Posts tagged ‘19th century’

15/01/2021

The Van Diemen’s Land Warriors, or The Heroes Of Cornwall

 

 

For many a mile, through many a sultry day,
In vain these heroes o’er the mountains stray,
When fortune deeming it was monstrous hard,
That men so spirited should be debarred
From falling in with Brady’s treacherous crew,
And proving what a valorous heart could do,
Made the keen eyes of all the party see
The looked-for robbers sleeping ‘neath a tree:
Gladly they saw the rascals snoring lay
Then fixed their bayonets and—ran away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop the presses.

We have spent some time considering the question of “the first Australian novel“, which despite arguments of provenance is generally considered to be Henry Savery’s Quintus Servinton.

Without disputing Savery’s title, it has recently come to my attention that there was an earlier work of—if not fiction, exactly, then non -non-fiction – the first poem to be published in Australia as a free-standing work – The Van Diemen’s Land Warriors, or The Heroes Of Cornwall: A Satire In Three Cantos by someone calling himself “Pindar Juvenal”. This humorous work tells the story of a band of citizens who, disgusted with the failure of the army to capture the Tasmanian bushranger, Matthew Brady, set out to do the job themselves.

This is today a very rare work, with only a couple of copies of the original document still in existence and its authorship still in dispute. The copy held by the State Library of NSW has a handwritten annotation on its title page (see above) suggesting that “Pindar Juvenal” was actually “Robert Wales of Launceston”…though who Robert Wales was is also in dispute. The Oxford Companion To Australian Literature refers to Wales as “an officer of the Tasmanian courts”. However, in a 1947 edition of the Launceston newspaper, the Examiner, an academic called Dr Morris Miller comments that he has, “Read a reference in the Hobart Town Courier of 1830 to Robert Wales as editor of the Launceston Advertiser.” Either one of these positions would have given Wales sufficient cause to hide behind a pseudonym.

But Wales is not the only one nominated for authorship. In fact, we have a competing annotation in the copy of The Van Diemen’s Land Warriors held by the National Library in Canberra, which states that the author was one James Atkinson, about whom I have not been able to find anything out.

The third nomination is Evan Henry Thomas, an important figure in Australian publishing at this time. In 1822, his poems first appeared in the pages of the Hobart Town Gazette: the first poetry to be written and published in Australia, albeit that it was not released in book form. By 1824, Thomas was the editor of the Gazette—and in fact was the author of the editorial against Governor-General George Arthur that got publisher Andrew Bent imprisoned for libel.

There was an effort made to sort out the authorship of The Van Diemen’s Land Warriors nearly twenty years before Dr Miller’s research of the 1940s. In 1928, the proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society published a short paper by Arthur Jose reporting on an exhibition of early Australian publications at the British Museum, including a copy of the poem by “Pindar Juvenal”. Because of the work’s great rarity, Jose summarises it.

He then poses a question that anyone reading this poem must ask themselves:

“Just a cheap witticism, you think, a ‘pipe’ of the kind fairly common in the early days. But at whom was it aimed? And why publish it in 1827, when Brady had been caught by John Batman early in 1826? Many of the details (I have not enlarged on them here) seem stupidly irrelevant if they do not refer to something that actually happened. But I cannot find in any book available this side of the oceans any chase of Brady that could have given rise to the story. After all, a satire must be intended to satirise something. Can anyone tell what?”

Jose’s plea received a response from the editor of the Proceedings, in which he highlights the poem’s historical importance and addresses the authorship debate. With regard to its intent, the editor references an article in the Tasmanian newspaper, the Argus, from 1911, which called the poem, “A satire on the military forces for their repeated failures to put an end to the bushranging of those evil days.”

He then points out perhaps the most important thing of all about this work: it was probably Australia’s first banned book. Copies of it, it seems, were literally burnt.

Perhaps we need to keep in mind here the lessons of Henry Savery’s other important work, The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land. While much of its satire is today inexplicable, at the time of its first appearance it was absolutely understandable, to the point of getting Andrew Bent sued for libel again (this time, to his great cost). So just because later readers do not “get” the references is no reason to conclude that the satire has no point.

And in fact, I think the clue to the satire can be found in the details of Matthew Brady’s career—despite the fact that he had been captured and hanged the year before. Considered incorrigible, in 1823 Brady was transferred to the brutal penal colony of Macquarie Harbour on Sarah Island, from where, despite the “Alcatraz” conditions, he and a band of confederates managed to escape in a small boat. Over the next two years, Brady became one of Australia’s “popular” bushrangers: he had a reputation for not resorting to violence except in self-defence, and for considerate treatment of women.

The highlight, so to speak, of Brady’s career was his gang’s occupation of the town of Sorell, during which they captured the local garrison after ambushing the soldiers stationed there upon their return from an unsuccessful day spent searching for, you guessed it, Matthew Brady: giving them a night in their own lock-up.

Furthermore, Brady became one of the many waging a personal war against George Arthur—even issuing a satirical “wanted” poster for the much-hated Governer-General. The furious Arthur responded by escalating the reward for Brady’s capture, and then taking to the field himself. But while Brady was eventually cornered, and though his capture is attributed to the actions of John Batman (who is famous and infamous for too many things to be discussed here), it seems that the bushranger’s downfall was due to the infiltration of his gang by an informant.

So if we place The Van Diemen’s Land Warriors in this context, it makes sense as part of the ongoing campaign against George Arthur, despite the demise of Brady. Perhaps we should even read “Captain Snip”, the tailor who leads the band of “warriors”, as Arthur himself. Alternatively, perhaps the “warriors”, named only by profession rather than name, were meant to be sketches of certain prominent citizens of Launceston: a reading bolstered by the wish-fulfillment aspect of their ultimate fate.

(BTW, at the time Tasmania, or rather Van Diemen’s Land, was divided into two “counties”, with the territory north of the 42nd parallel, including Launceston, part of “Cornwall County”.)

After opening with the author’s dedication to his “best and most sincere friend” – himself – The Warriors Of Van Diemen’s Land begins with a statement of its manifesto:

War, and those gallant souls, I proudly chant,
Whose lion hearts did bravely fiercely pant—
To capture Brady, and his ruffian band,
Who reigned the terror of Van Diemen’s Land;
I sing the meeting of the valiant crew,
Who met to argue what was best to do,
What was the sure and most effectual plan,
To take the lives of Brady’s murd’rous clan;
Oh ! Wellington, the feats that I’ll report,
Will make thy brav’ry dwindle into nought;
The fields of Talavera—Waterloo—
Were nought, compared to what the muse will shew!

From here we pass to a gathering of citizens airing their grievances, among which we find the failures of the soldiers and so on up the chain of command:

He wished to axe the gentlemen if they
Did not with him most solemnly enveigh
Against the silly rules and measures planned
By Colonel Arthur, Governor of the land,
Who sent out soldiers to destroy the band?
Soldiers, indeed! why he himself would fight
A dozen such, and put them awl to flight!
But as he always acted on the square,
He’d rather have the angry battle fair,
And fight one soldier, if one soldier dare…

After agreeing that they must band together and take action, the next matter of business is who is to command this new militia. Each man suggests himself, and offers up his qualifications for the job. The town tailor is eventually appointed, he having beaten two men both hindered by wooden legs:

At last they all with one accord agreed,
The Tailor’s action was the bravest deed,
And each resolved to make this daring trip
Under the charge of gallant Captain Snip,
Who proudly—fiercely girding on his shears,
Exclaimed come on, I’ll clip the villains’ ears!

The band’s first venture comes to nothing, as it is belatedly discovered that they charged their weapons with boot-black instead of powder; besides the Baker loading his musket-balls and “powder” in the wrong order: mistakes which have some immediately positive consequences:

Well might the Grocer’s little ’prentice puzzle
To find the cause (though loaded to the muzzle!)
His gun would not go off and shoot,
That noble animal—the bandicoot!

Well might the wond’ring Baker try
To ascertain the reason why
His gun so obstinate refused to fire
And gratify his murderous desire;
Because if real powder had been used,
The musket would have still refused
To breathe destruction to the kang’roo-rat,
Which on a log most impudently sat…

Having returned home to fix their weapons, the band sallies out again and has – as it then believes – its first encounter with Brady and his gang: an encounter that (as per my header quote) ends rather ingloriously. However, after the initial panic, they steel themselves for the job – the bushrangers are, after all, still sleeping – and, creeping up, fire away:

…kindly harmless every bullet passes,
And spares the lives of five or six jackasses…

****

The startled animals their long ears pricking,
Jumped up, and proved themselves alive and kicking,
For, cocking their tails, o’er hill and dale they bound,
Leaving the warriors masters of the ground,
(Except a few who’d shut both eyes to fire,
And did not open either to enquire,
Before they ran, how many robbers bled,
Or whether the whole, or only part were dead…)

Others are in the vicinity, and drawn by the sound of firing. Suddenly finding themselves at gunpoint, the warriors are ordered to drop their weapons and hastily obey:

And thirteen men were hapless prisoners made,
Who thought if yielding would obtain them quarter,
T’were better to do so, than to risk such slaughter;
Meekly submitting, every hand was tied
Before th’ affrighted prisoners descried
Their stout and gallant conquerers to be,
From the 40th Regiment of Infantry…

…who of course were also out hunting Brady, and are disinclined to listen to their prisoners’ indignant claims of innocent citizenship. The captives plead their case before a magistrate who, after a few unkind words about their lack of bravery, discharges them. He also consoles the soldiers:

My gallant friends, I must allow to you,
There’s greatest praise and every credit due,
In spite of your unfortunate mistake,
An error very natural to make;
So natural indeed my mind conceives,
The devil himself would take them all for thieves…

The warriors are still getting over their fright when they walk almost into the arms of the very people who, at that moment, they least wish to see:

Alas! whilst busied setting stitches,
And mending his company’s ragged breeches,
The unsuspecting Captain Snip descries
(With terror equal to his great surprise)
The daring Brady with his lawless band,
Around himself and hapless comrades stand…

Snip does his best:

When thus to him did Captain Snip reply
With chatt’ring teeth, and tearful sorrowing eye
Upon his trembling and submissive knees;
My Lord—your Excellency—your Honour—please
To spare our lives, we’re not (as you suppose)
Armed as your Rev’rences most daring foes,
But only sportsmen bearing guns to shoot
The kangaroo-rat and bandicoot…

Warned by Brady that they have only ten minutes to live, the warriors fall to their knees and begin confessing their sins, which causes some eyebrow-raising amongst the bushrangers, who observe that they are innocent men compared to these “honest citizens”. After some debate, they agree to spare their prisoners’ lives—but mete out a round punishment first:

With cat-o nine-tails, and with one accord,
Most kindly liberally did award
To every private volunteer, the sum
Of fifty lashes on his naked b-m,
By way of what they called a pay or pension,
Due to their services and good intention…

Brady then confiscates the trousers of the sobbing crew, and sends them on their way:

In such a glaring dishabille, alas!
Through streets of Launceston compelled to pass
The girls and women vowed t’was monstrous rude
For men to walk about the town so nude;
While every ragged little urchin screeches,
‘Pray what’s the price of buck-skin breeches’?
At last they gladly each arrive once more
Safely within his own respective door,
Resolved no more in search of fame to roam,
To mind his business, and stay at home.

.

14/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 3)


    On one side lay a thousand pounds; but in picking it up, he must not only soil his hands (which, though not very important to the principles of such a gentleman, was exceedingly repugnant to his taste,) but he must also put his safety into very considerable danger by the transaction.
    Nevertheless the bribe was too rich a one to be decisively rejected; it was impossible to foresee exactly how things might turn out… Should he succeed in leading Mr Gordon and Lord Darcy, by gentle degrees, to place themselves entirely in his friendly hands, he nothing doubted of the liberality with which, in one way or another, his important services would be rewarded. If, on the contrary, he failed in this, the bribe offered by Nixon Oglander would still be within his grasp; and if his offered friendship were rejected, he determined to deserve it…
    Fervently did he give thanks to his own foresight, when the reception which his overtures received from Mr Gordon convinced him, that there was nothing to be hoped from him, or his noble charge. His assertion, that Dally was alive, sealed the fate of Lord Darcy in his soul : he had no longer a secret to sell. He dies then,—was the conclusion at which he had arrived…

 

 

 

The reader has been put on guard before this revelation, by the dislike of her uncle felt by Emily Williams, which stems from her sense that his much-vaunted religious devotion is all show and no substance. Still—we are hardly expecting the history briefly sketched for us, recounting the transformation of Captain Bob Brown:

No hope or wish of becoming an honest man ever entered into his imagination; but he ardently desired to be considered as an honourable and respectable individual. The most obvious method of achieving this was to make a good marriage. His private and well conducted inquiries soon convinced him that a young lady of large fortune is not easily found in the United States, even by so handsome a man as the Rev. Mr Wilson; but influence and connexion were at least as necessary to him as money, and he finally decided upon laying Colonel Brown and his five thousand pounds, now converted into the Rev. Mr Wilson and his twenty thousand dollars, at the feet of a pretty girl, who was living with her brother-in-law, at that time one of the Secretaries of State.

Here Brown / Wilson misunderstands the society he has entered: a high government position in America does not necessarily imply a private fortune; and when his wife’s brother-in-law loses office, it casts all of them out of Washington high-life. He then realises that if he is going to climb, he is going to have to do it under his own powers; and soon discovers that, in the society he occupies, he could not have chosen a more effective disguise for doing so:

    He had the satisfaction of discovering, that his assumed title of reverend was most happily chosen: it immediately gave him rank and influence, and might, as it was easy for an intelligent mind to perceive, lead to more substantial advantages. He turned all his attention to the discovery of some happy spot wherein to fix himself, as the centre round which might revolve the faith, hope, and charity of the fair, the rich, and the righteous. The growing wonders of Rochester were too loudly vaunted, not to reach his sharp ear. He went there, examined the localities, ascertained the amount of the population, and the rate of its increase, and purchased an extensive lot, whereon to build a house and a church. His wife, on hearing the news, blessed the gods that she had been wedded to a saint on earth, and that she was going to be a greater lady in Rochester, than ever the Secretary of State’s wife had proved at Washington. And so she assuredly became.
    The unheard of exploit of building a church upon a man’s private funds, backed by the burning eloquence of the versatile preacher, produced an effect, even greater than he had anticipated; and he soon ruled the hearts, and almost the purses, of Rochester. That the church was of wood, and the lumber furnished on credit, in no way affected the exalted nature of the act, and the fame of Mr Wilson spread far. It were long to tell how such fame is turned to gold; but it was so turned, and by gentle degrees, wives’ pennies, and widows’ mites, accumulated upon him, till, at the time we find him, he had become nearly the most thriving, and decidedly the most influential citizen of Rochester…

Over the intervening years, a desultory correspondence has been maintained between the ci-devant Bob Brown and his old partner in crime, Nixon Oglander. The letter from the latter quoted in Part 1 reaches “Wilson” a week after the English party has left Rochester. His reaction is not exactly that of “a saint on earth”; and if he makes the right decision, it is hardly for the right reasons:

    For above half an hour Wilson sat in deep rumination on its contents. Was it not possible that he might get more out of Gordon by disclosing the truth, than Oglander offered for the crime? The manners of Mr Gordon, after his long fast from good company, suavity, and fashion, had charmed him; a connexion of confidence, intimacy, and profit, with such a man would be delightful. He read the letter again. Oglander was a monster—he would never more be the agent of such a being. He should win the eternal gratitude of the whole party. Lord Darcy might marry his beautiful daughter Emma, and Miss Gordon would again be thrown in the way of his son: it was decided.
    He felt himself a reformed man, and would not again plunge into the dirty gulph of iniquity from which his genius had redeemed him; no, not for a thousand pounds!

But even as he makes plans for following the English party to Niagara, dreaming pleasantly of an earl’s patronage and a return to London as he does so, Wilson receives a most unwelcome visitor. He also makes the mistake of drawing back instinctively from that visitor’s proffered handshake: the offended Richard Dally responds with an angry contempt that informs the infuriated Wilson that in order to compel his compliance, Oglander has revealed his secret to the young man.

Moreover, even a brief exposure to his company is enough to warn Wilson of how much danger is posed by Dally’s violent temper and thin skin: the slightest hint of evasion or patronisation on his part prompts a torrent of threats in return.

(Here we learn one of the reasons for Dally’s willingness to undertake this mission, besides his desire for revenge upon Darcy: he has interpreted the frequent description of America as “a free country” to mean there are no prisons!)

Placating Dally with soft words, good food and whiskey, and allowing him to sleep off the latter two, Wilson thinks fast. He first dispatches a cryptic letter to Oglander, deploring his choice of the unreliable Dally as his tool, and assuring him that he, Wilson, will take care of the business once Dally is out of his hair. He then sends the latter south rather than north, telling him that the English party are travelling in Virginia and may probably be found at Harper’s Ferry. He also feigns a reluctance to involve himself in the business, drawing Dally into offering to settle matters on his own in exchange for half of what Oglander has promised him, Wilson—which he mistakenly believes is the same fee of £100 he expects for his own services.

At this point we learn that Dally has indeed brought Susan and the baby with him, and has apparently married her in the interim. He is understandably reluctant to have them along for the next leg of his journey, however, and Wilson is glad enough to give him an immediate sum of cash for their support, in order to hasten his departure.

Dally gone, Wilson’s next task is to explain his own departure for Niagara, which he does by announcing to his sister-in-law that he has discovered the innocence of the Gordons, and therefore has an injustice to set right. Mrs Williams is extremely reluctant to give up her belief in the moral turpitude of the English party, and aggrieved when Mr Wilson insists upon carrying Emily with him to Niagara: though uncertain of his own reception, he has no doubt about how his niece will be received, and plans to use her as a peace envoy. Having given her reluctant consent, Mrs Williams is surprised to encounter resistance from Emily, who is suspicious of her uncle’s motives at the outset, and even more so when she hears for himself his fulsome expressions of remorse at having misjudged her friends. However, the thought of being reunited with Caroline (she does not allow herself to think “Darcy”), in combination with her mother’s command, finally overcomes her doubts and her discomfort at intruding upon the party without an invitation.

At Niagara, Emily is received exactly as Wilson anticipates. The party is less delighted by his presence, and likewise doubtful of his professed reasons for his journey. As soon as he can arrange it, Wilson has a private interview with Mr Gordon, and reveals to him his knowledge of Darcy’s real identity and the reason for his flight to America; adding that he is in danger from a secret enemy.

Mr Gordon is understandably surprised and alarmed by these revelations, and by Wilson’s refusal to reveal the source of his information. Nevertheless, he finds in the tale told him not reason for fear, but cause for hope:

    There was something in the eye, or the voice of Wilson, as he uttered these words, which awakened a strong, though vague feeling of suspicion in the mind of Mr Gordon.
    “And did not your informer mention also, sir, that Dally was alive?” said he.
    It generally happens in a conversation between an honest man and a rogue, where something is to be learnt, and something concealed, that the advantage lies on the side of the rogue; but in the present case it was altogether on the side of the honest man. This unexpected question quite overpowered Wilson; he turned pale, stammered, and finally said—
    “Really, sir, I cannot even guess what you mean.”

Wilson’s agitation, while confirming in Mr Gordon’s mind that he knows for a fact Richard Dally is still alive, also leads him to underestimate the hinted-at plot against Darcy. When Mr Gordon consults with his party – which includes Emily – there is a general consensus upon Wilson’s hypocrisy, and that there is certainly an intended assault upon Darcy’s bank-account.

Darcy is almost overwhelmed by the tacit confirmation that Dally is alive, not merely for his own sake, but Lady Darcy’s:

“Alas !” he exclaimed, “my poor mother! was she then in her senses, when she made this statement? and is she treated as a lunatic?”

