatching Angelina from Father Ezzelino, who had borne her from the parlour, her terror-struck feelings deprived her of respiration, and she fell into the arms of Sister Olinda in a swoon…

Angelina does not suspect the real cause of her friend’s cry, and merely supposes her overcome by emotion at their parting. Her journey then becomes an endurance trial, with Ezzelino scolding and criticising whatever he can, and Anfania bragging about her mistress’s beauty, how admired she is, the magnificence of her wardrobe—and her jewels, which once belonged to Angelina’s mother. Angelina shrugs off most of this, though she is horrified to hear of the situation of Sigismund—among other things:

    “…your dear uncle is grown more frightfully hunch-backed, more fanciful, more ridiculous, and more weak in body and mind than ever. And, for my part, I hope, if he does not betake himself speedily to a better world, that they will adopt the excellent plan they have had in contemplation, and at once take out a statute of lunacy against him…
    “For then,” said Anfania, who continued speaking, “the duchessa need not be under such restraints; she might then have all her own family about her, and then she might go where she pleased, and do as she pleased; and so she ought; for she ought to be indulged in every thing, to recompence her for marrying such a fright: she, the finest creature the sun ever shone upon, sacrificed to a hunched-back lunatic!… Ah! she is so perfectly the queen of love, that every one is of opinion she might have married some king or emperor at least, since every man who sees her is distracted for her. There, for instance, is Conte Fredrico di Alviano has literally gone crazed for her. Ah! many and many a letter I have carried from her to him, to reject his suits of love; so, when he found she really would not listen to him, he cared not what became of him, and so in despair plunged slap into all the enormous crimes he has since committed…”

The travellers are deep with the Forest of Montalbano when Ezzelino suddenly announces that he must call at Santo Stefano to collect one Father Jeronimo, famed for his skill in healing, who has agreed to call upon Sigismund. It is, however, the still-unnamed monk who directs the carriage to a certain elevated mound in the forest. The two men then depart on foot; and soon after, Anfania announces that they are near her mother’s cottage, and departs to pay her a visit. As their mutual absence grows longer, Angelina becomes frightened; but it is eventually only a lay-monk who approaches the carriage, announcing that Ezzelino has requested it driven to the monastery. The postillions professing their ignorance of its whereabouts, the monk offers to direct them—with the carriage winding deeper and deeper into the woods, and night beginning to fall…

The unnerving journey ends with a swift crossing of a draw-bridge, which slams behind the carriage, cutting off its attending outriders—and delivering Angelina into the hands of the banditti.

Her first exposure to the gang is not as terrifying as it might have been: a young man of quite gentle demeanour swings himself into the carriage and assures her that he is there to see no harm comes to her. He refuses to answer any questions, however, and escorts her into the stronghold of the gang. Inside, she is placed in the care of a woman who is clearly mentally unstable, and who turns out to be the mother of the young man, Orsino—and the wife of the gang’s leader, Salimbini. The unfortunate woman confuses Angelina with someone called Hermione, and in trying to comfort her, only puts the seal on her terrors and miseries:

“And so I distress you, and you weep for me, young and pretty thing; but keep, keep your tears for your own woes; for you will want a river of them if you should come to know Fredrico di Alviano, since all who know him may rue the day they ever breathed in this world’s vale of misery!”

When Salimbini arrives with his criminal entourage, Orsino has Angelina taken away to a chamber prepared for her. Left alone there, Angelina immediately begins looking for a way of escape, but finds her room has only a single window some seven feet off the ground. She climbs onto a chair to inspect it; and though the window offers no comfort, she accidentally displaces a painting on the wall, discovering an aperture behind it that opens into the main banqueting-hall of the banditti. Her hope for escape is immediately dashed; but she can see something of what is going on, and hear everything—and so discovers that the unnamed “monk”, he who frightened Lady Constantia into a cry of, “Treachery!”, is actually Salimbini himself.

(How Constantia knows the banditti leader is left to our imaginations for a 1000 pages or so.)

Fredrico himself then appears—apparently quite at home in the gang’s headquarters. The conversation which follows does nothing to reassure Angelina. It is clear that some sort of pact exists between Fredrico and Salimbini—a promise on one side, a secret held on the other. But that their partnership, whatever it may be, is a contentious one is also soon clear: Fredrico is unable to conceal his contempt for the bandit, who retaliates by subjecting him to various humiliations, including forcing him to drink with him.

Salimbini over-indulges, however, and his loosened tongue reveals the plot against Angelina—who he intends to force into marriage with Orsino. He also reveals that the Tolmezos were behind her “abduction”, and they are likewise moving against the life of the unfortunate Sigismund. The bandit’s subsequent bragging about the bride’s beauty, wealth and standing give Fredrico his opportunity, and he taunts Salimbini into a wager that requires him to reveal his prisoner.

