Posts tagged ‘fiction’

07/10/2021

Ellesmere (Part 2)


 
That he had some secret enemies did not remain a doubt, though he could not conceive why they should seek his life. Madame de Grand-Pré was certainly anxious to prevent his enforcing claims which must expose her duplicity; the Dubois’s in that case must be her accomplices. He certainly was not accidentally wounded: the very spot where the vile deed was perpetrated, seemed marked for such a purpose—there was not another equally convenient between Lausanne and the castle. Should the people who were gone in pursuit, secure the villain, he might perhaps be obliged to prosecute the mother of his daughter for an attempt upon his life. The bare idea made him shudder…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clement Davenport discovering his true identity and then taking his place in his parents’ world as the Earl of Ellesmere carries us to the end of Volume II of Ellesmere. From here the narrative undergoes a severe lurch, turning from its English-domestic scenes to an almost-Gothic European-set plot, as Clement sets out again to track down the Baroness—determined to discover her retreat and the reasons for it, and to take steps accordingly:

No longer the ardent lover ready to perform impossibilities to obtain the favour of the woman he had once so fervently adored, he could now calmly and dispassionately review his and her past conduct. Before marriage she had appeared an angel, in whom every perfection centred; but now he found she had been guilty of levity and imprudence in encouraging, nay even noticing him. Situated as he then was, and after she had, as he then supposed, blessed him for life, what homage did she not exact! How often did she obliquely glance at the great sacrifice she had made at the shrine of Love, and what a return she had made for his unbounded confidence! Therefore ought she to escape unpunished? Of what iniquity might not such a woman prove capable?—No, he must and would obtain a legal dissolution of so dishonourable a connection: he was therefore anxious for the lawyers’ answer, but his suspense no longer preyed upon his mind. Having brought himself, as he hoped, to think with perfect indifference of the Baroness, he was prepared to expect a divorce would be the result of those enquiries he was so fully determined to make…

I can’t think of any other novel of this time – or for a long time afterwards – that takes such a prosaic approach to the end of a marriage. There’s no sense here of “What therefore God hath joined together”, no agonising about the rights and wrongs of divorce: Clement wants out of his marriage, and sets about finding his wife purely so that she can cease to be his wife. Given Meeke’s general conservatism (and that allusion to the Baroness’s “levity and imprudence” absolutely captures her general tone), this is almost shocking; and I suspect she allows herself to go this road because the novel as a whole operates as a warning not just about the foolishness of “romance”, but against getting involved with “foreigners”. (There’s a plot-touch later that reinforces the latter in a most annoying way.)

The entire Ormond family ends up removing to the south of France, avoiding the English winter for the health of both Clement and his elderly father. Prior to this, Clement and Meredith are caught on the edge of an incident involving a mad bull, and offer their coach as a refuge for a young woman, Miss Belville, and her governess—the former of whom drops a letter. Rather incredibly, given the usual rules governing correspondence, Meredith reads the whole thing—and so learns, and reveals, that Clement is an object of interest (to say the least) to a certain Lady Augusta Cameron. Clement explains that the two of them knew each other as children, then met again some years later, when she was visiting a relative near Fairfield. The letter also reveals that Lady Augusta is resisting marriage to her cousin (a foreigner!), which her father, the Earl of Greville, is blaming upon her desire to “throw herself away upon that low fellow, Davenport”.

Once on the Continent, Clement and Meredith set out on their quest for the Baroness. Their first stop is Paris where, to pass the time, they attend a play. In the interval, Meredith is accosted by an old school-fellow, the Earl of Harold: a handsome but rather dissolute and selfish individual, for whom he has little liking. He is surprised to learn that Lord Harold is newly married, and rightly assumes that the lady’s money was his chief motivation:

    “I dare say your Lordship has made so prudent a choice, no one will venture to condemn you for having parted with your liberty.”
    “In my place, Meredith, I think you would have done the same. A very rich and very handsome girl fell in love with the cut of my face; and, although not absolutely an Englishwoman, out of pure compassion I offered her my hand…”

Marriage does not seem to agree with the new Lady Harold, however; with her loving husband observing dispassionately that he may be a widower soon enough. Discussing the matter afterwards, Meredith and Clement shake their heads:

    “…he has, therefore, most probably, imposed upon some silly credulous woman, who, I am apt to think, from his account, already severely repents having placed her happiness in his keeping.”
    “I never yet heard any man glory so openly in his own baseness,” replied Clement; “but he is really so fine a figure, I cannot so much wonder at his having retrieved his fortune through matrimony:—however, little as I have seen of him, I sincerely pity the poor woman who has fallen to his share.”
    “If he only turns her into ridicule,” replied Meredith, “she may esteem herself very fortunate; but depend upon it if she has either common sense, or common feelings, she must be miserable with such a character. He did right in marrying a foreigner; for I think no English woman of fortune would have accepted of his title…”

The friends travel on to Geneva, where they try to pick up information about the Baroness’s movements, prior to Clement undertaking the unpleasant task of confronting the Dubois. They learn quite as much about the latter as they do about their main quarry, which tends to confirm the suspicion that her secret marriage placed the Baroness in the power of two very unscrupulous people:

Every one had heard that Madame de Grand-Pré had quitted Switzerland; but why or wherefore no one could take upon themselves to say, nor could anyone fathom where the Dubois’s had raised the money necessary to make their recent purchase, as the husband was only a a subaltern Officer in the French service, at the time he married; and the wife was almost wholly dependent upon the Baroness. This rendered it rather astonishing that they should now be able to live quite in affluence in Rolles, a small town between Geneva and Lausanne, as they kept a carriage, regular set of servants, &c. &c. and were, in short, strongly suspected of having egregiously duped the too easy Baroness…

The financial situation is the main weapon in Clement’s armoury. The Baroness undertook the disposal of her Swiss property with his blessing, but since she was married, the sale was technically illegal—the property no longer being hers to sell. This includes the sale of the Castle de Grand-Pré to the Dubois, a matter which was clearly hinky anyway as they self-evidently could not afford the estate.

In fairness to the Baroness, as Clement pursues his search he is forced to realise how much he is to blame for her behaviour: how his concealment of his comfortable circumstances in England would have paved the way for the Dubois to convince her that he was only a fortune-hunter after all, and that hiding herself from him was her only protection against his inevitable claim to her property:

“Such are the blessed fruits of indulging romantic notions! I could not condescend to be happy in the common way. But I think my greatest enemies, even the Dubois’s, or Lord Clancastle, would allow, if they were acquainted with my feelings, I am sufficiently punished for having quitted the beaten path…”

But the situation as it exists gives him leverage with the Dubois. They are beyond dismayed to discover the Earl Of Ellesmere in the Baroness’s former courier, but not being about to give up their ill-gotten gains, their tactic is to deny, deny, deny. An ugly scene results, with Clement provoked into spelling out just how far both they and the Baroness have put themselves in his power by their treacherous conduct:

“I would have you reflect how little honour you will gain by having recourse to any more subterfuges. I told you then, whenever I should think it worth my while, I should find no difficulty in proving my right to the Baroness’s fortune; though, believe me, my contempt for her has, if possible, increased since that period:—still I now chuse to assert my claims, not because I covet her riches, but because I wish her accomplices’ infamy to be blazoned to the world. I mean to see her steward before I sleep. I have taken the advice of the most eminent lawyers in Great Britain; therefore when you are necessitated to resign your cheaply acquired castle, only reflect you are reaping the fruits of your own obstinacy; for I had much rather debate this point amicably with your friend, than publicly dishonour myself by acknowledging myself her husband…”