They all agree, then, albeit reluctantly, to receive Mr Wilson in the guise of a friend, hoping to draw from him more solid information about the conspirators with whom he is certainly in touch. It never crosses their minds that in his own person, Wilson poses any danger to Darcy.

Meanwhile, with his pleasant dreams of being hailed as a saviour and battening upon the grateful Lord Darcy having evaporated, Wilson is trying to decide his next move. It is clear to him that if he is to profit by the existing situation, it can only be as Nixon Oglander’s tool…

Delighting in their reunion, Darcy and Caroline take Emily out for her first view of Niagara Falls.

It is almost too much for Emily, though perhaps for more reasons than one:

    Their young and bounding steps soon brought them to the marshy level of the under-cliff, along which the only dry path, even in summer, is over planks laid upon the grass, and in some places raised considerably above it, by means of stones or blocks of wood, placed at intervals among the grass and rushes. Along this narrow path Caroline tripped fearlessly, for she was already familiar with it; but there was much to excuse Emily if her steps faultered. Lord Darcy went before her, walking backwards, and carefully leading her by the hand; the voice of the cataract, now very near, was terrific, and Emily, dizzy with past and present emotion, proceeded with real difficulty, and trembled violently. Lord Darcy stopped. “You are frightened, Miss Williams; let us go back:—do not look at it now.”
    Emily shook her head in silence, she was afraid to trust her voice, but she went on.
    “Emily!” said Lord Darcy, almost in a whisper, “why do you tremble thus? Do you think I would lead you into danger?”
    “Oh, no!” was all she could answer, and again she endeavoured to proceed.
    Lord Darcy still held her hand, and while for a moment he attempted to detain her, his eyes, for the first time, ventured to fix themselves earnestly on hers, as if he would read there all he wished. Perhaps he did so. Certain it is, that short fleeting moment sealed the destinies of both…

Caroline is quick enough to see what has happened, even before Emily’s shy confidences, and is only pleased for both her friends—though not without doubts to which, in her ignorance, Emily gives no thought:

That he was Earl of Darcy, neither increased nor diminished her happiness in the slightest degree; and her satisfaction, therefore, was probably about as great as that of a young English girl would have been under similar circumstances. For if on the one hand, she felt insensible to the happiness condensed within the circle of a coronet, she remained at least equally so, to the probable difficulties her noble lover would have to encounter, before he could persuade his family to agree with him in thinking that the best possible use he could make of it, would be to place it on the brow of a young American…

As they gather for dinner, Mr Wilson plays his part so expertly, he would certainly have deceived any audience less sceptical; yet it is a case of smiling, and smiling, and being a villain: behind his mask of suavity, he is trying to steel himself to the act of murder…

Early the next morning, a happily sleepless Emily slips out of the hotel to take a calmer view of what was too much for her the day before. She does not venture on her own to the heights of the Table Rock lookout, which juts so precariously over the waters, but contents herself with the view from a tourist hut constructed below the lookout, but further along the path.

Harsh as she is in other contexts, Frances Trollope never fails in The Refugee In America to express her passionate admiration for the country’s many natural beauties; and it is with great fervour that she gives us, via Emily, what was no doubt her own reaction to Niagara Falls:

The air was keen, bright, and clear, beyond the conception of those who do not know the climate; but there was no wind, and all nature seemed hushed, as if looking on at the turmoil, the uproar, and the fury of the falling ocean. As the sun rose, it was speedily reflected from myriads of icicles which hung beside the many rills that bring back to the torrent the spray for ever dropping on the rocks. The dark green colour of the falling waters, darker and greener still by their contrast with the snow-clad forest on either side, the dazzling brightness of the sparkling foam, the deep and solemn sound, so awful yet so delightful, when heard unbroken by any of the paltry noises of the earth, altogether produced a strong effect upon the mind of Emily. She felt herself before the altar of the living God! She trembled and adored. Our weak natures cannot long sustain such high-wrought feeling; but when it subsides, a most delicious calmness follows, and if the spectator be fortunate enough to be quite alone, a reverie so very delightful falls upon the spirits, as only those who have felt it, can conceive…

But Emily’s exalted feelings soon receive a check. From her vantage-point, she sees a man almost upon the verge of Table Rock, and behaving in a most unaccountable manner—digging with a small shovel, and arranging fallen tree boughs and snow over the area. He has his back to her, and is so enveloped in warm clothing that she cannot get a glimpse of his face.

Reluctant to encounter anyone, Emily waits until the man has withdrawn before returning to the hotel, where a general scolding is her portion, for venturing out alone and risking both the falls and a chill. Mr Wilson does concede that Emily must have a much steadier head than his own: though a previous visitor to the falls, he has never ventured to the edge, as Lord Darcy assures him is necessary for full appreciation—leading Mr Wilson to request him as a guide to some of his favourite points.

Her uncle’s evident agitation while this excursion is under discussion strikes a terrible fear in Emily’s heart, one which she cannot bring herself to express. However, her emotion persuading where her broken words do not, she succeeds in drawing Mr Gordon out after the departure of the other two. The catch up with them upon Table Rock, where a bewildered Mr Gordon cannot help but notice Wilson’s state of extreme perturbation. Emily, meanwhile, manages to send Darcy back to the hotel—and then deliberately takes a step towards that part of the lookout which she knows has been tampered with. Instinctively, Mr Wilson drags her back…

Leaving his hasty excuses behind, Mr Wilson does a bunk back to Rochester, much to the relief of the rest, as they try to express their gratitude to the emotionally exhausted Emily. During this pause, Mr Gordon reconsiders the contents of Lady Darcy’s letter and, putting two and two together, correctly concludes that Darcy’s secret enemy – and Wilson’s source of information – must be Nixon Oglander. He sends an update of the situation to his lawyer in England, who is working to pave the way for Darcy’s return.

While they wait for a reply – and having taken Wilson’s abandonment of his niece as permission to retain her – the party sets out again, this time heading for Washington. (There is a reference here to “the new president”, who would have been John Quincy Adams.) Emily – the daughter, we might recall, of a previous Secretary of State – still has acquaintances in the capital, where she was born and raised; and the Gordons find their way into Washington society.

The satirical note in The Refugee In America re-emerges here, as the English people again find themselves the object of scrutiny, misunderstanding and speculation. Mr Gordon takes the opportunity to investigate the American style of politics, and Caroline accompanies him to a debate in the House of Representatives, where a certain young man hopes to impress her with his eloquence; although it just possible that he chooses the wrong topic on which to speak…

“…but what is of far greater importance, and infinitely more associated with our accountability as citizens, is the daring tone of antagonisation against the most ancient laws of our glorious Republic, which it has been my fate, or fortune, or rather let me say, my misfortune to listen to in this chamber. The question of negro slavery, Mr Speaker, is one which none but a set of associational fanatics can blunder upon. The glorious principles of our immortal Republic decree, have decreed, and shall decree to the end of time, that the negro race belongs to us by indefeasible right. What, Mr Speaker, are we, the enlightened citizens of the most enlightened country upon earth, are we to take a page of politics from the decrepid code of the wretched land whence, unhappily, we in some sort trace our origin? Forbid it, glory! forbid it, justice! forbid it, pride! forbid it, shame! Easy is it for us, Mr Speaker, to trace the causes which have led the worn-out government of England to advocate the emancipation of slaves. It is, Mr Speaker, that being slaves themselves, they feel a brother’s fondness for the race. And shall we, the light of the world, the glory of the earth, the only free-born people on the globe, shall we deign to follow, basely follow, mimic, imitate, and adopt the slavish feelings of such a country as Britain?”

The winter passes away, and with the coming of spring various sorts of restlessness seize the party. Having had quite enough of Washington, Caroline proposes a journey through the Virginian countryside, circling back in the hope of letters from Mr Gordon’s lawyer which will allow Darcy to return home. This forces the young lovers to face a few realities, such as the eventual necessity of their separation before they might come together forever. Darcy, at this time, is not quite of age; and for the first time begins to ponder his mother’s likely reaction to his engagement. He anticipates her approval, however, in spite of the social gulf involved:

…his confidence rested on two facts, which he felt might either of them singly have removed all objections to his choice; but which, taken together, must beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt, make his mother rejoice at it. First, he owed his life to Emily. Secondly, and this ten thousand times outweighed the first, Emily was—Emily.

Prior to their departure, the party attends one last presidential levée: gatherings they have found to be simply a more crowded and formal version of the Rochester evenings. At this one, the sensitive Emily becomes aware that someone is watching Darcy. She draws this to his attention, but in the shifting crowds he finds it hard for a time to get a clear look at the person she means:

…when at length, however, he turned his head, the figure to which she directed his attention, was standing conspicuously apart, his arms folded, and his eyes still fixedly bent upon their party. Lord Darcy gazed at him for a moment, and then almost with a scream exclaiming, “It is he!” sprung towards the spot where he stood.

A pursuit, a brawl, and the imprisonment of Richard Dally in an anteroom follows; but to their dismay and mortification, the English people cannot get anyone present to lend their assistance—in fact, on the contrary:

Meanwhile the noise still continued, and it was evident that, however the disturbance originated, a great number of persons were now taking part in it. As they passed in their promenade the great door leading to the hall, they heard many loud voices asserting their national freedom, in a manner that seemed to indicate that some attack had been made upon the constitution of the country. “Freemen are not to be treated in this way.” “Let the door be opened instantly.” “This is false imprisonment, gentlemen.” “This is not a country for such tricks.” “It is an undue exercise of authority.” “There is tyranny in it.” “It cannot be permitted.” “Americans are not to be locked up to please an Englishman.”

And despite everything that Darcy and Mr Gordon can plead, Richard Dally is turned loose.

Another blow follows: Emily receives word that her mother is seriously ill, and that a servant is being sent to escort her back to Rochester. Her parting from her friends is therefore both sudden and sad.

The morning following her departure, Mr Gordon and Darcy institute a search for Dally; but while they find no trace of him, they eventually find his wife, who is staying at a small hotel under the name of Price, and beginning to fear that her husband has deserted her. The Englishmen’s kindness, and their offers of assistance, almost overwhelm her; but, left to herself, Susan’s loyalty to Dally reasserts itself; and to the dismay of the others, she too slips away, leaving behind a note of thanks, but explaining her fear that her gratitude will lead her to betray her husband.

This is almost too much for Darcy, who begs the Gordons to return to England and leave him to deal with the situation on his own; though of course they will have none of it. They finally decide to stick to their plan of filling in time in Virginia, and set out accordingly in a hired, private coach. They are all much struck with the unfolding beauties of the countryside; though the roads lead a great deal to be desired. They also begin to have a series of strange encounters – with a tall, muffled-up man, then with an apparently deaf, elderly man, then with an equally old woman – the latter of whom ends up sharing their doubtful accommodation, when fading light strands them at what, led astray by references to “Colonel Smith’s house”, they do not at first realise is a public-house.

Nor are they entirely prepared for their introduction to Colonel Smith:

    At this moment Sambo entered with a fresh supply of wood, and Mr Gordon again inquired if they could have the pleasure of seeing Colonel Smith.
    “Massa busy flogging Becky; he come here when he be done,” answered the boy…

It is the Gordons’ hired coachman who distracts them from this, by remarking that each of the very different characters they encountered upon the road seemed be wearing the same sort of boots…

The elderly woman is at that moment sharing an ill-lit room with them, and appears to Caroline to be taking inordinate pains to hide her face:

    …forgetful of all ordinary civility she seized with both her hands the back part of the head-gear, which was presented to her, and attempted to pull it off, certainly with more violence than curiosity could justify; the woman started to her feet, pushed her rudely aside, and rushed towards the door.
    “Stop her, Darcy! stop her, father,” screamed Caroline; and both attempted to obey her. Mr Gordon, who was nearest to the amazon, was felled to the ground by one blow of her fist, then springing by Lord Darcy, with the other arm she thrust him forcibly down, as he was rising from his chair…

In the mêlée that follows, Richard Dally is eventually secured, but given his strength and rage, it takes Darcy, Mr Gordon and their servant, Robert, to hold him, let alone bind him: a task which Colonel Smith declines. As for Dally, he has clearly picked up a few useful tricks on his travels:

    “It is false,” exclaimed Dally, “I am no Englishman, but a Kentuckian, and by God you had better let me go, before some of my countrymen come to help me out with your eyes, for laying your hands on a free citizen.”
    “Upon my word he gives you good advice,” said the Colonel, laughing complacently, “we Americans don’t approbate having the hands of an Englishman put on us, that way. I expect you had better let the young man alone, and sit down and eat your supper; you’ll have to pay for it any how.”
    “But is it not evident that this man is a criminal? Why was he travelling in this disguise?”
    “It is quite remarkable,” replied Colonel Smith, “how hard it is to learn you English the nature of real liberty, and freedom: why, in our country, a man is at liberty to travel just as he likes; our glorious revolution wasn’t for nothing, I expect; but you cannot comprehend the principle, that’s a fact; no Englishman, as I ever met, could take in the notion that every white man was free to do and to say just what he likes, in our country. They have always got their heads full of the king, and the lord chancellor; but it won’t take here; better let the man go, and let’s eat our supper peaceable.”
    “Good God!” exclaimed the unfortunate Lord Darcy, “is it possible that you refuse us the means of securing this villain, who we can prove is in a conspiracy against my life?”
    “Why, bless you,” replied the Colonel, laughing, “you don’t know these Kentucks; why they’ll threaten your life if you do but affront them the least bit; but it most commonly comes to nothing. I reckon, however, this time, you had best not aggravate too much; you English have no notion of gouging; but it’s done in a minute, I can tell you.”

At length an uneasy detente is reached, chiefly because they’re all stranded in the isolated Virginian countryside in the pitch darkness. The Colonel and his new Kentuckian friend withdraw to get drunk together, giving the others hope that, come the dawn, one of the men might be able to find something resembling a magistrate, in something resembling a town. Fear of the consequences if Darcy is left alone behind with Richard Dally makes him the obvious choice; and as soon as there is any light, he slips away with the coachman as his guide.

But the hours pass, and he does not return…

Meanwhile, Caroline has been interesting herself in the Colonel’s slaves. Her kindness leads one of them, the unfortunate Becky, to take the risk of confiding a secret to her: that despite what the Colonel has been telling them, Dally too has gone, leaving even earlier than Darcy.

And in fact both Darcy and his guide, Tomkins, have been ambushed by Dally and two runaway slaves, who are assisting him in exchange for his offers of help in getting them away. The men are carried to a secret hiding-place used as a refuge by runaways. In the confusion, Tomkins gets away; but Darcy is held fast—his only hope of survival lying in Dally’s declared purpose of making his death as painful and protracted as possible…

On the back of Caroline’s panicked message, Mr Gordon himself sets out—partly in hope of coming across some sign of the missing Darcy, partly to complete his mission of appealing to a magistrate. He finds the latter gentleman, a Mr Butler of Damascus, but is once again unable to raise any assistance:

    Mr Gordon opened his business, by stating as much of Lord Darcy’s history as sufficed to show that Dally was a person he had reason to fear; and he then related the events of the last four and twenty hours.
    “Strange story as ever I heard,” observed the justice. “Now such a business as that would never have happened in our free country, if—”
    Mr Gordon was not in the cue to talk or hear talk of the glorious American constitution, which it was very evident was coming on. “I beg your pardon, sir; but can you point out to me, without delay, what you think best to be done under these circumstances? Can you, upon the statement I have made, issue a warrant for the apprehension of this Richard Dally?”
    The justice had replaced the segar in his mouth, when Mr Gordon stopped him at the ominous words, ” free country”; he now again removed it, and having discreetly and deliberately made use of the spittoon, answered the question by another.
“And do you really look to find a free-born American who will grant a warrant against a man for all, or any thing that you have told against this one? Why, I’d hardly do it if it was a negur.”

Butler eventually advises Gordon to stay overnight at the local hotel, and to borrow from there two slaves with knowledge of the surrounding countryside. Though loath to lose more time, Gordon follows this suggestion, setting out on his search the following morning—and after an unnerving midnight escapade, when what he first takes for an assassination attempt turns out to be several hungry slaves quietly breaking into his sitting-room, to eat any leftovers from his supper. He leaves them to it with his blessing, and soon reaps the benefit: when they realise exactly what stretch of land is involved in Darcy’s disappearance, the borrowed slaves confide to him the existence of the runaways’ secret refuge—and help him to interrupt an improvised hanging…

Dally bolts again, but all Mr Gordon’s concern is for Darcy, who has been tightly bound and deprived of food and drink since his capture. With the help of his guides, he manages to lift the young man onto a horse and carry him back to the hotel, relieving the terrors of the waiting Caroline.

So much for Virginia; and indeed, so much for America. The party head back to Washington, where they find no letter from the lawyer, but are glad of one from Emily, reporting the better health of her mother. From there they pass quickly to New York and embark on the next ship, agreeing that by now they should be able to make a strong enough case for Darcy to secure his freedom, even if he must stand his trial first.

Their immediate destination, however, is Harding Abbey; and if the mother and son are overcome with emotion, well, they are not the only ones…

    Lord Darcy sprung past him, much too agitated to listen either to him or to Mr Gordon, who hastened after, urging caution, and forbearance.—It was in vain. Lord Darcy knew her favourite seat beneath a walnut tree, which stood on the lawn, and passing through the door that opened upon it, he was on his knees with his arms clasped round her, before one word, one thought of the consequences had time to reach him. Mr Gordon, Caroline, and the servant followed, but before they reached the walnut tree, Lady Darcy was lying quite insensible on the bosom of her son.
    Were it not that the majority of novel readers would be outraged by the description of a lover’s feelings, who had passed the sober period of forty, I might be tempted to dwell for a moment upon the sensations with which Mr Gordon beheld this idol of his heart and imagination, after an interval of twenty years…

When he can tear himself away, Mr Gordon heads to London to consult his lawyer, who is sanguine about matters. Darcy is, however, obliged to surrender himself to the authorities and, being who and what he is, passes the time before his trial imprisoned in the Tower of London.

(A function it was still performing as late as 1952! – its last such occupants being none other than Doug and Dinsdale Piranha Ronnie and Reggie Kray.)

Now—we all know – don’t we? – the expression, A jury of his peers. We are reminded here that it was originally meant literally, that is, that a peer should be judged by other peers. So that when Darcy’s trial commences, it is not in a court of law, but at Westminster, before the House of Lords.

Public feeling is running high against Darcy, fueled by newspaper articles cunningly arranged by Nixon Oglander—who concludes philosophically that if he can’t get the young man murdered, at least he can help to get him hanged. Nevertheless, in view of the testimony they have to give, Darcy and his friends are optimistic—only for their hopes to receive a crushing blow.

The prosecution unfolds as anticipated, telling the tale of Richard Dally’s “death”; but when it is time for the defence—

Mr Gordon, and his servant Robert were then called into court, and sworn; but before the counsel for the defence had proceeded to question them, the Attorney General interfered, and asked, whether these were not the persons sworn to by the witnesses for the prosecution, as aiding and abetting the escape of the prisoner, and thereby rendering themselves accessories after the fact?

Oops.

With most of the evidence in his favour therefore excluded, matters look extremely dark for Darcy; but fortunately, a surprise witness is on the way…

We learn now that Emily’s letter declaring her mother’s recovery was premature, and that Mrs Williams later suffered a relapse and died.

We learn something else, too: that during her journey back to Rochester, Emily’s fellow-passengers including a young mother and her baby. The two young women take to each other, Emily helping with the baby, and Susan – so she is named – doing whatever she can to make Emily’s journey more comfortable. Susan finally begins to open up about her desertion by her husband, and her dream of returning home to England, until finally Emily realises who she is. She is wise enough to keep her knowledge to herself, however, and determines that under no condition will she lose sight of her. The illness and death of Emily’s mother further serve to bring the two together, with Susan helping with the nursing.

