Posts tagged ‘Catherine Cuthbertson’

05/09/2016

My man Hugh

Some of you with extremely long memories for trivia may remember that I once did a short post referencing Hugh Walpole’s historical romance, Judith Paris. This is the second book in Walpole’s “Herries Chronicles”, a family saga stretching from Georgian times to contemporary England (Walpole was writing in the 20s and 30s), and is interesting for the way it tends to present English history away from the “big events” that dominate historical fiction: much of the third volume, The Fortress, for instance, is set during that most-neglected period between the Regency and the ascension of Victoria.

Another attraction of this series is its amusing use of literature—using the term “literature” a bit lightly. Walpole not only introduces various literary figures as characters, but his people tend to be readers of the more eclectic type. The One of the highlights for me of Judith Paris was a short scene in which two minor characters are reading a novel by my homegirl, Kitty Cuthbertson. (They didn’t like it, which only proves there’s no accounting for bad taste.)

I was delighted to discover that Walpole kept up his game of literary allusions in The Fortress—where yet again we meet a raft of characters who feel they should be reading poetry and other such serious works, but would rather curl up with a novel…

In Judith Paris, we were introduced to an incompetent tutor who kept his position by reading Minerva Press novels out loud to his employer, the foolish Jennifer Herries; here, the far shrewder Judith picks a better qualified man for her own son:

His passion was for Homer, and Adam owed that at at least—that the Iliad and the Odyssey were to be ever friendly companions to him because of Roger Rackstraw. He had a pretty sense too of the virtues of Virgil, Horace, Thucydides and the Greek dramatists, and could make them live under his fingers. He had a poor opinion of contemporary English Letters, although he said a good word for the Waverley romances and told everyone that there was a young poet, John Keats, who would be remembered. For Mr Wordsworth he had more praise than was locally considered reasonable, but when alone with a friend confessed that he thought Southey’s poetry ‘fustian’…

Possibly the reason that Roger “had a poor opinion of contemporary English Letters” is that he was living during the literary black hole which occurred between the death of Jane Austen and the arrival on the scene of William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens: a time when the void was chiefly filled by amusing but trivial Silver-Fork Novels. Judith sees this second-rate writing as the expression of a general malaise:

She saw that she was in a society where nothing was real, where nobody believed in anything at all, where everyone feared what the morrow would bring. The ‘Silver Fork’ novels of fashionable life, just then beginning to be popular, were symptomatic of the falsehood and sham, while cruel and malicious sheets like the Age and the John Bull of Theodore Hook showed where the rottenness was hidden…

(Hmm… She was in a society where nothing was real, where nobody believed in anything at all, where everyone feared what the morrow would bring— Is that why we have so many terrible movies at the moment?)

The young Uhland Herries has a crippled leg, and lives withdrawn from his family. Most people are frightened of Uhland (with good reason, as we shall learn), and even his father, Walter, who almost worships him, does not understand him—least of all his passion for reading:

    Uhland was reading Ivanhoe.
    “What a silly book, Papa!” he said. “I am certain that people never talked like that.”
    Walter placed his great bulk on the bed and put his arm round his son. Under Uhland’s nightdress there was a sharp rigid spine-bone that seemed to protest against the caressing warmth of Walter’s hand.
    “Why not, my boy?” said Walter, who had never read Ivanhoe. “Sir Walter Scott is a very great man.”
    “Have you ever read a book called Frankenstein, Papa?”
    “No, my boy.”
    “That’s better than this stuff. Frankenstein creates a Monster and cannot escape it. There is too much fine writing, however…”

(This is the earliest instance I know of, of a fictional character identifying with Frankenstein’s Creature, as I prefer to call him. As a grown man, Uhland will give in to the blackest side of his nature and persecute his cousin, John Herries, exactly as the Creature persecutes Frankenstein, for far less cogent but psychologically similar reasons.)

As a young woman, Uhland’s sister Elizabeth finds a post as governess, but discovers that (as with the incompetent tutor) she is also expected to entertain her pupils’ mother:

Mrs Golightly enjoyed entertaining her friends in the evening…but perhaps more than anything else she enjoyed sitting with her toes in front of the fire of an evening and listening to Elizabeth’s reading of a novel. The original inquiry at the Agency about the Poets had been genuine enough, but when it came actually to reading—well, the novel was the thing! Elizabeth had a beautiful, quiet, cultivated voice, as Mrs Golightly told all her friends. It was a pleasure indeed to listen to her. So Elizabeth read, night after night, from the works of Bulwer, Ainsworth, that delightful new writer Charles Dickens, Theodore Hook, Mrs Gore, Miss Austen (“a little dull, my love—not enough Event”) and even some of the old Minerva Press’ romances—Mandroni, Ronaldo Rinaldini and The Beggar Girl And Her Benefactors, the last in seven volumes…

Meanwhile, Adam Paris grows up to be first a literary critic, and then an author of fantasy stories:

    “There are two sorts of writers, Mother, just as there are two sorts of Herries. One sort believes in facts, the other sort believes in things behind the facts.”
    “The books I like best,” she answered, “are those that have both sorts in them.”
    “For instance?”
    “Jane is reading me a very amusing story called Under Two Flags. It’s silly, of course—not like real life at all—but most enjoyable. And then there’s Alice In Wonderland. And then there’s Mr Huxley’s Man’s Place In Nature.”
    Adam laughed. “Mother, what a ridiculous mixture!”
    “They all come to the same thing in the end.”
    “What thing?”
    “The world is made up both of fantasy and reality, I suppose…”

As these passages illustrate, Walpole uses his characters’ reading not only to reveal their natures – here, the many contradictions of Judith – but to mark the passage of time and the changing of society: the events of The Fortress covering the years between 1822 and 1870 and climaxing with Judith reaching her 100th birthday.

But there’s one more literary passage in The Fortress that I must highlight, and—well, let’s just say that my man Hugh didn’t let me down:

They had never been to Uldale before on a visit, and this was a great adventure. ‘Madame’ was a ‘character’ through the whole countryside, and it was wonderful to be entertained in her parlour. Or was it Mrs Herries’ parlour? People said that she was mad and walked about the country singing songs to herself—mad, poor thing, because her husband had discovered her with her lover and he had killed himself. Very shocking, but how romantic! And then her son John was so handsome, the best-looking young man in the North, a little sad and pensive as a good-looking young man ought to be. For they adored Thaddeus Of Warsaw and Mrs Cuthbertson’s Santo Sebastiano and Mrs Meeke’s Midnight Weddings

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22/02/2014

Everything’s relative

I said at the outset of my posts on Munster Abbey that I wasn’t able to find out much about the short life of Sir Samuel Egerton Leigh, and while that’s true, one or two factoids did emerge while I was digging into the background of his novel.

One point that came up in a number of contexts is that Sir Samuel was related by marriage to the famous actor-producer-playwright, David Garrick: his sister, Martha, became the wife of Garrick’s nephew, Nathan.

Another, which came up far less frequently – one might even say astonishingly less frequently – is that Sir Samuel was distantly related to Jane Austen through her mother, Cassandra Leigh.

I have been unable to determine the exact degree of connectedness between the two. The Leighs were one of those sprawling, multi-foci aristocratic families, wherein determining who belongs to which branch is next to impossible for anyone but a professional genealogist with a lot of time on their hands. It doesn’t help that the Leighs managed to acquire both a barony and two different baronetcies, including the one inherited by our friend, Sir Samuel, all under the name of “Leigh”; nor that the clan had a habit of reiterating family names, hyphenated or otherwise. Thus in addition to the Austen-Leighs and the Egerton Leighs, there were also the Egerton Brydges-es, who were connections of the Dukes of Chandros, the first holder of that title being Mrs Austen’s great-uncle, James Brydges.

(There is neither an Austen nor a Leigh on the list of subscribers attached to Munster Abbey, although curiously there are three Austin-s. We do, however, find on the list (separately) Egerton Brydges Esq. and Mrs Brydges, of Wootten-court, near Canterbury, Miss Brydges of Canterbury, Mrs Charles Egerton of Bath, and John Egerton Esq. of Wellbeck-street; while the ‘C’ list is topped by the Dowager Duchess of Chandros.)

Be all that as it may—I think it may be fairly observed that all the writing talent in this extended family concentrated itself in one area.

More immediately to the point, however, it is delicious to reflect that while Sir Samuel Egerton Leigh was churning out the most deliriously over-the-top example of literary sentimentalism that I have yet come across, his distant cousin Jane was honing her own writing skills by mocking that very form of novel-writing. More than ever now do I want to believe that Sir Samuel was the anonymous author of Valentine: that novel was published in 1790, the same year that the fourteen-year-old Austen wrote Love And Freindship, her brilliantly funny deconstruction of the excesses of the genre. It amuses me no end to consider that one may even have provoked the other.

I’ve quoted from Love And Freindship before, when I was making the argument that in the final draft of Northanger Abbey, Austen was poking fun at fellow-novelist Catherine Cuthbertson. (And in fairness to Cuthbertson, gigglesome as her novels frequently are, she was a better writer than Sir Samuel, and never went quite so ludicrously far with her sentiment.) Here are a few more quotes from Austen’s burlesque: for extra enjoyment, put them side-by-side with the quotes from Munster Abbey:

    But lovely as I was the Graces of my Person were the least of my Perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was Mistress. When in the Convent, my progress had always exceeded my instructions, my Acquirements had been wonderfull for my age, and I had shortly surpassed my Masters.
    In my Mind, every Virtue that could adorn it was centered; it was the Rendez-vous of every good Quality and of every noble sentiment.
    A sensibility too tremblingly alive to every affliction of my Freinds, my Acquaintance and particularly to every affliction of my own, was my only fault, if a fault it could be called…

    I soon perceived that tho’ Lovely and Elegant in her Person and tho’ Easy and Polite in her Address, she was of that inferior order of Beings with regard to Delicate Feeling, tender Sentiments, and refined Sensibility, of which Augusta was one.
    She staid but half an hour and neither in the Course of her Visit, confided to me any of her secret thoughts, nor requested me to confide in her, any of Mine. You will easily imagine therefore my Dear Marianne that I could not feel any ardent affection or very sincere Attachment for Lady Dorothea…

“Where am I to drive?” said the Postilion. “To Newgate Gentle Youth (replied I), to see Augustus.” “Oh! no, no, (exclaimed Sophia) I cannot go to Newgate; I shall not be able to support the sight of my Augustus in so cruel a confinement—my feelings are sufficiently shocked by the RECITAL, of his Distress, but to behold it will overpower my Sensibility.” As I perfectly agreed with her in the Justice of her Sentiments the Postilion was instantly directed to return into the Country…

I was determined to speak with Philander and Gustavus, and to that purpose as soon as I left the Carriage, I went to the Basket and tenderly enquired after their Health, expressing my fears of the uneasiness of their situation. At first they seemed rather confused at my appearance dreading no doubt that I might call them to account for the money which our Grandfather had left me and which they had unjustly deprived me of, but finding that I mentioned nothing of the Matter, they desired me to step into the Basket as we might there converse with greater ease. Accordingly I entered and whilst the rest of the party were devouring green tea and buttered toast, we feasted ourselves in a more refined and sentimental Manner by a confidential Conversation. I informed them of every thing which had befallen me during the course of my life, and at my request they related to me every incident of theirs…

Footnote: Now, here’s a curiously suggestive thing: as I say, there’s no “Austen” on that list of subscribers to Munster Abbey, but amongst the list of surnames, we do find people called Elliot, Ferrars, Dashwood and Bennet. Hmm…

06/01/2012

Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector (Part 3)

She was conscious she had blushed, and that consciousness but heightened her confusion. “Why could she be such a fool to blush at hearing of St. Orville’s long talked of marriage alluded to?” was her mental question. She was not, could not, be in love with Lord St. Orville.—Indeed, was it a year or two after her late attachment, it might be so, and very probably; but now, it was an utter impossibility…

Recovering from the shock of her discovery, Julia at length decides that she has been unjust to Lady Storamond, whose principles she is well-acquainted with, and whose love for her husband is well-known; that St. Orville either found the locket or obtained it by some subterfuge; and that his open unhappiness is due to his guilt over loving his friend’s wife. Mingled gratitude and sympathy dominate Julia’s attitude towards St. Orville, both of which escalate when he is responsible once again for saving her life at significant risk to her own.

On her journey to Delamore Castle, Julia’s coach was followed by a man on horseback doing his best to disguise his appearance. Later, he called upon her, confirming her dismayed suspicion that her dogged pursuer had caught up with her again. The young man is Louis Laroche, whose passion for Julia will later be revealed as literal madness. Despite this, Mrs St. Clair once tried to arrange a marriage between him and Julia, only for Laroche’s outraged father to step in – later punishing Mrs St. Clair by having her twice arrested for debt. It was the obsessed Laroche who tried to abduct Julia by boat, and who finally decides that if he can’t have her, nobody can…

The Lady Selina Southerland is engaged to be married to Sir Charles Stratton, the older half-brother of Fitzroy, who was only six weeks old when his mother eloped. The outraged Sir William Stratton, convinced that the baby was none of his (although Lady Stratton leaving him behind would suggest otherwise), disinherited the child to the utmost of his ability, leaving him a penniless baronet; and we can judge how desperate he is for money by his willingness to marry Selina.

The wedding takes place; and as the party prepares to leave the church there is a sudden uproar. Laroche, who has taken it into his head that the wedding in the Southerland family is that of Julia and Fitzroy, springs towards her, pistol in hand. St. Orville, who is escorting her, instantly seizes and grapples with him; and saves Julia’s life at the cost of a bullet in the side, although the wound is not serious. Laroche flees the scene, and later takes his own life.

The triple shock – the attempt on her life, St. Orville’s injury, and Laroche’s suicide – is too much for Julia, who collapses into an illness during which her friends despair of her life, but from which she slowly recovers…only to then be almost as dangerously assailed in an emotional sense.