Driving away, Clement and Meredith agree that the Dubois could tell them everything about the Baroness, had they chosen to; Meredith advises Clement to go ahead with the legal seizure of his wife’s estates, as the best way of flushing her out. As announced, they seek out M. Monvel, the Baroness’s steward, only to learn that he is ahead of them, having set out for the Castle de Grand-Pré. Clement goes after him, resolving also to take the opportunity to call upon Mr Maynard, the current tenant, as he promised during his previous call there. He does not quite make it to the castle, however:

He had arrived within a mile of the place of his destination, when a rustling to the right, which he imagined proceeded from a bird fluttering in the hedge, induced him to turn his head: at the very instant he received a violent flash of gunpowder in his face, and the contents of a musket in his neck, which brought him to the ground…

(In the interests of full closure, I must here state that I have finally found one point of direct overlap between “Mrs Meeke” and “Gabrielli”, with both of them apparently believing that bullets do less damage the closer you are to a gun, a touch we also found in The Sicilian.)

Clement’s life is saved partly by the angle of the shot, partly by the thickness of his neckcloth (!), and mostly by swift action on the part of Mr Maynard. Knowing Clement only as the man who once came seeking the Baroness, Maynard is stunned and appalled when his possessions reveal him to be the Earl of Ellesmere—

—“Mr Maynard” being the Earl of Clancastle, not only wracked with remorse for his past crimes, but now fully awake to the implications of an attempt upon Ellesmere’s life almost on his own doorstep.

The situation also causes some attendant awkwardness for Meredith, hastily summoned, as it reunites him with the Lady Lucy Killarney. Far from intending any claim upon him, he finds her not only aware of her father’s villainy, but determined to share his fallen fortunes.

Clement reluctantly concedes that the Baroness may be behind his shooting; though he agrees with Clement that Dubois is most likely the one who pulled the trigger. Monvel, the steward, is also a suspect: though he bears a good reputation locally, he was long in the service of the Grand-Pré family, and was the other major financial beneficiary of the Baroness’s hasty disposal of her property. Monvel is called to the castle and told the whole story. He is shocked by the Baroness’s behaviour, but refuses to believe that she could have had a hand in the attempt upon Clement’s life—he, too, pointing a finger at Dubois.

The matter takes another turn when Monvel receives a letter from his former mistress, who begs him to seek her out at the Convent of St. Mary, near Chamberry, where she has taken refuge. The thought that his wife has been all this time in a convent, rather than pursuing a second marriage, or “marriage”, in Germany, as he was repeatedly told, causes a revolution in Clement’s feelings; as do her regretful references to the Dubois. He and Meredith make preparations to accompany Monvel to Chamberry, with Clement waving away his cousin’s fears for his health and indeed his life. He decides to take Monvel’s place, and interview the Baroness himself.

The three men travel a circuitous route to Chamberry, keeping their destination a secret. After taking rooms, Clement and Meredith survey the town and the convent—noting that the high, thick walls of the latter make it look more like a prison. At the agreed time, Clement sets out to call upon his wife.

He does not return…

In the dark of night, almost sick with apprehension, and with his suspicions of Monvel’s treachery fully revived, Meredith calls at the convent. His demands to see the Abbess are refused, while a surly porteress not only insists that no man called there that day at all, but denies that any such person as the Baroness de Grand-Pré is staying there.

Frantic with worry, Meredith turns on Monvel, who steadfastly denies any involvement in Clement’s disappearance. He also warns him, as a foreign Protestant in a Catholic land, to keep his head. Meredith heeds the steward’s suggestion that they call upon the convent’s confessor, Father Benedict. The latter listens seriously to their story, but tells them they will not gain entry to the convent without an order from the town Governor. He proves to be away from home and, Chamberry being a walled city, Meredith passes a night of painful suspense until the gates are opened at dawn the following morning. Intent upon his quest, Meredith pays little heed to the robed figure outside the walls, waiting conversely for entry—

—until the “monk” speaks to him in his cousin’s voice.

Clement’s adventure is the stuff of Gothic novels, though it represents only an interlude in the overall scheme of Ellesmere. It is, however, amusing to find Meeke dabbling in this sort of sensation material. Less surprising is the overt anti-Catholic tone of it: though at one point she has a character speak in defence of most convents, the Convent of St. Mary is the exception that proves the rule—receiving unwilling novitiates in exchange for payment, and acting as a prison for disobedient daughters.

Clement tells Meredith that he did not see his wife. It was Father Benedict with whom he had to deal, who began by announcing that he was fully invested with the power to act on the Baroness’s behalf. After abusing him roundly as a scoundrel and a low-born adventurer, the monk presented him with papers to sign, relinquishing all claim to the Baroness’s property. Declaring himself willing enough to give it all up, Clement nevertheless refused to sign under compulsion—hardly expecting the response from this man of God:

“…remember, your friends are at no certainty you ever entered these walls, and if you ever wish to leave them, you must first set your name to these deeds:—you shall have till midnight to reflect upon the alternative; an oath never to reveal what has passed between us, and compliance with the Baroness’s wishes, procure you instant liberty. If, on the contrary, (putting his hand in his bosom while he spoke, and discovering the haft of a poniard)—but no more—if you are wise, you will accept of your liberty upon the proposed terms. It is now ten; in two hours more you shall see me again;” once more leaving Clement to darkness and his own reflections…

Clement’s delivery comes in an entirely unexpected manner: a female voice whispers to him through a thin piece of paneling; and he learns that in the next room are confined one each of the convent’s aforementioned victims (an unwilling novitiate and a disobedient daughter), who had already been seeking a means of escape. They have a knife, and with it Clement is able to cut a way into their room, there being a way out through it into the body of the convent; while a spare monk’s robe in his own locked room offers a disguise. Coming together in total darkness, the three do not wait for introductions: Clement finds one of them bold and eager for freedom, the other shy and shrinking; he later learns that it was the monk’s pronouncement of the name “Clement Davenport” that inspired the young women to risk pleading for his succour.

Luck, courage and a little deceit combine to see the three escape their prison. After walking a considerable distance towards Geneva, Clement, in his guise as a monk, manages to borrow a cart and driver for the young ladies, sending them on to his hotel in possession of his watch and advising them to seek out a servant called Watson. He then turns back to Chamberry, where he encounters the frantic Meredith.

The two then walk almost smack into Father Benedict and, after an exchange of threats involving the Governor, make him their prisoner and carry him towards Geneva in a carriage secured via a message sent to Monvel. During the journey – the monk’s arms bound to keep his itchy fingers away from his poniard – they manage to convince him that Clement is who he says he is, and that he has been duped by the Baroness:

    “I find I have been deceived,” said he. “I little thought you could have adduced such proof of what I told you would allege by way of frightening me; your Lordship may now depend upon every atonement in my power.”
    “Now you do seem to understand your interest, Father,” replied Clement;—“for depend upon it you will gain more by endeavouring to make me your friend, than by persisting in a wilful error. Is the Baroness de Grand-Pré now at Chamberry?”
    “Not at present, I am pretty sure, my Lord; but I wonder, since you acknowledged last night you wished to be legally separated from this lady, that you should have been so averse to renouncing your claims upon her person and fortune.”
    “Had she come forward, as I expected, Father, I should have made no difficulty in complying with many of her demands; but signing those papers you presented to me last night would not unfortunately have unmarried me—that must be done publicly, and, as I said before, legally. The Baroness wishes to make quicker work of it, by sending me out of the world.”