With speed and daring, Fredrico then succeeds in carrying Angelina away from the stronghold, hiding her under the monk’s robe in which he himself arrived disguised, and conveying her through the forest to the ruins of some Roman baths. There, within, Father Marsilio is waiting: he is horrified to hear that Fredrico has defied Salimbini in this way, and predicts dire consequences. Fredrico, however, assures him, and Angelina, that for various reasons Salimbini will not dare retaliate.

The terms in which Angelina’s gratitude is expressed convinces Fredrico that she has not heard the worst about him:

    “Ah! Lady Angelina,” exclaimed Fredrico, in the faltering voice of varied emotion, “this kindness of compassion, so touchingly evinced, assures me, you only know that I have been unfortunate; not—not that I stand arraigned for direful crimes.”
    “Alas! I do know you are suspected of them,” said Angelina, in the lowly tremulous tone of agitated kindness, ” since the voice of calumny reached even me, recluse as I have been.”
    “The voice of calumny!!!—you, you call it calumny!!—oh! how my sorrow-laden heart thanks you, my sweetly, merciful friend!” exclaimed Fredrico, convulsively grasping her hand in overpowering gratitude; and trembling in agitation almost too mighty for subjugation, sunk; vanquished by excess of feeling, upon a bench beside her, unable to articulate how his heart thanked her…

Of course, all this begs the question of how, exactly, Fredrico is still on the loose—able to come and go as he chooses, more or less, though the subject of scorn and loathing from all but a small band of passionate adherents.

It transpires, indirectly, that Fredrico has friends in high places; there is even an oblique reference to “the pontiff’s protection”. Later we learn that, although accused of the murders of his father and elder brother, he has been effectively bailed for a year: given that time to find the missing witness he claims can prove his innocence. It is this quest that has forced him into his reluctant partnership with Salimbini. who has his own fish to fry.

However, there is clearly more to the situation than even the little that meets the eye. Fredrico has been sworn to secrecy about various aspects of the events that led to his public condemnation, and is unable to defend himself even verbally as a consequence, except in the most general terms. This, plus his ambiguous behaviour with respect to the banditti, and the way in which he stealthily comes and goes, has only added to the weight of suspicion that rests upon him; and he has become, too, a convenient scapegoat for almost everyone connected with the situation.

Fredrico leads Angelina through an underground passage that leads to Santo Stefano, and from there into the vaults of Rossarno Castle. They emerge in the castle’s chapel, where a monument has been erected to the late Conte di Alviano—only for Fredrico to find himself in the presence of his mother, the Contessa Zarina:

    “Monster of unnatural cruelty! how dare you thus appear before me? Can—can your callous heart, now black in turpitude, forget that, when your impious hand despoiled me of my husband, I tore my diabolical son from my heart, and forbade him my presence for ever?”
    “Oh! no, madam, I have not, I cannot cease to remember the hatred, the prejudiced injustice of my mother,” replied the conte, in a tone of the most affecting despondence: then with an air of the firmly conscious dignity of innocence, he continued,—“nor is my disobedience to my mother’s afflicting mandate voluntary, nor at the tomb, him you believe my impious hands have immolated, could I, however black in turpitude you deem my heart, have dared to present myself before the widow of the man I murdered?”
    “Murdered!” the Contessa di Alviano shrieked—“murdered! and by his own child!— by my own child!—by mine! oh Fredrico!” and subdued by horror and despair, she sunk upon the ground. — In an agony of alarm and grief, her agitated son flew to raise her.
    “Approach me not! touch me not!” she wildly cried, ” lest in my horror, at the contact, I learn to curse my child as often in the ravings of my phrenzied grief I have the hour which gave him birth.”

Angelina is moved to interfere in this appalling situation. She makes things worse before they get better, however: the contessa sees her clad in her conventual habit, the only clothes she has, and assumes that Fredrico has abducted a nun. (And as it turns out, again.) Angelina indignantly repudiates this suggestion, and praises Fredrico’s courage in rescuing her, as well as her belief in his innocence of any crime.

But it is only when Zarina learns who this dignified young woman is that she is moved to listen to her pleas for Fredrico. The late Duca and Duchessa di Montalbano were her closest friends, and she knew them for people of the most rigid honour and inviolable principles; she cannot conceive anything less of their daughter, who now defends Fredrico’s innocence so vigorously.

The contessa for the first time hesitates—and doubts—but her softened tone draws upon her the explosive wrath of Guiseppe, younger brother of the late Conte di Alvariano, and also “probationary Arcivescovo di Mazzarino” (there is an archbishopric in the family’s keeping, but Guiseppe hasn’t taken orders yet). Intruding upon the scene, he violently upbraids Zarina as a “sinful, degenerate woman”, for holding communication with the murderer of her husband.