Matters are brought to a crisis when Richard Dally suddenly reappears, much to Susan’s joy and relief. His desertion of her, he assures her, was not intentional – though he gives no details – and his feeling for both her and the child being deep and genuine, he set himself to find them immediately he discovered that they had departed the Washington hotel where he left them. His gratitude to Emily is equally sincere.

Of course—Dally doesn’t know who Emily is; nor does she know the worst of him.

It is the couple’s intention to leave immediately for England, and Susan counsels Emily to go with them. She, in addition to her grief, is terrified that she will be forced to put herself under Mr Wilson’s authority, fearing both for herself and (not without reason) for her inheritance; and without revealing a second, even more powerful motive for wishing to cross the Atlantic, she agrees to go: slipping quietly away from Rochester before Mr Wilson can take any action.

During the journey to New York, Emily strives in every way to bind the Dallys to her, including via promises of ongoing shelter and support for Susan and the baby. As they cross the ocean, recognising that the critical moment has come, she arranges for a private conversation with Richard Dally:

    “You have already often expressed gratitude towards me, and I hope to give you more substantial cause for it than I have yet done. Now hear me. You are not yet aware that you have it in your power to do me a most essential service. Chance has made me acquainted with the accident which happened to you before you left your home. I am willing to believe that there are others more guilty than yourself in the fraud that was practised afterwards.
    “I am engaged to marry Lord Darcy; I love him as dearly as Susan loves you; and all that is necessary to secure my happiness is, that your recovery from the wound he gave you, should be publicly acknowledged.”
    Dally’s blood rushed to his brow; he hesitated for a moment what to answer, and then said, “Mayhap Lord Darcy may not be willing to let me off so.”
    “Trust me,” said Emily eagerly, and holding out her hand as a pledge; “trust me, he will never in word or deed remind you of any thing that has happened.”
    “If I thought so—”
    “What pledge shall I give you?” said Emily.
    “Stand godmother to my child, and settle twenty pounds a year on him for life.”
    “Agreed!” concealing with difficulty the rapture this agreement caused her…

Arriving in London, Emily takes immediate steps to discover the situation of Lord Darcy. Shrewdly taking Susan with her, while leaving the baby with Dally, she calls at Mr Oglander’s house, and hears not only that the trial is underway, but the current state of it. With all possible haste, Emily returns to Dally and carries him almost bodily towards Westminster…

    She sprung from the carriage, and held out her hand to Dally, as if to help him out. Another step, another moment, and all would be safe.
    With a strength of resolution, which nothing but the intensity of her anxiety could give, she pushed her way to the door, whispered distinctly in the ear of the officer who stood there, “A witness,” and in the next moment found herself, with the startled Dally at her side, in the midst of the august assembly which has been described.
    Lord Darcy, who through the whole trial had retained his composure, nor even lost the appearance of it at the dreadful moment which concluded the last chapter, was the first who recognised the pale and lovely girl, now urging on her faultering steps towards the throne, near which the Lord High Steward was stationed.
    The next instant showed him that Dally was beside her. The revulsion was too violent; and faintly uttering the name of Emily, he sunk on the floor.
    Mr Gordon saw him fall, and was rushing towards him when his eye encountered the two figures, who had now nearly reached the bar. For an instant he stood transfixed, and then pronounced the name of Dally in a voice that rung through the vaulted roof, echoed from the walls, was heard by every ear, and welcomed by every heart in the vast and crowded chamber…

Well. Not that we imagine Lady Darcy would really have objected to “the little republican”; but still—

    The kindness of the last night’s farewell had prepared Emily for as kind a greeting in the morning; yet she was somewhat startled on entering the breakfast-room, to see the whole party rise to receive her. Lady Darcy stepped before the rest, and fondly embraced her.
    “My daughter, my dear daughter!” she exclaimed, adding in a whisper, as she kissed her cheek, “My Darcy ‘s wife!”

But Frances Trollope, God love her, barely wastes a glance upon the inevitable happy-ever-after that follows all this drama and emotion; being far more interested in quite a different wedding:

Notwithstanding the absurdity which most young people saw in such a marriage, Mr Gordon and Lady Darcy were united a very few weeks after they had attended Emily to the altar…

The recovery of Trollope’s usual wry tone, employed as she casually dispenses fates to her remaining characters, puts The Refugee In America back on an even keel—or as even as possible in a novel this uneven.

But whatever readers made then, and whatever we make now, of Trollope’s constant slapping at America, the rest of her narrative has a couple of genuinely unusual features which need to be highlighted before we close.

The first is the pragmatism which allows all three of this novel’s main villains – Richard Dally, Robert Wilson, and Nixon Oglander – to get away with their crimes; with Dally going perilously close to being rewarded for his. (Though this is not to say they don’t come to a sticky end in the long run…)

But still more striking is the refusal of all three of this novel’s main female characters to behave at all in the manner that the reading of far too many Victorian novels – which this of course is not – have led us to expect.

All this serves as an illustration of exactly why Frances Trollope’s novels were increasingly buried over the course of the following decades…but it also serves as a reminder that the 19th century novel is much bigger and more interesting than the Victorian novel; as well as acting as a warning against those critics who, to this day, want to tell you that between Jane Austen and Walter Scott, and William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens, there’s nothing worth reading…

 

13/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 2)


    Mr Mitchel cheered the hearts of all the ladies, and Mrs Williams was one of them, with the broad assertion, that the iniquity of those who had scorned their betters was brought to light; and that in the Lord’s good time, they would be punished for their misdeeds; for that to his certain knowledge, the officers of justice were after Mr Gordon, &c. &c. &c.
    It is hardly necessary to trouble the reader with a detailed account of the horror expressed, or the pleasure felt, on this occasion.
    “I thought so!”
    “I was very sure how it would be!”
    “I said it would issue in mischief.”
    “I am not one bit surprised.”
    “I saw it clearly from the first,”
    and “The Lord be good unto me! what will brother Wilson say?” formed the chorus with which the news was received.
    Mr Mitchel shook his head, as the ladies purred around him, and almost squeezed the hand of Miss Duncomb, in the sympathy he felt for her detestation of such wickedness.
    “It is perfectly astonishing,” observed Mrs Cornish, “how often my prognostics have been right, respecting English people…”

 

 
 
Those aspects of The Refugee In America concerning Lady Darcy’s efforts to prove her son innocent of murder, Nixon Oglander’s counter-efforts, and her final thwarting are not presented as a complete narrative, but interwoven with the experiences of Edward and Caroline Gordon and Lord Darcy – aka “Edward Smith” – after they land in New York.

There is also further back-story concerning Gordon’s raising of his daughter. In a number of ways, Caroline is the most interesting character in this novel, far more shaded than was often true of girls in the novels of this time. We learn that she resembles the late Mrs Gordon physically, but that her father – never having lost sight of Eleanor Oglander as his secret ideal – has attempted to give her the education that nobody bothered to give her mother. It hasn’t worked, simply because Caroline doesn’t have that kind of mind; but she is a bright, well-read girl who takes an interest in the world. She has a good opinion of her own capabilities and a strong will, and is used to getting her own way—not in an obnoxious sense, but just because she usually does.

But with all this, Caroline is devoted to her father, and allies herself with him in his desperate and sudden effort to protect Lord Darcy from the consequences of his actions. (She never appears to seek for a deeper motive in his doing so.) She makes no protest or complaint at being snatched away from England just when she is making her social debut as a young lady of wealth and fashion, but makes up her mind to enjoy the adventure associated with her journey to America, even when this means roughing it.

Caroline also strives to keep up the spirits of Lord Darcy, who is overcome with guilt and remorse at having, as he believes, killed a man. His awareness of how much the Gordons are sacrificing for him and his feelings of gratitude compel Darcy to make an effort; but often he is overcome with deep fits of depression, and tends to withdraw into himself whenever he is left alone, or the travellers find themselves in company.

Caroline’s tender care of Darcy has natural consequences: she finds herself falling in love with the quiet, wounded young man; but he is so inwardly focused that he doesn’t even notice, let alone return her affection.

Despite various difficulties along the way, the party eventually arrives in Rochester, where they make themselves known via Captain Birdmore’s letters of introduction. One of these is to a Mr Warner, a successful and prominent lawyer, who invites them to stay in his house; the other is to a Mrs Williams, the widow of a government man, who has relocated to Rochester from Washington in order to settle near her sister, who is married to a clergyman, and to eke out her slender income.

It is here that Trollope allows her satire almost to overwhelm her crime / pursuit plot. She lets herself go when depicting Rochester “society”, just as she did in Domestic Manners Of The Americans, with all the things that most exasperated her during her own time in America taking a thorough beating.

The first of these is predictable enough—and familiar enough: the Gordons are subjected to endless dogmatic lectures upon the natural superiority of America to Europe in every single respect; and the profound envy and jealousy with which the latter naturally views the former, also in every single respect.

Less familiar, though significant in context of Trollope’s struggles in Cincinnati, is her depiction of what passes for “social gatherings” in Rochester (and even in Washington, where the English people later travel): dull and dreary evenings during which the sexes remain strictly divided, the men clustering in groups for conversation, while the women sit around the walls in largely unbroken silence. Caroline’s attempts to disrupt this arrangement go about as well as did Trollope’s own: when she approaches them, hoping to join in, the men simply halt their discussion until she goes away again.

Mr Gordon does better, in at least being invited to join the conversation; though whether he enjoys the results is another matter:

    “Why, surely, sir, you do not mean that you never heard of the first poet of the age—decidedly the first poet of the age: you do not mean that you never heard of Bryant?”
    “Indeed, Mr Chambers, I am sorry to say it is so…”
    “I take it for granted the gentleman will allow us this superiority,” said Judge Burton; ” we certainly do possess vastly more the spirit of liberal inquiry than the English do.”
    “Not on all subjects, I hope, sir,” said Mr Gordon, with much good humour, “I assure you, on all points of practical improvements in machinery, a most important branch of knowledge, we pay great attention to what you are doing here—”
    “Yes, yes,” interrupted the Judge, “that’s of course, sir; you would have been rather in a deplorable condition of ignorance if you had not—but we must keep to the subject of books, for this is a literary soirée. I am happy to find, Mr Gordon, that the example our moralists have set of condemning altogether the worthless productions of your ‘noble poet’, as you call him, has been pretty considerably followed up in England. I presume Lord Byron’s works have become pretty well a dead letter since our critics have begun to exert themselves to put him down.”
    “Perhaps you have later intelligence on this subject than I have, sir,” said Mr Gordon; “but I was not aware of Lord Byron’s works being out of fashion.”
    “Oh, quite altogether, I assure you. They could not stand a week after Paulding’s incomparable attack upon him in the Azure Hose,—no, not a day, sir.”
    “Really,” said Mr. Gordon.
    “We are the most moral people upon the earth,” said another gentleman of the party; “and it is a blessing to the earth that there is such a people existing upon it. Were it not for us, the world would sink deeper into vice with every passing year. Our Paulding is a giant, sir; and he has stretched out a giant’s hand to crush the paltry insect, whom you islanders have thought fit to magnify into a poet. No, sir, Byron can no more stand before Paulding than butter before the sun. He can never rise again, sir; it is quite out of the question, I assure you.”

To be fair, Trollope – who, nota bene, frequently uses quotes from Byron as her chapter epigraphs – isn’t just being mean here: despite her characters’ references to their literary “antients”, American literature was barely fifty years old at this point, and had only just begun to cross the Atlantic. Washington Irving was the first American writer to gain popularity in Britain—although at that point (that is, with the publication of The Sketch-Book Of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1820), he was living in England and writing much about English subjects. The first properly American works to win a British audience were the novels of James Fenimore Cooper.

While Trollope finds humour in such displays of insularity, she is less amused and more scathing when it comes to the local attitude to religion, or rather the very public way in which it manifested. Even here the visitors find themselves judged and condemned by the locals:

    But at length she fortunately recollected that brother Wilson had specially charged her to discover what the young woman’s religious feelings appeared to be; and beyond all else, to certify from her own mouth, to what congregation it was her purpose to belong. Conscience-struck at the long delay, Mrs Williams abruptly broke into a disquisition on the fashion of Washington, and the size of the Capitol, by saying, “Pray ma’am what church may you be of?”
    “Madam?”
    “What church do you attend?”
    “I shall probably go to the nearest, as I have no carriage here.”
    To the nearest! what an answer for a Christian woman to make. It was true that brother Wilson’s church was the one nearest to Mrs Oak’s house; but was that to be her only reason for going there?
    “The Lord be good unto us!” inwardly prayed Mrs Williams, as these thoughts suggested themselves. “I meant to ask, ma’am,” she resumed, “what denomination of Christians you belong to?”
    “We belong, madam, to the established church of England.”
    Mrs Williams dropped her eyes, and doubled her chin with a little diplomatic air of contempt, as she answered, “I expect, ma’am, that England has no establishments in this country at this day…”

Of course, there’s an unintentional irony here: The Refugee In America was published one year before John Keble’s landmark sermon on “the national apostasy” triggered the Oxford Movement, and as much public airing of religious opinion – and as much factional in-fighting – in Britain as anything that might have been observed in America. Moreover, Frances Trollope – like her son, Anthony – was ‘High Church’, and would not only have perceived the American evangelicals as ‘Low Church’, but been as swift to condemn them as her characters are to condemn the Gordons—and on the same (if opposite) grounds: insufficient fervour versus too much display.

And it seems to be the latter that really grated. It is not difficult to deduce that, in Trollope’s opinion, anyone who made such a parade of their faith was likely to be a hypocrite; and in many of her characters, an overt display of devotion goes hand-in-hand with some extremely un-Christian attitudes and behaviours—not the least of which is a willingness, not to say eagerness, to think the worst of everyone – at least, everyone who isn’t a member of their own congregation – a practice that tends to come coupled with a relentless acquisitiveness.

Trollope has a lot of nasty fun with the American attitude to having and getting; and it is the careless way in which the British party spend their money that first gets them into trouble. Blithely unaware of the impression they are making with their openhandedness and tendency to pay whatever is asked, the Gordons inadvertently convince those with whom they interact that the gains in question were undoubtedly ill-gotten, since money so easily parted with could not possibly have been honestly earned.

(All through this part of The Refugee In America I couldn’t stop thinking about the false-beard sellers in The Life Of Brian: “Bert! – this bloke won’t ‘aggle!” “Won’t ‘aggle!?”)

    “…she went last night to the factory to buy some soap, and there she saw that Christian man Simon Hicks, who is one of the partners; he was telling something so earnestly to two or three gentlemen in the store, that she stopped to listen, before she did her errand, and she heard him say, that if ever there was a run-away chap in America, there was one now in Rochester. She then related the manner of his meeting these people, and how he had found them out; he did not know their name, which he said they concealed most carefully; the people that was with them always calling the man sir, and master; and that,” continued Miss Duncomb casting down her eyes, “is not the worst either, for Simon Hicks stated, that there was a creature with him, that called him father, but that it was perfectly clear to see that she was something else.”
    “Mercy on me!” exclaimed Mrs Williams, “and my Emily is there now. How could Captain Birdmore let himself be cheated this way? But I must run this instant, and take my child away. Oh, what horrid wickedness there is in the world!”
    She was hurrying away, when Miss Duncomb stretched out her long arm to stop her; and making it evident that she had not yet finished her story, the chorus of “Mys!” and “Ohs!” and “Possibles!” was stopped.
    “Judy says, that the gentlemen asked Simon Hicks how he came to find him out; and then he told them such a history of the manner in which he had thrown about his money, as seemed to convince them all. Mr Cartwright was there, who is certainly the smartest lawyer in town, and he said he had no doubt the Bank of England had been robbed…”
    Mrs Oaks coloured to the ears. She thought of the fifty dollars that she had in her pocket, and felt as certain of the fact as if she had already seen one or two of the party hanged…
    After her exit, the rest of the party…crowded closer round the orator, who, perfectly in her element, went on for a considerable time detailing further particulars from the narration of Judy, and farther commentaries from herself, in that spirit of peculiar malevolence which she denominated Christian charity…

While Trollope is clearly working off a lingering grudge here (one wonders what the Cincinnatians said of her), she finds matter for far more serious and justified scorn in the gulf between the constant harping upon “freedom” and “equality” and certain social realities.

Typically for Trollope, it is Caroline who is most given to speaking her mind upon such subjects; and she challenges Rochester authority, in the form of Mr Warner, whenever she sees an opening—forcing him to fall back upon condescending concern for such as she “worrying her pretty head” about matters she cannot possibly understand:

    “But, Mr Warner,” playfully persisted Caroline, “what I quarrel with most, is the fallacy of your nominal institutions. You tell your labouring poor that they are your equals, when really, except in the permission of being as rude as they like, I do not as yet observe at all more equality of condition between those who labour, and those who do not, than at home.”
    “Ah, my dear miss! that is because you have not been long enough amongst us to understand the inestimable advantages they enjoy. But come now, confess that your alone reason for disliking our glorious country is, that your aristocratical feelings cannot bear to see all the people happy together.”
    “Indeed I cannot confess that; for I protest that one of my most particular complaints against you is, that your people never do look happy together; I have never heard a hearty laugh since I entered the country.”
    “Now that is a curious fine complaint, as ever I heard; and that from an English girl. Why, my dear Miss Caroline, you are come from a country where the cries of famine ring back and forth in your streets, and you are got here, where the people are rolling in plenty, and now you fault their want of happiness! Pretty as you are, Miss Caroline, I cannot approbate this.”
    “Well, Mr Warner, perhaps the labouring people here may look grave from indigestion; but I do assure you, that notwithstanding the famine you talk of, the working classes laugh and sing much more in my country than they do in your’s.”
    “I know that young ladies think they can make black seem white, but I expect you’ll find it difficult to make me realise that.”
    And here Mr Warner got up, and took a turn across the room with a look of some discomposure…

Everywhere they go, the fact that the Gordons have two menservants is greeted with upraised hands and cries of disbelief and contempt. Americans, they are told solemnly, don’t have “servants”: that is a foul British institution.

However…references are soon forthcoming to what Americans do have, namely, the help; nor is the real issue slow in emerging:

    Here William, who was too far acquainted with the situation of Lord Darcy, not to feel that this questioning must be troublesome, stept in to his relief by saying, “I do assure you, time is very important with us, and you may be quite sure that my master will approve every thing my young master orders about the carriage.”
    “Your MASTER! and your YOUNG MASTER! Why, how can you, being a white man, do such a wrong to yourself, and the children as may come after you, as to call any man your master?”
    “And what would you have me call him then? Is’n’t he my master?”
    “Call him? why call him the man what you helps, or Mister; pray what may his name be? I don’t remember seeing names on any of the boxes.”
    William, however, was born in Yorkshire, and not to be so caught. “I do assure you, friend,” he replied, “that my master, or the man what I helps, or whatever it may be your fashion to call him, will not be over well pleased, if I stay here talking of how he is to be called: I call him my master, and a very good master he is, and I’ll see to get horses for him, if any are to be had, for love or money.”
    So saying, he sallied forth into the yard, leaving the coachman, and two other men smoking with him, expressing their profound contempt for a white man who could call another his master…

****

    Robert looked at his master. “Sit down, both of you,” said Mr Gordon; “sit down, Robert, in the place offered you, and make room for William beside you.”
    “Why, sure them bean’t your sons, Mister?” said the ‘squire.
    “No, sir, they are my servants.”
    “And them that colour— My!” exclaimed the wife.