The monk denies any such intention, and goes back to trying to get Clement to admit assisting in the escape of the young women he persists in calling “nuns”. Clement evades the point, insisting (truthfully) that he saw no women at all while in the convent.

When the carriage passes from Savoy into Genevese territory, Father Benedict is released—and roundly warned about what he says regarding his experiences. The monk turns back upon the road to Chamberry—

—upon which Dubois is later found weltering in his blood from stab-wounds…one in the back.

They really should have taken that poniard away from him…

In Geneva, Clement and Meredith discover the identities of the two convent escapees: the bolder one is Clara di St. Amori, one of the numerous progeny of a noble but impoverished Sardinian family, forced into the convent (though not yet a novitiate) by way of disposing of her; the shy, shrinking one is none other than the Lady Augusta Cameron, author of that very interesting letter to her friend Miss Belville.

I admit to some disappointment here (not with regards to Lady Augusta: nothing at all unexpected there, unfortunately): in typical second-banana style, both Meredith and Clara are livelier, more sensible and have a better sense of humour than their more “sensitive” friends, and it looks as for a time as if Meeke intends to hook them up. However, she must have remembered that Clara is a foreigner: so instead, she pulls an impoverished soldier-lover out of her hat, has Clement dower Clara as thanks for the girl’s help, and so disposes of her. Meredith, meanwhile – once her father conveniently dies – is steered back towards Lady Lucy.

(Who, it occurs to me – it may not have done to Meeke – may well be Catholic…)

Lady Augusta, on the other hand, was placed in the convent by her aunt, by way of persuading her to bestow herself and her fortune upon her cousin – a foreigner! – a match she was wholly averse to even without her secret (or not-so-secret) passion for Clement.

Clement now considers that the best thing to do is to place her under his mother’s care, until her father, currently ambassador to the Court of Madrid, can be contacted. This is arranged, and the party travels to Avignon. There, Lady Augusta’s esteem for Clement is soon obvious to everyone; while she learns soon enough of his marriage—though also, via the Marchioness, who is only too eager to gain this daughter-in-law, of his plans for a divorce.

There is much debate within the family of the appropriate action to take against the Baroness and her presumed co-conspirators, Father Benedict and the Abbess of St. Mary’s:

    Monvel had retired to the apartment allotted him, to draw up a short case concerning the manner in which Clement had been decoyed into the Monastery—the steps Meredith and himself had taken in consequence of his detention—how, and with whom, he had made his escape; which was to be submitted to the Cardinal Vice Legate, who, the steward affirmed, had unlimited power over the sons and daughters of the Church (as they were styled) of every nation, and might possibly be able to cite Madame de Grand-Pré to his tribunal as being the instigator of the Confessor and Abbess.
    To bring her forward in any way, was become so serious an object, that the Marquis had determined, if the Vice Legate did not seem likely to interfere with success, to apply, without loss of time, to the Sardinian Court, and the Sovereign Council of Berne, to order her immediate confinement, as he hardly conceived his son in safety while she continued at large.

While these larger matters are in train, tea-table gossip reveals that the Earl and Countess of Harold are in Avignon for the latter’s health, which continues to decline. No-one is very surprised at this outcome:

    “We learned that she was ill at Paris,” rejoined Meredith; “and I thought then there was very little chance of her recovery, being pretty well acquainted with the character of her unprincipled Lord. But how could a sensible, rich, and handsome woman make so preposterous a choice?”
    “I can’t see any thing so extraordinary in what I am more apt to consider as her misfortune, than as any lapse of judgement,” said the Marquis.—“Lord Harold is a remarkably fine figure, and in every sense of the word, a truly handsome man. His education, and the company he was early introduced into, have given him other advantages; and I dare say he appeared a very desirable lover. Once married, he probably threw off the mask; and, in endeavouring to break his wife’s spirit, seems to have nearly broken her heart…”

The Marchioness is sympathetic, but only up to a point:

“There is a great deal to be said on both sides in this case, though I don’t doubt but Lord Harold deceived her in many essential points; still we must suppose she once loved him, or she would have been more particular in her enquiries concerning his morals, &c.; for upon these more than his fortune, her happiness depended. Therefore I think, instead of sinking under the disappointment she has experienced, she had better have endeavoured to reclaim the man she must have chosen; for no parents would have advised such a match…”

Lady Ormond also comments that Lady Harold had evinced a desire for their friendship, when they were introduced, and hinted that she required advice as to the disposal of her property; though there she cannot feel herself justified in interfering.

All this precedes an expected visit from the Earl and Countess, in whom the young people have very little interest—except the frankly curious Meredith. Lady Augusta, who is using a false name while her issues with the convent are sorted out, and while she waits to hear from her father, withdraws altogether; while the disinterested Clement continues to play with his daughter, now a toddler:

    …she put her arms round his neck, and refused to leave her hold, closely hugging, and repeatedly calling him papa—a word that she found had hitherto procured her every indulgence she desired. He was therefore standing in this posture, unable to disengage himself from her, when the Countess of Harold stopped directly opposite him. Their eyes remained rivetted upon each other for several seconds; till Maria, not feeling herself supported as before, clung still closer to papa, and made him remember he had slackened his hold; but his emotion rendered him incapable of attending to her endearments, upon recognising, though scarcely the shadow of her former self, her mother in the wife of Lord Harold.
    Altered as she was, a second glance placed her identity beyond doubt; and hastily disengaging the lovely infant’s arms from round his neck, he put her down; but had not set her upon her feet before the Baroness, having made a sort of feeble effort to catch the child from him, sunk senseless on the carpet before anyone could prevent her fall…

Alas, though not surprisingly, Ellesmere disappoints me again: I don’t get my divorce, with the Baroness taking to her bed, never to rise again. The point remains valid, though: no other novel of this time that I know of is so casual – even positive – on the subject.

Meeke proceeds from here to absolve the Baroness of everything but abysmal stupidity, placing all the criminal guilt upon the Dubois, who parleyed their knowledge of the Baroness’s secrets into ownership of an estate and a comfortable fortune (rewards for service sliding imperceptibly into blackmail). She did not, for example, knowingly commit bigamy, having been induced to believe that Clement was married when they met—to Mrs Davenport, no less, whose footman he once was. So she is convinced by Mme Dubois—and the Earl of Harold, who doesn’t exactly understand why the latter has encouraged him to repeat a bit of gossip about a foolish old lady marrying her servant, but knows enough to see that it will somehow help him in his own scheme of a wealthy marriage.

The best thing the Baroness does in the entire novel is keep her mouth shut on that point: Clement and Harold are already at daggers drawn, and she fears for the outcome should the latter’s active role in her deception be known. She also has a will drawn up that bequeaths her entire estate to Maria and names Clement as her guardian, without declaring her true relationship to either.

At this point it becomes evident that Maria, like her father, has had a very narrow escape: when Clement prevented the Dubois from getting their hands on the child, the Baroness had just appointed them her guardians and – in the event of her death – heirs to the fortune settled on her…

Knowing herself dying, the Baroness makes what amends she can by helping to lure Mme Dubois into a legal trap, one that ends with her, Father Benedict and the Abbess handed over to the tender mercies of the Church. Dubois – confirmed as the attempted murderer of Clement, and his role in the deception / bribing of the monk revealed – is allowed to go on slowly dying of his stab-wounds.