Since his departure from Delamore Castle, Fitzroy – now Marquis of Penmorva, following the death of his great-uncle – has been assiduous in his correspondence with Julia, with tender epistles arriving on a regular basis and assuring her of his enduring love; against which we have the revelation of how Fitzroy passed his time prior to his departure, when Julia voluntarily retired from the family circle to nurse Lady Delamore through a dangerous cold – namely, that his “flirtation” with Mrs Wellford escalated to a point where (having just freed himself from Lady Enderfield) he stands in danger of being named as the co-respondent in a divorce suit. Mrs Wellford’s mortified relatives, the Beaumonts, do succeed in averting this threat and hushing the whole thing up, but it reaches Julia anyway, via the usual channel, Lady Theodosia:

    “Fitzroy must have known all this yesterday; and this I naturally imagine to be the cause of his gloom and evident inquietude. He must tremble at this affair being known to you, whose spotless purity he cannot but be convinced will recoil from such misconduct; nor can he feel very comfortable in the idea of having this disgraceful divorce brought before the public, at the moment of his breaking off an honourable engagement with one woman, and entering into one with another.”
    “That makes, not much of flattery for me, certainly,” said Julia; “and deeply forms, wound for my affection:—but that is not the wound, which rankles direfully, and pains my heart, for deep-felt agony.— Oh! no, no! I had the thought, I had the fear, Fitzroy was the libertine; but did not, did not make imagination, that he would crime commit—the crime, so much for turpitude, that it is forbidden of commision, so expressly, by our much sacred religion’s laws.”

But even this pales beside the revelation of how Fitzroy occupied his time while Julia was on what her grieving friends believed would be her deathbed.

A recovered Julia makes a charitable call upon the elderly Dame Banks, finding her alone and stricken – and learns to her overwhelming horror that the pretty young Fanny Banks has fled from her grandmother’s house and protection. Some time after her disappearance, the girl sends home a letter of explanation :

“…I have not exhibited at the operar yet, it not being open; but I have been to a masquerade, and there my dear lord markis attended me. I was greatly delighted, we had such a gay party: and all would have been well, only they made me drink too much shampain… I never lived till now. I am as happy as a queen: and my dear markis is such an adoring lover, he spends all the time he can spare from parliament business with me; and quite sickens at the thoughts of leaving me, to go (which he must soon do) to Delamore castle, to save appearances…”

It transpires that Fitzroy has been pursuing the girl, off and on, for two years, first of all simply for the pleasure of stealing her affections from his half-brother, who first “discovered” her (although that relationship went no further than some mild flirtation). After making the girl’s acquaintance by warning her grandmother about his libertine relative and getting Sir Charles barred from the house, Fitzroy became a regular caller – and remained so under the pretence of instructing Fanny in the Bible…using these lessons, it is implied, to put his own interpretation upon the scriptures, and succeeding, by these means, in thoroughly undermining both the girl’s religious faith and her principles.

Mrs Banks gives to the shattered Julia a bundle of letters written by Fitzroy to Fanny; a glance at one is enough to confirm the worst. Stunned beyond belief, Julia is staggering back to Delamore when she slips and falls, injurying her ankle – and, unable to move, is an involuntary auditor of a violent quarrel between St. Orville and Fitzroy, newly returned, during which the latter hammers the final nail into his own coffin:

   “O Heaven! and could it be, while those whom Julia did not love were torn with agonising affliction…and found consolation only in the hope that in a better world they might again— You, Horatio, found alleviation in the gratification of your vanity!”
    “I grant it was an inexcusable profanation of my ardent affection for Julia, but it was natural to my character: I hate grief, and part with it whenever in my power. Fanny was a substantial consolation; that one of meeting in a better world, a shadow. My principles have long been undisguised to you… I live only for this world, where chance threw me; and had I lost my Julia, I had been a distracted mourner, without the credulous believer’s consolation…”

With great pain, but without hesitation, Julia steels herself to the task of cutting Fitzroy from her heart; and with the support of her faith, is soon serene if not happy. Lady Delamore having summoned Dr Sydenham to her, Julia delegates to him the task of dismissing Fitzroy, which he does simply by giving back to him his own letters to Fanny. Recognising that the jig is up, Fitzroy flees – where else? – to the Continent.

In the wake of Fitzroy’s departure, it may be seen that St. Orville is in considerably better spirits, which Julia happily puts down to him winning the battle with himself and subduing his guilty passion for Lady Storamond; although an alternative explanation occurs to all the other inhabitants of the castle.

Julia is not so caught up in her own problems as to lose her desire to bring about the reconciliation of Lord and Lady Delamore. Circumstances, however, are against her. It was intended that the Delamores should pay a lengthy visit to the newlyweds, Sir Charles and Lady Selina Stratton; but first Julia’s slow recovery from her illness, then her final break from Fitzroy, made Lady Delamore reluctant to leave her; so that Lord Delamore went alone. As she recovers her equanimity, Julia urges Lady Delamore to leave her and go to her husband, fearing the damage Selina having unhindered access to Lord Delamore for so long may have done. Lady Delamore takes her advice and leaves for Stratton Abbey. Julia declines accompanying her, instead paying a visit to a friend, Mrs Fermor, who earlier took charge of a young protégée of Lady Delamore’s, a girl called – or going by the name of – Mary Mildmay.

Santo Sebastiano is a tale filled with strange resemblances – including, of course, that of Lady Storamond to the Southerland family, to whom (as it turns out) she is not in fact related. Julia is surprised but accepting of this, as she herself bears a closer resemblance to her father’s first wife, the Lady Adelaide Montrose, than to her own mother; so close, indeed, that while visiting the Vatican one day with her grandmother, when she encountered a man she discovered to be Lord Glenbrook, Lady Adelaide’s brother-in-law, the shock of it made him faint—which he later explained as being due to Julia’s resemblance to a daughter of his, who died young. But having seen Julia once doesn’t preserve him from the shock inherent in seeing her a second time, under the roof of a relative of Mrs Fermor; upon which he collapses again, this time recovering delerious, and muttering about murders and ghosts…

The strange resemblance most prominently featured in the novel, however, is that borne by a girl called Mary Dungate, who belongs to that section of society which Lord Delamore politely calls “the scum of the earth”, and who as a child arrested the attention of Lady Delamore by being the spitting image of her husband.

It is, as it happens, a resemblance that Lord Delamore himself has no explanation for: he flatly denies the obvious one—and nobody believes him. Not his half-sister, Lady Frances Harcourt (another of the novel’s amusing supporting characters, infamous for her blunt tongue), who waves away his protestations of innocence with a snort of contempt—

    “That is, a most extraordinary, a most wonderful resemblance!” returned Lord Delamore.
    “Extraordinary and wonderful! Do not talk nonsense, Theodosius!”

—and certainly not his wife, who not only makes the child the object of her care (giving her the less “plebeian” surname of Mildmay), but reveals her belief in the girl’s paternity to Mary herself, and also to her children, meaning on one hand to encourage them to be kind to their half-sibling, while discouraging any feeling warmer than fraternal between Mary and St. Orville.

One of Julia’s charitable enterprises is the adoption of a small boy, Edward, who after the death of his mother is treated with great cruelty by his father and his father’s mistress. The boy’s sailor-uncle eventually comes looking for him, and reveals that he has recently married one Moll Dungate, Mary’s supposed mother, who he has discovered not only once received a healthy sum in exchange for agreeing to raise a certain baby as her own, but to this day, in exchange for her continued silence, receives a regular annuity paid by—the Lady Selina Southerland.

That’s right, my friends! – say it with me! – BABY SUBSTITUTION!!

And in fact, I think we’ve reached the point where I can legitimately start using “baby substitution” as one of my regular tags.

The malicious Mrs Monk is at the bottom of this, taking advantage of Lady Delamore’s enforced absence from her infant daughter during her father’s final illness to steal the child away, and leave her servant’s illegitimate baby as a substitute (a bout of scarlet fever accounting for the baby’s altered appearance)—mostly as an act of sheer bastardry, the birth of their first child having brought the new parents close together, but also – later taking the spurious Selina into her confidence – in order to have a weapon to use against the family, as needed; “Selina”‘s terror of losing her luxurious life making her willing to stoop to anything to maintain her position. (With this revelation, one particularly violent quarrel between Theodosia and Selina, during which the latter became hysterical upon being called “a changeling”, takes on a new significance.)

Of course, the real victim in all this is Sir Charles Stratton: as if being married to the Lady Selina Southerland isn’t bad enough in itself, now she turns out to be—what was that expression again? oh, yeah—the scum of the earth. This being a sentimental novel, possibly we’re supposed to say, “Serves you right for marrying money”—although it can’t be said that the text evinces anything but sympathy for his situation.

But it is quite some time before this revelation occurs. In the meantime, Julia’s fears prove only too well-founded: upon joining her husband, Lady Delamore discovers that Selina has indeed been busy poisoning his mind not just against her, but also Julia, who he now believes was involved in a secret relationship with Fitzroy from the time of their first meeting. In this attack, Selina is assisted by a young widow, Lady Hollowell, who Selina believes to be merely her tool, but who has a plan to take Mrs Monk’s place in Lord Delamore’s affections—and bank account.

When they return home, the Delamores receive a large number of houseguests, including one Sir Robert Bolton, who Lord Delamore is lured into believing is the object of Lady Delamore’s affections. (She is interested in him, but it stems from her concern for her sister, Lady Ennerdale, who is indulging in an indiscreet flirtation with the baronet.) Furthermore, Lord Delamore’s new dislike of Julia has led him, much to his son’s distress and exasperation, to press for the marriage of St. Orville with Lady Fontsevern, who is an heiress and a baroness in her own right, as well as the heir to the titles and honours of Montalvan, which were once held by the Southerland family but lost during the Wars of the Roses.

In Lady Fontsevern we have this novel’s other comic supporting character; although here the humour is woven into the text, rather than being merely a digression. Beautiful and rich, the young baroness is accustomed to hearing herself praised for her most trivial gestures and opinions, and works diligently to create situations in which the incense may be offered:

    “I am sure,” said her ladyship, with pretty meekness, “if his lordship can be happier near any one but me, I wish him to go; for I would not be the means of making anyone uncomfortable, or unhappy. I am sure every one, in all the world, would be happy, if I could make them so.”
    “Dear, amiable creature!” exclaimed her father.
    “What excellence of heart!” said Lord Delamore.
   “What fascinating philanthropy!”—“What a heavenly disposition!”—and “What an angel!”—were the ejaculations of Mr Primrose, Sir Charles, and Sir Lucius; but not one eulogium fell from the lips of Lord St. Orville.

It is Lady Fontsevern’s practice to adopt an attitude of fluttery childishness, posing as too young and innocent to understand the customs of the world and thus free to say and do whatever she likes—including declaring her passion for St. Orville, and openly pursuing him. And in fact, in her determined, almost professional, infantilism, Lady Fontsevern often seems like a forerunner to Dickens’ Harold Skimpole.

Lady Fontsevern’s arrival at Delamore brings her into conflict with Julia, whose genuine simplicity and openness throws her artifice into unflattering relief, and whose fascination for St. Orville is only too obvious. Provoked, the young baroness resorts to her other favourite tactic, used whenever she is thwarted in the slightest degree, of bursting into loud, crowd-drawing sobs:

    Here Julia was interrupted, by the violent sobs of Lady Fontsevern. Lords Delamore and Westbourn were now all-tender inquirers, Lady Delamore (drawn from her card-table by the sound), Julia and Lord St. Orville, all polite and humane ones.
    “Oh!” she sobbed out, “I am not so happy as Miss De Clifford! I possess not the power of interesting dear, dear Lord Delamore; yet he thinks (I know, he does) that I strive to do it. I am sure, I never affect any thing I do not feel. I am sure, my great affection for him is no counterfeit; and I am quite heart-broken to think that I could not interest him even sufficiently to play out one little game of chess with me. I am sure, it is not my fault. I did my best to interest him; but—I—I am a poor child of nature, very, very young, and from the retirement I have lived in, quite inexperienced in the trick of the world; and great allowances ought to be made for me. I am sure, I wish I was a foreigner too; for all foreigners have the gift to interest, and fascinate, all mankind.”

This section of the novel also reintroduces the Lady Isabella Harville, the daughter of Lady Ennerdale, who (due to her vain mother’s dislike of having a grown-up child) has been kept back in the schoolroom, and is rather young for her years—meaning that, being able to see through Lady Fontsevern, she is far too unsophisticated to pretend that she can’t:

    “Me! put in for compliments!” exclaimed Lady Fontsevern, in a soft tone of amazement: “me! who never wish to hear compliments! nay, I absolutely hate them.”
    Lady Isabella burst into a laugh of so much naïveté, that Lord St. Orville found it so infectious, he was compelled almost to smother poor Edward with kisses, to conceal his strong propensity to excessive risibility.

Back under the direct influence of Julia’s personality, Lord Delamore finds it hard to go on believing that she has been guilty of duplicitous and immoral conduct; although he is unable to entirely shake off the fear that she is deceiving him, that she is in league with Lady Delamore and St. Orville against him. A near-tragedy then gives Julia a way back into Lord Delamore’s heart, as a skating party ends in disaster. Lord Delamore falls through the ice, putting not only his but also St. Orville’s life in deadly danger, as he struggles to keep his father above water. It is Julia, of all those gathered, who keeps her head, first bending a branch towards St. Orville to give him temporary support, then bringing a rope to offer him a more secure anchorage, before running off to get assistance.

Which brings us to THE worst moment in the book, as Catherine Cuthbertson take a rare tumble out of the realm of the amusingly entertaining, into that of the simply ludicrous.

Note to writers of sentimental novels—dog rescues DO NOT WORK…no matter how “sagacious” the animal in question:

    “Neptune!” she cried again, and the dog, seeming fascinated by her voice, bounded with her, as she rapidly mounted the style into the park, when, through a vista, was the lake plainly seen, and the emperilled father and son.
    In this moment, the faculties of Lord Delamore (now completely up to his chin in water) were quite subdued, by fatigue and the agonies of his mind;—thus in the fangs of death himself, and causing the destruction of his fondly-adored son, and ever-lasting misery to his idolised Emily;—he fainted, and, as his senses fled, his hat, before disturbed from its station, fell into the water. This Neptune saw, and rushed forward to dive for; but it went under the ice; and mistaking Lord Delamore’s head for what had fallen, he seised him by the hair. Lord St. Orville now, in full faith of his father’s preservation, gave him up, in joy and gratitude, to the succouring animal; and, fearing that his additional weight might prove too much for the powers of this providential friend, let his father go; when Neptune skilfully navigated, through the now much-widened chasm, his lifeless burthen safely to the bank: and whilst in drawing Lord Delamore gently out of the water after him, this astonishing sagacious animal was employed, the almost-breathless fishermen arrived…

Question: what would they have done if Lord Delamore’s hat HADN’T fallen off?