But the note of satire vanishes when Frances Trollope directly tackles the question of slavery. A few years after the publication of The Refugee In America, she would write an overt abolitionist novel; but here she contents herself with a few harshly critical interludes (including a later, close-up look at the treatment of slaves when her characters are travelling through Virginia):

    “Oh! Miss Caroline, (pausing opposite her chair,) you have got a deal of British insularity about you. You don’t like to jeopardise your gentility by our freedom and equality.”
    “Do you know, Mr Warner,” replied Caroline, “that I begin to suspect that though we both talk English, there are some few words which have exactly contradictory meanings on the different sides of the Atlantic. Freedom and equality—for instance.”
    “How so, my pretty lady? how so?”
    “May I speak plainly?”
    “Surely, surely.”
    “Then, will you tell me how you manage to reconcile your theory of freedom, with the condition of your negroes? or your treatment of the Indians, with your doctrine of equal rights?”
    “I calculate, Miss Caroline, that these subjects are considerable much beyond the scope of the female; so it would be partly unfair to make a requirement of more learning from you, than from an older. Mr Gordon, sir, what say you to a glass of mint julap?”

Scenes such as these eventually result in the Gordons and Darcy removing from Mr Warner’s house and settling themselves in a rented property (Mrs Oaks’, hence the fifty dollars in her pocket). They then complete their offending of the locals by all but withdrawing themselves from public visiting—content with the two real friends they have made, each in her own way an outsider like them.

One of the oddest touches in this novel is the supporting character of Madame de Clairville, a French widow stranded in America while she tries to save enough money to return to Paris, and the young daughter she left behind there with her mother. Trollope draws upon her own miserable experience  at “Nashoba” in sketching the Frenchwoman’s background: she and her husband make the mistake of joining another “utopian” settlement; unlike the author herself, they don’t escape unscathed:

On arriving at Perfect Bliss, the name Mr Wimble had given to his settlement, it was signified to M. de Clairville that he was to hew down a tree, cut it into rails, and fix it as a zig-zag, or serpentine fence.
The poor Frenchman, whose visions had been of scientific lectures, amateur concerts, private theatricals, and universal philanthropy, was startled; but he bore it well… But when he found that his delicate wife was expected to milk cows every morning, standing ancle deep in water, and moreover to assist in washing linen; when he learned that all the little comforts which he had spent his last thousand francs to purchase at New York, were seized upon, as general stock, and a scanty pittance of necessaries doled out to them at each meal; his gay heart sunk within him… But he was totally without funds to carry them across the immense distance which divided him from his country, now loved in vain; he had irreconcilably offended his wife’s mother, the only wealthy relative they had, by taking her daughter from France, and seeing no chance of escaping from Perfect Bliss, he fell into a deep decline, and died before the end of the year…

Eventually the Gordons arrange for Madame de Clairville’s return home. Until then, she and Caroline find allies in each other, thanks to a shared sense of humour and a similar opinion of Rochester evening parties.

However, it is Caroline’s growing friendship with Mrs Williams’ young daughter, Emily, that becomes of the greatest importance to the narrative.

Here Trollope does take us off-guard: because in spite of criticising and/or poking fun at almost all of her other American characters, it is Emily Williams who unexpectedly emerges as her novel’s real heroine – even, in the broadest sense of the word, its hero – as well as being offered up as proof that when America did produce something good, it was likely to be excellent.

When we are introduced to Emily, she is barely seventeen; but in spite of her youth and natural shyness, she proves to be intelligent, sensitive and artistically inclined. Moreover, Trollope assures her, there is great potential of character in her, which only requires the correct opportunity to develop and show itself; this in addition to a fine instinct about people, which (although in her innocence she does not always understand their motives) allows her to sense what might lie beyond the smokescreen of their public personas.

This instinct also operates with respect to Lord Darcy, the truth of whose identity and situation is eventually confided to her. The two first come together over their mutual love of music; and it is not long before Emily is aware of a deeper feeling for him. It never crosses her mind that he might return it, but as it happens she is the immediate beneficiary of the arrival of a letter from Lady Darcy. It is not an entirely happy one, written during the time of her confinement as “a maniac”, and without holding out hope that it might be possible to prove that Richard Dally still lives; but it removes from Darcy’s shoulders the crushing weight of his guilt. In his joy and relief, he is restored to something like is natural spirits for the first time in many weeks; and when he looks around, seeing the world with fresh eyes, the first thing those eyes alight upon is Emily Williams…

Here again, Frances Trollope’s handling of Caroline Gordon is unusual and clever. Fully aware of her own charms, and with more than a good opinion of herself, Caroline is mortified when she realises that, having shown himself impervious to her own attractions, Darcy is falling in love with “the little republican”, as she is sometimes called, and who (if truth be known) Caroline first adopted in something of a patronising spirit; though to her credit, she soon realised that Emily needed no polishing that she could give her. Furthermore, so sincere is her affection for both Darcy and Emily that she sets herself to crush her own feelings for the young man, determined to be a true friend to both—though at the distance she stands from the situation, she sees obstacles in the path of the young couple to which, as each of them deals with their still-secret feelings, they are currently oblivious.

Meanwhile—the various threats directed at Darcy by Nixon Oglander begin to make themselves felt.

The first of these is the detective Hannibal Burns, whose mishandling of his inquiries actually alerts his quarries to their danger. He approaches his quest by questioning a Rochester store-keeper called Mr Mitchel, who is both a member of the same congregation as the “boarding-house ladies” with whom Caroline has been butting heads since her arrival, and “a thorough-bred New England Yankee”…and consequently gets a lot more out of Burns than Burns gets out of him: all of which he then recounts (with personal interpretations and editorialisations) to his flock of female admirers.

The thought of “what brother Wilson will say” quickly carries Miss Duncomb to the minister’s house, where she finds instead his wife, his daughters, and his eldest son—the latter of whom has been dallying (or attempting to do so, against the ladies’ wills) with both Caroline and his cousin, Emily Williams. The outspoken Emma Wilson causes offence by questioning Miss Duncomb’s assertions, on the grounds of her father’s professed liking for Mr Gordon; but Mrs Wilson receives the news in the same spirit as her boarding-house sisters:

    “God forbid, Mrs Wilson, that we should any of us soil our lips with the words that would go to tell the particulars. You know it would be worse for me than for you; for blessed as you are, Mrs Wilson, in being the wife and helpmate of a holy minister of God, (and, oh! such a minister!) it must be allowed that I am still less fit than you to speak such words.”
    “Go out of the room, Lucy,” said the mother; “it is not fitting that such as you should hear of such things as these. Go and read the ‘Sinner’s Guide,’ my daughter.”
    The young lady left the room, but evidently with a reluctant step. Mrs Wilson waited till the door closed after her, and then resumed the conversation.
    “The Lord in his holy mercy forbid that I should ever lead maid or wife into saying what was not befitting for a Christian woman to speak, Miss Duncomb; but I cannot but think that sisters of the same congregation, as we are, it is our bounden duty to relieve our minds to each other on such matters as these. ‘Offences will come, saith the Lord;’ you know where that is, Miss Duncomb? And then follows, ‘Woe unto them by whom offence cometh;’ but there is not a word about woe to any Christian women who talk together about it, for the edification of their own souls.”
    “Well, then, Mrs Wilson, I am willing to tell all I know, though I must make allusion therein to what should neither pass the lips nor enter the head of a Christian sister, whose life is dedicated to works of holiness and religious love. That girl they call Miss Gordon is—”
    Miss Duncomb paused to breathe. Mrs Wilson’s mouth and eyes were open, as well as her ears.
    “What is she, Miss Duncomb? In the name of the Lord, tell me.”
    “No better than she should be;” replied the holy oracle, in a tone of most exciting mystery…

The flying gossip eventually reaches the ears of its subjects. The initial terror of Caroline and Emily subsides when they realise that it is Mr Gordon who is assumed to be the wanted criminal – as has been the case from the beginning, as it is he who pays the bills – and that no-one is giving much thought to the silent, withdrawn “Mr Smith”.

The first real blow suffered by the party is Mr Wilson forbidding Emily to have any more contact with them. At first inclined to uphold them, out of a genuine liking and respect for Mr Gordon, Mr Wilson back-flips when he discovers that the minister of a rival congregation is being very vocal about the Gordons’ iniquities. He does not in fact believe Gordon guilty of all the vulgar crimes laid to his discredit by those pious members of his congregation, the boarding-house ladies – though he thinks some sort of political transgression not out of the question – but decides that he cannot afford to flout public opinion.

But Emily does flout his authority, slipping secretly away to keep her friends apprised of the situation, and to spend as much time with them as possible before the inevitable, painful parting.

Quickly enough, though with no undignified haste, the Gordons and Darcy remove from Rochester, bringing forward their planned visit to Niagara. They are accompanied by Madame de Clairville, who has burned her bridges by declaring her belief in them.

Unbeknownst to the travellers, they are immediately freed from the first threat against them, with Hannibal Burns receiving new orders not to pursue them; though without any explanation forthcoming.

The truth, however, is that Nixon Oglander has decided to deploy the other weapons in his arsenal—namely, Richard Dally himself, and the former Captain Bob Brown…who in a moment of genuine shock is revealed to the reader to be none other than the Reverend Mr Wilson…

 

[To be continued…]

 

10/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 1)


    Lord Darcy stood like stone beside his victim; his dress was stained with blood, his face livid with horror, and the fatal knife still in his hand, when a small pleasure-boat, its white sail glancing brightly in the evening sun, shot directly into the little bay where the smuggler’s skiff lay moored.
    The cry of the unfortunate youth had been heard by the party in the boat, which consisted of Mr Gordon, his daughter, and two men servants. Mr Gordon instantly leaped on shore, ordering his servants to keep the boat steady.
    He started as he looked at the petrified figure before him; for in that young and pallid face he saw the copy of one, never to be forgotten. It was the first time he had beheld the son of Miss Oglander.
    To mistake the meaning of the dreadful picture before him was impossible.
    “What is your name, rash boy?” said Mr Gordon.
    “Edward Oglander Harding, Earl of Darcy,” answered the youth, in the tone he would have done had the same question been put to him before a magistrate.
    “Alas, Eleanor!” exclaimed Mr Gordon, in a voice of agony; and, looking anxiously round, he saw a group of people, whom, before landing, he had observed watching the scene below, now hastily descending the cliff, with a noisy tumult, which sufficiently marked their purpose. Not a moment was to be lost; Mr Gordon seized the arm of Lord Darcy, and dragged him to the boat…

 

As we have touched upon before (including here and here, and in particular during our consideration of the novel Hargrave), Frances Trollope was an important figure in the early development of the British crime and mystery novel. While at the time the genre was dominated by the so-called “Newgate Novel”, which focused upon criminals and criminal life, Trollope – like her contemporary, Catharine Crowe – focused rather upon the solving of a crime; and while she did not (as far as I am currently aware) ever create an overt detective figure, her novels nevertheless helped pave the way for both the French feuilleton and the British sensation novel.

This isn’t the place for a full biography of Frances Trollope, but there are aspects of her life that we need to be aware of before we launch into an examination of her first novel. She was unusually well-educated for a woman of her time, and she married relatively late – at age 30 – possibly in reaction to the remarriage of her father. She then had seven children over as many years, six surviving. The family initially lived in comfort, but financial and other difficulties swamped them from 1820 onwards: Thomas was disinherited when the uncle he relied upon remarried; and the family was forced to rent out their house and live and work upon a leased farm; though agricultural depression eventually forced them from there too. Thomas grew increasingly depressed and withdrawn, which impacted both his legal practice and his relationship with his family. Later he began to experience recurrent headaches, which exacerbated the situation still more. (It is now believed that he was in the early stages of brain cancer.)

Increasingly, Frances was forced to take financial responsibility for the family—although she went about this in a wholly unexpected way. She had formed a close friendship with Frances Wright, a radical and abolitionist who was involved with a “utopian” community in Mississippi: one of many such experimental communities founded in America during the 19th century. The aim of “Nashoba” was to provide education for former slaves. The project appealed to Frances Trollope in all respects, and in 1827 she relocated to America with four of her children. However, she had either misinterpreted or been misled about how primitive were the arrangements at the settlement: it was certainly no place for children; and after only a brief stay Trollope relocated her family to Cincinnati—perhaps drawn there by its somewhat optimistic moniker, “The Athens of the West”.

Now considered America’s first mall, Frances Trollope founded and ran “the Cincinnati Bazaar”, which brought together apartments, retail shops, museums, concert halls, restaurants, a ballroom, and meeting spaces. Initially a success, the project ultimately failed firstly because the disapproving Thomas Trollope refused to forward money inherited by Frances to support the business, and then because of a fall-off in support from the residents of Cincinnati, due to an ever-widening philosophical divide. Trollope herself grew frustrated and angry with the subordinate position occupied by the local women, and the social structures which separated the sexes. Already resented both as a Britisher and a woman conducting business on her own account, her open promotion of her bazaar as both educational and a place where men and women could mingle was considered offensive at all points and led to its eventual failure.

Arriving back in England in 1831, now with debts of her own in addition to Thomas’s, and with Thomas unable to work, Frances Trollope took the obvious step: she began writing. Her first publication was an unabashed money-grab, a work that shrewdly appealed to the prejudices of the British reading public while allowing her to work off her lingering resentments. At the age of 53, Frances Trollope found herself a best-selling author and in a comfortable financial position for the first time in over a decade when Domestic Manners Of The Americans became a smash hit.

Having taken this first step, Trollope then turned to fiction, producing 34 novels over the following two decades, plus six travel-books.

(Plenty of people have marvelled at Anthony Trollope’s late blooming as a novelist, his subsequent fecundity, and the strict work-habits which saw him produce a set minimum number of pages on a daily basis, regardless of his situation. All too few people have even noticed, let alone commented upon, the obvious model for all of this.)

Frances Trollope’s first novel, The Refugee In America, is not, as we might assume, an examination of the contemporary position of the immigrant, but an uneasy blending of a crime / pursuit plot into an unkind satire of American provincial life. Awkwardly as the two halves sit together, the book was popular in England, and became another financial success.

As an outsider to both sides of the argument, I found myself rather pulled in two directions by Trollope’s snarky depiction of her American characters. There is no question at all that she herself is guilty in this novel of overarching snobbery and class consciousness, and a thoroughly British assumption of superiority – BUT – at the same time, I have to say that an unnerving amount of her satire was instantaneously understandable and recognisable, right to this day; and I found myself snickering at it more often than I’m quite comfortable with.

I’ll refrain from editorialising on this point, going forward. I’ll just include some quotes and let you make up your minds for yourselves.

As was often the case with novels of this period, The Refugee In America opens a generation before the main action. A quick background sketch introduces us to Edward Gordon, a young man of “station, wealth, and independence”…although he doesn’t have the latter for long, being dazzled and manoeuvred into an engagement with Miss Caroline Armitage not long after his twenty-first birthday.

The wedding is postponed some months, however, to allow Gordon to fulfill a prior commitment which requires travelling on the Continent. While in Florence, he is introduced to a Mr Oglander and his daughter, Eleanor—and soon discovers he has made a terrible mistake. Like Caroline Armitage, Eleanor Oglander is “eminently handsome”; but in addition to her beauty, she has a cultured mind and depths of character which – Gordon now realises – his fiancée is entirely lacking.

A gentleman of honour, Gordon flees his danger, returning to England and going through with his marriage. Before two years have passed, he is a widower with a baby daughter, named for her mother. By this time, Miss Oglander has become the Countess of Darcy. She herself is widowed when her son is eighteen, in the year 1825.

And it is with the new Lord Darcy that the main narrative of The Refugee In America largely concerns itself. He is in almost all respects a worthy son of his mother, sharing her dark good looks, her strength of character and her generosity. His only real failing is a “sudden and vehement” temper, which tends to overwhelm him—not casually, but in the face of any “baseness, cruelty, or oppression”.

Between Eton and Oxford, Lord Darcy is sent to the seaside town of Carbury, in Dorsetshire, to undertake a year’s private tutoring in the household of the clergyman, Mr Wilmot. Unlike several well-patronised resort towns nearby, including Lyme, Carbury remains quiet and undeveloped—known chiefly as a base for a notorious family of smugglers. The nobleman and the criminal cross paths when Darcy comes across the scion of the family, Richard Dally, plundering a poor poultry-woman of her chickens, and ruthlessly intervenes. Vicious and vindictive, Richard conceives a passionate hatred of Darcy, and swears to be revenged upon him—and it is this dark passion which subsequently drives our plot.

Dally’s first attempt at revenge sees him kidnap the earl’s dog and (trigger warning!) try to drown it in front of him. Darcy goes plunging into the water and succeeds in rescuing his pet; but as he and Dally struggle hand-to-hand, the smuggler pulls a knife and stabs the dog to death.

Darcy’s response is that of any reasonable person: he wrenches the knife from Dally and plunges it into him.

Appalled by what he has done, Darcy is still standing frozen over the body of the young man when he is approached simultaneously by a mob of people – including Dally’s mother and uncle – who witnessed the struggle from the cliffs nearby, and by the occupants of a small boat sailing on the waters of the bay. The latter are no less than Mr Gordon and his daughter, Caroline, with their two servants. Mr Gordon knows at a glance who the young man must be, though he has not laid eyes on his mother for some twenty years; and as the furious mob descends, he drags Darcy into his boat and sails away with him.

In fact, Mr Gordon does a great deal more. Comprehending instantly that Darcy is in danger of his life, he commits himself to the young man’s rescue—going so far as to make immediate arrangements for a journey for Darcy, himself and Caroline to New York, on board a commericial ship captained by a good friend of his. By the time the forces of law and order have started their pursuit, the wanted man is on his way to America.

It is from here that the narrative of The Refugee In America divides. The larger half of it concerns the experiences of the three British travellers; the rest deals with the reaction to the situation by Lady Darcy—which isn’t what we might anticipate from this set-up:

    The verdict of the coroner was— Wilful murder against Edward Oglander Harding, Earl of Darcy.
    This was an awful sentence to listen to, but Lady Darcy heard it almost unmoved. It seemed difficult to entertain any doubt respecting facts so substantiated; yet when she had heard the whole of Mr Wilmot’s statement, and read all the documents which confirmed it, she declared herself unconvinced of the death of young Dally…

In short, Lady Darcy begins to suspect that Richard Dally is alive but being kept out of sight by his family, partly for revenge, and partly in hopes of extorting “compensation”. The British half of the story, therefore, deals with her efforts to prove that her son is not guilty of murder: a quest which finds her, unknowingly, in league with the one person in the world who has the most to gain from proving he is.

Many years before, Eleanor’s hand was sought by her cousin, Nixon Oglander. His suit was rejected by Mr Oglander, who had been apprised of his nephew’s gambling habits. (In fact, Nixon was guilty of much worse, although we do not learn this for some considerable time.) Giving up the army for the bar, when our story opens Nixon Oglander is a successful lawyer—though he has not fundamentally changed, merely gained the ability to put on a false front. He also bears a lingering grudge against his uncle.

When Mr Oglander, stunned like Lady Darcy by the catastrophe that has befallen them, turns to his nephew for legal help, Nixon is quick to see that with Darcy out of the way – and preferably hanged for murder – he himself is the most likely heir of Mr Oglander’s great fortune…particularly if he could, after all, persuade his cousin Eleanor to marry him at last.

Lady Darcy’s suspicions are aroused in the first place by Mrs Dally having supposedly asked her brother, William West, to bury her son at sea, and immediately:

    “It is difficult to understand it,” said Lady Darcy; “but to me it is still more so to believe the tale of the sea burial: there is no nature in it, to my feelings; and in my judgement, there is no truth.”
    Mr Oglander, almost against his will, was staggered by her strong conviction; yet he feared to encourage a hope, the disappointment of which would be so terrible. It was, however, in vain that he continued to point out the strength of the evidence, nothing could shake her conviction…

One of the pleasures – and one of the deliberately infuriating touches – of The Refugee In America is Trollope’s handling of the character of Lady Darcy, who is (for the most part) a strong-minded, capable woman…but one beset by men who think they know better than her.