Her sensation-plot resolved, and the notion of “romance” thoroughly debunked, Meeke then provides an almost defiantly prosaic ending to her novel (one, by the way, that suddenly fires an unprovoked pot-shot at Mary Wollstonecraft and her Vindication Of The Rights Of Women), with Lord and Lady Ormond making formal proposals to the Earl of Greville, on behalf of the Earl of Ellesmere, for the hand of the Lady Augusta Cameron…who he has learned to esteem:

…he requested the Marquis would solicit Lord Greville’s permission in proper form, as he had no wish his addresses should have a clandestine appearance; he had had enough of romantic mysteries, therefore chose to proceed this time in the usual routine.

 
 

05/10/2021

Ellesmere (Part 1)

    The painful reflection that he now had no friend solicitous for his future welfare, nor to whose care he could, with perfect satisfaction, consign his infant daughter, increased the dejection which continued to prey upon his mind; and for her sake alone he wished to live, as all his prospects of happiness seemed closed forever. An unfortunate planet, he conceived, had presided over his birth; yet when he reflected upon the almost miraculous manner in which he had been preserved in his infancy, and upon the virtues of his late benefactress—the manner in which she had brought him up, the education she had given him, so superior to his apparent rank in society, and the large fortune she had bequeathed him—he considered it almost impious to murmur against those decrees which had doomed him to survive his recent disappointment; and which he could not help acknowledging might, in some respects, be attributed to his own romantic notions.—Had he openly aspired to the Baroness’s hand, and succeeded in the attempt, no artful confidant could have undermined their conjugal felicity.
    His own duplicity, respecting his circumstances, had laid the foundation for this separation, which had nearly brought him to the brink of the grave. Though he would very fain have persuaded himself he despised the Baroness too much to make him regret the step he had taken, yet he had loved too fervently to admit of this self-deception, and at times he could not help cherishing the delusive hope, that she would yet be able to convince him of his innocence…

 

 

Sigh.

As I went seeking for a copy of this novel from 1799, it was made painfully clear how far the new argument that the Minerva Press novelist known as Mrs (Mary?) Meeke was actually Elizabeth Meeke has propagated.

I’ve made my thoughts on this subject clear in a previous post: briefly, that having ended up with two writers of the same name on his roster, William Lane made the second of them use a pseudonym, resulting in some novels by “Mrs Meeke” and some by “Gabrielli”. That these are indeed two different people, rather than one woman using two authorial names, is clear enough if you’ve read their books…but I’m quite sure I’m the only one who has, whatever other research might have been done in this area.

I have no means of halting the spread of what I believe to be misinformation, but I do have one more detail to add to my counter-argument: the fact that, as can be seen on the title page above, the ‘by the author of’ statement from the Minerva Press includes only those novels by “Mrs Meeke”, and none by “Gabrielli”.

Anyway—

Despite it running four volumes, I’m sure I can get through this review of Ellesmere in two posts—the first one being shorter than usual, as I certainly don’t want to dwell more than I have to upon the exasperating first volume and a half, which focus upon two young people behaving (each in their own way) in a frustratingly stupid manner. Thankfully, the novel improves from that point—amusingly repositioning what is ordinarily the favourite Meeke climactic revelation to the middle of Volume II and then involving its hero in some rather Gothicky adventures.

As with Meeke’s previous novels, Ellesmere lays much of its action on the Continent prior to the French Revolution—which at least this time she doesn’t pretend never happened, though nothing in its French-set passages even hint at discontent. It opens, however, in England, with the overturning of a London-bound coach and the death of a woman carrying a baby. The child is unhurt, and is rescued by a middle-aged widow called Mrs Davenport. Childless herself, she quickly becomes attached to the baby; though she scrupulously does everything in her power to find his people. None of her questioning or advertising brings information beyond where the dead woman boarded the coach, and that offers no pleasing interpretation of the baby’s background—he most likely being the bastard one of the soldiers whose regiment departed just before the still-unidentified woman likewise left town.

Regardless, Mrs Davenport decides to raise the boy herself; and she earns the disapproval of her gossipy neighbours by having him christened “Clement Davenport”. Accepting the likely lowness of his birth, Mrs Davenport resolves to prepare him to earn his own living and plans to send him to India, where his presumed origins will least hamper his rise in the world. However, as the boy grows her attachment to him becomes such that she cannot bring herself to part with him—somewhat to his own disappointment, as he too accepts his position and his need to fend for himself. Finally Mrs Davenport goes all out—willing to the young man Fairfield, her estate near London, and nearly all of her fortune, amounting to some £5000 a year.

Inheriting this property at the age of twenty, Clement consults with Dr Lewis, the clergyman who educated him and acted as Mrs Davenport’s co-adjutant during his upbringing, and decides to undertake the Grand Tour. He soon finds himself in Geneva with a group of friends—for the most part, young aristocrats whose birth is better than his, but their purses much slimmer. And it is there that Clement first hears of the beautiful and wealthy young Baroness de Grand-Pré, and her declaration that she will never marry except for love.

Here we must – or anyway, shall – cut a long story short: Clement becomes fixated upon the idea of being “loved for himself”, and enters the Baroness’s service as her courier; while she, in turn, cannot believe that his handsome, cultured, obviously adoring young man is anything less than an aristocrat in disguise, despite him being in service and what he says about his origins. The two fall in love and secretly marry—not without extreme qualms on the Baroness’s side, with her genuine feeling for Clement battling against the pride and ambition instilled in her by her English mother, who taught her to think of marriage to an English nobleman as the proper goal of her life.

Clement, meanwhile, has foolishly concealed his comfortable circumstances—planning on springing them on his bride as a pleasant surprise when they eventually reach England. First they spend a year together travelling through France and Italy, finally settling near Florence, where the Baroness gives birth to a daughter, named Maria for her mother. During this time, the Baroness begins to divest herself of her Swiss property, the young couple agreeing to a fresh start where their backgrounds are not known. Clement from the start has, despite the 18th century marriage laws, refused to take any of his wife’s money, and leaves her to dispose of her property as she chooses.

All this seems properly “romantic”—but if we have learned anything about Mary Meeke, it is that she thoroughly disapproved of “romance”. Her characters might esteem one another; they might even be permitted to feel a passion; but the intrusion into her narrative of romance invariably signals disaster, and so it is here. Clement’s scheme of posing as a servant – which even he sees before long was incredibly foolish, though he can’t bring himself to withdraw – and the Baroness’s certainty that her servant is in fact a nobleman, are both repeatedly designated – not to say stigmatised – as “romantic”; and we are not altogether surprised when their relationship implodes.

Meeke is roundly critical of both her characters—of Clement for mistaking the Baroness’s beauty and manners for character, and of the Baroness for, well…

…unfortunately, she imbibed a very romantic turn of mind, which was greatly encouraged by being permitted to read indiscriminately every novel that found its way to Vevay, the nearest town. This induced her frequently to make the declaration Mr Haller had repeated, and to peremptorily refuse a German Nobleman of the first rank, who accompanied her father into Switzerland, purposely to make her an offer of his hand. The Baron would probably have enforced obedience, had not an apoplectic stroke carried him off almost immediately, and thus left his fair daughter at liberty to pursue the dictates of her romantic imagination…

(Two “romantics” in one paragraph, oh dear. Note also Clement’s condemnation of his own “romantic notions” in the header-quote.)