I’m quite able to believe, of course, that Catherine Cuthbertson might have read Munster Abbey; but the thought that she might have been influenced by it…

Believe it or not, that isn’t even what made me laugh hardest about this book, which was instead this random paragraph, which occurs when Julia realises that Selina has drawn her into a trap. I don’t quite know why—perhaps it’s the use of the exaggerated word “palsied”; or the fact that Julia is so upset, it takes lemonade rather than water to help; or that crying and fainting occurs so frequently in this household, Lord St. Orville has apparently taken to walking around with a glass of something in his hand, just in case:

Horror and amazement at such monstrous duplicity, such barbarous malice, changed the tint of Julia’s cheeks to the paleness of death. Her solemn promise to Lady Selina, never to betray the occurrences of that particular morning to any of her family, she considered too sacred to violate. A visible tremor soon pervaded her whole frame; she was sick at heart; and hastily snatched at a glass of lemonade now offered to her by Lord St. Orville, to save herself from fainting, and, with a palsied hand, she raised it to her lips.

Anyway—

Lady Frances Harcourt arrives at the castle to visit the family, and immediately sets about putting everyone in their place (particularly Lady Fontsevern). Lady Frances has never made a secret of her disapproval of her brother, and conversely her love and sympathy for her sister-in-law; but seeing that a reconciliation is occurring between the Delamores, there is another between her and her brother.

We learn that in the wake of her disastrous elopement (boasting a body count of three), Lady Theodosia has been under the care of Lady Frances, and that although she is not yet up to facing her parents, she has been asking for Julia, who is now given permission to go to her—under, after some manoeuvring, the escort of St. Orville. And it is at the evocatively named Black Tower Abbey that Julia and her long-silent lover come to an understanding.

Self-control is not, it must be said, one of the more common attributes of the sentimental hero; so we can only admire the unusual wisdom of St. Orville’s proceedings—and his understanding of Julia. Recognising that she must work through her relationship with Fitzroy, that she is, in a sense, in mourning, not even Fitzroy’s departure can provoke St. Orville into a premature declaration, which he knows would only offend her and frighten her away. Instead, he devotes himself to her service, and lets his actions speak for themselves; a process greatly assisted when, though an adding up of random details, the penny finally drops for Julia:

But that was a question that Julia could by no means answer, so overwhelmed was she with amazement and agitation. At this moment, Edward was summoned to his breakfast; and Julia, now alone, reviewed the whole of Edward’s intelligence.—“Lord St. Orville love her, so long! How could it be? What could it mean?” For a moment she paused; when suddenly articulating her thoughts, with an almost audible shriek of surprise and joy from her heart— “That he, Lord St. Orville,” she cried, “is my young protector! the stranger! the stranger!”

Here the narrative devotes itself to filling in the gaps in this section of the back story – including the detail that, called back to the Mediterranean shortly after discovering Julia at the Goodwins’, St. Orville asked Fitzroy to keep a brotherly eye on her for him – and an overwhelmed Julia  learns that St. Orville has known her, and loved her, and watched over her, even longer than she could have imagined…

But while this would seem to wrap up this novel, in fact we have a whole other plot (and some 250 pages) to go, which abruptly makes its presence felt when Julia is one morning abducted by a band of masked men.

The person responsible is Lord Westbourn, the father of Lady Fontsevern, who has made up his mind that Julia is to be his wife—partly from desire for her, mostly because he has penetrated the secret that has enveloped her entire life: that she is, in fact, the daughter of Lady Adelaide De Clifford, and consequently not only the granddaughter of the Duke of Avondale but (through her maternal grandmother) the real heiress of Montalvan—and filthy rich, to boot.

The secret history of Santo Sebastiano is hardly less complicated than that revealed in Romance Of The Pyrenees, although in this case Catherine Cuthbertson gives herself only about a fifth of the space to get through it all, meaning that at this point the novel explodes into a convoluted tale of greed, hatred, murder, elopement, abduction, revenge, unrequited love, secret identities, oaths of silence, broken hearts, press-ganging, shipwreck, and early death. However, for the purposes of this summary, there are only two things that we really need to know.

The first is that the lead villain here is Lord Glenbrook, whose insane avarice led him to murder his brother-in-law in order to secure a greater inheritance to his wife (and then talked about it in his sleep – so much for that marriage); and, having gotten away with that, that he then took advantage of his father-in-law’s anger at his daughter Adelaide for her runaway marriage to try and dispose of her, too.

The second thing is that it was Lady Adelaide, knowing herself dying, who arranged the marriage between Frederick De Clifford and Ismena St. Clair (in whose character she was entirely mistaken), in order to conceal her daughter’s true identity and protect her from her murderous uncle. Granting his wife’s last request, De Clifford was nevertheless unable to conceal his undying love for Adelaide and his indifference towards, and then resentment of, Ismena, which was the basis of Mrs St. Clair’s hatred and subsequent tormenting of her supposed granddaughter.

Phew!

A variety of circumstances conspire to rescue Julia from Lord Westbourn, reunite her with her grandfather, and bring this history to light; and a great gathering of characters takes place at Valincourt Abbey, which the Duke of Avondale cedes to his newly enobled granddaughter, who shortly afterwards takes on a second title:

 “Indeed,” said his grace, putting Julia’s hand into Lord St. Orville’s, “the heiress of Montalvan must be your wife, or I shall not more know happiness myself. So pray take her, my good boy, from the hand of her grandfather; and will you not join me, my Lords Delamore and Ashgrove, in invoking Heaven to shower down every blessing upon these our children, Alfred Southerland, commonly called Lord St. Orville, and Julia Adelaide De Clifford, Countess of Montalvan!”

Our last glimpse of Julia and St. Orville finds them happily esconced at Valincourt and the parents of a baby boy. Meanwhile, Lord and Lady Delamore come together at last; the real Lady Selina Southerland is re-established (and marries Julia’s cousin, the Earl of Castlehaven, also called Frederick De Clifford); Lady Theodosia recovers from her unhappy first love and marries with her parents’ approbation; and Mrs Monk and Mary Dungate get what’s coming to them.

Which I guess only leaves the mystery of St. Orville’s strange reaction to every mention of Lady Storamond.

And you know?—I think I’m going to leave you guys to figure that one out for yourselves. I’ll just say this about it: that there was never any possibility of a guilty relationship between the two of them, since their principles were absolutely identical…

.

See also:

Rosabella; or, A Mother’s Marriage
Romance Of The Pyrenees
Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector (Part 1)

Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector (Part 2)

03/01/2012

Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector (Part 2)

“My brother has brought home no heart to lose:—this was legibly told, in every line of his sadly altered countenance and dejected air, yesterday; but the evening disclosed the magnitude of his misery, by proclaiming the object of his unfortunate love. Oh, Julia! had you been looking at him while you were talking of Lady Storamond, had your heart been formed of adamant it must have melted in pity for him.—Oh! my brother! my brother! my amiable, inestimable, brother! doomed to the misery of inauspicious love; torn with remorse, as well as disappointment:—for well I know his upright principles will ever direfully upbraid him for loving the wife of his friend.—Oh! my brother! my brother! my amiable, now wretched, brother!”

Lord Ashgrove needn’t have worried. Although Julia was only four when her father died, before that time he managed to drum into her head the tenets not just of religion, not just of Christianity, but of Protestantism; or at any rate, he taught her that she should never, ever, ever listen to or believe a single word that a nun or a priest said to her, which is after all (as far as we can judge from this novel) one of the main Protestant beliefs. This was enough to guard Julia from contamination until, in her early teens, she was left for two years in a convent in Florence, where she met an Englishwoman, a Mrs Waldegrave, who not only completed her religious instruction but gave Julia the general education that Mrs St. Clair (intent only on training her granddaughter to be a public singer and musician, presumably with the long-term goal of selling her to the highest bidder) had previously denied her.

And in fact, it is one of this novel’s little ironies (quite possibly an unintentional one) that the two most significant friendships of Julia’s formative years were both conducted entirely within convent walls. There is a distinct tendency here to treat convents less like houses of religion than as if they were some sort of strange combination of hotel and prison: Mrs Waldegrave retires into one, in spite of being a Protestant; Julia is left in one whenever she becomes an incumbrance to her peripatetic grandmother; and the Lady Cecilia Hume is detained in one until the arrival of her angry guardian, after the frustration of her attempted elopement with the man who will eventually become her husband anyway, Lord Storamond.

And it is in the convent of Santo Sebastiano, in Naples, that the meeting of Julia De Clifford and Cecilia Hume takes place. Starved for love, and having never had a friend near her own age (her scruples having caused her to hold the nuns and novitiates at arm’s length), Julia conceives for Cecilia a passionate affection. Cecilia, who is some years older than Julia, acts as a mentor to her as well as a companion, guiding her studies both secular and spiritual; and while their time together is comparatively short, Julia’s devotion to her friend remains steadfast throughout their subsequent separation.

It is Fitzroy’s resemblance to Cecilia that first gives him a foothold in Julia’s heart, while her later relationships with  Lady Delamore, her son, the Viscount St. Orville, and the Lady Theodosia Southerland have a similar basis—while the fact that Cecilia also taught Julia to play a mean game of chess gives her, conversely, a way into the erratic affections of Lord Delamore, who hasn’t had a decent opponent since he banished his son from beneath his roof.

With the adoption of Julia into the Southerland family, Santo Sebastiano opens up. There is a sudden in-rush of supporting characters, and we begin in earnest the task of trying to keep a grip on the myriad histories and relationships presented. And it is also at this point that we are forced to consider, and not for the first time, the question of just how seriously Catherine Cuthbertson took her own novels.

Although, no doubt, there were novelists at this time capable of writing five volumes of overwrought sentimentalism with a straight face, I don’t think Cuthberston was one of them. My impression of her is, rather, that like Mary Meeke (although without the accompanying declaration of pure commercial intent), she wrote what she thought would sell. This suspicion is based partly on remarks such as the one that pops up near the end of this novel’s third volume—

Julia now, affectionately kissing Lady Delamore, departed, leaving her ladyship and Lord St. Orville overpowered by feelings we have not talents to describe, but may be easily conceived by our readers, when they have waded through our subsequent pages.

—but mostly on the recurrent appearance of minor characters who seem to exist for no reason but to amuse their creator. For one thing, Cuthberston has a propensity for comic relief Irishwomen – although to give her her due, these potentially tiresome additions are never just comic, but tend to be shrewd and loyal individuals as well, and of great help to the heroine. (Biddy O’Neil, the servant rescued by Fitzroy in Volume 1, fits this category.) More illustrative is Mrs Beaumont, a neighbour of the Delamores, who adds nothing to the plot of Santo Sebastiano but befuddlement.

Briefly, Mrs Beaumont married “up”, to the extent that her husband, in order to justify his choice, then gave her a classical education. The lady, puffed up in her achievements, took to spouting Latin and Greek at every opportunity, until her embarrassed husband finally forbade her to speak either, even again. Obedient but unwilling to give up her accomplishment, Mrs Beaumont then set about learning a rather unique version of English, which she speaks with great pride (and to the mortification of her family):

“I was too anxious to enquire after the state of your ladyship’s brindice,” said Mrs Beaumont, courtesying profoundly, “to practise much longanimity; but have festinately come, to gratify my exoptation, of hearing the redintegration of it enunciated by yourself, and not by compurgation. Your ladyship’s œcumenically desiderated return occurring sooner than was expected, has proved an inopinate oblection to me. You look admirably, madam: and your complexion quite diaphanic, considering the nocent air of that veneficial metropolis, to which your symposaick evagation led you. Son George! are you elinguid? Why so amort? Why this obmutescence? Require no further increpation from me. Do not for ever appear so acephalous; but, without despection, or nolition, do yourself the honour of entering into an enterparlance with her ladyship; and, for once in your life, be multiloquous.”

Now obviously, this too could get tiresome if overused; but Cuthbertson is sparing of Mrs Beaumont’s appearances; and my suspicion is that she brings her back whenever she starts to get bored herself with all the crying and the fainting; the material that – in her own words – must be “waded through”.

The usual response to Mrs Beaumont is a stunned silence. Amusingly, the only person who doesn’t hesitate to reply to her is Julia, who assumes that her incomprehension is due, not to Mrs Beaumont’s impenetrability, but her own shaky grasp of English. Brought up – gasp! – “on the Continent”, Julia’s native language is Italian; she reads and understands English well enough, but has only spoken it consistently since arriving in the country a year or so earlier with her grandmother, and does so in a broken idiom that her auditors find charming:

“Oh!” repled Julia with animation, “and even then, dear sir, friends do surely hope to meet again; and so shall we, Mrs Goodwin, often, and very much, often yet, I do trust me, even in this world, for thorns and flowers.—And dear Doctor Sydenham, pray excuse for me, when deeply feeling, the very much, strong, kindness, of your self, and Mr and Mrs Goodwin for me, I did lose all my stock, of firmness, when I did think, to part from you; and found, it would be much grief, for me.”

Disconcerting as this is at the outset, the reader, like Julia’s friends, eventually grows accustomed to it – which is just as well, since her English does not improve at any point in the story; and while it may be in character for her heroine to speak this way, there is nevertheless a sense that the task of constructing sentences in Julia’s idiosyncratic diction was one of the ways that Cuthbertson kept herself interested for the full 2000 pages.

(There’s a third character with whom Cuthbertson plays this sort of game; but since she is, far more than Mrs Beaumont, a “character”, we will deal with her later on.)

From the point of sheer writing, the best section of Santo Sebastiano is that which follows Julia’s entry into the Southerland household, during which, with the introduction of Lord Delamore, Catherine Cuthbertson gives us something extremely unusual in a novel of this period: a genuine attempt at psychological characterisation.

All his life, the Earl has suffered equally from a desperate need to be loved and an acute lack of self-esteem that prevents him from believing that people can and do love him. His wife and his son, who want nothing more in life than to live happily with him, find their overtures received with cold suspicion: if they do as Lord Delamore wishes, it’s only because of their sense of duty; if they do not, it’s because they don’t love him. The Earl’s constant misinterpretation of his family’s actions leads him into a self-defeating mire wherein he behaves as a domestic tyrant – which drives his family even further away – which makes him so wretchedly unhappy, he becomes even more tyrannical. His crowning misery is that he  knows he’s doing it—he simply cannot stop himself.

Along with his willingness to believe the worst, Lord Delamore’s self-affliction is compounded by his tendency to believe whoever he has last been listening to: a habit that leaves him open to manipulation by anyone with a selfish agenda—like Selina, who in the hope of making herself the chief beneficiery of her father’s mostly unentailed fortune, works tirelessly at denigrating her mother and siblings, and finding ugly explanations for what they do. Lady Delamore and St. Orville, though aware of this, will not stoop to Selina’s tactics, or to justifying themselves against her insinuations—which leaves them at a perpetual disadvantage.