A letter sent back at the last moment informs Lady Darcy of her son’s rescue by Mr Gordon, and the latter’s intention of keeping him safe in America. She is therefore freed from her immediate fears, and able to turn her thoughts to the question of Richard Dally’s fate. She and her cousin Nixon travel to Carbury together, supposedly so that the latter can reinvestigate the matter; and it is not long before Lady Darcy’s instincts tell her that Nixon is no friend to her cause. She begins taking action on her own behalf, slipping out of the inn where she is expected to pass her weary days while her cousin reports in as it suits him, and questioning people for herself.

Much to his own dismay, Nixon has found cause to believe that Lady Darcy is right, particularly in the description of the aftermath of the supposed murder given to him by Susan Norris, an unfortunate young girl who has borne Richard Dally’s child:

    “And how are you sure he was killed? Did you see him afterwards?”
    “Ah, no! I wish I had! But I never saw nothing of him after he left me, singing as gay as a lark in the morning, till I saw his dear blood here.”
    “How soon did you come to the spot?”
    “I come down that very evening, before ’twas dark, and here I saw it, here, and here, and here;” and as she spoke, she stepped forward towards the sea. “I traced the red blood from there, where they say he fell, to the very edge of the sea, where he was put into his uncle’s boat, and carried out to the sea to be buried.”
    The young creature sobbed violently, and turned her agitated face from the inquirer.
    “You traced his blood, my girl, from that place to the sea?”
    “Yes, sir, and further too, for the tide was out then. His blood must have run like water to soak into the sand that fashion; oh, my poor baby, it was your blood that run then!”
    He was silent for a moment, and then said, ” Go home, my girl, and try to forget the father, while doing your best for his boy.”
    The girl shook her head, and turning from him, took her way up the cliff.
    Nixon Oglander remained a few moments standing exactly where she had left him; then turning round, he looked in all directions, as if to assure himself that he was alone.
    “The lovely countess is right, upon my soul! the blood of a dead man does not flow forth like water.”
    He paced the beach for half an hour, revolving all the probabilities of the case. “He lives,” he exclaimed, ” but does not show himself even to this girl; he hides himself, to be revenged on Edward, and to get money from the family. Let him live; but it shall be for me, or I will finish my kinsman’s work.”

Lady Darcy, meanwhile, has found an ally in Mrs Gardiner, the poulty-woman, who is only too happy to devote herself to her defender’s cause; as well as a neighbour of the Dallys’, who shares her opinion:

    “Where was he buried ?” said Lady Darcy…
    “Mother Dally tossed him into the sea, she says,” said the woman with a sneer.
    Lady Darcy was greatly agitated, but said distinctly, “That was strange, good woman—was it not ?”
    “Strange enough, if it was but true,” answered the woman.
    A light from heaven seemed to dart upon the mind of Lady Darcy, as she heard these words. She looked in the face of the speaker, as if she had been an angel sent thence to comfort her. The hard features of the woman bespoke habitual intemperance, and another of the group attempted to stop her loquacity, by saying,—
    “Hold your tipsy tongue, Molly; what for do you say that? what for should it not be true?”
    “I sha’n’t hold my tongue for you, Sally Wells; and I know, if you don’t, that Mother Dally would have sold his body to the surgeons as soon as look at him… No, no,” she continued, with a drunken laugh, “I knows Mrs Dally of old, and tisn’t to-day that she’ll take me in.”

Lady Darcy’s detective efforts culminate in an extraordinary passage on the cliffs of Carbury. She is walking alone on the beach when she spots a wisp of smoke issuing from somewhere above her, and concludes that there is a hidden cave in the cliff face. She does not hesitate:

    Nothing at all resembling a path appeared, but Lady Darcy had travelled in search of the picturesque, and was no contemptible crags-woman… She determined to attempt the ascent. The point at which it appeared the most feasible was where the cliff and the projecting rock formed an angle; this would lead her very close to the point from which the grey vapour still continued to issue… She commenced her arduous undertaking, and found that, though laborious, it was by no means dangerous to her steady head. She made her way from crag to crag, nor paused to look below, till obliged to stop from exhaustion of strength, and want of breath. While resting to recover herself, she fancied she heard the sound of human voices near her. She felt frightened, but the eager glance she threw round, showed no object to justify her fear. Assured that for the present she was alone, her courage returned, and she determined to avail herself of her singular position to ascertain, if possible, the situation of the persons whose voices she still distinctly heard…
    The small level space on which she stood terminated at an abrupt angle of this wall, and it appeared to her, that if she could make her way round it, she would probably be again within hearing of the voices. She drew near the verge, but the giddy precipice that fell directly from it, made her recoil.
    Again she approached it, and by clinging to a natural buttress contrived to look round the corner of the rock. The objects which then met her view convinced her that she was within a few feet of the cavern. A terrace of about fifty yards long, but not more than five in width, stretched along the face of the cliff at right angles from the spot where she stood, but eight or ten feet lower. It was covered with coarse grass, and on this were laid many small utensils of domestic use, which appeared to have been recently washed, and placed there to dry; several muskets rested against the rock, round which she leant, and at a frightfully short distance from her, lay a huge wolf dog, on a spot so evidently trodden, as plainly to indicate the entrance to the cave. The consciousness that the slightest movement might alarm the dog, who, by giving notice of her proximity, would inevitably throw her into the power of his owners, made her retreat most cautiously to the farthest corner of her giddy station…

It is passages such as this that remind us most forcibly that Frances Trollope was not a Victorian, but a product of the late Georgian era, writing during that awkward hiatus that we tend to call either the late Regency or the pre-Victorian period. (Poor old William IV never did win an individual identifier.)

And it is also passages like this that explain why Trollope’s books were buried during the Victorian era, and why they are, consequently, so little known today: her ideas about what was fit and proper for women to do were not at all the ideas of later in the 19th century.

Lady Darcy is rewarded for her courage and tenacity: what she overhears in the cave informs her absolutely that Richard Dally is still alive. However, she has put herself in a position from which retreat is extremely difficult, and she is finally forced to go on climbing up the cliff-face, rather than down again to the beach. She reaches the top safely, but is so physically exhausted, on top of the emotional strain of the past weeks, that she collapses.

Fortunately, she is near the cottage of her friend, Mrs Gardiner. Her cousin and the local apothecary are summoned; and under the latter’s care she revives just long enough to proclaim her triumph, and urge Nixon to return to the main town and round up a band of men, to search the cave and secure Richard Dally. She then collapses again, and is soon in a high fever.

Nixon Oglander leaves the cottage, as directed; the puzzled Mrs Gardiner watches as he turns, not right, towards the town, but left, towards the cliffs…

    The smoke had ceased to ascend, but Oglander discovered the aperture without difficulty, and placing his head over it he pronounced clearly, but not loudly, the name of West. He instantly heard the clatter of arms, and the whispered consultation of the trio; but before it was over he called again, adding, “Hist! hist! fear nothing,” which produced an answer half surly, half confidential, of—
    “Who the devil are you?”
    “A friend, as you shall see;” and a heavy purse dropped through the opening upon the embers, like the black pudding of old.
    It was not left to burn there; and the voice of West answered to the pleasing summons as gently as such a voice could, “All’s right, friend; I’ll be with you presently.”
    And the next moment he swung himself up from the front of the cavern, followed by his enormous dog, who, however, stood behind him perfectly still, though with that look of watchful ferocity, that indicated a willing readiness to attack, the moment he should be ordered to do so.
    “West,” said Oglander, holding out his hand to him, “there must be no more disguise between us,—we must plot together, and not apart; our course is the same: aid me, and you shall be richly paid for it.”

So it is that by the time a belated search is instigated, there is no sign of a cave at all at the spot indicated—just a blank wall of piled-up rocks.

Lady Darcy, meanwhile, is in a condition to cause extreme concern to the apothecary, Mr Barnes; Mr Wilmot, the clergyman; her father, who has been summoned to her bedside; and of course, her cousin Nixon. They take her insistence upon the existence of the cave – and the existence of Richard Dally – as the ravings of fever; but when the fever recedes and she still insists upon her story—when she continues to ignore what the men tell her to the contrary—the only possible conclusion is that she has lost her mind…

    “I greatly fear,” he continued, “that if her life be spared, her mind will not regain its tone. In my opinion, her reason has been partially disordered ever since the dreadful catastrophe reached her; and now I fear it is entirely gone.”
    Nixon Oglander sighed deeply as he replied to this most distressing supposition.
    “Alas, my dear sir, I have but too much reason to believe that you are right. It was impossible for me not to see that her fine intellect has been wandering ever since I have been with her. But I have constantly flattered myself, that when once she could be brought to admit the truth of the statements which she has hitherto denied, she would by degrees become accustomed to her misfortune, and recover her composure.”
    “Never, my dear sir,” replied Mr Wilmot, “never. The statement of the facts which I drew up, and which was substantiated by so many witnesses, was so clear and convincing, that nothing but insanity could have made it possible for any one to doubt its truth.”
    Oglander felt that these were the words of wisdom, and with another deep sigh, he pressed the speaker’s hand, and took his leave…

Yes, well. I have recently been discussing in a different context (and hope to be discussing here, before too much longer) how terrifyingly easy it was for someone to be condemned as “insane” during the 19th century; a woman, in particular.

And what could more thoroughly demonstrate a woman’s insanity than her continuing to hold to an opinion that four men have told her is wrong?

Lady Darcy is luckier than most, in that being an aristocrat, a widow and independently wealthy, she is permitted by her menfolk to suffer her “insanity” at her country house, rather than in one of the numerous (and highly profitable) private asylums which flourished at this time.

As she recovers her physical strength, she makes further efforts to get someone to listen to her—but to no avail:

It was in vain that the unhappy Lady Darcy reined in all natural vehemence of feeling, however quiet the manner in which she spoke, she saw that the instant she alluded to the conversation she had overheard from the cavern, her hearers considered her as a maniac. It was impossible to reason with them on the subject; for by Dr Barnes’ advice, they broke off the conversation, and left her, as soon as she alluded to it…

So all that she can do is trust to time and the efforts of Mr Gordon—and, of course, Providence.

It is, however, perhaps just as well that she was not privy to the full conversation between Nixon Oglander, William West and Richard Dally:

    “Now listen then to the rest: you must be off to Bridport to-night; it will not be the first you have spent at sea. You must take passage on board the first ship that sails for America, for New York, if possible. When there you must wait for further orders, and as you obey them, so shall you be paid!”
    “And what will you give me at starting, master? I don’t do dirty work for nothing.”
    “You shall be satisfied, Dick; but before I do all I intend for you, I must know that you are in earnest; remember, I shall know all,—and that by more ways than one, I promise you.”
    “What do you expect of me, then?—speak out.”
    For one short moment Nixon Oglander faltered; not in his purpose, but in the avowal of it.
    “Speak out, man,” repeated West, with a sneer; and the tone of swaggering equality with which this was uttered, gave a sharper pang to the last lingering feelings of the gentleman, than any his worn-out conscience could feel. He mastered it, however; nay, he smiled as he answered,—
    “Dally, I want to see young Darcy laid as low as he intended to lay you.”
    “For that,” said the young man, sulkily, “I don’t believe he wished to kill me; but it’s no matter, I owe him a grudge—I want money, and I’ve made Carbury too hot to hold me;—so I’ll do your work, if you’ll pay high enough…”

Curiously, it turns out that Richard Dally really is in love with Susan Norris, and that he did intend to marry her; and he insists upon carrying her and their child to America with him. The sudden disappearance of the girl and her baby causes some talk around Carbury; but it is assumed that she has gone the way of too many young women in her disgraced situation…

Nixon Oglander, meanwhile, has two more irons in his fire.

In the first place, he contacts a certain Hannibal Burns, a New York detective who has earned a reputation as a man-catcher—and likes nothing better than catching “foreigners” who think to use America as a refuge from their crimes.

From the letters received from Mr Gordon, the contents of which Lady Darcy did not at first hesitate to share with him, Oglander knows that Gordon, Caroline and Lord Darcy are planning on spending the winter in Rochester, both to avoid the possibility of meeting someone they know in New York, and because Gordon’s friend, Captain Birdwood, who was the pilot of their cross-Atlantic ship, has friends and contacts there, and can supply them with letters of introduction.

It is purely a coincidence that Nixon Oglander, too, has a contact in Rochester…

When he was a young man – when his gambling habits rendered him an unsuitable husband for his beautiful and wealthy cousin – Oglander was in fact part of a syndicate of young men who made their money as professional gambling cheats. After a long run of success, their foul methods were suspected. One of the group, a Captain Robert Brown, as the one with the least to lose personally, agreed to take all the blame and opprobrium upon himself, while the others walked away with clean hands. In exchange, he was granted sufficient funds to begin a comfortable new life in America, under an assumed identity.

And under that identity, the former Bob Brown is perhaps the most respected man in Rochester…even if, due to his misunderstanding of American society, he did not gain what he expected to through his marriage to the sister of the then-Secretary of State.

Still…he has a great deal to lose when he receives one of the infrequent letters sent to him by his former companion in crime, Nixon Oglander:

    “There is a boy who stands between me and my inheritance. Accident has thrown him into danger; he is suspected of a crime, of which he is innocent, and has fled to the town in which you live. He calls himself Smith, and the person he is with, is called Gordon; but the boy is Earl of Darcy, and heir to enormous wealth, a noble part of which will fall to me if he if he ceases to trouble me.
    “Now mark me. It is my will, that boy should perish. But you tell me you are of ‘high standing’, and you may not like to do the job. Though I have known the time, Bob, when you would not have let your standing come between you and a thousand pounds.
    “It may be, however, that I shall not want your hand. I will pay you for your head. The fellow my young cousin fancies he has murdered, is in my pay. I have sent him to America, both to keep him out of sight, and to act as a spy upon Master Smith; for which office he is better fitted than any other, as he hates him, for some petty spite of his own…
    “You understand me, Bob: I must have the business done. Let it be done between you, and I care not how it be divided. Accidents sometimes happen, you know, in your wild country. I have been told that the Indians are dangerous; and it has been said that more than one life has been lost by falling over rocks, while looking at water-falls—manage as you will, I care not…”

 

[To be continued…]

13/03/2020

A late entry

We have been accustomed to considering the late 17th century as the pinnacle of the run-on sentence – helped, of course, by its pre-dating of most of the formal rules of punctuation – but it appears that this peculiar art-form died very hard.

I highlighted previously the opening of Catherine Cuthbertson’s 1817 novel, Rosabella, bemoaning the mere 108 words she managed to string together and mourning the apparent death of this particular skill.

But perhaps the eulogy was delivered a little prematurely. I have been re-reading Sydney Owenson’s defiantly nationalistic novel, The Wild Irish Girl, from 1806, which unexpectedly challenges the best that the 17th century could produce. This epistolary work ends with a letter from the hero’s father laying out his son’s new duties and the attitude he should adopt towards his tenants, a lecture which concludes with the following exhortation—one running a full 308 words, and built upon a framework of three colons and six semi-colons:

Cherish by kindness into renovating life those national virtues, which though so often blighted in the full luxuriance of their vigorous blow by the fatality of circumstances, have still been ever found vital at the root, which only want the nutritive beam of encouragement, the genial glow of confiding affection, and the refreshing dew of tender commiseration, to restore them to their pristine bloom and vigour: place the standard of support within their sphere; and like the tender vine which has been suffered by neglect to waste its treasures on the sterile earth, you will behold them naturally turning and gratefully twining round the fostering stem, which rescues them from a cheerless and grovelling destiny: and when by justly and adequately rewarding the laborious exertions of that life devoted to your service, the source of their poverty shall be dried up, and the miseries that flowed from it shall be forgotten; when the warm hand of benevolence shall have wiped away the cold dew of despondency from their brow; when reiterated acts of tenderness and humanity shall have thawed the ice which chills the native flow of their ardent feelings; and when the light of instruction shall have dispelled the gloom of ignorance and prejudice from their neglected minds, and their lightened hearts shall again throb with the cheery pulse of national exility;—then, then, and not till then, will you behold the day-star of national virtue rising brightly over the horizon of their happy existence; while the felicity which has awakened to the touch of reason and humanity, shall return back to, and increase the source from which it originally flowed: as the elements, which in gradual progress brighten into flame, terminate in a liquid light, which, reverberating in sympathy to its former kindred, genially warms and gratefully cheers the whole order of universal nature.

 

18/02/2020

Get a little carried away, did we, Montague?

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

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

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

So! – onwards in my Gothic timeline.

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

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

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

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

A quick browse, did I say?—
 

 

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

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

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

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

 

08/02/2020

Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

So—

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

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

Then other things happened.

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

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

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

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

All that said—
 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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ETA:

Crap.

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

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

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

31/01/2020

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels (Part 2)


 
But if now after this detailed narrative I have to confess that I have still not arrived at the conclusion of my purpose, and that I may only hope to arrive there by means of a detour, what am I to say, how can I excuse myself? In any event, I should like to make the following point: if the humorist is permitted to throw his account into confusion, if he boldly leaves it to the reader finally to discover in its half significance what can possibly be got from it, ought it not to be appropriate for the man of sense and reason to aim in an apparently strange way at many points round about, so that they can be recognised and understood as finally taking place and being comprised in one focal point, just as the most varied influences surrounding the individual impel him to a decision which he would not have been able to take in any other way, neither from inner impulse nor from outer occasion?

 

 

 

 

We catch up with Wilhelm upon his return to the Pedagogic Province to collect Felix. Here we learn more about the peculiar form of education and training to which he and his fellows have been subjected: a description which feels like it’s parodying something, some contemporary theories of education, perhaps, yet is at the same time played straight.

Art and music play a vital role in the province’s educational approach, and there is much discussion and practical demonstration of both. All the arts are praised here—except drama, which is dismissed as not an art at all, but a leech upon all the real art-forms, using bits of all of them but creating nothing itself. Drama is excluded from the province:

Sighing deeply, Wilhelm cast his eyes down, for all at once everything that he enjoyed and suffered on the stage came before him; he blessed the pious men who had known how to spare their pupils such grief…

But of course it isn’t just Wilhelm who is touched on the raw by this condemnation. As mentioned during our consideration of Apprenticeship, Goethe was artistic director of the court theatre at Weimar for over twenty years; so we are not surprised to find him butting in again:

Indeed the editor of these papers may himself confess at this point that it is with some reluctance that he lets this strange passage go through. Has he not also in many ways directed more life and energy to the theatre than is reasonable? And could he indeed be convinced that this has been an unpardonable error, a fruitless effort?

Wilhelm then attends a music festival up in the mountains, where he encounters Montan / Jarno again. Their surroundings provoke a wide-ranging debate among the attendees about the broader implications of geology, and Jarno disappoints Wilhelm by refusing to say what he thinks; or rather, he agrees with each theory in turn:

“You blame me for lending a helpful hand to everybody in their opinions, as indeed there is always a further argument to be found for everything; I added to the confusion by so doing, it’s true, but really I can no longer take the present generation seriously…”

Ah, yes, yes, yes… These young people today, with their thin muslin gowns, and their indecent waltzing…and their novel-reading.

Jeez, Johann. Old and cranky much?

Mind you—if that still sounds familiar today, Jarno’s rider to this also remains depressingly relevant:

“Everyone knows for himself what he knows, and he must keep it secret; as soon as he speaks about it, conflict stirs, and as soon as he becomes involved in controversy he loses his sense of balance, and what is best about him is, if not destroyed, at least disturbed.”