There is a serpent in Eden in the form of Mademoiselle Denisir, a ward of the Baroness’s late father who acts as her companion. Behaving at any moment in a way best calculated to guarantee her own ongoing comfort and security, having encouraged the Baroness in her marriage to this supposed aristocrat, Mlle Denisir now begins poisoning her mind against her husband, and convincing her that she has thrown herself away on a base-born adventurer and fortune-hunter.

A crisis occurs when Clement is hurriedly summoned back to England to the deathbed of Dr Lewis, though he dies before his young pupil arrives. Clement must stay in England some time to settle his friend’s affairs, and also orders work done at Fairfield, in preparation for the arrival of his family. When he returns to the Continent, he finds his wife strangely elusive—sending letters of excuse rather than coming to him herself, and then falling silent. He discovers the baby and her nurse where they were left, in “Chamberry” (Chambéry) and makes plans to send them to England, but can find no trace of his wife. Upon returning to Grand-Pré, he finds it occupied by an Englishman, Mr Maynard, and his daughter: Maynard tells Clement that he rented it from M. Monvel, the Baroness’s former steward, who in turn had leased it from its new purchaser, a man called Dubois.

Clement continues to search for his wife, but the trail runs cold until an accidental encounter with Mlle Denisir – or rather, Mme Dubois – who astonishes and enrages him by speaking of him to her new husband as “the Baroness’s former courier” and denouncing him when he dares refer to their marriage; telling him, in fact, that the Baroness has gone into Germany to make preparations for her upcoming wedding…

Conversely, Clement’s revelation that he has already removed the baby and Jeanette, her nurse, from Chamberry obviously causes Mme Dubois great chagrin—which convinces Clement that they had been sent by the Baroness to bring the child to her. The meeting ends in an exchange of threats, and Clement retreats to lick his wounds:

…he now sunk under the mortifying reflection, that the obscurity of his birth had afforded his wife an opportunity of taking so base an advantage of his credulity, and of, perhaps, sheltering herself from his claims in the arms of some more fortunate rival.
Whenever this notion occurred to him, and it was generally uppermost in his thoughts, he resolved to proclaim his marriage, and thus make her as miserable as she had succeeded in making him…

Clement’s health subsequently collapses; and though the doctors pull him through, they fear he is sinking into a decline that must soon be fatal. He manages to rally under the stimulus of two forces: the thought of the precarious position his daughter would be left in, if he died without first settling his affairs; and a friendship formed with a young Welshman, Edwin Meredith. The two young men, indeed, swiftly become inseparable; and Meredith invites Clement to his own home in the foothills of the mountains of Wales. Having settled Jeanette and the baby at Fairfield, he accepts. Though his health remains somewhat precarious, and he tires easily, Clement begins to recover under the generous care of his new friend.

Though a commoner, Meredith is very well-connected, being nephew to the Marquis and Marchioness of Ormond, whose estate adjoins his own property. He runs tame in their household, and soon confides in them his friend’s troubles—as much as he knows, Clement having maintained a strict silence about the exact nature of what is so obviously preying upon his mind and undermining his constitution:

“From some disappointment of a very tender nature, I am of the opinion,” he answered, “from the visible indifference with which he seems to regard the fair sex. Had he been in mourning, I should have been tempted to suspect he had lost a beloved wife; but that not being the case, I attribute his melancholy to the death, or, at least, to the loss of a favourite lady. He certainly has been one of the handsomest men in England, nay, I hardly know whether he is not so still; though grief and bad health have robbed his cheeks of their colour, and his eyes of their natural lustre and animation. His person is as faultless as his face, and his manners and conversation are at once refined and fascinating; altogether he is, without exception, one of the most agreeable companions I ever met with; and I don’t think, short as has been our acquaintance, I could feel a much stronger regard for an only brother…”

Clement is subsequently introduced to the elderly Marquis and his much younger second wife. The latter fancies herself something of a healer, and takes the young man under her wing. Various comments from Meredith have alerted Clement to the Ormonds having suffered some cruel blow; while we have been privy to references to the Earl of Clancastle, the Marquis’s brother-in-law, being their enemy. The Marchioness is subject to outbreaks of uncontrollable grief; and there are allusions to a newspaper advertisement which has to date brought no response.

While the Ormonds and Meredith are debating how next to proceed, Clement picks up the newspaper in question and, rather than ask awkward questions, satisfies his curiosity by reading the advertisement in question:

“TEN THOUSAND POUNDS REWARD: Whereas, it has lately been discovered, that the infant son of a noble family was, for the basest of purposes, about one-and-twenty years ago, removed from under the protection of his parents, who were led to believe him no more, a dead child having been substituted in his stead, to further this iniquitous deception; there is every reason to believe, from the confession of one of the accomplices in this vile plot, that he is still living; in which case he bears a mark of two vowels, duplicates of which are in his parents’ hands, who dare not be more explicit, for fear of exposing themselves to a further imposition…”

So. Once again cutting a very long story short, the current Earl of Clancastle is a man risen from Irish obscurity, advancing through a naval career to the rank of Admiral, and then via marriage to the acquisition of a title. Obsessed with his sons advancing even more, he began to dream of their inheritance of the Ormond title and property, due to the Marquis having no heir—never dreaming that his widowed brother-in-law would remarry late in life and have a son. His subsequent mixture of intemperate threats and promised rewards with regard to his nephew moved his servant to take him at his word. Discovering that his sister’s baby had just died of convulsions, Gwillim managed to smuggle the body into the nursery, removing the infant Earl of Ellesmere and – having marked the child so he could be identified in the future – handed him into his sister’s care; allowing Lord Clancastle to believe, however, that the child had, ahem, mysteriously died.

So, yes—once again, my friends, say it with me:

BABY SUBSTITUTION!!!!

The sister is of course the anonymous woman killed in the opening scene, and “Clement Davenport” is of course Alfred Ormond, Earl of Ellesmere (though everyone continues to call him “Clement”, and so shall we).

This is Meeke’s most beloved and well-used plot-trick, but instead of keeping this revelation for the climax of her novel, in Ellesmere she puts it to very different use by foregrounding the relationship between her hero and his parents. Furthermore, though the point is never made overtly, Meeke indulges herself in a wicked irony: the fact that, when she allowed her “romantic imagination” to convince her that her servant was an aristocrat in disguise, the Baroness was absolutely right—only to end up spending three volumes fleeing exactly the husband her ambition would have chosen.

Anyway—after the hysteria recedes somewhat, it is revealed that, having believed their son dead for twenty years, the Ormonds only recently learned better when the Marquis and Meredith were present to receive the dying confession of Gwillim…who put the blame firmly upon Lord Clancastle.

Retribution had already caught up with Clancastle, with the sons for whose benefit he concocted his evil scheme both dying in action. In the wake of his bereavement, remorse took hold; and, when confronted by this ghost of his past, the Earl fled the country—taking with him his surviving child, the Lady Lucy Killarney, and causing a painful dilemma for Meredith who, though “esteeming” Lady Lucy, feels that under the circumstances he cannot marry her.