When Julia arrives at Delamore Castle, she finds herself in the midst of a family in disarray: Lord and Lady Delamore are estranged; St. Orville has been banished by his father; Lady Theodosia is caught between her parents; while Lady Selina spends most of her time making a bad situation worse. Julia is a reluctant witness of a series of embarrassing family scenes, for which her hosts feel compelled to account and apologise for, with the result that the reader is offered three different versions of the family situation from three very different perspectives.

The facts, briefly, are these: in his youth, Lord Delamore became fascinated by a temptress called Mrs Monk, and set her up as his mistress. His family, worried that his infatuation might lead him to marriage, took pains to introduce him to the Lady Emily Stanmore, then not quite fifteen, and (due to her father’s notions of proper female education) having been raised in isolation to the point of having never spoken to anyone outside of her own family. Though marriage to Mrs Monk was, in fact, never a danger, due to Delamore’s pride, he was sufficiently entranced by the beautiful, innocent girl to marry her – she agreeing in obedience to her father’s commands. And although he had made no effort at all to court his bride, Lord Delamore was fool enough to ask her if she loved him? – and unreasonable enough to recoil from her, his self-esteen suffering an intolerable wound, when she simply told him the truth.

And at this vulnerable moment, the ever-hopeful Mrs Monk made her move, poisoning Delamore’s mind against his bride, and leading him to his supreme folly: establishing her in her own house, on the grounds of his estate, almost under his wife’s eyes; and with his mistress insinuating that Lady Delamore’s indifference can only mean another man, the Earl was finally brought to desert his young family and live openly with his mistress – where else? – on the Continent.

And even after their return, Lord Delamore’s madness led him to attempt to sever his children’s affections from their mother, and teach them to love Mrs Monk instead. With Selina he succeeded only too well; while his ongoing alienation from his son began with the young St. Orville’s denunciation of Mrs Monk (after one of his maternal relations had a word in his ear), from which stance even regular beatings could not move him. As the boy grew older, he became the object of his father’s resentment and jealousy when it was borne upon him that the family’s tenants adored him, while evincing indifference towards the Earl himself. Finally, the thwarting of his son becoming almost automatic, Lord Delamore refused him the naval career he desired, with the result that St. Orville took a civilian-volunteer position under his uncle, Lord Ashgrove; while the Viscount’s banishment was the result of an attempt to obtain for his mother a more generous settlement, which (since his will was necessarily mentioned) Lord Delamore inevitably interpreted as his son’s desire for his death.

Most of this, with much empassioned annotation, is conveyed to Julia by Lady Theodosia, who in many respects is the novel’s most credible character. While both Lady Delamore and St. Orville are examples of the kind of impossibly perfect characters that too often populate sentimental novels, inasmuch as they feel no anger or resentment towards their husband and father, but want only to be reconciled to him and are able to love him no matter what he does (which, as we’ve seen, covers some considerable ground), Theodosia is a bundle of believable flaws. Although she, too, wishes for a loving relationship with her father, at the the same time she burns with resentment against him for his treatment of her mother and brother, disobeys him unhesitatingly if she thinks his commands are unreasonable, and frequently talks back to him. Later, this antagonistic relationship will reach a crisis when Theodosia falls in love with a man who, although he has built a distinguished military career, has “no family” (i.e. they’re in trade). The outraged Lord Delamore responds by literally locking his daughter in her room, which provokes her into violating her own principles by agreeing to an elopement—and it all ends in worse than tears.

Intriguingly, although the text criticises Theodosia for washing her family’s dirty linen in public, her version of her father’s story is never contradicted. What we do get, however, is, first, Lady Delamore’s version of the same events, given briefly, in which she extenuates her husband’s faults as much as possible and begs Julia to look beyond his treatment of her to what is admirable in his character; and then Lord Delamore’s own version, in which he is, from first to last, a victim:

“In defiance of my mental sufferings, I enjoyed… No, I cannot say—enjoyed, for I had no joy through life: misery has been my portion!…But I had excellent, uninterrupted health; until about two years ago, when, in consequence of his dreadful risk to save the fishermen, I nearly lost my Alfred:—then, then my constitution suffered… I beheld the anguish of my Emily; but she considered me not the partner of her sorrows;—I was not to aim at soothing them, nor was considered their participator. I saw the grief, and despair, of every one; but I was left, to feel my own. I had no commiseration;—no one, to unburthen my anguish to:—I had no friend!… O God in heaven! what misery was mine! yet no bosom felt compassion for me. Like the aggressor Cain, I wandered up and down, detested, abhorred, by all… I fell ill—very ill…but Emily came not near me!—she, she whom I had seen, in distracted, tender, affection, watching by the pillow of her child, came not near her sick husband!—but that husband she abhorred! Well, well, it pleased Heaven, that I should annoy the world a little longer with my hated life…”

And so on.

One very interesting detail that emerges from all this is that during Lord Delamore’s absence in Italy with Mrs Monk, he had become obsessed with the idea that his wife loved another man. Lady Delamore was, at that time, although a mother of three, only nineteen years old. Her indignant brother, Lord Ashgrove, came to visit her during this lonely, unhappy time, bringing with him his best friend, Frederick De Clifford—and had to suffer the shock and mortification of having his sister beg him, if he valued her peace and honour, to take his fascinating friend away again.

In love with the Lady Adelaide Montrose, De Clifford remained oblivious to the young Lady Delamore’s feelings; and, left to herself, she succeeded in conquering her guilty passion – almost. A certain tenderness for him lingered in the heart of this otherwise dutiful wife, and contributed to the eagerness with which she welcomed Julia De Clifford to her home.

As a stranger and an outsider, Julia initially has more influence with Lord Delamore than anyone else, as even he cannot believe she has a selfish axe to grind; and for a time she allows heself to hope that she might succeed in bringing this unhappy family together. Ultimately, however, she succeeds a little too well; well enough that Lord Delamore begins to plan a marriage between her and St. Orville; only to collapse into another fit of monumental sulks when he finds out about Fitzroy.

Of course, given the many and varied transgressions of the two men, it is impossible not to reflect on the sympathy gap in the text between its handling of Lord Delamore and its attitude towards Fitzroy, who is (for reasons we shall get around to) finally banished from the novel, even as the neurotic Earl finds happiness in his family circle. One of the nicest and most unexpected things about Santo Sebastiano is – amongst all the misery and suffering – its subplot about the eventual reconciliation between Lord and Lady Delamore who, after being at cross-purposes for no less than twenty-five years, finally fall sincerely in love with one another: a denouement signalled by the moment in which, for the very first time in their marriage, Lady Delamore calls her husband by his first name…

    “My dear Theodosius!” said Lady Delamore, with affectionate anxiety, and tenderly taking his hand.
    The tenderness of Lady Delamore’s voice and action; the expression of interest conveyed in her short sentence; the calling him by his christian name, an appellation he remembered not to have ever fallen from her before;—inspired such sudden hope and joy, they almost overwhelmed him…

Unseen since his failure to keep his appointment with Julia at the Hargraves’, Fitzroy makes a spectacular re-entry when he saves Julia from abduction by a party that comes ashore by boat while Julia is walking on the beach near Delamore Castle. At this time he is still engaged to Lady Enderfield, and the meeting between himself and Julia is awkward, to say the least, neither one of them betraying that they are not meeting for the first time. (Selina, of course, knows they have, but has her reasons for keeping it quiet.) Not long after this, Fitzroy declares himself in a position to break with Lady Enderfield—honourably, he emphasises, although we are never told what she has done—and immediately resumes his pursuit of Julia, who allows herself to hope again; at least until Fitzroy’s unreasonable jealousy of one Lord Lindore, who proposes to her, provokes him into a flirtation with a relative of the Beaumonts, a Mrs Wellford. Julia’s distress betrays her to Theodosia, who wisely counsels her to confide in Lady Delamore, where she finds comfort but no joy:

    “And, now I have your confidence, still I am grieved; for though bright are the prospects which open for my sweet Julia, yet, yet I tremble, and fear that happiness is not very near for you. I will be candid with you; because it may prepare your mind for many troubles I see in store for you—
    “You have not, Julia (I grieve to tell you), given your affections to a mind congenial to your own. Yet Fitzroy has many, and great, virtues; and had he not been a spoiled—a darling child, educated in foreign and licentious courts, he would, I firmly believe, have been an ornament to human nature:—but I hope, I trust, nay, I am sanguine enough to believe, that Heaven has fated you to be the blessed instrument to weed from his heart every error ungenial to it, and lead it back to what it was formed to be. In doing this, my child, you will have many trials to encounter—many a grief to bear…”

Meanwhile, Theodosia goes her own way about trying to convince Julia that Fitzroy is not the man for her – although unfortunately, Julia is too innocent to catch her drift:

    “Pray,” said Julia, timidly, and wishing to change the subject— “I hope, you did pass, an exceedingly pleasant, day.”
    “As delightful a day as I could spend, away from her I love,” he replied, looking tenderly at the blushing Julia. “Lady Sophia is a woman of superior talents; and, in her own house, is always irresistibly fascinating.”
   “You have found her so,” said Lady Theodosia, drily.
    “All mankind do,” replied Fitzroy, chagrined.
    “I believe it,” said her ladyship.— “Pray, does her son, your god-son, retain his extraordinary resemblance to you?”

And even Lord Delamore, although at this time oblivious to the currents swirling about him, inadvertently adds his two cents:

“And so, this age-honouring Goody Wellford is a new flame of yours, Fitzroy!” said Lord Delamore. “Upon my word, yours is a most surprisingly-commodious heart!—its formation must be curious! Were we to analyse it, we should certainly find in its anatomy innumerable tubes, so constructed, as to hold and contain separate flames, detached and unmingled.”

Freed from Lady Enderfield, Fitzroy immediately begs Julia to marry him, but now a barrier exists in the form of Lord Ashgrove: Julia insists that his consent must be obtained before she can contract any engagement; while the concerned Lady Delamore, to the disgust of her fuming nephew, suggests a year’s trial of the couple’s mutual affection. Again and again Fitzroy assails Julia, begging her to consent to a runaway marriage, but he cannot shake her principles; and the matter still hangs in the balance when Fitzroy is summoned away from Delamore Castle by the news that his great-uncle, the Duke, is dying.

Meanwhile, summoned home by his impulsively relenting father after covering himself with glory during a naval engagement, St. Orville returns to Delamore Castle, much to the joy of his mother and younger sister and – once Julia has brokered a heartfelt reunion – his father. But their happiness is shortlived, as it is soon evident that St. Orville has something preying on his mind; something which his mother concludes is inauspicious love, its object none other than Julia’s friend, Lady Storamond:

“Well, well do I now remember the strong emotion St. Orville has ever evinced, when Lady Storamond has been accidentally mentioned before him: he always had some prompt excuse, founded on local circumstances, to account for his change of countenance, and I believed him; but now, alas! the real fatal cause is disclosed!— You, who have seen her, who knew her so well, dear Julia! tell me, if you think her affection to her husband can be shaken;—tell me, in pity, she is worthy your regard, and that, dreadful as the pang is, I shall have only to lament the destruction of my child’s peace, and not his soul-harrowing lapse from rectitude.”

Julia, convinced of Lady Storamond’s own rectitude, can give Lady Delamore the assurances for which she pleads; but it is not long before her own faith is shaken. She is out riding one morning and, a novice in the saddle, is unable to control her horse when it bolts, putting her in imminent danger of her life as it plunges towards a cliff-top. St. Orville, who with Theodosia has been one of Julia’s companions, instantly rides after her, and manages to grab hold of her horse’s bridle and turn it back to safe ground, the effort pulling him from his own saddle and severely wrenching his arm. Almost overcome by the shock of her narrow escape and her remorse for St. Orville’s injury, Julia can barely speak—while St. Orville himself is in little better condition:

    “Oh, Lord St. Orville! but for Heaven and you”… Her oppressed sensibility allowed her to add no more, for an abundant flow of tears suspended her power of articulation; but, even in this short sentence, her voice recalled his amazed senses, and restored his utterance.
    “You—you, are safe!” he exclaimed.
    “Safe, and unhurt,” she said.
    One of the sweetest smiles that ever animated the face of mortal, now diffused itself over the countenance of Lord St. Orville, as he fell at the feet of Julia, in a death-like swoon.

Of course he did.

Crying out for help, Julia kneels beside the insensible St. Orville and loosens his neckcloth and collar—only to recoil from him in horror when she sees that, suspended about his neck on a black ribbon, he wears a gold locket; a locket once given by Julia to her friend Cecilia, and which he could only have obtained from Lady Storamond herself…

[To be continued…]

29/12/2011

Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector (Part 1)

Every moment this day, which Julia could obtain for reflection, was now dedicated to Fitzroy; and not, as Mrs Goodwin apprehended, to painful, unavailing retrospections.—She had been, most unexpectedly, told by Fitzroy,—the amiable Fitzroy!—that he aimed at her affections, and wished to present her to his father as the wife his heart had chosen; and the mournful tone of his voice, when he said—“If you send me from you, I shall be miserable,” still vibrated on her ear. From the idea of making him miserable, her grateful heart recoiled… And then, too, he was so generous, and disinterested, to think of making her his wife, when, with his expectations and attractions, he might, she thought, command the affections of almost any woman in existence.—and she was portionless, deserted, unclaimed by her father’s family…

When an enemy of the elderly Mrs St. Clair sends the bailiffs to arrest her for debt, the shock kills her—upon which, they try to sieze her body instead. The ensuing confrontation draws a crowd which blocks traffic in the street, including the carriage of a young man who, when the reason for the delay is explained to him, immediately goes to see if he can help. The young man is profoundly affected when he learns from a servant that Mrs St. Clair’s death has left her granddaughter, Julia De Clifford, all alone in the world. Leaving a sum of money sufficient to pay the debts and support the orphaned girl, he then slips away without revealing his name…

Although the Goodwins, the family with whom Julia and Mrs St. Clair were boarding, express their willingness to help the girl, she knows that cannot afford to support her and is determined to find a position. Mr Goodwin, a bookseller and stationer, sees an advertisement for a companion to the Countess of Delamore and immediately calls to inquire. Told that Lady Delamore is too ill to see him, he writes a letter in which he declares all he knows of Julia’s history and character; and later that day, Julia receives a summons to Grosvenor Square.

However, when she calls as ordered, the bewildered Julia finds herself the target of ridicule and insult by the Lady Selina Southerland and her satellites who, as she later discovers, placed the advertisement in order to amuse themselves by sporting with those who came in answer to it. Mortified, Julia is about to leave when she is unexpectedly rescued by Mr Horatio Fitzroy, who berates his heartless cousin Selina for playing such a prank while her mother lies ill. Fitzroy leads Julia to the family’s housekeeper, Mrs Beville, and asks her to escort Julia back to the Goodwins’. Julia is startled when she realises that Fitzroy bears a strong resemblance to her dearest friend, the former Cecilia Hume, now Lady Storamond, and concludes that the two must be related.