We then get a lengthy interlude involving Wilhelm’s letters to Natalie—one of which contains some of this novel’s most powerful writing, as Wilhelm recounts a story of his boyhood, of a trip into the countryside with his family, and of a passionate friendship made and lost in a single day:

     It was already becoming dusk when we once more approached the woodland corner where my young friend had promised to wait for me. I peered around to the best of my ability to ascertain whether he was there; when I failed to see him, I ran impatiently ahead of the slowly moving company, dashing back and forth through the bushes. I called out, I became afraid; he was not to be seen and did not answer; for the first time I felt a passionate grief, doubled and redoubled.
     The immoderate requirement of intimate attachment was already developing within me, and already there was an irresistible need for me to free my mind of the image of that blonde-haired girl through conversation, and to release my heart from the feelings which she had aroused in me. It was full, and already my mouth whispered in preparation for flowing over; I loudly reproached the good boy on account of neglecting a friendship and a promise.
     But soon I was to face great trials. Women rushed shrieking out of the first houses of the village, howling children followed, nobody would give an explanation. From the one side we saw a sad procession move around the house at the corner; it went quietly down the long street; it seemed like a funeral procession, but a multiple one; there was no end of bearers and borne. The screaming continued, it increased, a crowd came together. “They are drowned, all of them, drowned! That one! Who? Which?” The mothers, who saw their own children round about, seemed to be consoled. But an earnest man stepped up and spoke to the clergyman’s wife: “Unfortunately I stayed out too long, Adolph is drowned, and five altogether, he wanted to keep his promise and mine.” It was the man, the fisherman himself, and he went further on with the procession; we stood terrified and benumbed. Then a little boy stepped forward and handed over a sack: “Here are the crabs, lady”…

All of this, and great deal more of reminiscence and rumination (including upon the critical moment when, as he lay wounded in the forest, he first saw the woman he came to think of as “his Amazon”), leads up to Wilhelm’s declaration of his decision to become a surgeon.

The second volume of Wilhelm Meister’s Travels breaks off here, at least in narrative terms: it actually concludes with a single poem, called Testament, and twenty pages’ worth of aphorisms (which we are later led to believe are Makarie’s): some dealing with matters already touched upon, some serious, some less so:

What is false has the advantage that it can always be chattered about, whereas what is true has to be made use of straight away, or else it is not there.

Wilhelm’s training takes place off-screen, as it were, and we rejoin him as he is riding into a town whose population has mysteriously swelled, and people spend a great deal of time singing; Wilhelm even recognises a song of his own composing. He takes a room at an inn, where over the door is inscribed, ‘Ubi homines sunt modi sunt’:

“Where people come together in society, the manner in which they wish to be and remain together immediately develops.”

Lenardo turns up unexpectedly, in company with Natalie’s younger brother, Friedrich; the former is now a member of the Society.

We are then given correspondence between Wilhelm and Hersile concerning the mysterious casket and the fallout from their possession of it. Hersile also scolds Wilhelm for his unsatisfactory letter-writing:

“Corresponding with you is completely like a monologue; for your replies are like an echo, taking syllables up only in a superficial way in order to let the sounds die away. Have you even once written something in reply to which an answer could again have been given? Your letters stop short and are rejections!”

Wilhelm decides he isn’t that interested in the contents of the casket. Instead we hear about his medical training, which took an odd turn. There is much general discussion here of the German situation with regard to the provision of cadavers for students, and we gather that a similar pattern events unfolded there as in Britain (Scotland, at least), with body-snatching and other crimes developing in response to ever-stricter regulations. Less because of this than his deep ambivalence, Wilhelm throws in his lot with an artist who specialises in minutely detailed anatomical models that, in his opinion, eliminate much of the need for bodies:

“You are to learn in brief that construction is more instructive than destruction, binding more than separating, bringing what is dead to life more than further killing what has already been killed…”

The next section of the novel gives us excerpts from Lenardo’s diary, recounting his observations among a mountain community of spinners and weavers—activities that we hear about to inordinate length. However, this is also the only section of either novel which, for all their dwelling upon arts and crafts and the choosing of careers, acknowledges the value of women’s work.

We know in passing that Wilhelm found the girl Nachodine and wrote to Lenardo about her. We now learn of his oblique report that she was safe in, “A domestic situation, based on piety, enlivened and sustained by industry and order… A succession of those working with their hands in the purest, basic sense surrounds her…” Lenardo now wonders if she is established in such a community; might even be hidden in this one…

Lenardo’s other thoughts concern a new acquaintance who earns his living travelling amongst the scattered mountain-dwellers and mending and maintaining their equipment; although he has other skills too:

“He is a master in his trade and can account completely for anything to do with spinning and weaving, he can work things out, preserve them and repair them, as they are needed and to suit everyone’s requirements.”

Lenardo ponders:

Ought not this man who handled tools and weaving equipment in such a masterly fashion to be able to become a most useful member of the Society? He thought all this over and considered how the merits of this skilful worker had already made a great impression on him. He therefore steered the conversation to that subject and asked the man the question, as if in jest, but all the more directly, whether he would not like to join a society of some significance and consider planning to emigrate overseas.

That last phrase finally brings Wilhelm Meister’s Travels into focus. At the end of Apprenticeship, we heard of the Society’s plans to establish a branch in America, and here it is finally revealed that the leaders are gathering skilled men for that purpose. This is the explanation for the influx of people to the town where Wilhelm is staying at the inn, however we do not get to the point for some further time yet.

Of course we don’t. First, we have to have two more interpolated narratives. The first of these is “The New Mesuline”, about a selfish young man who discovers that his new wife is actually the daughter of a dwarf king and capable of changing herself from her tiny natural form to become human-sized. She promises him all the wealth and luxury he could desire, but upon certain strict conditions…

Based upon European folklore (in which Mesuline was, rather, a mermaid-like figure), Goethe’s fairy-tale has been much analysed since its publication in this, its final form.

A second story, “The Dangerous Bet”, follows almost immediately (that is, there is an intervening letter from Hersile about that damned casket). This is a tale about a barber’s wager that he can pull a nobleman’s nose and get away with it, a joke which has far-reaching consequences.

And at this point, a touch under halfway through the third volume of Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, we get this:

The all-important day had arrived; it was the day when the first measures were to be initiated  in connection with the group emigration; it was the day when it would be decided who really wanted to go afar off into new lands or who would prefer to tarry and seek his fortune over here, on the cohesive soil of the old world.

The men who have gathered are artists and artisans, each highly skilled at a particular form of endeavour. It is, strangely enough, Lenardo who first addresses the assembled crowd. He is tasked with presenting the advantages of emigration, which he couches in terms of building communities from the ground up—morally as well as physically:

     “It has been said, and said repeatedly: Where things are well with me, there is my native country! Yet this comforting adage would be even better expressed if it said: Where I am of use, there is my native country!… If I now say: May everyone aim to be of use everywhere to himself and to others, this is not in fact teaching or advice, but the utterance of life itself…
     “It is in this sense that we may now see ourselves as participators in a world federation. The concept is simple and great, its execution, given intelligence and vigour, is easy. Unity is all-powerful, and so there is to be no division or conflict among us. As far as we have principles, they are common to us all… A man who devotes himself to what is most essential will always be the one to fulfil his aims most surely; on the other hand, others who may be seeking what is higher or more delicate need be more cautious in the path they choose. But whatever a man may take up, the individual on his own is insufficient; social relations are the prime need of a stout-hearted man. All useful people should be connected with one another, just as the organiser of a building operation is on the look-out for an architect, and the architect is concerned for masons and carpenters.
     “And hence everyone knows how our League came into being and what its conditions are; each one of us could at any moment use his special skill to good purpose and could be assured that wherever he might be led by chance, inclination and even passion, he would always be well recommended, received and assisted…
     “After that we have undertaken two duties in the strictest fashion: to respect all forms of worship, for they are all contained more or less in the Creed; furthermore, to be likewise tolerant of all forms of government… Finally, we consider ourselves obliged to practise and encourage morality without pedantry and severity…”

(Alas— We shouldn’t get carried away by the seeming liberality of all this. By “all forms of worship”, evidently all forms of Christian worship was intended: the Jews are explicitly excluded: How should we permit him a share in the highest cultural phenomenon since he rejects its origin and tradition?)

It did occur to me, rather too late, that a better way of addressing Wilhelm Meister’s Travels might to have been to ignore everything but this section of the novel, which crystalises the aims and purposes of the Society, as well as Goethe’s own ideas about the proper functioning of society (small ‘s’).

I have also discovered, on the way through this piece, that many people have done the reverse—that is, excerpted the interpolated narratives and analysed them as standalone works, ignoring the framework altogether. (Though it occurs to me that they may be considering the original, 1821 edition, rather than its revised successor.)

But neither of these approaches captures the peculiarly frustrating nature of this novel as a whole.

And we’re not done with the frustrations just yet. As did Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Travels does not conclude at what appears to be its natural climax. Instead – of course it does – it offers another interpolated narrative, “Not Too Far”, about a wife led astray by her passion for society (the other kind of small-s society) and admiration.

The unhappy husband of the story, Odoard, turns out to be another Society member; and he is tasked in turn with spelling out the advantages of staying in the Old World; arguing that, properly recognised and seized, there are numerous opportunities to reclaim neglected and mismanaged land and to exercise all the gathered skills. He also expands upon the philosophy of the training insisted upon by the Society, and executed in the Pedagogic Province:

“The stages of apprentice, journeyman and master must be observed most strictly; in these too there can be many gradations, but examinations cannot be conducted too carefully. Whoever comes forward is to know that he is giving himself to a demanding art and that he may not expect that the requirements of this art will be casual; a single link that breaks in a great chain destroys the whole.”

From here we jump to the conclusion of Lenardo’s diary entries, which we were not given before (via Wilhelm’s reading) because he had sent those pages to Makarie for her judgement. We hear of the rest of his stay in the weavers’ community, his confirmation that Wilhelm had been there before him, and his discovery of the long-missing Nachodine.

We also learn that the artisans’ community is under threat from the coming of machinery, and that there too the great question of whether to stay or to emigrate is under debate.

And it is here, some twenty (!) pages from the conclusion of its narrative, if not the novel per se, that Wilhelm Meister’s Travels ties itself back into the events of Apprenticeship—and fittingly enough, in a most aggravating manner:

We must therefore report in the first place that Lothario with his wife Theresa and Natalie, who did not wish to be separated from her brother, have already gone to sea in fact, accompanied by the Abbé…

(“Did not wish to be separated from her brother”…but evidently doesn’t give a toss about being separated from Wilhelm. But then, what’s a few more months…?)

But we, in our narrative and descriptive function, should not permit these dear people, who at an earlier stage gained so much of our affection, to undertake such a long journey without our having provided more news about their intentions and actions up to this point, especially as it has been so long since we heard anything in detail about them. None the less we shall omit doing this since their activities hitherto were directed only in a preparatory manner towards the great venture to which we see them heading.

I’m learning to hate you, Johann.

Though in fact, we do get a typical end-of-novel wrap-up concerning various other characters, and who is staying and who is going; as well as another weird interlude concerning Makarie and her internal solar system; another letter from Hersile about that damned casket; plus a reference to a desperate young man on horseback who, in attempting to catch up with a boat travelling down a river, suffers a bad fall and lands in the water. He is dragged up onto the boat in critical condition, but his life is saved by a surgeon on board.

The two are then revealed as Felix and Wilhelm. The end.

No, really.

Actually…not really. After this we get another poem (untitled here, but usually referred to as “Upon Viewing Schiller’s Skull”), and nineteen more pages of Makarie’s aphorisms—including no less than sixteen of them upon a single topic, nothing less than Laurence Sterne himself. I will quote only one:

However much we are diverted by the sight of a free spirit of this type, we are equally reminded, particularly in this case, that although we find all this entrancing, it is not right for us to absorb anything of it, or at least not much.

And you didn’t, Johann. You really, really didn’t…

 

30/01/2020

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels (Part 1)


 
    I have been going round for days and cannot make up my mind to take up my pen; there are so many different things to be said; by word of mouth one thing would fit in with another, and one would perhaps develop out of another; therefore let me, as I am afar off, just begin with what is most general, it will after all eventually lead me on to the strange matter that I have to communicate.
    You have heard of the youth who found a thole-pin while walking by the seaside; the interest it aroused in him moved him to procure an oar, as necessarily belonging to it. But this likewise was of no use; he seriously longed for a boat and obtained one; however, boat, oar and thole-pin were not particularly beneficial; he acquired masts and sails and in this way gradually obtained what was needful for quick and comfortable sailing. With purposeful effort he acquired greater accomplishment and skill, luck favoured him, he finally became master and owner of a sizeable vessel; and in this way he became more successful, he gained prosperity, respect and a name among seafaring people.
    In causing you to read this moral tale again, I have to confess that it only belongs here in the remotest sense, but it paves the way for me to give expression to what I have to tell. Meanwhile there is some further and rather strange matter that I must deal with…

 

 

Given my track record, I don’t suppose there was ever any real chance of my not tackling Johann Goethe’s sequel to his 1796 novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; but apart from the inner glow that always comes with completism, I can’t say that this time it was worth the effort.

In terms of why I was doing this in the first place, we must remember that the version of Goethe’s novels (called, simply, Wilhelm Meister) that was so influential in England thanks to the translation by Thomas Carlyle, appeared in 1824—and was therefore based upon the first editions of the two novels. As far as Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship goes, this was not a problem (though, as we discussed, Carlyle cut his translation of Apprenticeship short, at the end of Book 7 rather than of Book 8); but after initially publishing his sequel in 1821, Goethe significantly revised it in an edition first published in 1829, and this is now considered the standard text.

Wilhem Meisters Wanderjahre, oder Die Entsagenden (strictly, Wilhelm Meister’s Wandering Years, or The Renunciants; usually given as either Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, Wilhelm Meister’s Years Of Travel or Wilhelm Meister’s Travels; for simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick with the latter) is a strange and frustrating book—although not in the same way that its predecessor is strange and frustrating. As difficult a novel as Apprenticeship is, there is never any sense that it does not have a long-term goal, however winding the road and however opaque the writing (or perhaps the translation). Travels, however, seems to lack a real purpose; or at least, any such direct philosophical purpose; and while to an extent it expands upon the arguments of the earlier work, by the end it does not feel as if much has been gained.

The writing itself also remains problematic, particularly Goethe’s tendency to overuse pronouns within lengthy passages, so that you can lose track of who is speaking, and to use descriptors rather than names. To give an example of this—at one point Wilhelm and his friend meet up with “the two ladies”…and it is four full pages before we get confirmation of which two ladies it is. (Turns out I’d guessed wrong.)

Most frustrating of all, however, is the lack of solid connection between Apprenticeship and Travels. Reading this novel is unnervingly like reading a trilogy in which the second book is missing. A few of the dots are eventually joined, but for far too long I was left feeling as if I had accidentally begun reading this book at the wrong point.

The most notable thing about Wilhelm Meister’s Travels is its structure, or the lack thereof. Much of this novel consists of interpolated narratives, quite a few of which have little if anything to do with the central plot and the main characters, around which Wilhelm’s narrative and that of Lenardo, a new character, are woven, and which are in turn periodically interrupted by poems, songs, letters between the characters, excerpts from a diary, and literally pages of aphorisms. All sorts of subplots are set up, only to peter out into irrelevance.

Furthermore, my understanding is that the first edition of the novel was nearly all interpolated narrative and very little Wilhelm: it was the passages in between which Goethe expanded upon.

In fact, the whole thing is so wilful in its refusal to be a novel that, had it not been published early in the 19th century, you’d be tempted to call it post-modern

…a reflection which suddenly caused me to wonder whether Goethe had been reading Tristram Shandy, that other great pre-post-modern novel; and much was my glee when he started quoting Sterne and expressing his admiration of him. (And while I don’t consider this on par with my deduction that Jane Austen enjoyed the novels of Catherine Cuthbertson, I still felt pretty full of myself.)

There’s one significant difference, however: though Tristram Shandy never actually gets anywhere, the reader has no trouble following where it isn’t going, if I can put it like that, while the non-journey is ultimately its own reward; whereas too often, Wilhelm Meister’s Travels just feels like experimentation for its own sake, an annoyance rather than an enrichment of the text, or perhaps a smokescreen for its limitations. In addition, Goethe entirely lacks Sterne’s sense of humour and lightness of touch.

So this is likely to be a rather lengthy “this happens, then that happens” sort of summary, rather than any kind of analysis. I apologise for that, but at the very least it should convey the issues. I really wanted to be done with this in a single post, but I decided in the end – for the sake of your sanity, mine having already taken flight – to divide it into two.

Now—I’m tempted to add, IYCCYMBTF, but it really hasn’t been that long, has it?—Wilhem Meister’s Apprenticeship closes with Wilhelm, newly engaged to Natalie and having accepted his new role of Felix’s father, nevertheless being sent away by the mysterious “society”, to act as a translator for an Italian nobleman on his travels.

So you may imagine my surprise when Wilhelm Meister’s Travels opens with Wilhelm and Felix on their own and no sign of the Marchese (to whom there is eventually a passing reference). We learn presently that Wilhelm is under orders from the “society”, none of which we heard a word about in the previous book. Wilhelm writes of his situation to Natalie:

I am not to remain more than three days under one roof. I am not to leave any lodging-place without going at least four miles away from it. These instructions are truly appropriate to making my years into years of travel and to preventing my being beset by the slightest temptation to settle down in one place. Up to now I have submitted myself entirely to this condition, indeed, I have not even made use of the permission granted to me. In fact this is the first time that I am stationary, the first time that I am spending the same night in the same bed. I am sending you from here much that I have heard, observed and saved up until now, and then tomorrow the journey goes on down the other side, first to a strange family, a holy family, as I should like to put it, about whom you will find more in my diary. Goodbye now, and put this paper down with the feeling that it has one thing to say and that it would only like to say and to keep on repeating one thing, but is unwilling to say and repeat it  until I can be happy enough to be lying at your feet and weeping into your hands because of all the renunciation…

Yes, well. Wilhelm shouldn’t hold his breath, and neither should Natalie. The two remain separated for the entire course of the novel, and this is the only time either of them expresses any particular regret about it. In fact this book is studded with separated couples who don’t much seem to care that they are. We get the feeling that while Goethe appreciated the dramatic possibilities of romantic pursuit, or romantic thwarting, he thought successful love was a complete bore.

But the critical point here is that final word of Wilhelm’s, “renunciation”.

I mentioned in my previous posts that while a number of translators of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship refer to the strange society into which he is accepted as “the Society of the Tower”, H. W. Waidson, the translator of my version, uses no particular term at all.

Yet here in Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, we suddenly find the expression “the Renunciants” being used—given something like pride of place in its German-language subtitle, and with references to the society under that name throughout the text.

That quoted letter from Wilhelm would seem to be setting up “renunciation” as a major theme of the novel; but this never really eventuates. Yes, Wilhelm’s conditions of travel both separate him from Natalie and force him to part from the people and places he encounters along the way; while some of the interpolated narratives also deal with characters having to give up something (occasionally as the third point of a romantic triangle); but it just doesn’t amount to anything substantial.

I’ll put it this way: if “renunciation” wasn’t pointed out as a theme, I’m not sure that’s what you would take away from a reading.

In fact, resignation seems to be of more significance, particularly in terms of the characters giving themselves over to one rather narrow way of living; often to one form of art, or craft, to which they bind themselves in perpetuity. I suppose in this respect they are “renouncing” a broader ambition, but then some of them never had one.

(In any event, Wilhelm eventually gets fed up and asks to be released from the conditions of his travels. Permission is granted. So much for that.)

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels plunges us immediately into weirdness, via Wilhelm and Felix’s encounter with the people he calls “the holy family”:

A sturdy, efficient-looking and not very tall young man whose robe was tucked up and who had a dark skin and black hair was stepping firmly and cautiously down the mountain path leading a donkey whose well nourished and well groomed head first came into view and then the beautiful burden it was carrying. A gentle and charming woman was seated on a large, well appointed saddle; in a blue robe which was wrapped round her she was holding a new-born child that she was pressing to her breast and regarding with inexpressible sweetness…

After this introduction, it is inevitable that their names should be “Joseph” and “Mary”. It turns out this isn’t – or isn’t only – coincidence, but (so to speak) a lifestyle choice, as we learn via the first interpolated narrative—which begins eight pages into the novel, under the general title of “The Flight To Egypt”, with the travellers gathering with a ruined church which the family calls home. However, there is no question of the baby’s secular origins, nor that of its older brother and half-brother: Mary was a young war-widow taken in by Joseph’s mother, patiently courted by Joseph through the period of her mourning.