The discovery of his parents and his cousin – and of his own title and wealth, which Meeke is amusingly upfront about – and the mutual joy of the newly reunited family, completes the restoration of Clement’s health. Even his marital situation no longer has the ability to hurt him, though he dreads having to confess it to the others:

…who would probably, and very justly, blame him for having indulged the romantic notion of being loved for himself. Well, they could not condemn his conduct more than he did himself…

Clement does finally tell his story, begging his parents for their advice. Lady Ormond immediately sends for the baby, while her husband ponders his son’s situation:

    As for her mother, he hardly knew what to say: there was a bare possibility that she was not so much to blame as she appeared;—the Dubois’s seemed very designing people. Situated as his son then was, he saw nothing blameable in his disguise—it was a romantic notion, and many more young people had been attracted by the same impulse; besides it certainly afford him an opportunity of studying the Baroness’s character, rarely to be obtained.
    “But did not the blind God, my dear Clement,” he continued, “prevent you from perceiving her faults? I can’t acquit her of imprudence, even before she married—nor you of an excess of complaisance in leaving everything at her disposal. If she has abused your noble confidence, she is indeed unworthy your regret: this time alone must discover;—there is great reason to suppose that she has done neither you, nor her daughter justice; but if she seeks the child, I shall think that she has suffered herself to be misled by her artful friend…”

Lady Ormond and Meredith also weigh in, agreeing that the matter must be investigated and the Baroness’s degree of guilt, or credulity, determined, before Clement can judge how best to behave in future.

But Clement sees no way in which his wife can explain her behaviour to his satisfaction; nor does he intend to dwell upon the matter any longer:

“My prospects are now very different, and I should be unpardonable were I to suffer the desertion of an unprincipled woman any longer to affect either my health or spirits;—situated as I was at the time, it was hardly excusable, but it was a very severe disappointment.—Love and vanity, arising from the supposed preference I had met with, as my father very justly remarked, had blinded me to the imperfections of the heroine of my romance; and to find my goddess a mere mortal, was truly mortifying to my pride…”

 

[To be continued…]

27/08/2021

Louisa Egerton; or, Castle Herbert (Part 2)


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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Australian novel, remember?—

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

 

18/08/2021

Louisa Egerton; or, Castle Herbert (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  

   

 

08/08/2021

How you do go on!

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

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

(Spoilers, I guess.)

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

 

 

08/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 3)


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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the disappearing pilgrim, well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

07/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 2)


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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the sylph is busy again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[To be continued…]

04/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 1)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT—

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

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

So:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

[To be continued…]

21/01/2021

The Reviv’d Fugitive: A Gallant Historical Novel

 

 

She render’d a Visit to Madmoiselle of St. Hubert, to shew her what part she took in that sorrow which that ill News did cause her, and resolv’d not to leave her very soon, she gave Orders to keep that Visit private, that she might not be disturb’d. They related to one another very agreeable things on the conformity of their Inclinations; they exclaim’d against that blindness of Fate, that had produc’d such cross oppositions in their Amours, in managing so ill their Inclinations; they both storm’d against the rigour of the Edicts, and a Thousand times wish’d to have them re-establish’d in the same condition in which Henry the Great had left them…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I last ventured into my list of books for Chronobibliography, lo, these many—well, not years; but as it turns out a year ago, sigh—I pointed out the increasing tendency, from 1690 onwards, not only for a novel to declare itself so, without any fudging about it being a true story, but for the fact that a book was a novel to become a major selling point.

We see this clearly in the title page of Peter Belon’s The Reviv’d Fugitive—which unfortunately is one of those books where the title page is more interesting than anything behind it.

We’ve met Peter Belon before at this blog, as the author of the infuriating Sham Prince scandal-novel, The Court Secret, and as one of the translators of Jean-Baptiste de Brilhac’s Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle PortugaiseThere’s not a lot out there about him personally (do you know how annoying it is to search for information and have your own posts come up first?), but he seems to have been of French Huguenot extraction; while in 1664 he published a translation of a paper in French on “Sr Walter Rawleigh’s great cordial”, in which he refers to himself as a “student in chymistry”.

The best source of information about Belon turns out to be the 2019 book, Early Modern Ireland And The World Of Medicine: Practitioners, Collectors And Contexts, edited by a J. Cunningham. The chapter by Peter Elmer, Promoting medical change in Restoration Ireland: the chemical revolution and the patronage of James Butler, duke of Ormond (1610 – 88), discusses, “Pierre Belon, a Huguenot physician patronised by Ormond who was involved in efforts to promote a spa at Chapelizod near Dublin”, and offers the following intriguing comments:

In the same year, he sought to secure an ecclesiastical licence to practice medicine and surgery in England, testimonials certifying that Belon was a Londoner by birth, was well skilled in medicine and surgery, including optical ailments, and was well versed in all aspects of pharmacy and chemistry. No licence, however, was granted in 1664, nor in 1667, when it would appear Belon was once more turned down by the licensing authorities…

…which might explain why, like so many others, he turned to writing to support himself. Also—

A year later, in 1668, he would appear to have been taken under the wing of the court, where he held minor office as ‘one of his Majesties Servants in Ordinary’. In all likelihood, Belon had attached himself to the circle of George Villiers, second duke of Buckingham, whose passion for chemistry was second only to the restored monarch…

…which throws an interesting light upon Belon’s attack upon James in The Court Secret.

But though it references Belon’s writing, this chapter is (properly enough, if disappointingly from our point of view) focused upon his medical career.

Despite the patronage of two dukes, in 1690 Belon was still supplementing his income by writing. While the title-page of The Reviv’d Fugitive foregrounds “NOVEL”, its use of “historical” is interesting. Thomas Leland’s Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury, which deals with events from the 13th century, refers to itself as “an historical romance”, which is about right; while the anonymous author of Reginald du Bray preferred “an historic(k) tale”. Belon’s use of the more modern term is misleading, however: though it does touch upon real events, far from dealing with “history” as we think about it in this context, his work is set only some five years in the past. “Gallant” also seems an odd word to use, though perhaps it simply meant “of gallantry”.

Meanwhile, I’ve come across no specific reason for Belon’s dedication to “Her HIGHNESS the Dutchess of Brunswig, Lunebourg, and Zell” (Brunswick, Lüneburg and Celle); and frankly this looks like a shameless publicity stunt. A bigger issue at this distance is just who Belon was referring to: there was the Princess Christine Louise of Oettingen-Oettingen, who in 1690 married Louis Rudolph, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (thus becoming the Duchess of Etc.); but there was also Sophia Dorothea of Celle who, after much manoeuvring on the part of her parents, was declared Princess of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle in 1680; who in 1682 married the future George I of England; and who in the critical year of 1690 supposedly began an affair with Count Philip von Königsmarck, with disastrous consequences for both.

Which, to paraphrase the poet M. K. Joseph, is interesting but not relevant. Alas, I can stall no longer in getting to the work itself.

The Reviv’d Fugitive bears an unfortunate resemblance to my previous entry for Chronobibliography, Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue. Both overtly deal with the effect upon French Protestants of the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the religious tolerance introduced under the Edict of Nantes in 1598, and forced many Huguenots to convert or flee—or die. In reality, both use this backdrop merely as the excuse for a bit of inconsequential amatory fiction—which seems particularly odd with respect to Peter Belon, given both his own background and his anti-James, pro-William writing. To be fair, there is a bit more substance here than in that other piece of nonsense, and certainly more of religion.