Although they hear nothing more from the Delamores, over the next few weeks the Goodwins’ fortunes mysteriously improve: Mr Goodwin suddenly has more business than he can manage on his own, and an offer is made of a place for the eldest boy, Charles, provided he is willing to go to India. A relieved Mr Goodwin expresses to Julia his belief that her anonymous rescuer is responsible. Soon afterwards, Mrs Goodwin receives an invitation from her sister, Mrs Hargrave, for herself and Julia to visit her home in the country and observe an upcoming election. As the travellers draw near their destination, Mrs Goodwin and Biddy, the maid, who share a fear of carriages on steep hills, choose to walk some way, but find themselves surrounded and accosted by a rowdy and intoxicated group of men. Another man comes to their rescue. From the carriage, Julia recognises Fitzroy, who is one of the candidates in the election; although he does not see her.

At the Hargraves’, Julia finds a friend in the person of the elderly Dr Sydenham, a benevolent clergyman, who is drawn by her beauty, simplicity of manner and openness of temperament. Less congenial are Dr and Mrs Hargrave, who are affected and condescending; while the daughter of the house plays a cruel trick that leaves Julia and another young guest, Miss Penrose, unprotected in the main street of the village. They are extricated from their predicament by Fitzroy and his friend Lord Francis Loraine, who accept the grateful Julia’s invitation to call at the rectory.

Over the next few days, Julia and Mrs Goodwin are invited to several entertainments in the neighbourhood, at which Fitzroy’s attentions become marked; and Mrs Goodwin begins to indulge splendid visions of her young friend’s future when she learns that Fitzroy is heir-presumptive to his great-uncle, the Duke of Bridgetower. It is revealed that, earlier, Fitzroy offered himself as a boarder at the Goodwins’, and that although at the time the family were in great need, in the role of Julia’s guardian Mr Goodwin cautiously rejected the offer. Furthermore, the young man becomes visably confused when Mrs Goodwin suggests that he is the family’s anonymous benefactor. At this juncture, Fitzroy makes an unguarded declaration of his hope of gaining Julia’s affections, and from this moment makes no attempt to conceal from the world his feelings for her.

Fitzroy is successful in the election, and a public ball is held to celebrate the outcome. When Julia arrives, Fitzroy joins her instantly, explaining that as the “lion” of the evening, he will not dance after opening the ball with his hostess, Lady Gaythorn, for fear of giving offence by singling certain ladies out. Julia assures him that she understands, confessing blushingly that she has never been at a ball before and has no idea of the forms to be observed. Impatiently, Fitzroy declares his intention of returning to her as soon as the opening dance is finished, but Julia insists that he must do his duty.

Having gained a seat upon an elevated bench with Dr Sydenham, from where she can see all that goes on, Julia is shocked by the arrival of a beautiful young woman who is covered in jewels and scandalously dressed in a diaphanous gown that reveals almost all of her figure. Worse, it is soon discovered that the young woman is Lady Enderfield, whose husband has only recently died. Julia is summoned away from the ballroom when Lady Gaythorn is taken ill, and from that lady learns to her horror that Lady Enderfield was Fitzroy’s first love, and once betrothed to him; but that, Fitzroy’s cousin then standing between himself and his great-uncle’s dukedom, she jilted him to marry the elderly but wealthy Lord Enderfield. Lady Gaythorn also admits that out of jealousy of this woman, once her friend, she herself was lured into jilting the man she loved, a second son with a moderate fortune, and marrying instead—his father, Lord Gaythorn. Lady Gaythorn warns Julia that Lady Enderfield can have come for one purpose only, and urges her to save Fitzroy from imminent danger. Julia, however, is unable to believe that Fitzroy could now feel anything for Lady Enderfield but contempt.

But to Julia’s profound sorrow and mortification, when she returns to the ballroom it is to find Fitzroy dancing with Lady Enderfield, and seemingly oblivious to the shocked attention of those around them. Later, however, having parted from his former love, Fitzroy seems as if awakened from a dream; and when both Julia and Lady Enderfield narrowly escape injury when a chandelier falls, it is Julia to whom he flies. He apologises for what he calls his “infatuated desertion” of her, and begs her to walk with him the following morning, at which time he promises to explain everything.

That night, Julia reflects upon the events of the evening, and from the tumult of her emotions, finally admits to herself that she loves Fitzroy. The next morning finds her ascending a swell of ground near the Hargraves’ rectory, which commands a view of the road—and from where she sees the approaching Fitzroy accosted by Lady Enderfield. As she rushes towards him, she trips, clutching at her ankle, compelling Fitzroy to help her away. Conceding that he had no choice but to assist, Julia turns away, pacing around as she waits for Fitzroy to return and keep his appointment with her—and waits—and waits…

[SPOILERS]

Published in 1806, Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector is a real “Catherine Cuthbertson Experience” – by which I mean it is entertaining, surprising and exasperating in about equal measure. In structure it resembles its sister-novels, being untenably lengthy, with half a dozen wandering plots woven loosely about one another and a dizzying cast of characters whose names, titles, relationships and marriages are almost impossible to keep straight. In spite of its commercially astute title, with its suggestion of monastic horrors, in reality this is a domestic novel much closer in spirit and content to Rosabella than to Romance Of The Pyrenees, confirming my suspicion that Cuthbertson was no real devotee of the Gothic; and like Rosabella it has a young, innocent, “insulated” heroine who spends the novel moving from household to household, being buffeted by fortune and winning both unshakably devoted friends and dangerously jealous enemies, before a momentous secret about her true identity is revealed.

What is most exasperating about this novel – and we might as well get “exasperating” out of the way at the outset – is also one of the things that is rather interesting about it, at least in an historical context. In this course of reading we’ve already come across the curious phenomenon of the novel of sentimentalism, of which Valentine is a particularly amusing example. In novels of that school, it was always a simple matter of emotion for the sake of emotion, with the characters’ sufferings an end unto themselves. Santo Sebastiano, published some two decades later, belongs to the next generation of sentimental novels, and what we find here is something rather different: emotion in the service of didacticism, with the “sensibility” of the characters used as a moral yardstick. The better the character – the higher and more refined their sense of duty – the more frequently they suffer emotional collapses.

And what collapses! As you may recall, it was while reading Santo Sebastiano that Thomas Macaulay was inspired to keep a tally of just how often in the novel someone fainted – 27 times in total – including one or two appearances from our old friend, the death-like swoon. But those were only the actual faints; the Compleat Faints, if you like. If Macaulay had included in his survey the almost faints—the times that someone felt faint, or was taken faint, or had to sit down to avoid fainting—well, I shudder to think what the total would have been; certainly into three figures.

And then there’s the crying, which is of a frequency and volume that truly boggles the mind. It’s not so much a case of “cry me a river” as “cry me an inland sea”. No wonder the characters in this novel are always calling for glasses of water: they must go through life in a state of chronic dehydration. 

And even beyond all this, we have repeated instances of characters falling ill, contracting “dangerous fevers”, almost dying of the strength of their own emotions. And they don’t just do all this on their own account, but in sympathy with other people’s suffering—a single upsetting event thus being sufficient to set off a chain reaction of emotional breakdowns.

Of course, from a novel-reading perspective, what this means is, the more the author intends us to like and admire a character, the more thoroughly tiresome we are likely to find them; and really, we can only sympathise with Jane Austen’s impulse to hold this sort of thing up to mockery—and be grateful to her for helping to kill this particular trend by imbuing the concept of “sensibility” with a permanent sting in its tail.

So, yes—as I said of Rosabella, it is necessary to do a lot of “wading” to get to the good parts of this novel; but there are many good parts – some clever plot turns, and some extremely interesting treatments of novelistic conventions. It is true enough that Cuthbertson’s ideas are stronger than her writing – that she is not quite talented enough to do justice to her own concepts, besides having an unfortunate tendency to write her plot-points into the ground. My feeling is that if she had been held by her publishers to three volumes only, compelled to rein herself in, she would have been a better novelist; but as it is, over the course of the five meandering volumes of Santo Sebastiano she still expresses enough unexpected or unconventional opinions – particularly within the framework of the sentimental novel – to hold the reader’s interest, and to incline us to forgive her various excesses.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Santo Sebastiano is its treatment of the relationship between Julia De Clifford and Horatio Fitzroy. At the outset of the novel, nothing could appear more thoroughly conventional. Fitzroy, handsome, high-born, emotional, given to extravagant gestures and declarations, appears in every respect the model of a sentimental hero, and it seems merely a matter of how the author will manage to keep perfect hero and perfect heroine apart for five volumes. I think it’s safe to say that when the cracks start to appear in the character of Fitzroy – when he is at length revealed as having feet not merely of clay, but of something very like manure – it is as great a shock to the reader as it is to Julia. This is not the way things usually go in the sentimental novel:

“My good sir, what is it you can expect? I fear, by this most premature despondence, the women have spoiled you; and that it has hitherto been, ‘Ask, and you shall have;’ not, ‘Seek, and perchance you may find.’ Can you expect, the moment you feel an inclination for the affections of such a woman as Miss De Clifford, that she is at your nod, to throw them to you? If such was your hope, you lightly estimated her. She will give her heart with caution, believe me; for where she gives, the gift will be for ever.”

One the the most cherished tropes of the sentimental novel was that of “first love, last love”. It was a convention that spilled out from the realm of the strictly sentimental, where a disappointment invariably meant a broken heart and then death, into the more mainstream works, where it was not infrequently implied that a woman who could love a second time, or who ceased to love the first object of her affections, whatever the circumstances, was not quite “nice”.

There are any number of novels I could use to illustrate the point I’m making here, but the one that keeps coming to mind is Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds in which, after becoming engaged at the outset to the heroine – who is, like Julia, poor and obscure and forced to work to support herself – the alleged hero then neglects her for the rest of the book, exposing her to all sorts of unpleasantness, while he dallies with a wealthy widow and contemplates marrying her for her money. In the end, the widow’s bad behaviour frightens him into scurrying back home, where he is received with open arms by his fiancée, his mother and his sister, who not only refrain from uttering a word of criticism, but doggedly pretend that he’s done nothing wrong – all of which is presented, quite without irony, as “correct” female behaviour.

Not surprisingly, opinions on the subject of first and second love, and of the proper response to a disappointment, tend to split down gender lines; and I am pleased to be able to report that here we find Catherine Cuthbertson following on from so-called “radical” novelists like Charlotte Smith, and suggesting that the correct way for a woman to react to serious wrongdoing on the part of a man is not to look the other way, but to kick his ass to the kerb.

Although perhaps they don’t phrase it quite like that.

(Charlotte Smith, by the way, is a very interesting novelist, and one I intend to take a proper look at…one of these years…)

Indeed, the resemblance between Fitzroy and the anti-hero of Smith’s Emmeline; or, The Orphan Of The Castle may be more than just coincidental. In any event, both novels have their young heroines outgrowing an early, unhappy experience and finding enduring love with a man who has proven himself both honourable and steadfast. However, while Fitzroy’s behaviour does eventually kill Julia’s love for him, and while she does at last find another, true love, her journey is slow, painful, and full of self-doubt. No less than the average mainstream novelist does Julia feel that she has a duty to stay loyal to her first love – they are never, by the way, formally engaged – and for a long, worrying phase of the novel, even after she has faced the fact that she no longer loves him, Julia cannot free herself of the feeling that it is her duty to marry Fitzroy anyway, and to try and reclaim him. It takes Fitzroy committing a truly unforgiveable sin before Julia washes her hands of him once and for all, and admits her feelings for another man.

The slow reveal of Fitzroy’s real character is cleverly done by Cuthbertson. At first it is merely a matter of behaviour which, however wounding to Julia’s sensibilities, might stem from the kind of extravagant love that delights in making a spectacle of itself, but which over time looks to the reader more and more like selfishness, and a lack of proper regard for Julia’s reputation. His defection to the side of Lady Enderfield might be mere weakness, and indeed is explained and excused by his friend, Lord Francis Loraine, as due to “the siren”‘s knowledge of the vulnerable points in his character; and even when, Julia and Mrs Goodwin having ended their visit to the Hargraves without hearing one more word from Fitzroy, the newspapers carry an announcement of his engagement to Lady Enderfield, he is generally perceived as a victim:

“If this Mr Fitzroy is a worthy man, I most sincerely pity him: if an undeserving one, he will, even in this life, meet with ample punishment, in the wife he has chosen, for every crime he may or can commit. I knew this Circe well; I was at Venice when her husband died: was murdered, I scruple not to say, by the agent of a ruined Venetian count, a favourite of this vile woman’s, with whom I afterwards saw her at Paris, under the auspices of that licentious court, where her conduct could only be equalled by those who countenanced her.”

But it is clear to the reader long before it is to Julia or his relatives that Fitzroy is a real piece of work, and the fact that Cuthbertson’s novel was written in the early years of the 19th century allows her to be frank about his various misdeeds in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades later. Cuthbertson tries to make Fitzroy a tragic character, a potentially great man who becomes a victim of his bad upbringing and (above all) his lack of religion; and while it doesn’t entirely work, it’s never less than interesting.

One detail I’ve never seen before, even in a novel of these comparatively lax times, is that Fitzroy is the child of sinning parents: his mother and father had an affair while the former was married to another man and finally ran away together. Cuthbertson even allows herself to be sardonic rather than outraged in her telling of this tale, as the narrative remarks that if the adulterers had kept it all a secret just a little while longer, they could have had their cake and eaten it: the cuckolded husband broke his neck fox-hunting not long after his wife’s elopement.

(We are given another salutary reminder that this is a Regency novel, not a Victorian novel, when it is the young Lady Theodosia Southerland, second daughter of the Earl and Countess of Delamore, who recounts to Julia all the scandalous details about Fitzroy’s parents. Who told her, I should like to know!?)

As it was, with the scandal an open one, even though the sinners subsequently married they were no longer “received”, and were therefore forced to reside “on the Continent”, where their son was raised; the root, we are solemnly told, of all his evil. (Note that earlier reference to the “licentious” Paris court.) We are repeatedly assured that Fitzroy’s love for Julia is quite genuine, and that when he is with her, her influence is absolute; but for Fitzroy it is out of sight, out of mind, and whenever he is away from Julia he invariably passes the time in another dalliance – or another seduction.

But then, what can you expect from a man brought up amongst Catholics and atheists?