Joseph is (of course) a carpenter; and here we get the novel’s first lengthy rumination upon the choosing of an art or craft, how it can shape a life, and the difference between innate talent and the real artistry that comes with formal training.

Wilhelm and Felix are forced to move on, and the next phase of their journey is dictated by the boy’s burgeoning interest in geology. He finds a box of specimens in Joseph’s possession, left behind by someone called “Montan”. Wilhelm is excited by this name, and he and Felix set out to find their “old friend”—who, some 191 pages of being referred to as Montan later, is revealed to be Jarno, who played a significant part in bringing Wilhelm into the society.

Geology plays quite a prominent role in Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, reflecting the important studies which emerged during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and which began to challenge the Old Testament view of the age of the Earth. (Although Travels was published before Charles Lyall’s Principles Of Geology, which was perhaps the critical work in that respect.) Goethe, however, appears to have had no difficulty in reconciling the implications of this research with his religious beliefs. He has Montan / Jarno dismiss these larger aspects, which are “beyond our understanding”, and concentrate only upon what is useful to man in this emerging body of knowledge.

Jarno also first introduces the theme that will dominate much of what follows, the idea that to be most of service to the world, a man should strive to be really good at one thing. It is the correct choosing of that thing that is difficult:

“The present is the time for specialisation; happy is he who understands this and is active in this sense on his own behalf and for others… Make yourself into an agency, and see what sort of place in life generally people will concede to you…I say that it is everywhere necessary to serve, from the bottom upwards. The best thing is to limit oneself to one craft. For the most limited person it will always remain a craft, for someone better it will be an art, and when the best man does one thing, he does everything, or, to be less paradoxical, in the one thing he does expertly he sees the symbol for everything that is done expertly.”

In the course of a lengthy conversation between Wilhelm and Jarno (is there any other kind?), we also get this—which again makes me wonder if my issues around renunciation / resignation is a translation artefact:

    “In every new circle we have to start again as children, develop a passionate interest in the subject and in the first place take pleasure in the shell until we are fortunate enough to reach the kernel.”
    “Well, tell me then how you came to acquire this knowledge and these insights,” Wilhelm replied, “For it isn’t such a long time since we parted company!”
    “My friend,” Montan rejoined, “we have had to be in a state of resignation, if not forever, at least for a good time. The first thing that occurs to an able man in such circumstances is to start a new life. New things are not sufficient for him, they are only valid as a distraction; he demands a new totality and immediately puts himself in the middle of it…”

After the friends have separated, Felix makes a discovery in the ruined church of St Joseph:

At last the bold lad came quickly up from the crevice and brought with him a casket which was no bigger than a small octavo volume and of magnificent and ancient appearance; it seemed to be of gold and decorated with enamel…

This casket will pass from hand to hand over the course of the novel, although no-one in possession of it will succeed in opening it. This is another of those touches where it is easier to see that symbolism is intended than to pin down the meaning. (Personally I’m inclined to take the casket as representative of my struggles to make head or tail of this narrative.)

Wilhelm and Felix head off under the guidance of a another boy, Fitz, with whom Felix has made friends, but who Wilhelm does not trust—and with good reason, it seems, when, after promising to show them into the grounds of an extensive estate, leads them instead into a literal trap. From there they are transferred into a room which, luxurious as it is, is yet another prison, its walls decorated with inscriptions such as: Liberty and recompense to the innocent, pity for those who have been led astray, requiting justice to the guilty.

The explanation for this is amusingly prosaic – set in place to protect the estates valuable young trees from those who, disinclined either to pay or to work for them, try to steal them instead – but the surrounding material introduces one of my real issues with this novel.

In Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship we encounter a single, mysterious society that chooses and guides its future members; fair enough. Here, however, everywhere Wilhelm goes he stumbles over yet another group of people living together and thrashing out some complicated philosophy of how to live and work. It all gets a bit much—not least because each individual group gets to expound at length upon their particular theories. Furthermore, having spent an entire book upon Wilhelm’s induction into the main Society, in this one it seems like every other person gets inducted, as long as someone recommends them.

In this specific case, Wilhelm and Felix are taken in by the elderly estate owner, his two nieces, Juliette and Hersilie, and a father and son who act as agents for the property. During their stay there is much general discussion of the duties of the wealthy to the poor, of the best methods for distributing goods so as to encourage industry, and of the true meaning of “property”. This group is also devoted to literature of various origins and types; and when Wilhelm retires for the night he is given something to read.

Here we get or second interpolated narrative, in the form of Goethe’s own short story, Die pilgernde Törin / The Foolish Pilgrim, first published in 1789. (“You must say whether you have come across anything more charming than this,” says Hersile.) Briefly, a noble father and son both fall in love with a beautiful but mysterious woman, who seems perfection—but will not reveal her true name, demanding to be taken – or not – wholly on her qualities as an individual. The story includes a ballad, “Der Müllerin Reue” / “The Maid Of The Mill’s Repentance”, which like the songs from Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship was set to music by others and found a separate fame.

There is what turns out to be a foreshadowing incident in this section, when Felix falls off his horse: medical help is summoned, with Hersile observing, “It’s not often that we need physicians, but we need surgeons all the time.”

However, the narrative takes a new turn via the interpolation of some correspondence between Juliette and Hersile, their aunt (who like the uncle maintains a separate establishment), and an eccentric cousin called Lenardo, who is always promising to come home, never does, instead sending letters inquiring minutely into people’s circumstances. This subplot is dragged out to unreasonable length, making a huge mystery out of a fairly straightforward if sad business: years before, a cottager and his daughter were being turned out because of inability to pay their rent; a young Lenardo promised solemnly to help, but was unable to fulfill his promise. The uncle died, and fear of the girl’s subsequent fate keeps Lenardo away. He finally returns home upon being assured that the girl is happy in a good marriage, only to discover that he had her name wrong and was asking after someone else.

The correspondence gives way without lead-in to our third interpolated narrative, given its own title of “Who Is The Betrayer?”, about a love-quadrangle working itself out.

Wilhelm then spends time with the uncle, who reveals his own history: that he was born in Germany but raised in America; finally choosing to return to Europe:

“Man needs patience above all and must needs be always consoderate, and I would rather come to terms with my king so that he will make me this or that concession, and make my peace with my neighbours so that they will relieve me of certain restrictions if I give way to them in something else, than be battling with the Iroquois in order to drive them out, or be deceiving them with contracts in order to expel them from their swamps where we are tormented to death by mosquitoes.”

This is a rare point in Wilhelm Meister’s Travels when we can grasp at something concrete: there are repeated references to this conflict between the Old World and the New; the corruption and oppression of the former, the pull of the latter with its promise of space and freedom—and the price that might have to be paid for it.

Wilhelm also meets the aunt, Makarie, and is introduced to an astronomer, who shows him some wonders through his telescope. Wilhelm appreciates this, but has some peculiar ideas on the subject of lenses generally:

    “…these aids which we use to augment our senses do not exert an ethically favourable influence on man. A man looking through glasses takes himself to be cleverer than he is, for the result is that his outer senses are thrown out of balance in relation to his inner judgement; a higher form of development is needed, and only outstanding people  are capable of this, so that their inner, true nature can be to some extent adjusted to this false element advancing upon them from outside. Whenever I look through a pair of binoculars I become another person and I am not pleased with myself; I see more than I ought to see, the more sharply focused world is not in harmony with my inner self, and I quickly put the glasses away again…
    “We shall no more banish these glasses out of the world than we shall any other piece of machinery, but it is important for the moral observer to be able to investigate and learn the origins of much that has found its way into human behaviour and of which we complain. Thus, for instance, I am convinced that the habit of wearing magnifying spectacles is the main reason for the arrogance of our young people.”

Ah, yes. These young people today, with their Mozart and their magnifying spectacles and their refusal to powder their hair…

Then we hear about a bizarre dream of Wilhelm’s:

“The green curtain rose, Makarie’s chair moved forward, all by itself, like a living creature; it had a golden glow, her garnets seemed priestly, her appearance was accompanied by a gentle gleam; I was on the point of prostrating myself. Clouds developed at her feet, as they rose they lifted up the holy figure as if on wings, in place of her wonderful features I finally saw in a parting in the cluds a star sparkling; it was carried continually upward and, moving through the opened vaulting of the roof, it became united with the whole firmament…”

This turns out to be an insight into the true nature of Makarie, who is mysteriously “attuned” with the heavens, capable of describing phenomena which may subsequently be confirmed by astrological observation:

“The astronomer then had an exact record made of what she saw, which now from time to time became quite clear to her, made calculations and deduced from them that she not only bore the whole solar system within herself, but that rather she moved spiritually as an integrating part in it…”

Wilhelm’s three days being up, he sets out in quest of Lenardo, finds him, and hears at length what I’ve summarised above. Lenardo tasks Wilhelm with finding the young woman, whose name is Nachodine (“the nutbrown maiden”). He agrees, but expresses concern over continuing to drag Felix all over the place, feeling that he should be placed in some good school and properly educated. Fortunately, Lenardo knows just the place, and sends Wilhelm to talk to a friend of his:

“When I last saw him, years ago, he told me quite a lot about a pedagogic association which I could only take to be a kind of Utopia; it seemed to me as if beneath the representation of reality a sequence of ideas, thoughts, proposals and intentions was meant which admittedly hung together, but in the usual course of things would hardly be likely to coincide…”

Wilhelm does end up leaving Felix in the “Pedagogic Province”, the functioning of which is conveyed through two lengthy descriptions, one when he drops him off and one when he picks him up. For the first, we hear only about the religious / historical grounding of the principles upon which the educational community is run.

The narrative is then interrupted by a rather lengthy story titled “The Man Of Fifty”, about yet another love-quadrangle working itself out, and in which the male rivals are also father and son. This is another of Goethe’s pre-existing short fictions, being originally published in 1808. This time, however, the “characters” in the story turn out to be real people known to Makarie, who helps them straighten out their confused situation.

Via letters, we then learn that Wilhelm is sending Lenardo to the Abbé, so that he can be inducted into the “society”. We also find Wilhelm requesting dispensation:

“After continuing an active self-examination I can only repeat even more earnestly the request which was brought forward some time ago through Montan; the wish to complete my years of travel with greater composure and steadiness is becoming increasingly pressing…”

Wilhelm speaks of “conditions” but we do not then learn what they are.

After the indirect reintroduction of the Abbé, we get a bizarre interlude that is one of the few successful bits of weirdness in this novel: Wilhelm meets up with a painter:

…it became evident that the fine artist, who was skilled at adorning water-colour landscapes with clever, well drawn and executed figures and accessories, was passionately captivated by Mignon’s fate, figure and nature. He had often pictured to himself and was now on a journey to copy from nature the surroundings she had known during her lifetime…

In other words—he’s been reading Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

It is here that Wilhelm and the artist encounter “the two ladies” mentioned above, who turn out to be Hilary and the Beautiful Widow from “The Man Of Fifty”, rather than Juliette and Hersile as I assumed. A romantic interlude amongst sublime lake and mountain surroundings follows, and the artist shows himself to be a musician and a singer too, performing some of Mignon’s songs on his lute. This idyll is brought forcibly to an end by Wilhelm’s three-day arrangement. The four go their separate ways with the artist sent to Natalie, to show her where Wilhelm has been by way of his paintings.

Goethe then butts in with what he himself calls “an interpolaton”:

    At this point, however, we find ourselves in the position of announcing to the reader an interval, and what is more, an interval of some years; on this account we would have gladly brought a volume to a conclusion here, if only this could have been linked with the typographical arrangements.
    Yet surely the space between two chapters will suffice…

Or even the space between two posts, hey, Johann?

 

[To be continued…]

10/12/2019

The Captain Of The Vulture (Part 2)


 
    …close beside the hearth, with his back to the window, sat the same traveller whom Samuel Pecker had last seen beneath his own roof. The uncertain flame of the fire, shooting up for a moment in a vivid blaze, only to sink back and leave all in shadow, revealed nothing but the mere outline of this man’s figure, and revealed even that but dimly, yet at the very first glance through the uncurtained window Millicent Duke uttered a great cry, and falling on her knees in the snow, sobbed aloud,—“My husband! My husband, returned alive to make me the guiltiest and most miserable of women!”
    She grovelled on the snowy ground, hiding her face in her hands and wailing piteously. Darrell lifted her in his arms and carried her into the house.
    The traveller had heard the cry, and stood upon the hearth, with his back to the fire, facing the open door; and the traveller was in sorry truth the Captain of the Vulture—that person of all others upon earth whose presence was most terrible to Darrell and Millicent…

 

 

 

 

Christmas comes once again to Compton – it is the sixth anniversary of the visit of the mysterious pedlar, and Sarah Pecker’s reformation – and this time the inn is honoured by a trio of young bucks. Their presence is considered a mark of honour for the establishment, in spite of the demands they make upon its resources and their riotous behaviour. Recognised head of the household or not, Samuel Pecker still knows when he is out of his depth; and so he suggests to Sarah that she be the one to ask the party to be a little less rough and noisy. It is therefore she who carries in the last bottles of old port held by the Black Bear:

    The third member of the little party, and he who seemed far the most sober of the three, lounged with his back to the fire and his elbow leaning on the mantelpiece… His flashing black eyes, and his small white teeth, which glittered as he spoke, lit up his face, which, in spite of his evident youth, was wan and haggard—the face of a man prematurely old from excitement and dissipation; for the hand of Time during the last six years had drawn many a wrinkle about the restless eyes and determined mouth of Sir Lovel Mortimer, Baronet, alias Captain Fanny, highwayman, and, on occasion, housebreaker.
    Heaven knows what there was in the appearance of any one of the party in the white parlour to overawe or agitate the worthy mistress of the Black Bear, but it is a sure thing that a faint and dusky pallor crept over Sarah Pecker’s face as she set the wine and glasses upon the table. She seemed nervous and uneasy under the strange dazzle of Captain Fanny’s black eyes. It has been said that they were not ordinary eyes; indeed, there was something in them which the physiognomists of to-day would no doubt have set themselves industriously at work to define and explain. They were not restless only. There was a look in them almost of terror—not of a terror of to-day or yesterday, but of some dim far-away time too remote for memory—the trace of some shock to the nervous system received long before the mind had power to note its force, but which had left its lasting seal upon one feature of the face.
    Sarah Pecker dropped and broke one of her best wine glasses under the strange influence of these restless eyes. They fixed her gaze as if they had possessed some magnetic power…

It is the fancy of Sir Lovel Mortimer to hold Sarah in conversation; and she, nettled by his contemptuous attitude to her home village, is roused to answer firmly enough. So the baronet learns of the death of Ringwood Markham, and the inheritance of the family estate by his sister, Millicent; Mrs George Duke. He takes Sarah up on her insistence that Millicent is a widow:

    “The world is wide enough outside Compton-on-the-Moor; and your sailor is a roving blade, who is apt to take his own pleasure abroad, forgetful of any one who may be waiting for him at home. Who knows that Captain Duke may not come back to-morrow to claim his wife and her fortune?”
    “The Lord forbid!” said Mrs Pecker earnestly; “I would rather not be wishing ill to any one: but sooner than poor Miss Millicent should see him come back to break her heart and waste her money, I would pray that the Captain of the Vulture may lie drowned and dead under the foreign seas.”
    “A pious wish!” cried Captain Fanny, laughing. “However, as I don’t know the gentleman, Mrs Pecker, I don’t mind saying, Amen. But as to seven years’ absence being proof enough to make a woman a widow, that’s a common mistake and a vulgar one, Mrs Sarah, which I scarcely expected to hear of from a woman of your sense. Seven years—why, husbands have come back after seventeen!”
    Mrs Pecker made no answer to this…

So focused are the people of Compton upon the visit of the baronet and his companions, and the consequent honour bestowed upon their village, that they barely notice the rash of violent robberies that occur in the surrounding districts; or at least, no-one thinks to tie these events together.

I remarked at the outset of my plunge into George Reynolds’ monumental penny-dreadful, The Mysteries Of London, that it was very obvious that Mary Elizabeth Braddon had been strongly influenced by Reynolds; likewise, that she was in sympathy with many of his social criticisms. Her way of addressing such points was always very different, however: whereas Reynolds does so with rhetoric and tub-thumping, Braddon’s way is that of black humour and/or chilly matter-of-factness. Here, for instance, merely as a throwaway observation in context, is a reference to the conditions prevailing in England during the 18th century, and the savage property laws of the time. It’s something that Reynolds might have said—but this isn’t the way he would have said it:

The sojourn of a handsome young baronet at the Black Bear was a rare event, to be remembered and talked of for a twelvemonth at least; while violence, outrage, robbery, and murder upon the king’s highway were of everyday occurrence. London kept holiday every Monday morning, and went gipsying and sight-seeing Tyburnwards. Thieves, retired from business, made goodly fortunes by hunting down old comrades. Children were hung without mercy for the stealing of three halfpence on that via sacra, the king’s highway; because the law—poor well-intentioned blundering monster as it was—could frame a statute, but could not make a distinction, and could only hang by the letter, where it might have pardoned according to the spirit.

The next event of significance to our characters is the coming of the end of January—the seventh anniversary of George Duke’s disappearance. Millicent must then seek out Darrell Markham in London and deliver to him Ringwood’s letter, as per her solemn promise; but she has little idea how to go about her task, and is mightily relieved when Sarah forces her own company upon her.

Holding hard to her Cumberland heritage, Sarah stubbornly refuses to be either thrilled, shocked or awed by London. As for Millicent, she barely notices her surroundings for thinking of the upcoming meeting. She has not seen her cousin Darrell for seven years either—not since he lay injured and delirious at the Black Bear, after being attacked by a man he swore was George Duke…

Millicent spends the hired coach journey between the inn at which she and Sarah are staying and the townhouse of Lord C— tormenting herself with visions of a very different Darrell; an indifferent Darrell; a Darrell in love with someone else. The reality is more prosaic but for the moment just as daunting: Darrell has grown up:

Of all the changes Millicent had ever dreamed of, none had come about. But this one change, of which she had never dreamed, had certainly come to pass. Darrell Markham had grown stouter within the past seven years ; not unbecomingly so, of course. He had only changed from a stripling into a stalwart broad-chested, and soldierly-looking fellow, whose very presence inspired poor helpless Millicent with a feeling of safety. He clasped his poor little shivering cousin to his breast, and covered her cold forehead with kisses…

Millicent is inspired with a new terror: that, he in London, she in Compton, Darrell may simply have grown away from her; but her fears in that respect are soon put thoroughly to rest. She hesitates as Darrell insists upon the implications of the seven-years’ silence, and changes the subject by putting Ringwood’s letter, as per her promise, into her cousin’s hand. Her hope is that Ringwood has left Darrell a bequest—which, as Darrell tells her, is exactly what he has done:

    It was thus that poor Ringwood had written:
    “Cousen Darrel,
    “When you gett this, Capten Duk will hav bin away sevin years. I canot lieve you a legasy, but I lieve you my sister Mily, who after my deth will be a ritch woman, for your tru and lovyng wife. Forgett
all past ill blud betwixt us, and cherish her for the sake of
    “RINGWOOD MARKHAM.”