In order to cut the painful scene short, Fredrico offers to withdraw; only begging protection for Angelina. He is obliged to explain how she came to be in his company, thus revealing he knows rather too much about the banditti and their ways. This provokes another explosion from Guiseppe—and an unexpectedly feisty retort from Angelina:

    “Woman!” vociferated the archbishop haughtily, “pollute not your breath by holding converse with this devoted sinner. Our present duty is, to provide for the safety of a daughter of the illustrious house of Montalbano, who, to deserve the protection of the virtuous, must first, ere we grant her ours, solemnly promise before the altar of high heaven, to abjure all further communication with Fredrico di Alviano, and to forswear now, and for ever, all friendship for, and every grateful remembrance of.”
    “What!” exclaimed the astonished and recoiling girl; “what, monsignore, vow at the altar of my Creator to become a wretch undeserving of the future mercy of pitying Heaven! Forswear the preserver of my parent’s life, the protector of my own from wretchedness! Forget my gratitude to Conte Fredrico di Alviano! Never, no, never. And if on terms of infamy like these only I acquire the Reverendissimo Arcivescovo di Mazzarino’s protection, proudly, exultingly, in the purer spirit of superior virtue, I renounce it with abhorrence!”

While we’re inclined to applaud, this speech scuppers Fredrico’s plans, which involved not merely getting Angelina a night’s accommodation, but returning her safely and with dignity to the Castle of Montalbano—in a way that lets the Tolmezos know that others are keeping an eye on her. The furious Guiseppe now repudiates Angelina, refusing her entry to the castle proper and forcing the contessa away from the scene.

The young people are still debating the point when they are joined by Claudia, an elderly servant, who to Fredrico’s joy and relief has come at Zarina’s orders to conduct Angelina to a room for the night—though secretly. Claudia is your typical garrulous retainer, and at this point it is not possible for the reader to pick out the few gems from the landslide of her conversation; though this touch alludes to something that later becomes vital:

“You need not have expressed so much concern at the idea of detaining my young lord, or, alas! now our only lord, from his pillow, by going on this embassy for you, as he now never sleeps, never seeks a pillow, unless he finds one upon the cold earth, when, overpowered by fatigue, he drops into a slumber in his mysterious rambles through the woods and forest, where he often wanders now all day long; and then all night he sits up in my late lord’s library, locked and barricaded up from the possibility of any intruder, where his enemies say ‘his wicked companions assemble, to plot new crimes with him;’ but I say, ‘how do they get in, unseen by any one?’ and then I am told, ‘that those who consign themselves to the powers of darkness can become invisible at pleasure’…”

It is through Claudia’s ramblings that we get our first intimation that Guiseppe is anything but a man of God, as she chatters about his night-time wanderings. Guiseppe does try to prevent Angelina seeing Zarina again – Claudia later suggests, shrewdly, that he afraid Angelina will soften Zarina’s attitude towards Fredrico – but Angelina herself settles matters via her artfully artless dropping of the name of Cardinal Gulielmo, which reduces Guiseppe to a state of unwonted meekness.

And it is via Claudia’s gas-bagging the next morning that Angelina (and we) learns the rest of our back-story.

Fredrico, then aged only nineteen, succeeded in carrying Lady Violante away from the convent of Santo Rosalia in Rome—making him guilty of sacrilege, at least, since she had just completed her novitiate. He was also guilty of causing a hell of a scandal, as the lady in question is Gulielmo’s niece. Much parlaying later, it was agreed amongst the seniors in the matter that Lady Violante would thereafter live with the di Alvianos, and marry Fredrico when he came of age.

Claudia is of the opinion that the two were never really in love; that the beautiful Violante, five years older than Fredrico, took advantage of the young man’s sense of romance and adventure in appealing to him for “rescue” from the convent. She describes a turbulent two years, full of scenes driven by Violante’s vanity and caprice; until, the day before the wedding—Violante eloped with Rolando, Fredrico’s older half-brother:

    “My lord, favoring the cause of his eldest son, had planned the elopement, and had himself gone off with the young couple to see them united. Fredrico, apprised of the plan, in jealousy and indignation, was in wait to frustrate it—but how the direful catastrophe was perpetrated, no witness appears to tell. Lady Violante refuses to make any communications, except in announcing her firm belief of Fredrico’s guilt.
    “But, alas! my lord and Conte Rolando disappeared; the attendants described their being surrounded by an armed troop, who dragged their lord from the carriage, whom they saw no more. However, from the search which was made afterwards, a track of blood was discovered from a spot near where the carriage was stopped to an obscure coppice on the banks of the Arno, where Rolando’s hat, some of his clothes, and part of the insignia of the military order of St. Marc, which he wore, were found. Of his assassination there is certainly no doubt, although the Arno never returned his body, for into that it was surely precipitated: and in sad, sad confirmation of the further direful catastrophe of the night, the emissaries of Giuseppe found the body of my poor lord, clad as he left home, with the well-known dagger of Fredrico (which he had taken in battle from a Mahometan janizary in the Morea) stuck in his heart, hid under a heap of stones…”

 

 

[To be continued…]