Santo Sebastiano is, it must be said, an incredibly bigoted novel, in a way that would be obnoxious if it weren’t so funny. Cuthbertson gets herself into quite a tangle trying to explain away the fact that her heroine is delicate and refined and profoundly religious in spite of the fact that she was – just like Fitzroy – raised in a thoroughly immoral household “on the Continent”. Unlike many English novels, for Cuthbertson the problem is not that “the Continent” is Catholic, but that it hasn’t much religion of any kind; and again and again, France and Italy, the scenes of Julia’s upbringing, are sketched as a moral cesspool, from which only the truly religious (i.e. Protestants) have a chance of escaping with soul intact.

The general tone of this aspect of the novel is best illustrated in a letter from the Earl of Ashgrove to his sister, Lady Delamore. In his youth, Ashgrove’s dearest friend was Frederick De Clifford; and while the friendship survived De Clifford’s marriage to the girl that Ashgrove also loved, the Lady Adelaide Montrose, when De Clifford remarried only a short time after his wife’s horrifying death in a fire, Ashgrove was so deeply offended that he turned his back upon his friend. However, belatedly becoming aware that De Clifford left a daughter from this second marriage, the embers of his boyhood friendship inspire the Earl to appoint himself the orphaned girl’s guardian. Detained in the Mediterranean on naval duties, Ashgrove asks Lady Delamore to take charge of Julia – but not without warning her that of the potential dangers:

“But now to the cause, my Emily, of this late confidence. De Clifford left a child, a daughter, by his second, and to me obnoxious marriage. His widow did not long survive him; and the unfortunate child fell to the care of the diabolical beldam, Mrs St. Clair… The poor child has been thrown upon the protection of strangers, in some gloomy sepulchre of the living—a dreary monastery, where neglect she has always experienced, and too often unkind treatment; and, even more dreadfully still, my sister, has, I fear, that terrible woman injured the child of poor De Clifford; an injury most direful. This woman—no, no, I insult the sex by classing her amongst them—this monster was—aye, shudder, Emily, for well you may—an avowed atheist; and this poor, pretty babe in her clutches; and, bred amongst ignorant and superstitious priests and nuns, is either a rank Catholic, or, oh! horror of horrors! has no religion at all!”

[To be continued…]

24/09/2011

For whom the book tolls…

Life being inconvenient, as it so often is, I’ve been trying not to dwell upon the fact that I’ve slipped behind in my review writing again. But no matter where I turn – or at least, no matter to which book I turn – I find an uncomfortable reminder of my unmet obligations. 

Outside the goalposts, I’ve been reading John Buchan’s Leithen Stories, a series of five novels connected by the presence of the character of Sir Edward Leithen. In the second volume, John Macnab, published in 1925, an aspiring politician is asked to make his first public appearance, and after freezing and forgetting every word of his conned speech, he blunders into an emotional and unrehearsed declaration of his feelings about things in general and England in particular:

It was a strange, inconsequent speech, but it had a curious appeal in it–the appeal of youth and candour and courage.  It was philosophy rather than politics, and ragged but arresting philosophy. He began by confessing that the war had left the world in a muddle, a muddle which affected his own mind.  The only cure was to be honest with oneself, and to refuse to accept specious nonsense and conventional jargon.  He told the story from Andersen of the Emperor’s New Suit.  “Our opponents call us Tories,” he said; “they can call us anything they jolly well please.  I am proud to be called a Tory.  I understand that the name was first given by Titus Oates to those who disbelieved in his Popish Plot. What we want to-day is Toryism–the courage to give the lie to impudent rogues.”

That was a bolt from the blue.

However, this passage was merely a teaser compared to the full-on assault on my guilt complex offered by Hugh Walpole’s Judith Paris, the second volume in his “Herries Chronicles”, which is less like a hint that I should be catching up my blog reviews than it is a bizarre kind of family reunion.

Published in 1931 and set from 1774 – 1820, this novel is amazingly literary, if we use that word in its broadest sense. It teems with readers, and there are any number of references to hot-off-the-press works of non-fiction such as Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Paine’s Age Of Reason, Burke’s Reflections On The Revolution In France and Rousseau’s Contrat Social. One character writes for the Gentleman’s Magazine; another has his life changed by the The Life Of John Wesley; while the appearance of a professional actress gives us a whirlwind tour of the English stage in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

But ultimately, novels and poetry predominate. A fit of righteous rage is described in the words of Ann Radcliffe: To speak in the terms of The Italian, he was ‘cold fury nobly seething’. Mrs Radcliffe wins a second mention when the heroine wakes from a strange dream with her mind in a bookish jumble: With confused notions of Mrs Radcliffe, a novel that the night before she had been reading, The Last Step; or The History Of Mrs Brudenal, Rousseau’s Confessions, and Isabella; or The Rewards Of Good Nature

We are introduced to the young John Herries, who at the age of fourteen…could read tales and poetry to himself by the hour. He would sit curled up in a corner somewhere and pray he would not be noticed. He had always detested Mangnall’s Questions, and Butler’s Guide To Useful Knowledge—for such things he had no use whatever, but Goldsmith’s History Of England he devoured in all its four volumes because of the thrilling detail in it. Then there was Vicesimus Knox’s Elegant Extracts In Prose And Verse, then Marmion, The Lay, the Waverleys, The Parents’ Assistant, The Fairchild Family and, secretly, obtained from some of the Forresters who lived in Bassenthwaite, many volumes of the Minerva Press, The Mysterious Hand, The Demon Of Society and the rest…

That’s my boy.

We also meet John’s mother, Jennifer, who keeps her children’s grotesquely unqualified tutor around because, among other reasons, he’s willing to entertain her by reading Minerva Press novels to her.

All sorts of literary figures flit across the pages of this novel. Robert Southey and Walter Scott appear in person, as do Sarah and Hartley Coleridge, although not their husband and father; while there are mentions of Wordsworth and Shelley and Byron. Francis Herries, while trying to support himself as a writer, becomes acquainted with Charles Lamb and Samuel Rogers; and it is the latter who introduces Francis to a young man destined to make his mark in the world:

    “This is Mr Macaulay, who is at Cambridge and will soon be having the world at his feet. Come, come, Macaulay. You know you will. You are as confident of it as I am.”
    The thick-set untidy youth raised a pair of very remarkable piercing eyes and began to talk with great eloquence and volubility. It was clear that he did not suffer from shyness… The loquacious youth had already forgotten him and was talking eagerly to Sumner about a book he held in his hand…

We are not made privy to the volume that has won the enthusiasm of the future Lord Macaulay, but I just know it was one of Mary Meeke’s novels…

But the crowning moment comes when Judith Paris calls upon some friends of hers, a tacitly lesbian middle-aged couple. She finds one of them sewing while the other reads a novel out loud:

    She knocked on the door, was admitted by their little maid Betty, and found them by the fire in the parlour, Miss West reading to Miss Pennyfeather from one of the novels of Mrs Cuthbertson.
    They were enchanted to see Judith.
    Miss West threw Mrs Cuthbertson on to the floor, crying in a deep bass voice: “This is Stuff!”

Oh, hey!!

So where did Hugh Walpole learn about the novels of Kitty Cuthbertson, which were long out of print by 1931? Possibly he found some old volumes in his family’s library—although all things considered, my best guess would be that he’d been reading The Life And Letters Of Macaulay, and thus learned about Cuthbertson – and Meeke – exactly the same way that we did.

Or, I suppose, he could have been reading Jane Austen’s letters

So there you have it: a sign from the ether that the universe is Not Best Pleased with my slackness, that I should be knuckling down to my exceedingly overdue review of Mary Meeke’s 1797 novel, Palmira And Ermance – and that it intends to keep pestering me until I do.

And furthermore that, having done so, I will be able to move on to the next novel in line for Authors In Depth—Kitty Cuthbertson’s Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector.

Footnote:  The Mysterious Hand; or, Subterreanean Horrours!: A Romance by Augustus Jacob Crandolph and The Fairchild Family by Martha Sherwood were already on The List; but of The Demon Of Society, The Last Step and Isabella I can, alas, find no sign.

02/05/2011

Romance Of The Pyrenees

“Victoria and Octavia were first lifted out of the boat; but both, subdued by agonising terrors, were unable to support themselves, and sunk against some of the projections of the rock; when the boatmen, seeing they were unable to walk, bore them, as well as Hero, in their arms, preceded by the torch-bearers, up winding ascents, through narrow passages, trap-doors, and strange-formed iron works, into an immense kitchen of Gothic or rather Saracen architecture, where a deformed and melancholy-looking old woman was employed, as they entered, in washing the stain of blood from a table and the floor…”

Only weeks after the death of the Duca di Manfredonia in a shipwreck, his widow Elvira scandalises his household and the surrounding countryside by marrying the dissolute Conte di Vincenza. Universally condemned, the newlyweds at first try to brazen it out, but finally retreat to Versailles, where the Conte owns an estate, and where their conduct goes from bad to worse. Tragically, word of their behaviour does not reach Elvira’s brother, the Conte Ariosto, who has lived in seclusion since losing his beloved wife, Clementina; and when he knows himself to be dying, he leaves his two young children, Alphonso and Victoria di Modena, to their aunt’s guardianship. However, the tutors already chosen for the children by their father, Father Alberti and the Signorina Ursuline Farinelli, are also received into the Vincenza household, and prove worthy of their trust. Alphonso and Victoria, kept in ignorance of their guardians’ true natures, grow up fine in character and devoutly religious.

To Victoria’s dismay, when Alphonso turns twenty-one he demands to be permitted to pursue a military career, and soon departs in company with Father Alberti to take up his new duties. No sooner has Alphonso left the household than the Conte di Vincenza allows his long-hidden passion for the lovely Victoria to consume him, making her a proposition of the most dishonourable and insulting kind. Shocked and horrified, Victoria flies to her aunt for protection, only to find herself condemned as a willing participant in an illicit liaison, and Signorina Farinelli accused of acting as a go-between. The Signorina is banished, and Victoria is confined to her rooms and subjected to sneers and insults from her aunt’s servants. Her confinement ends only with her being sent away altogether, to be immured in a convent as punishment for her supposed sins. She departs in company of a young maidservant, Hero, who replaces her own childhood companion, Roselia, and the Signora Octavia Beroni, the sister of Elvira’s own woman, Bianca, who to Victoria’s relief is well-mannered and kind.

The travellers’ destination is the Convent of San Jago in Catalonia, a journey that requires them to cross the Pyrenees. Assured by Octavia that the Mother Superior of the convent is an agreeable woman who will make her welcome and comfortable, Victoria tries to resign herself to her fate, being comforted also by the reflection that Alphonso is in Spain. Hero, however, astonishes her companions by insisting that they will never reach the convent, but rather will be rescued and returned to Marseilles by the Conte Urbino, nephew to the Conte di Vincenza, who, Hero asserts, is very, very handsome, although sadly, sadly poor, and has been secretly in love with Victoria for weeks.

Indeed, so convinced is Hero that the Conte Urbino must be riding to Victoria’s rescue, she is not at first alarmed when the carriage, having reached the summit of the Pyrenees, is suddenly stopped by a party of horsemen; but to the womens’ terror, a violent struggle breaks out between their postillions and outriders, and the horsemen, who are clearly banditti. The women are dragged from the carriage and lifted onto the horses of three of the marauders, who ride off with them through the forest and to the banks of a river, where they are transferred into a boat. The journey by water leads them into an underground cavern, from where they are carried by dark and secret passageways into the bowels of an immense castle on the border between France and Spain, the stronghold of the banditti.

Victoria and the others are placed in the care of the elderly Teresa, a captive of the banditti who was once a teacher but now acts as a servant. She does little to comfort the newcomers, explaining to them the history and impregnability of the castle, the acts of violence that are daily perpetrated there, its secret passages and torture chambers, and the inexplicable manifestations that occur from time to time, which Teresa believes to be visitations from the unquiet souls of the banditti‘s numerous victims. Indeed, the women are soon witness to one such manifestation themselves, a booming voice with no obvious source, which bids them have faith in the protection of God.

At first in terror for their lives, the women are not in the least reassured when one of the band, Juan, comments darkly that pretty young women are not killed at the castle, but regarded as a prize; and indeed, before long Victoria faces an imminent threat when after his first look at her, Don Manuel, the leader of the banditti, announces to his followers that they must treat her with the greatest respect, as she will soon be the mistress of the castle…

[SPOILERS]

Ah, Romance Of The Pyrenees…the novel that broke my heart. However— Before it did that, it did a lot of other things, and we should probably talk about those first.

Romance Of The Pyrenees is such a convoluted novel that it’s very hard to know where to start with it. It is in almost every respect a post-Ann Radcliffe Gothic novel – and in every respect a first novel, full of rookie mistakes, the main one being  Catherine Cuthbertson’s determination to cram every single genre trope possible into her tale, whether there’s really room for them all or not. The result is a bewildering hodge-podge of aristocrats, banditti, castles, convents, mountains, forests, shipwrecks, trap-doors, secret passages, dark and noisome dungeons, disappearances, imprisonments, poison-tipped poinards, murders, escapes, recaptures, swoonings, forbidden love, illicit passion, plots, counterplots, revenge, multiple identities, substituted children, deathbed confessions, reappearing supposedly dead people, supernatural (or are they?) manifestations, and the Inquisition. This novel is a mess, but a hugely entertaining mess. You can understand why the critics despised it – and why the public ate it up.

What’s more, were this novel more freely available today, I can imagine that a certain class of reader would continue to eat it up. You’ll notice that I said that this is in almost every respect a post-Ann Radcliffe Gothic. The one thing that is missing from Romance Of The Pyrenees is the usual obsession with the scenery. There are few readers today, I suspect, who although sitting down to The Mysteries Of Udolpho in all good faith, don’t struggle with Mrs Radcliffe’s chapter-long dissertations on the “sublimity” of her heroines’ surroundings.

There are any number of amusing things about Romance Of The Pyrenees, but chief amongst them is the fact that this is the one place where Catherine Cuthbertson dug in her heels and refused to follow her leader. Victoria’s journey to the convent leads her away from Marseille, out of France and into Spain, and from the foothills of the Pyrenees to their summit. You can imagine what Mrs Radcliffe would have made of such a journey. Miss Cuthbertson, on the other hand, surprises us – and, perhaps, delights us – with what in terms of the Gothic novel amounts to nothing less than a declaration of open rebellion:

“Since this is not a tour we are attempting to write, our readers will not expect a particular account of all the places our travellers passed through and stopped at for rest and refreshment in this compulsatory journey…”

And indeed, she sticks to her guns afterwards, giving no full descriptions of Victoria’s surroundings, but contenting herself with various references to, “The gloomy horrors of the scenery.” This omission makes me wonder whether, for all the extremities of her Gothic tale, Miss Cuthbertson’s heart was really in it, or whether, like her contemporary, Mary Meeke, she was simply writing what she thought would sell.