Still gripped by her belief that George Duke is alive and waiting, Millicent resists her fate; but she has not the strength of character to withstand the force represented by an impassioned Darrell and a determined Sarah. However, she outrages the latter by refusing to come out of her mourning for Ringwood for her wedding, compromising only so far as a pale lavender gown. And though she very much enjoys the intervening fortnight, during which time Darrell ensures that she and Sarah see all the sights, there is a shadow over her happiness. At the last moment, her terrors overcome her:

    …Mrs George Duke, falling on her knees at Darrell’s feet, lifted up her clasped hands and appealed to him thus :—
    “O, Darrell, Darrell, I feel as if this was a wicked thing that we are going to do! What evidence have I that George Duke is dead? and what right have I to give my hand to you, not knowing whether it may not still belong to another? Delay this marriage. Wait, wait, and more certain news may reach us; for some thing tells me that we have no justification for the vows we are going to take to-day.”
    She spoke with such a solemn fervour, with such an earnestness in every word, with a light that seemed almost the radiance of inspiration shining in her blue
eyes, that Darrell Markham would have been led to listen to her almost as seriously as she had spoken, but for the interference of Mrs Sarah Pecker. That aggrieved matron, however, showered forth a whole volley of indignant exclamations, such as “Stuff and nonsense, child!”

Sarah hustles the pair into marriage; and this despite the fact that she herself receives at the last moment what she is inclined to take as an ill omen. Almost knocked down on the slippery pavement outside the London church, she is saved by a passing stranger…only he is not a stranger: it is none other than Sir Lovel Mortimer, looking very different from his normal dandified self in a brown wig and thick, almost disguising clothing; but there is no mistaking those eyes. The baronet is very interested to learn what business it is that has brought Sarah to London, and goes off leaving his compliments for the bride and groom.

The wedding goes ahead in spite of the spoken and unspoken fears of the trio; no George Duke appears to forbid it, in spite of Millicent’s nervous glances over her shoulder. With Darrell’s ring upon her finger, Millicent at last allows herself to relax:

Millicent abandoned herself to the delight of Darrell’s presence, and had well-nigh forgotten that she had ever lived away from him. She was with him, sheltered and protected by his love, and all the vague doubts and terrors of the wedding morning had vanished out of her mind. It seemed as if she had left her fears in the stony London church from which she had emerged as Darrell Markham’s wife. She had felt a shadowy apprehension of some shapeless trouble hovering near at hand, some unknown sorrow ready to fall upon her and crush her; but she felt this apprehension no longer. Nothing had occurred to interrupt the marriage. It seemed to her, therefore, as if the marriage, being permitted by Providence, must needs be happy…

The three travel home to Compton, and they make their first stop at the Black Bear where, knowing of the limited resources at the Hall, Sarah has sent ahead to order a celebratory dinner prepared for the newly-weds. Arriving at the inn, she hurries in ahead of her companions to check that her orders have been carried out—and finds herself confronted by the Samuel of old, a timid, weary man clearly expecting thunderstorms to descend upon his head:

    “What! what!” cried Sarah, some indistinct terror chilling her very blood; “what is it, Samuel?—have you lost your speech?”
    It seemed indeed for a moment as if Mr Pecker had been suddenly deprived of the use of that faculty. He shook his head from side to side, swallowed and gasped alternately, and then grasping Sarah by the arm, pointed with his disengaged hand to another half-open door exactly opposite to that of the room in which the dinner-table was laid. “Look there!” he ejaculated in a hoarse whisper close to Sarah’s ear.
    Following the direction of Samuel’s extended hand, Mrs Pecker looked into a room which was generally devoted to the ordinary customers at the Bear, but which on this winter’s evening had but one occupant. This solitary individual was a man wearing a dark blue travel-stained coat, jack-boots, and loose brown curling hair tied with a ribbon. His back was turned to Sarah and her husband, and he was bending over the sea-coal fire with his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in his hands. While Mrs Sarah Pecker stood as if transfixed, staring silently at this traveller, Darrell followed Millicent into the hall, and thence into the oak parlour, closing the door behind him.
    “O, Samuel, Samuel! how shall I ever tell her? ” exclaimed Mrs Pecker.

She cannot—and in fact does not. She excuses herself from joining the dinner, and has the inn’s servant wait upon Darrell and Millicent; which is also what Samuel has done with regard to the inn’s other customer. The Peckers try to come to terms with the appalling situation—each of them in their own way:

    “Only an hour—only an hour,” groaned Sarah: “if it had pleased Providence to have taken his life before that hour, what a happy release for them two poor innocent creatures in yonder room!”
    “Ah, what a release indeed!” echoed Samuel. “He’s sittin’ with his back to the door: if somebody could go behind him sudden with a kitchen poker,” added the innkeeper, looking thoughtfully at Sarah’s stout arm; “but then,” he continued, reflectively, “there’d be the body; and that would be against it. If you come to think of it, the leading inconvenience of a murder is that there’s generally a body. But I suppose it’s only right it should be so; for if it wasn’t for bodies, murders would be uncommon easy.”
    Sarah did not appear particularly struck by the brilliancy of her husband’s discourse; she sat in her own particular arm-chair before the old-fashioned fire place, with her hands clasped upon her knees, rocking herself to and fro, and repeating mournfully,—“O, if it had but pleased Providence to take him before that hour!—if it had but pleased Providence!”
    She remembered afterwards that as she said these words there was a feeling in her heart tantamount to an inarticulate prayer that some species of sudden death might overtake the traveller in the common parlour…

The traveller departs while Darrell and Millicent are still at dinner; for the Hall, the Peckers dismally conclude. Even at the last Sarah cannot bring herself to speak the terrible words; and though the others see that something has happened to upset their old friend, the dreadful truth does not cross their minds.

It is a short but hard walk from the Black Bear to Markham Hall, through the snow and by the light of a lantern carried by Samuel. Millicent, somewhat infected by Sarah’s fears, recoils when she sees footprints in the pathway. To approach their own front door, the two must pass several windows, including one giving into a room in which a fire has been lit: inside, a man sits before that fire…

Here, at last, we find ourselves upon familiar Braddon-ground in The Captain Of The Vulture. The bigamy-plot was one of the mainstays of the 19th century sensation novel; though it was not confined to that genre. It was occasionally deployed in more mainstream literature, too, but almost always with a man at the apex of the triangle: obviously this was considered a less shocking situation. In sensation novels, however, it was an excellent way of having a woman – generally the heroine – sexually guilty and yet innocent at the same time—if the bigamy was accidental, which was not always the case.

Braddon had already dabbled in these waters, in her first novel, The Trail Of The Serpent; but there it was merely one subplot in a dizzying maze of mystery and crime. This was the first time she brought this situation front-and-centre; and indeed, it is possible that she was using The Captain Of The Vulture as something of a dry run: bigamy would (though in very different ways) be the fulcrum of her two succeeding novels, which would be among her most controversial yet most successful works.

She handles the matter rather differently here, fittingly for what is an historical romance rather than a sensation novel, having poor Millicent agonise over her “sin” in explicitly religious terms. And there is something concrete for her to agonise over: daringly on Braddon’s part, it is clear that the marriage has been consummated.

Darrell does his best to intervene on Millicent’s behalf, arguing indeed that she was pressured into her new marriage against her better judgement; but he might as well be addressing a brick wall:

    “Now you come here and listen to me, Mistress Millicent Markham, Mrs George Duke, Mrs Darrell Markham, or whatever you may please to call yourself. Come here, I say.”
    She had been lying on the sofa, never blest by one moment’s unconsciousness, but acutely sensible of every word that had been said. Her husband caught hold of her wrist with a rough jerk, and lifted her from the sofa. “Listen to me, will you,” he said, “my very dutiful and blameless wife! I am going to ask you a few questions. Do you hear?”
    “Yes.”
    She neither addressed him by his name nor looked at him as he spoke. Gentle as she was, tender and loving as she was to every animate thing, she made no show of gentleness to him, nor any effort to conceal her shuddering abhorrence of him…

And of course, Captain Duke is not much interested in the marriage as such. What he is interested in, is Millicent’s inheritance of Compton Hall—and his consequent rights as her husband. His words are vicious, deliberately cruel—yet it is almost as if Millicent does not hear them. There is only one thought in her mind, one question which she must ask:

“George Duke, did you stay away these seven years on purpose to destroy me, body and soul?”

Somewhat to her surprise, and ours, the answer is ‘no’: Captain Duke was, he claims, cast away on a Pacific island, and only recently rescued.

Rendered helpless by the situation, Darrell can only insist upon his altered position as Millicent’s only relative. He withdraws—but warns Captain Duke about his treatment of Millicent, and adds that he will be back on the following day.

As he makes to withdraw, Millicent suddenly comes out of her near-catatonic state:

    “Stop!” cried Millicent, as her cousin was leaving the room; “my husband took an earring from me when we parted at Marley, and bade me ask him for it on his return. Have you that trinket?” she asked the Captain.
    She looked him in the face with an earnest, half-terrified gaze. She remembered the double of George Duke, seen by her upon Marley pier, in the winter moonlight.
    The sailor took a small canvas bag from his waist coat pocket. The bag contained a few pieces of gold and silver money, and the diamond earring which Millicent had given George Duke on the night of their parting…

It is the final, crushing blow:

    …going straight to her cousin, she put her two icy hands into his, and addressed him thus:
    “Farewell, Darrell Markham, we must never, never meet again. Heaven forgive us both for our sin; for Heaven knows we were innocent of evil intent. I will obey this man in all reasonable things, and will share my fortune with him and do my duty to him to my dying day; but I can never again be what I was to him before he left this place seven years ago; I can never be his wife again. Good night.”
    She put her cousin from her with a solemn gesture, which, with the simple words that she had spoken, seemed to him like a dissolution of their marriage…

With nowhere else to go, Darrell accepts the invitation of the waiting – and very apologetic – Samuel, to take up his residence at the Black Bear. It is intention to stay in Compton for the present, to see for himself how George Duke intends to treat his wife. He and Samuel turn their sad steps back along the snowy path to the inn. Along their way, the two encounter a man headed in the other direction:

    …a man wearing a horseman’s cloak, and muffled to the chin, with the snow-flakes lying white upon his hat and shoulders.
    Samuel Pecker gave this man a friendly though feeble good-night, but the man seemed a surly fellow, and made no answer. The snow lay so deep upon the ground that the three men passed one another as noiselessly as shadows.
    “Have you ever taken notice, Mr Darrell,” said
Samuel, some time afterwards, “that folks in snowy weather looks very much like ghosts; quiet, and white, and solemn?”

And this man is not the only unexpected visitor on this snowy night. Another, muffled up beyond recognition, calls at the Black Bear, demanding brandy. His voice is vaguely to familiar to Sarah, but she cannot place it—not until, in taking his drink, he exposes his face to her:

    He threw back his head as he swallowed the last drop of the fiery liquor, then throwing Mrs Pecker the price of the brandy, he bade her a hasty good-night, and strode out of the house.
    The empty glass dropped from Sarah’s hand, and shivered into fragments on the floor. Her white and terror-stricken face frightened the waiter when he returned from his errand to the stables.
    The man she had served with brandy could not surely be George Duke, for the Captain had an hour before set out for the Hall; but if not George Duke himself, this man was most certainly some unearthly shadow or double of the Captain of the Vulture…

Up at Compton Hall, Millicent goes about her duties with an air almost of quiet defiance, and declaredly has prepared for a husband a room far separate from her own, one known as the ‘Garden Room’ for its proximity to the grounds. She is interrupted by a caller – he who passed Darrell and Samuel – who seems agitated by news of the Captain’s return, but storms away without seeing him. The Captain, too, when informed, becomes angry and abusive.

Unmoved, Millicent withdraws to her own room. There her stony demeanour crumbles, as she confronts what she considers her enormous guilt—and the reality of what her life must now be. In the extremity of her misery, she even contemplates suicide, going so far as to find one of her father’s old razors. The impulse is soon quelled, however, though in her trembling haste she cuts herself while putting the blade away again. It is not a dangerous cut, but it bleeds significantly even after she bandages it up. That done, she can only sit in sleepless misery, contemplating the future…

Meanwhile, downstairs, George Duke too is reflecting upon his very altered fortunes:

“To think,” he said, “only to fancy that this Ringwood Markham, a younger man than myself, should have died within a few months of my coming home! Egad, they’ve said that George Duke was one of those fellows who always fall on their feet. I’ve had a hard time of it for the last seven years, but I’ve dropped into good luck after all—dropped into my old luck—a fortune, and a poor frightened wife that can’t say bo to a goose—a poor trembling novel-reading pale-faced baby…”

Having polished off one bottle of claret and another of brandy, the Captain staggers off to bed—still congratulating himself, and looking forward to “settling” with Darrell and Millicent:

    Mechanically his wandering right hand sought the butt-end of the pistol beneath the pillow, and so with his fingers resting on the familiar weapon, George Duke dropped off to sleep.
    It is doubtful if he had ever said a prayer in his life. He said none that night.

At some point during the endless winter night, Millicent is seized with the notion of signing over to George Duke everything she owns – everything – and under any conditions he chooses to impose, if only he will go away and leave her alone. Impulsively, she makes her way to the Garden Room:

    The firelight, changeful and capricious, now played upon the sleeper’s ringlets, lying in golden-brown tangles upon the pillow, now glanced upon the white fingers resting on the pistol, now flashed upon the tarnished gilding of the bed-posts, now glimmered on the ceiling, now lit up the wall; while Millicent’s weary eyes followed the light, as a traveller, astray on a dark night, follows a will-o’-the-wisp.
    She followed the light wherever it pleased to lead her. From the golden ringlets on the pillow to the hand upon the pistol, from the gilded bed-posts to the ceiling and the wall, lower and lower down the wall, creeping stealthily downwards, to the oaken floor beside the bed, and to a black pool which lay there, slowly saturating the time-blackened wood.
    The black pool was blood—a pool that grew wider every second, fed by a stream which was silently pouring from a hideous gash across the throat of Captain George Duke, of the good ship Vulture…

Millicent flees into the snowy night. She ignores her nearer neighbours and heads straight for the Black Bear, rousing the household with her cries. They, in turn, find her in hysterics, her hair dishevelled, her hands and her clothing smeared with blood, as she shrieks of George Duke’s murder…

The first impulse of Darrell, Sarah and Samuel is to protect Millicent from whatever has happened, but the inn’s ostler summons a constable, who has very different ideas. He and Darrell venture to Compton Hall, where they find any amount of what seems like damning evidence against Millicent—but there is one thing that they do not find:

    The candle, burned down to the socket of the quaint old silver candlestick, stood where Millicent had left it on a table near the window. The tapestry curtain, flung aside from the door as she had flung it in her terror, hung in a heap of heavy folds. That hideous pool between the bed and the fireplace had widened and spread itself; but the hearth was cold and black, and the bed upon which George Duke had lain was empty.
    It was empty. The pillow on which his head had rested was there, stained a horrible red with his blood. The butt-end of the pistol, on which his fingers had lain when he fell asleep was still visible beneath the pillow. Red ragged  stains and streaks of blood, and one long gory line which marked what way the stream had flowed towards the dark pool on the floor, disfigured the bedclothes; but beyond this there was nothing…

The men search, but no body is to be found. Money there is in abundance, however; so this is not a matter of robbery-homicide. The two notice another curious point:

    …the constable walked slowly round the chamber, looking at everything in his way. “What’s come of the Captain’s clothes, I wonder?” he said, rubbing his chin, and staring thoughtfully at the bed.
    It was noticeable that no vestige of clothing belonging to Captain George Duke was left in the apartment…

The murder of George Duke sends shockwaves of horrified delight through Compton—in itself, and inasmuch as the body must be somewhere. The subsequent investigation turns up nothing helpful, and ends as – in one respect – it must:

    Hugh Martin carried a certain official-looking document in his hand. Armed with this, he walked straight across the room to the sofa upon which Millicent sat.
    “Mrs Millicent Duke,” he said, “in the King’s name I arrest you for the wilful murder of your husband, George Duke.”

Unexpectedly, during the subsequent official inquiry, Millicent stands up under questioning far better than the people who love her: she tells her story openly and straightforwardly, winning the sympathy of everyone who hears her. But matters falter on a general failure to identify an alternative suspect. Millicent admits she knows nothing of her husband’s life away from Compton; Darrell can only add (what he sometime earlier discovered) that Duke was not a naval officer at all; and otherwise, there is only Samuel’s garbled tale of George Duke’s double. The matter concludes with Millicent committed to stand trial…

We might be inclined to feel that Braddon could have fudged the issue of Millicent’s guilt or innocence—omitted her discovering of the body, and begun the scene with her showing up at the Black Bear hysterical and covered in blood. But given Millicent’s own character, as drawn, this would have been an unnecessary piece of obfuscation: she was never the kind of worm that was going to turn, at least not to the point of cutting her husband’s throat. In later Braddon works, however, such is not always the case; and there are several in which the degree of the protagonist’s guilt becomes the crux of her narrative.

In essence, the final stages of The Captain Of The Vulture play out something like a conventional murder mystery, with Darrell Markham turning amateur detective and racing against time to try and find the evidence that will secure Millicent’s acquittal; while there is also a series of revelations about the true identities of several of the supporting cast, and the roles they have played in the tangled business.

But Braddon also uses this phase of her novel to cast a jaundiced eye on the justice system – so-called – and though overtly she admits that this was a hundred years or more in the past, she knows – and knows her readers know – that not nearly enough had changed since, even if some points of procedure had.

Again we see the similarities and differences between Braddon and George Reynolds: the points that they make, and the disparate ways in which they make them. In particular, both authors had a horror of capital punishment within a system in which circumstantial evidence carried so much weight, and no more than lip-service was paid to the presumption of innocence. Braddon even circumvents those who might be inclined to argue that, these days (that is, the 1860s) the law “pampers” criminals, by suggesting wryly that if so, it had plenty to make up for…

Darrell does succeed in elucidating some of the mystery of George Duke’s life, and discovers where he really was during those seven years – let’s just say that it wasn’t cast away on a desert island – but when Millicent’s trial begins, neither those hired to defend her nor those who love and believe in her hold much hope of her acquittal. Even when a decomposed body is found once the ice melts on a pond behind the stables at Compton Hall, it does not, under existing legal procedures, with the defence counsel permitted only to cross-examine and not to mount a rebuttal, play the part it should in Millicent’s defence:

Thus it was that the one strong point in favour of Millicent was insufficiently demonstrated to the jury who were to decide the awful question of her guilt or innocence. That one point was the physical weakness of the accused, and the improbability, if not impossibility, that such a woman could have carried the body of a stalwart strongly built man down a flight of stone steps, and across a space of forty yards, to a frozen pond, the ice upon the surface of which she must have broken before throwing the corpse of her victim into the water…

But Braddon doesn’t let her crusading overwhelm her narrative—and she pulls back from these grim matters to use her courtroom scene, not just to score points, but as the setting for a suitably dramatic ending to her narrative, when Thomas Masterson, aka the mysterious pedlar, is reluctantly giving evidence:

    In the very midst of a sentence Thomas Masterson stopped, and with ashen cheeks and dilated eyes stared across the heads of the lawyers and the multitude at the doorway of the court, which was in an elevated situation, communicating by a flight of steps with the main body of the building. A man who had just entered the court was standing at the top of these steps apart from all other spectators…
    “Why do you pause, Thomas Masterson?” asked the barrister.
    The witness slowly raised his hand, and pointed to the stranger at the top of the steps.
    “Because Cap’en George Duke has just come into the court,” he answered…

There is a distinct air of disappointment in the courtroom once this new witness has testified, accounting for the injury to his throat that really wasn’t as bad as it looked, his decision to leave Compton Hall again, and the travelling to which was due his failure to hear of his wife’s arrest. The spectators feel aggrieved at being deprived of their expected entertainment, with Millicent discharged by the judge; but this changes in a flash when, with more honour than discretion, and more deperation than either, the prisoner responds:

    Millicent Duke rose from her seat for the first time since the trial had begun. She stood up, calmly facing the eager crowd, which had been so ready to condemn her for a witch and a murderess, and which was now as ready to applaud and pity her as an innocent victim.
    She turned to the judge, and said, with quiet deliberation,—” I thank you, my lord, for your goodness to me; but that man is not my husband!”