On the other hand, “inconsequential” is being polite. At least half of The Reviv’d Fugitive is almost pointless, a supposed comedy of love at first sight and mistaken identity, but which is (even allowing for the vagaries of 17th century literature) so badly written and spelled, it’s nearly impossible to follow at some points, and entirely impossible to be interested by.

(The available online copy is also a very poor one, with several patches of repeated pages; which at least has the benefit of making it shorter than it appears.)

Briefly, “the Knight of St. Hubert”, a French Catholic, falls in love with a beautiful young woman who he sees at the opera. After some farcical misunderstanding and general angst resulting from her resemblance to a young Marchioness who is involved with our hero’s cousin, unhelpfully called the Viscount of St. Hubert – no-one in this has a name – he discovers her to be a Mlle. de Chanlieu.

A friendship develops between the two cross-purpose couples, which expands to include our heroine’s brother, who completes the set by falling in love with Mlle. de St. Hubert.

The Knight is not particularly bothered by the fact that his new friends are Huguenots: as we will see repeatedly in English literature over the next hundred years or so, a “good” Catholic is one who is not too Catholic; we get this while the Knight is first hunting for his elusive love:

Those marks of a true right Hugonot, or Protestant, were not capable to divert him from the satisfaction he propos’d to inform himself throughly at Charanton, which is the place where those of the Reformed Religion have a Church allow’d them. He return’d to his Inn, well satisfied with so happy a discovery, and resolv’d to go thither the very next Day to Church. But it was his ill fortune not to find there what he sought after. The King had not yet caus’d the Edict to be Proclam’d, which forbids the Hugonots to suffer any Roman Catholicks in their Assemblies; and that which might have rais’d some scruple in the Knight, (who was an absolute worthy Person) could not yet produce any in him. He remain’d in the Church very quiet during the whole Sermon, which that Day was deliver’d by an eminent Preacher; and he being not a Romanist by meer stubbornness and Caprichio, he found nothing in it that was either horrid or black…

However, Mlle. de Chanlieu is not so accommodating. The Reviv’d Fugitive gives us an amusing sliding-scale here, suggesting that Protestants are more devout than Catholics, and wives more likely to be converted by their husbands than vice-versa. Thus, it is acceptable for Mlle. de  St. Hubert to marry M. de Chanlieu, because that could end in her becoming Protestant; but it would be wrong for Mlle. de Chanlieu to marry the Knight of St. Hubert, because that might end in her becoming Catholic.

These quibbles are Belon’s, however: Mlle de Chanlieu is stauncher in her feeling that in marrying the Knight, she would be putting her love ahead of her religion.

Nevertheless he must struggle hard with herself, particularly in the face of the Knight’s desperate pleas—which Belon, in effect, presents as “Jesuitical”:

…he did particularise to her the secret motions of his passion, and omitted nothing to make her approve of so Heroick a Love. Must it be that through a diversity of Faith (said he) you should refuse to give he yours, which would render me most happy? believe me, Madmoiselle, the Orders of the Court shall never make me to act any thing to your prejudice: You shall ever be the Mistress of my Heart, and I shall sacrifice with pleasure my Fortune to my Love. Then would he change Discourse, to inform her after what manner they might Love without agreeing in their Religions; he seem’d by these Arguments to set both their Hearts in a perfect harmony, and that nothing could oppose it; he offer’d at making some agreements as to the differences of their Belief, but she for her part unwilling to venture any thing of that nature, called him a Love Casuist, she told him that he look’d on their difference in Opinions, but by the most advantageous Light, and that he spoke but by halves concerning their difficulties: Yes, Knight, I suspect you, added she, and If I distrust my self in Love, why may I not suspect you?

Mlle. de Charlieu’s battle with herself causes her to blow hot and cold upon the two men courting her, the second being a M. de St. Sauveur, a Huguenot. She is bolstered in her sense that she ought to choose the latter by her confidential maidservant:

La Grange, (so was the Maid nam’d) who knew after what manner she was to manage her Mistresses mind, had never directly oppos’d herself to her pleasure, not to affrighten her passion on the suddain, she had contented her self ’till then, to dexterously insinuate to her, without affectation, some hatred for all that was Catholick, and whether through that Motive, or for some other secret Reasons, she never ceas’d speaking well of St. Sauveur; yet perceiving that now her heart was on the point of determination, she made her so powerful a representation of the evil consequences which see did foresee, thereby to retard the course of a tenderness, which was taking a Road so contrary to her desires, that at last she did quite byass her. She said that so strong a passion could not be cur’d, but by violent Remedies; that to that effect, she was accustom her self with some Gentleman worthy of her; that that was an easie way to destroy the Ideas of a primary flame…

We subsequently learn that what looks like La Grange’s devotion to the cause, and to an extent is, is significantly encouraged by fat payments from St. Sauveur.

St. Sauveur’s courtship of Mlle. de Chanlieu is facilitated by the Knight’s absence upon his military duties. We get some “historical” background here, though of events of only a few years prior, with the Knight being called away to participate in the Siege of Luxembourg. (I think Belon has his dates wrong here, placing the Edict of Fontainebleau before the siege when it was the other way around, 1684 and 1685, respectively.)

Though Mlle. de Chanlieu does not love St. Sauveur, she has no doubt of his love for her. She is even morbidly attracted by the idea of martyring herself for her religion by marrying him; and she is weakening towards him when word is received that the Knight has been wounded, and is suffering from a dangerous fever. This causes a total revulsion in Mlle. de Chanlieu’s feelings: she can no longer pretend, to herself or others, the strength of her love for the Knight.

Peter Belon’s presentation of the struggle between romantic love and religious devotion is completely unpersuasive, too much telling and very little showing, with neither party displaying much sincerity about the latter; but in the next section of The Reviv’d Fugitive he is horribly convincing—because in St. Sauveur’s reaction to his rejection, he offers, alas, nothing that is not depressingly recognisable to this day:

    …his Resentment prevail’d above his reason, and vex’d to have been the Cully of a Woman, he resolv’d to have no considerations for a Person who had so little regard for him.
    There is nothing so dangerous as a Lover, who thinks himself play’d upon by that Person of whom he is favour’d, his Love frequently degenerates into fury, and nothing is capable to put a stop to his fatal designs. St. Sauveur resenting a wrong which he look’d on as the highest of scorn, prepossess’d on the other hand with his good Qualities, pass’d on the sudden into extravagancies, and resolv’d to revenge himself, at any rate forever. He remember’d that an Italian had frequently mention’d to him a compos’d Perfume, which might easily be inclos’d in a Packet of Letters, and which at the very first opening would attack with his suttle and corrosive parts, whatsoever offer’d it self to them.
    He was not ignorant how jealous a young Lady is of her Beauty, and that treachery seem’d to him proper for his revenge, he was resolv’d to make use of it, to punish that which he call’d the infidelity of a Demon…

Belon also offers the following piece of editorialisation…and ditto:

Without dispute, Love frequently produces a strange Metamorphoses, and if it is a fine thing in it self, he yet sometimes begets Monsters. St. Sauveur had always pass’d for a brave and good Man, incapable of an ill Action, and some little vanity which he naturally had, did not hinder but that he had acquir’d the Reputation and Esteem of gallant Men. Mean time his Passion having seiz’d his Brain, he fansied that he had right to revenge himself of an unconstancy, and his despised flame continually offering it self to his Eyes, he resolv’d in that infatuation, to satisfy himself at the cost of his Honour and Conscience…

Having sent off his little love-token, St. Sauveur departs France for Holland, leaving behind a confidential servant to gather intelligence on his plan’s success:

…he learnt by his Man’s arrival the mischief which his Perfume had caus’d, in taking away Madamoiselle of Chanlieu’s Life with her Beauty; that that Tragedy had surpris’d divers Persons, and that at the first noise of it it had hastened to join him at the Rendevous. Never was Man more deeply struck than he was at that Relation, he fell into a kind of Swound, which depriv’d him of is Senses, and at last coming to himself again, he continued making reproaches to himself that mov’d compassion; he twenty times call’d himself the Executioner of the fairest Person in the World, and passing from invectives to a giddiness, he secretly felt a sorrow which devour’d him…

Yyyyyeah… Not much “compassion” over here, I must say.

