Posts tagged ‘fiction’

13/03/2020

A late entry

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

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

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

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

 

25/02/2020

Reginald du Bray: An Historic(k) Tale


 
“I could never have forgiven myself for having lifted my hand against the object of your favour: nor could I, beauteous lady, suffer any one to carry away the prize of honour, without striving to contest it with him in the presence of her, whose smiles are praise, and whose applause is glory.” He feared to have said too much, and Matilda was unwilling to understand him. “There is now,” replied she, “a stronger motive than ever, to press you to return with me to my father’s castle: he is accounted no bad judge of knightly merit, and I have heard him praise the powers of the unknown knight.” — “Oh, lady,” rejoined Edmund, “it is impossible. I cannot, I must not accept thy invitation; and powerful must be my reasons, when I would risque every other hazard but the loss of my honour, to see the daughter of Reginald du Bray…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Reginald du Bray made its way to the top of my ‘Gothic timeline’ list, I spent a little time researching its origins. Various sources, including the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) database, asserted that this shortish work began life as volume two of a three-volume novel from 1776, The Rival Friends; or, The Noble Recluse, and was subsequently reissued as a standalone work.

I was sceptical about this at the time, not least because I could find so much more evidence of the existence of Reginald du Bray, in its own right, than I could that of The Rival Friends. But persistence finally paid off: I dug out a couple of other reviews of the original novel, including one from The Monthly Review (reproduced in the Scots Magazine) which makes it clear that Reginald du Bray was indeed a case of the interpolated narrative run mad:
 

 
The other curious thing here is that I can find no reference anywhere to the author of The Rival Friends. The novel itself seems not to have survived, so this time there is no title-page to help me out. It is not until Reginald du Bray: An Historick Tale appears in its own right, during 1779, that we learn of its creator, “A late lord, greatly admired in the literary world.” The implication, clearly, is that after the death of the author, someone else took the step of having Reginald du Bray excised and reprinted. By the time of the second edition (published in England rather than Ireland), the title had become Reginald du Bray: An Historic Tale, and the attribution had been reduced to “A late nobleman”, but no further information about the work’s origins was (or has been) forthcoming.

Having read this short work, we might be inclined to wonder why anyone (author’s friend or publisher) went to the trouble. This snippy summation of Reginald du Bray from The Critical Review proved, alas, all too accurate:
 

 
In fact, I knew I was in trouble with this one from its very first sentence, where instead of just saying “Henry the Third”, it describes him as:

…Henry, the Third of that name, Sovereign over the British Isles…

…and indeed, Reginald du Bray turns out to be a fervent follower of the dictum that you should never use one word where ten will do. It also reuses certain words and phrases to a degree that becomes both funny and tiresome; being particularly addicted to references to the “souls” of its good characters, for example—

His followers were enriched with spoil, and returned laden with the plunder of the enemies of their faith. The soul of Reginald coveted nought but glory.

—this in addition to refusing ever just to use a possessive apostrophe—so always “the soul of Reginald” rather than “Reginald’s soul”.

Meanwhile, there is apparently nothing worse you can call someone than “caitiff”; nor is there any reason to vary your term of abuse.

As these two brief quotes indicate, Reginald du Bray is set during the early 13th century, with the Ninth Crusade and the ascension of Edward I as its back-drop. For a time it seems as if we’re going to get some actual history here, but it turns out that the early part of the novel detailing Reginald’s doings in the Holy Land exists chiefly to introduce the young man who will subsequently become the story’s real hero.

Reginald’s own story is rather clunkily constructed, but we eventually gather that this model nobleman was nearly crushed by the deaths of his only son and his wife, but pulled back from the brink of dying of grief by the ministrations of his daughter, Matilda, and the exhortations of his priest, Father Anselm. (There are various ominous allusions here to Reginald’s possessions and the guardianship of Matilda falling into the hands of his wicked brother which oddly lead to nothing.) Reginald is brought to a state of submission to the will of God, and finally decides to cheer himself up by signing up for a crusade and slaughtering some Muslims.

After four years of this, Reginald is given permission to return to England to nurse his wounds and his shattered constitution. He is accompanied by his retainers—well, by some of them…

…he and his faithful followers, the few that survived the many encounters to which their lord had led them…

Once Reginald is back in England, Reginald du Bray loses interest in history, and becomes merely (in the words of The Monthly Review) “an imitation of ancient romance”; though I dispute their descriptor “tolerable”.

Though we’ve been led to expect Reginald’s brother to emerge as the story’s villain, instead the main plot concerns the machinations of Reginald’s nearest neighbour, “Ardulph, son of Simon de Fitzwalter”, whose constant state of ridiculously exaggerated passion is the source of some sorely needed if inadvertent humour. Reginald and Simon are, or were, old enemies—

He was proud, vindictive, and violent; and this urged him to join the discontented barons, and take up arms against his sovereign. Oft he had tried to seduce Reginald, whose castle was within a small distance of his, from his loyalty; but his fidelity was not to be shaken; and when he joined the standard of his king, he thrice took Simon prisoner, and twice did his heavy ransom contribute to the coffers of Reginald…

When Simon dies, he bequeaths his hatred of the du Brays to his son, Ardulph, who is even more proud, vindictive and violent than his father, but better able to hide it.