That comparison with Mrs Meeke holds good in a couple of other areas, too. I’ve shaken my head over Meeke’s tendency to load her characters with multiple identities and titles, but as it turns out, she’s got nothing on Catherine Cuthbertson, who in Romance Of The Pyrenees managed to write a vastly populated four-volume novel in which almost nobody is simply who they seem to be. Instead, along with the usual confusion caused by multiple marriages and title inheritances, we’ve got people masquerading as other people, abductees kept ignorant of their true identities, people taking new names when they enter convents or monasteries, banditti who are mostly Italian but prefer to use names that make them seem Spanish, and best of all, people who enter monasteries and take a new name and who then become Italian banditti who pretend to be Spanish banditti (bandeleros?). And on top of all this, we have Catherine Cuthbertson’s tendency, seen also in Rosabella, to mention characters early in her novel and then expect us to remember who they are and their relationships to everyone else four volumes later.

In all seriousness, if you do decide to read Romance Of The Pyrenees, I recommend keeping a scorecard. In lieu of this, readers will have to content themselves with Miss Cuthbertson’s other rookie mistake, her compulsion to wrap up her novel by giving us first the history and then the fate of every single character mentioned in the novel, no matter how minor or (probably) long-forgotten – an exercise which takes her a chunk of her third volume and all of her fourth volume. Granted, much of this is the three-generational explanation of how our heroine, Victoria, and our hero, the Conte Urbino – who of course is not actually the Conte Urbino at all – came into existence; but the rest of it is best illustrated by the fact that Romance Of The Pyrenees opens with the Duca di Manfredonia’s manservant, Fidato, mourning his late master, and closes with him dying of joy upon discovering that – surprise! – the Duca isn’t dead after all: he’s just been living under another name…

While in writing her Gothic novel, Catherine Cuthbertson went along with the conventions that placed her story in Catholic countries and demanded that it be populated with wicked and, indeed, outright criminal monks, there isn’t the same sense here that you get from Mary Meeke’s novels of an author who personally objected to Catholicism. Particularly interesting is a certain ambivalence in the depiction of the Inquisition. Most Gothic novels, including those by the staunchly Protestant Ann Radcliffe, paint the Inquisition as an unmitigated evil, the corruption of the Catholic church personified. In Romance Of The Pyrenees, it is also taken for granted that the Inquisition is corrupt – but when the good guys are finally at their wits’ end, it is to the Inquisition that they turn for help – and they get it. No-one else has the power to finally confront and destroy the banditti; and it is entirely due to the infiltration and occupation of the castle by the emmisaries of the Inquisition that the life of the supposed Conte Urbino is saved. On the other hand, there’s certainly an implied comparison here between the Inquisitors and the banditti, in their ruthlessness, their secret ways and their bloody hands; and we are not perhaps much surpised when the co-leader of the banditti, the mysterious, mostly unseen but all-powerful Francisco, turns out to be a member of the Inquisition.

But if the Inquisitioners are two-sided, even more so are the banditti themselves While a few of them are outright evil, most have fallen into a criminal way of life after suffering disappointments or betrayals; while a significant number of the castle’s occupants are in fact “good” people who have been rescued by the banditti from an even worse fate, usually slavery under the Turks, and sworn to secrecy and fealty. Victoria’s arrival at the castle has an interesting effect upon its residents, many of whom find forgotten morals and beliefs reawakened by her beauty, her innocence, her piety and her generosity, and who begin to form a faction in her defence against their more hardened criminal brothers. Even Manuel himself is not proof against Victoria’s goodness, although there are other reasons for his inability to follow through on his threats against her. One of Manuel’s lieutenants, Diego, turns out to have been raised in the household of Victoria’s father. Caught between his oath to Manuel, which is, as he declares to Victoria at the outset, incorruptible, his grateful and affectionate memories of the late Conte Ariosto, and his ever-growing admiration of Victoria herself, Diego suffers moral torments that are convincing and more psychologically complex than you might expect to find in a novel of this kind.

Re-reading Catherine Cuthbertson’s reaction to the various criticisms of her novel, it must be conceded that some of them, at least, were valid. The repetitions are of most concern in the first two volumes of this novel, and are of a particular kind, which we might again attribute to Miss Cuthbertson’s debut novel nerves.

Victoria is, of course, profoundly religious, and in reaction to the horrors of the castle:

“…she devoutly sunk upon her knees, and, with all the pure fervor of sincere piety, presented the petitions of her spotless soul before the throne of mercy. She found in her devotion that healing balm which true religion ever proves to the wounded mind; and when she arose from her knees, she felt her agitated spirits soothed to calmness, her hopes of succour revived, and awakened fortitude pervading her whole frame with a degree of courage before unknown to her…”

Which is fine in and of itself, of course – except that Cuthbertson feels the need to repeat this passage, in almost the same words, again and again and again and again…until most readers, I suspect, will also feel the need to pray for a little mercy. Fortunately, Victoria’s supplications eventually do taper off to a more reasonable frequency – and in retrospect, I can’t help feeling that Cuthbertson’s initial over-insistence on Victoria’s piety was due to her nervous awareness of what she had planned for the character later on in the novel.

As we might also remember from Cuthbertson’s third edition preface, she promised at that time to “soften the horrors” of her novel. It was above all the implications of that phrase that determined me to read the first edition, and in spite of the early repetitions, I am so very glad I did. The later stages of this novel contain an extended passage which is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever read in a work of this vintage, in which, having all too much reason to believe that the man she loves has been murdered by the banditti, Victoria allows herself to be led away by the mysterious Francisco on a journey that might well end in her death, but which also offers the faintest of faint hope that she will discover her lover imprisoned but still alive. During this midnight expedition, Victoria is confronted by terrors both all too real and possibly supernatural, as she follows Francisco through the dark and winding passages of the castle; over dangerous crags and narrow, swaying bridges; and through the ancient charnel house where the banditti have for decades disposed of their victims…

This last ordeal Victoria must face alone – and not only does she pass through the charnel house, she stops there and inspects the freshest corpses…just in case one of them is her lover. But even this is not the most extraordinary part of her adventure, which occurs earlier out on the rocky crags above the castle:

    “At length the winding path brought Victoria and her guide as near this furiously agitated creature as safety would permit anyone to approach, when every feeling of humanity was tortured by dreadful amazed commiseration at the horrid spectacle she saw—a creature, partaking in resemblance both of the human species and the quadruped, infuriated to the direst pitch of phrensy that malady and hunger could excite. Its head was like that of a man, covered with long black matted hair; but it moved on all its limbs, like a quadruped; and its body was enveloped in fur.
    “The inquisitor stopped, and for a moment looked in horrid silence upon the dreadful object; and then loudly, though in a tone of pity, exclaimed, ‘Sanguinario! Poor Sanguinario!’
    “The wretched creature instantly ceased its rapid motion; and, erecting its body, Victoria, shuddering, beheld clad in fur a human being before her, who was suffering under all the direful horrors of lycanthropy…”

Did I mention that there’s a werewolf in this novel? Because there is.

And what’s more, it’s a werewolf that plays no real role in the story, but which exists wholly and solely to horrify the heroine and the reader. I can’t tell you how much I admire Catherine Cuthbertson for that. (Or for allowing her heroine to look squarely at a naked man, albeit a fur-covered one.)

By this point in my reading of this novel, I was having to stop fairly frequently to pick my jaw up off the floor. And manually lower my eyebrows.

As with every other character in this novel, we eventually learn the story of “poor Sanguinario” – and yes, conveniently enough, he was always called “Sanguinario” – and it becomes evident that Miss Cuthbertson considered his condition to be, not a supernatural manifestation, but an extreme form of mental derangement, which is fair enough. (“Poor Sanguinario” loses his mind after being sent to assassinate someone, and finding out late who it was he assassinated.) But what I really want to know is, where did Miss Cuthbertson learn the term “lycanthropy”? What on earth had she been reading, before she sat down to write Romance Of The Pyrenees?—because obviously, it couldn’t have just been the novels of the refined Ann Radcliffe.

And if, as I suspect, this was one of the “horrors” that Catherine Cuthbertson was compelled by critical disapproval to “soften” in the later editions of her novel—well, that’s a tragedy. Should any of you out there be thinking of reading Romance Of The Pyrenees, do make sure you get a copy of the first edition. This protracted nighttime adventure makes up for all its other flaws.

(I can tell you one thing— When this novel was translated into Dutch, it was a later scene describing Elvira not only murdering her own father but gloating over him as he dies that was censored.)

Whatever else Romance Of The Pyrenees is, it is finally “a Catherine Cuthbertson novel”; and part of my enjoyment during my reading of it was spotting early examples of the authorial quirks that would later enliven Rosabella (and provoke Jane Austen). There’s far too much crying here – and by the oddest people – which, granted, is hardly a sin confined to Miss Cuthbertson’s novels. More to the point, we have various characters – but mostly Victoria – falling into “death-like swoons”, while naturally, both the hero and heroine are “transcendently” handsome / beautiful; although interestingly, at this early stage of her career Miss Cuthberston overdoes neither of these touches. On the other hand, she does again become obsessed with a single word, and proceeds to flog it to death – in this case, “respiration”. No-one just breathes in this novel: they “respire”; and when they fall into a “death-like swoon”, they are rather alarmingly “deprived of respiration”. As with “insulation” in Rosabella, this repetition finally reaches such proportions as to jerk the reader out of the novel.

Most amusingly of all, however, is the fact that an entire major subplot of this novel, nothing less than the central love story, is built upon Victoria’s misinterpretation of the relationship between “the Conte Urbino” – his first name eventually turns out to be Orlando, so I’ll call him that, if that’s okay with you – and a young woman for whom he has made himself responsible. Romance Of The Pyrenees offers a rare example of the heroine falling in love with the hero via gazing at his portrait – although of course it is the “sublimity of soul” she sees behind the “transcendently handsome” face for which she falls.

When she later meets the original of the portrait lurking in the ruins of a church beneath the castle, some guarded words of his lead her to conclude that his hand, if not his heart, is pledged elsewhere. Later, she sees the stranger in company with a beautiful young woman, another prisoner of the banditti, who chides him for his neglect of her and accuses him of thinking of another woman. All this convinces Victoria that while Orlando loves her, he cannot in honour be hers; and she sternly holds him off until late in the novel – rather than just asking for an explanation, which I’m sure either he or the young woman, Matilda, would have been more than happy to give. Cuthbertson almost ties herself in knots providing alternative explanations for Orlando’s and Matilda’s behaviour, in order to avoid this quick and simple resolution of the situation.

As it turns out, Orlando and Matilda are brother and sister, which they believe but do not know for certain when Victoria meets them. In their youths, they were thrown together in ignorance of their relationship as part of an elaborate revenge-plot against their father, the culmination of which was to be the incestuous marriage of his children.

That the wedding does not take place is the result of yet another of this novel’s remarkable passages. Shortly before the marriage of Orlando and Matilda, each of them experiences a vision of a beautiful woman who warns them of the sin they are unwittingly about to commit, and who speaks the name “Elfridii”, that of their father’s implacable enemy. They recount their experiences to their guardian, who is none other than Father Francisco – and in reality, the very Conte Elfridii who plots their destruction. Having hidden his true name for many years, the awed and frightened Francisco must accept that his ultimate revenge plot has failed, thanks to this visitation from a dead woman who he knows to be the mother of Orlando and Matilda, brutally murdered at Francisco’s own instigation when her children were only infants.

There are numerous “supernatural” events in this story, all of which are painstakingly explained away by Miss Cuthbertson towards the conclusion of her story; all but this one. This single manifestation is allowed to stand, with heaven literally intervening to prevent the marriage of brother and sister – and more importantly, to prevent the marriage of the novel’s hero to a woman other than than its heroine.

So after all this good stuff, why is Romance Of The Pyrenees the novel that broke my heart?

Fairly early on in her imprisonment in the castle, Victoria acquires the devoted services of a young man called Hippolyto – a “negro”. Black characters are not common in novels of this period, and certainly not black characters introduced like this:

“…he was habited like Diego and Juan; his person was of a commanding height, of graceful and striking symmetry; while his face, in despite of the dark cloud that shaded it, beamed with benignity and intelligence… Victoria…took an opportunity of stealing a look at the negro, and caught him in earnest gaze at her. The transient glance of his eyes which modesty allowed her to take seemed beaming with pity and good-will… She could by no means tell how far this young man might have it in his power to befriend her, yet she had read of such instances of fidelity, courage, perserverence, and ingenuity among negroes, that she could not divest herself of the flattering hope of his exerting himself in her behalf…”

Now, you don’t have to have read many 19th-century novels to know that not only is this passage nearly unprecedented, it’s nearly unimitated as well, and would remain so for a depressing number of years. Victoria quickly learns to trust herself to Hippolyto’s care. His manners are refined, his demeanour unfailingly respectful, and he proves to be quite as intelligent and brave as she dared to hope. And when – for reasons that are far, far, far too complicated to get into here – Elvira tries to force Victoria to marry Hippolyto, she objects not because he is black, but because he is a servant. (Which is entirely out of character for Victoria, by the way, but never mind that for the moment.)

And yet…my hopes for Hippolyto were not high. We’re all familiar, I’m sure, with the pernicious Rule Of Cinema which states that “the brother dies first”; and it was not long after Hippolyto’s introduction that I became convinced that we were dealing with a version of that, and that he was indeed destined to die, probably heroically, probably protecting Victoria. But then the longer that Hippolyto survived, and the more the text insisted upon his manifold virtues, the more I became convinced that—

—sigh—

he was really a white man in disguise.

And so it proves to be. Our hero Orlando, in fact, finding a way to infiltrate the castle and guard Victoria. Apparently the whole “black face” thing is so very distracting that it prevents you from recognising THE MAN THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH.

Broke – my – heart.

BUT— Well, let’s be fair to Catherine Cuthbertson. Despite this unfortunate revelation, despite her heroic black man turning out to be a heroic white man instead, her text still does insist that a black man can be faithful, courageous, perservering and ingenius; can display good breeding; can be honourable; can, in short, be a gentleman. There is a real Hippolyto, whom Orlando is impersonating, and no-one has any trouble believing that our perfect hero and he are one and the same person. That in itself is rather extraordinary. And I suppose it would be unreasonable of me to demand more than this of a novel published in 1803.