But while St. Sauveur is left to his deserved torments of conscience, Belon relieves the reader’s misapprehension. It turns out that the victim was not Mlle. de Chanlieu, but La Grange: she, still eager in her twin causes, intercepted the package and, believing it to be from the Knight, opened it herself to investigate the contents.

Returning home from the wars, St. Hubert is not slow to take advantage of Mlle. de Chanlieu’s softened feelings:

…St. Hubert, who knew what Corrective she made use of, did so well play his batteries that way, that he never shot at random; he set himself up for a Master-mender of both the Religions, and dexterously applying those softenings which Monsieur de Condom has made use of to delude the Reformed, he had perhaps led her into some of those kind of Pitfalls, if she had had less of inlightning, and of fortitude.

(Ahem. This gentleman, Jean de Monluc, later Bishop of Condom, advocated “freedom of conscience” with respect to religious faith, although reading of the fine print reveals he believed that the conscience of the Huguenots would lead them to obey the king and be reabsorbed back into the Catholic church.)

Matters then reach a crisis:

    The Edicts, and the King’s new Declarations did then cause an infinite number of innocent Persons to shed tears, and forc’d a great number to flye from a Countrey where their minds were kept under such a severe slavery. Madmoiselle of Chanlieu did so ingenuously disingage her self from those false shadows which Love us’d to lull her Conscience asleep, that she vow’d to follow the example of so many generous Fugitives, and to abandon her own Countrey…
    She openly chid her Brother on his sluggishness, and told him things grounded on so firm and Christian a Moral, that peradventure he had resolv’d not to be of the numbers of the Temporisers, if he had less permitted himself to be possess’d with his passion…

Mlle. de Chanlieu then calls upon the Knight to prove the depths and generosity of his love for her by helping her flee the country, an act that will effectively separate them forever. After several pages of angst and speechifying, he agrees: with M. de Chanlieu staying behind for the present to quickly put the family’s affairs in order, the Knight escorts Mlle. de Chanlieu and her new maid to the coast and arranges for some fishermen to row them out to a ship bound for England.

He soon has cause to regret his co-operation:

He frequently did go to the Sea-shore, as if to ask news of his Mistress; and some days being pass’d in an unparallel’d expectation of Letters; news was brought by another Packet-Boat, that the first had wracked against an Hollander, and that the storm was so high, that they had not sav’d so much as the Crew…

A friend and fellow officer advises the grief-stricken Knight to go to Holland himself, to inquire more closely into the disaster. He does so, but almost immediately receives confirmation of the worst in the sight of a gown he knows very well to be Mlle. de Chanlieu’s hanging in a merchant’s window. The shopkeeper admits that he bought it from a man who had been among those scavenging the debris from the wreck, which was tossed up on the shoreline.

Travelling around aimlessly, except in an effort to assuage his grief, the Knight ends up in the Hague—as it turns out, in the very rooms previously occupied by St. Sauveur. There he finds papers left behind that spell out the entirety of his connection with Mlle. de Chanlieu, including the plot which ended (as he believed) in her death. Depicting himself as wracked with guilt and remorse, St. Sauveur declares his intention of expiating his crime by burying himself in the wilds of South Carolina.

(We won’t debate whether the punishment fits the crime…)

The Knight then learns that several bodies were also cast up on the shore, including one of a woman found with jewels sewn into her clothing. This final confirmation sends him back to his military service: he hopes that activity, in territories with no sad associations, will help him to move on. However—

    In that conflict of Thoughts, there happen’d one very surprising, which was that he believ’d, in going to make his Campaign the Ghost of that illustrious Person would reproach his Conduct, and would blame him for having made War against Persons that were of her Religion.
    That consideration did stay him in the Province of Dauphine; besides he being not over much prepossest with the Opinions of the Catholicks, he found that they acted with too much rigour against innocent Persons, which were charg’d with imaginary Crimes…

The Knight’s lingering ill-health is made an excuse for him to request leave. He ends up in Marseilles, where he haunts the docks and the shore—and where he presently gets a surprise:

…the pleasure which the Knight took to be on Ship-board, having obliged the Governour to invite him one day to Dinner on one of the largest that was in the Harbour; he was interrupted by an Officer, who gave him notice, that one of the Visitors had found some Protestant Subjects on a Dutch Vessel, which the storm had forc’d in…

Sure enough:

But how great was St. Hubert’s surprise at their coming! he thought he saw amongst them Madmoiselle of Chanlieu; and taking for a fantasm, what doubtless was a real Body, he fancied himself to be in an Inchanted Island, or that at least this adventure was nothing but a Dream…

The “reviv’d lovers” are left alone by the tactful governor, and we hear Mlle. de Chanlieu’s story: that it was her maid, not herself, who was drowned; that she was wearing her, Mlle. de Chanlieu’s, own dress with the jewels sewn into it, to keep them from the rapacity of the fishermen who transported them. (This woman sure does churn through maids!) Furthermore, her life was saved by a passenger on the Dutch ship with which her own collided, who turned out to be – surprise! – St. Sauveur on his way to America. He subsequently died, having confessed his plot to her.

This is all very well, but as the Knight’s friend, the governor, points out, the reviv’d Mlle. de Chanlieu is still a Huguenot fugitive, and strictly he is obliged to take her prisoner and report his having done so at court. He leaves the two of them alone again, and voila!—

    According to all appearance there was but little remedy to be found to wholly free themselves from troubles, and had she not resolv’d to dispute of Religion with him, at that time he intended to speak of nothing but Love, peradventure that she had never seen an end to her miseries.
    She was perfectly instructed in the Roman, as well as in her own, and the Knight, being accustomed to hear her frequently decide divers Controversial points, he began to receive that which proceeded from her delicate mouth as Oracles, and at last was of Opinion, that in spight of his Director he might enter into a particular examination of his Belief. The hard usage against the poor Protestants had already given him some Ideas of their Innocence, and of the Injustice of their Cause, he a-new consulted his own Conscience, and pierc’d by those Instructions that were given him, he believ’d that without allowance to his Love, he ought to be of the Religion of that Person whom he so tenderly lov’d…

The two are secretly married as quickly as it can be arranged and, after much necessary manoeuvring (involving, among other things, the Knight’s desertion of his military duties), make it safely out of the country—

…they pass’d through the Milanese, and took the great Road into Germany, and from thence the Road to London, where one may remain as incognito as in Paris.

 

14/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 3)


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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the hours pass, and he does not return…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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