Mind you…I would like to know exactly what Orlando’s “disguise” consisted of, seeing that it was capable of withstanding the rigours of imprisonment in a “dark and noisome dungeon”, of violent rainstorms, and of a shipwreck, but could be divested in five minutes flat, once the dramatically valid moment had arrived…

14/04/2011

Catherine Cuthbertson vs. the critics

When I was looking for a copy of Catherine Cuthbertson‘s first novel, Romance Of The Pyrenees, for my next round of Authors In Depth, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that there were three copies of it at Open Library, two of the first edition from 1803, one of the third edition from 1807. As I was flicking through them to gauge their quality and decide which one I was going to download, I found this in the front of the 1807 version:

“The Author of the following work, grateful for the commendations and animadversions it has been honoured with (both in public critique and private opinions), while cherishing in fond remembrance the encouraging praise as a pleasing incentive to future exertions, more fully to deserve it—to prove that the censure has been treasured in the stores of reason and reflection, as precepts to amend by, has in this edition attempted to correct those errors which superior judgement pointed out, as much as might be without injury to the plan of the whole; the leading features of which were too closely interwoven with every component part to allow greater latitude of alteration. The horrors of the work are something softened; repetitions avoided; and the long story now divided: but of the improbabilities the author has made no effort to divest it. For while the title-page announces a romance, the reader surely has no right to form an expectation of meeting only with the simple facts of common life, delineated by the hand of Nature; and those who relish not the bold unlicensed flights of fancy, in the region of fiction, must relinquish the perusal of this work, since romance has ever been the avowed offspring of imagination.”

Hear, hear!

In any case, Miss Cuthbertson had the last laugh: her first novel went through at least five editions, possibly more; while twenty years after its initial publication, her works were still being advertised as, “By the author of Romance Of The Pyrenees.” It was also translated into French – and misattributed to Ann Radcliffe: high praise indeed.

This preface also settled for me the question of which edition I was going to read. While the repetitions I could do without, there’s no way I was going to choose a version in which “the horrors of the work are something softened”. Unlike the critics of the early 19th century – apparently – when I open a Gothic novel, I want a Gothic novel, dammit!

Which I suppose is another way of saying I’ve got no issue with “improbabilities”…

16/02/2011

Masterclass with Miss Austen

Okay, time to come clean.

I spoke at length about my enjoyment of Catherine Cuthbertson’s Rosabella; but while it’s true enough that I enjoyed the book on its own merits, as I was reading it I began to enjoy it simultaneously on a different level entirely; because the further I read, the more I became convinced that when Jane Austen was making her various comic attacks upon the excesses of the popular novel, Catherine Cuthbertson was one of the authors she had in mind.

Granted, at first glance this may seem unlikely – the writing and publication dates of the ladies’ respective efforts, for one thing, would seem to rule this possibility out. So perhaps it’s all just a coincidence. I did, after all, describe Rosabella as “a typical 19th-century sentimental novel”; if Miss Cuthbertson was, likewise, a typical 19th-century sentimental novelist, she may have been only one of many guilty of the transgressions which Miss Austen mocks.

And some of the issues in question are certainly generic. Pardon me for quoting this passage from Love And Freindship in full, but it cracks me up every time:

A Gentleman considerably advanced in years descended from it. At his first Appearance my Sensibility was wonderfully affected and e’er I had gazed at him a 2d time, an instinctive sympathy whispered to my Heart, that he was my Grandfather. Convinced that I could not be mistaken in my conjecture I instantly sprang from the Carriage I had just entered, and following the Venerable Stranger into the Room he had been shewn to, I threw myself on my knees before him and besought him to acknowledge me as his Grand Child. He started, and having attentively examined my features, raised me from the Ground and throwing his Grand-fatherly arms around my Neck, exclaimed, “Acknowledge thee! Yes dear resemblance of my Laurina and Laurina’s Daughter, sweet image of my Claudia and my Claudia’s Mother, I do acknowledge thee as the Daughter of the one and the Grandaughter of the other.” While he was thus tenderly embracing me, Sophia astonished at my precipitate Departure, entered the Room in search of me. No sooner had she caught the eye of the venerable Peer, than he exclaimed with every mark of Astonishment –“Another Grandaughter! Yes, yes, I see you are the Daughter of my Laurina’s eldest Girl; your resemblance to the beauteous Matilda sufficiently proclaims it. “Oh!” replied Sophia, “when I first beheld you the instinct of Nature whispered me that we were in some degree related–But whether Grandfathers, or Grandmothers, I could not pretend to determine.” He folded her in his arms, and whilst they were tenderly embracing, the Door of the Apartment opened and a most beautifull young Man appeared. On perceiving him Lord St. Clair started and retreating back a few paces, with uplifted Hands, said, “Another Grand-child! What an unexpected Happiness is this! to discover in the space of 3 minutes, as many of my Descendants! This I am certain is Philander the son of my Laurina’s 3d girl the amiable Bertha; there wants now but the presence of Gustavus to compleat the Union of my Laurina’s Grand-Children.” “And here he is; (said a Gracefull Youth who that instant entered the room) here is the Gustavus you desire to see. I am the son of Agatha your Laurina’s 4th and youngest Daughter…”

The sentimental novel is notorious for its belief in this kind of sympathetic recognition, of course, and was so long before Catherine Cuthbertson ever picked up a pen. Just the same, it is an indisputable fact that, almost thirty years after Jane Austen wrote her burlesque of the genre, the same sins were still being committed in the same sorts of novels. Rosabella does not have an outright “Gustavus scene”, as I like to call them, but its heroine spends the whole five volumes being “drawn” to particular people, to whom she is at length revealed to be related (one at a time, though, not all at once); and the girl who starts out as a destitute orphan ends up at the centre of an extended family of quite remarkable proportions.

Then there’s the fainting. We recall Thomas Macaulay keeping a tally of the fainting in Miss Cuthbertson’s Santo Sebastiano, published in 1814, and we certainly know that her taste for fainting scenes hadn’t dissipated at all by 1817. Miss Austen’s own opinion of fainting was also made clear in Love And Freindship, wherein the characters spend an inordinate proportion of their time indulging in that particular pastime, to their ultimate cost:

It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself —We fainted alternately on a sofa…

“Beware of fainting-fits… Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreable yet beleive me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution… One fatal swoon has cost me my Life… Beware of swoons Dear Laura… A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is I dare say conducive to Health in its consequences—Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint—“ 

Miss Cuthbertson’s faints, on the other hand, are executed with great gravity. What’s more, her men faint, too. Here, for example, is Egremont hearing Rosabella’s story:

As she proceeded, his sympathizing and attentive preceptor beheld horror and despair diffusing itself overy every line of his expressive countenance; and when Rosabella came to her final close of all she yet knew of her sad history, he fell on the sofa beside her in a death resembling swoon…

What would they do without sofas? 

Much as I wanted to believe that this was not a coincidence, that it was not simply a case of Miss Cuthbertson being a sufficiently generic novelist to commit all of the revelevant crimes against literature, I didn’t see at first how a more direct relationship between the two women was possible. But then two points occurred to me: firstly, that Miss Cuthbertson may have maintained the same style of writing all throughout her career, which began in 1803; and secondly, that the main source of my suspicions, Northanger Abbey, while mostly written as we know around 1798, was revised twice before it was published, the first time also in 1803, the final time as late as 1817 – the year of Rosabella‘s publication.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen repeatedly draws a contrast between behaviour that is “natural” and behaviour that is “heroic” – that is, the behaviour of a heroine. No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine, Austen remarks at the outset, then goes on to tell us why. It is the entire lack of heroine in her composition that first attracts, then captivates Henry Tilney: “You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature.” When the odious John Thorpe manoeuvres Catherine into what seems like an an act of great rudeness towards the Tilneys, who are subsequently cool towards her:

Feelings rather natural than heroic possessed her; instead of considering her own dignity injured by this ready condemnation — instead of proudly resolving, in conscious innocence, to show her resentment towards him who could harbour a doubt of it, to leave to him all the trouble of seeking an explanation, and to enlighten him on the past only by avoiding his sight, or flirting with somebody else — she took to herself all the shame of misconduct, or at least of its appearance, and was only eager for an opportunity of explaining its cause.

In other words, Catherine doesn’t create trouble by dramatising everything, least of all herself. This is most significantly illustrated when after her first enjoyable encounter with Henry Tilney, she sees him a second time, but in company with another young woman:

He looked as handsome and lively as ever, and was talking with interest to a fashionable and pleasant-looking young woman, who leant on his arm, and whom Catherine immediately guessed to be his sister; thus unthinkingly throwing away a fair opportunity of considering him lost to her for ever, by being married already. But guided only by what was simple and probable, it had never entered her head that Mr Tilney could be married… And therefore, instead of turning of a deathlike paleness, and falling in a fit on Mrs Allen’s bosom, Catherine sat erect, in the perfect use of her senses…

It was this specific passage that anchored my suspicions about Miss Austen and Miss Cuthbertson, because Rosabella (and for all I know, Miss Cuthbertson’s other heroines) is repeatedly guilty of exactly this kind of melodramatic misinterpretation. Compare the language of this following passage to that in which we hear of Catherine Morland’s “simple and probable” reaction, and you’ll see what I mean:

…for in that very chaise Rosa beheld Lord Montalbert performing a têteà-tête journey with Lady Meliora Monson! Could Rosa doubt what sanctioned this? No, she could not; and in heart-rending agony poor Rosabella fainted.

And okay, maybe seeing a young man and woman alone together might lead you to assume an intimate relationship; but there’s no excuse whatsoever for this:

    But instead of these eager glances encountering her whom they sought, or any of the fugitive party, she suddenly beheld those whom of all the world she expected least to see there—Mr Trench and Egremont—not the Egremont overpowered by horror and distress she had last beheld him, but in all the brilliant bloom and animation of health and happiness; on whose arm familiarly hung a young female of uncommon loveliness, elegantly attired, and to whom his attention was wholly devoted at the moment, listening to what she was uttering with the most intense interest and a countenance beaming with affectionate admiration.
    To the prompt apprehension of the dismayed Rosabella this lady stood confessed as the mysterious cause of their sudden heart-rending separation; and with this belief a pang, stunning to every faculty, shot through her anguished bosom; and whilst endeavouring at articulation, to inform her companion she was not well, she fell, bereft of sense and power…

And the young woman on Egremont’s arm? His friend’s wife, who he has been asked to escort. Bereft of sense, indeed…

Just look at the parallels between this passage and that describing Henry Tilney escorting his sister: parallels that last right up to the denouement of each, when they abruptly part company. Amusingly, although the satire is Miss Austen’s, the exaggeration is all Miss Cuthbertson’s. Thus, for Catherine, It never entered her head that Mr Tilney could be married, while to Rosabella, with her “prompt apprehension”, This lady stood confessed as the mysterious cause of their sudden heart-rending separation. You’ll never find a better illustration of the difference between “natural” and “heroic” behaviour.

I could go on – and on. There are plenty of other specific examples I could quote – like the fact that when Rosabella’s motives are misunderstood, instead of trying to fix things regardless of who is at fault, like Catherine Morland, she stays silent, In the pride of conscious rectitude… – but in the end it’s not the details themselves which are convincing so much as the cumulative effect of, as it were, reading this novel through the prism of Jane Austen’s teasing.

I might also add that while I believe that Miss Austen read Miss Cuthbertson’s novels, Miss Cuthbertson apparently did not return the favour; or at least, she couldn’t have read Emma. I refuse to believe that if she had done so, she could possibly go on to write a novel wherein all the married people are referred to as cara sposa / caro sposo – and with a straight face:

“…which, I trust, may prove a happy one,” said Lady Derville; “and that Mrs. Dolittle will, by the safe convoy of your treasure home, restore you to yourself; as I very much wish my old cheerful friend, Mrs. O’Dowd, and her gallant caro sposo, to give me the pleasure of their company this day at dinner…”

“…my head was so empty of mundane knowledge, that, had you managed me, instead of turning me out of doors, I would have flown with you from the aforesaid Myrtle’s Town to the land of uncontrolled marriage. So, rely upon it, child, it was all your own romantic sentimentalities, that alone prevented your being now my cara sposa…”

“You could not have a better counsellor than my sposa,” said Lord Flowerdew; “adopt her plans, and the pelf will fly. Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, liberate the debtor from prison, visit the sick, comfort old age, and provide refuge for the destitute for that is the way my cara spends her sposo’s money in the country…”

Unbelievable.

Now…although through reading Rosabella I became convinced in my own mind that I was on the right track here, I might have kept all this to myself if it were not for one final touch – not the last straw so much as the cherry on the sundae. I’ve gone on trying to dig up some biographical information about Catherine Cuthbertson, although with no success. However, it did occur to me that while I call her, and was searching for her, under the name “Catherine”, her contemporary readers tended to refer to her as “Kitty”. And it was when I was searching for “Kitty Cuthbertson” that I came across this, in an essay by Martin Steinmann Jr, one of the editors of the book From Jane Austen To Joseph Conrad:

There was only one novel-reading public, and every novelist had this public in mind. Today the publics of Dr Cronin and Joyce are quite discrete (how odd it would be to find that Kingsley Amis reads Faith Baldwin, as Jane Austen did Kitty Cuthbertson, with pleasure)…

My friends…I could not even BEGIN to tell you how utterly full of myself I felt, when I came across that passage.

Mind you, that remark of Steinmann’s comes completely unsupported; no source is given for his assertion. However, its very matter-of-factness gives me confidence in its accuracy. I’m guessing that Miss Cuthbertson is discussed somewhere within Jane’s letters, which shame on me, I’ve never read. Does anyone out there know for certain?

13/02/2011

The art of the run-on sentence, Part Deux

While it is true that 19th-century novelists can’t really compete with their 17th- and 18th-century forebears in this respect, just occasionally you hit a passage that reminds you that even as late as 150 years after it reached its pinnacle, the art of the run-on sentence wasn’t entirely dead.

This is the opening sentence of Catherine Cuthbertson’s Rosabella, which in the novel’s original format ran for over a page:

It was in such a night as treason might conceive formed for its sanguinary projects, that many deluded individuals of a maritime province in Ireland stole from their straw-roofed cabins, and in the gloom of impenetrable darkness descended with cautious steps the craggy rocks to the seashore; there to meet the subtle agents of sedition, who had, with all the wiles of interested management, too successfully sown the noxious seeds of disaffection in the bosoms of the credulous, the ignorant, the idle, and the bigoted; leading them hoodwinked not only from their allegiance to the existing government, but into the commission of crimes hostile to their eternal welfare.”

A mere 108 words, I’m afraid; hardly up to the monstrous efforts of the late 17th century; but it made me smile.