Even as he plots for a way to revenge himself upon Reginald, Ardulph hears about “the matchless charms” of Matilda. Disguising himself, he mingles with the crowd of supplicants drawn by Matilda’s regular charity:

An artful tale of distress melted the compassionate heart of Matilda, and she relieved the wants of the pretended mendicant, with unfeigned generosity. His eyes drank large draughts of love from the inexhaustible fountain of her beauty, and he saw, with grief, the time allowed for his stay expired. He hastened homewards in an agony of despair and affliction: his passions were all up in arms, and he determined to possess Matilda or die…

(Yeah, yeah: you could make a drinking-game out of all the times Ardulph threatens to do such-and-such or die…)

Ardulph quickly sees a way of killing two birds with one stone: of destroying Reginald through his daughter. To this end, he sues for peace under a guise of assumed meekness and regret, and becomes a frequent visitor at the castle of the du Brays.

Ardulph has his attractions, but unfortunately for him Matilda’s heart the heart of Matilda is already guarded by a vision of her ideal. Upon Reginald’s return, celebratory feasts are held; and the former crusader is led to speak of his experiences—in particular, when his life was saved by the intervention of a certain young knight:

“When his helmet was struck off in the fight, I saw, with amazement, the face of a youth scarce arrived at manhood: his eyes sparkled with such fire and vivacity, that it was impossible for his foes to endure the fury of his looks; his features were rather beautiful than handsome; and his face bespoke the emotions of his soul, that burned with the desire of glory, and the hope of atchieving a name in arms against the foes of our holy faith. His auburn hair shaded his forehead, and falling in curls over his neck, added a manly grace to his countenance…”

Reginald goes on to describe how the young man avoided his praise and any general recognition, even to the point of keeping his identity a secret:

The soul of Matilda hung upon the words of her father. She longed to thank the hero that rescued him from death: her heart burnt with gratitude, and the lively description of the charms of the young warrior sunk deep in her remembrance…

And since Matilda is a well brought up young lady of the 13th century, that is, her existence is stiflingly narrow and deadly dull, daydreams of the young knight become her solace as she goes about her duties.

Ardulph, meanwhile, though occasionally toying with the thought of honourable marriage as his passion for Matlida grows, finally determines to seek an opportunity to abduct her. This is granted when, in a false state of security engendered by her father’s return, Matilda begins straying further from the castle, wandering in the grounds of Reginald’s estate with only her “damsels” for company and protection.

On one of these excursions, Matilda has an encounter:

The sight of two peasants who rose from the ground at her approach, stopped her. She drew near them. Struck with her appearance, they bent their knees to the ground in humble adoration. So respectful a posture gave her no apprehensions, and she went up to them: they were young, and one of them was particularly handsome…

This pleasant interlude is succeeded by one distinctly unpleasant, as Matilda finds herself confronted by a small band of armed men, one of whom tells her outright that, voluntarily or by force, she must come with them. He has just laid hands upon Matilda when succour arrives—

Matilda scarce believed she was free, so sudden was the change. She turned to behold her deliverer: it was the young peasant. She was dumb with pleasure and astonishment. His eyes had no longer that softness with which they had adored her but just before: they sparkled wild with rage and indignation, and withered the arm that was upraised to strike him. His features were no longer composed in the smiles of peace; fury and revenge were visible in his countenance…

A bloody tussle ensues—

He turned, and saw the danger.— “Base slave, the life I disdained to take before, is now forfeited by thy villainy.” He spoke: his sword, quick as the flash of angry heaven, followed his words. The cloven head of the coward fell asunder, and he dropped lifeless on the earth…

—much to the annoyance of the leader of the abductors, who feels particularly aggrieved at being interfered with by a couple of peasants:

    “Villain,” said he who arrived first, “what brought thee here? or why hast thou opposed these men?”
    “Because,” replied the young peasant, to whom this speech was addressed, “they insulted helpless innocence, and violated the retirement of beauty.”
    “I see,” rejoined the horseman, “thy base arm has accomplished the death of one of them; thy life shall be the forfeit.”
    “I will not avoid the combat,” said the peasant; “let me be armed as thou art, or alight from thy horse, and, if thy valour prevail, let my life atone for his; for be assured I will not shun thy arm.”
    “The advantage fortune has given me over thee I will use to the best of my power,” replied the horseman, drawing his sword, and clapping spurs to his steed at the same instant…

The peasant’s response is both prompt and amusingly prosaic: jumping aside, he whacks the horse across its nose with the flat of his sword, which causes it to buck and run. The other villains take their cue and run away too, leaving Matilda and the peasant to make lengthy speeches (and goo-goo eyes) at one another.

The Suspiciously Superior Peasant is one of the earliest established and most persistent tropes of the sentimental and Gothic novels, varying only in whether a gentleman’s son or occasionally daughter was somehow lost or the victim of a plot, or (more rarely) whether an individual chose to disguise themselves.

This instance of it, however, is particularly stupid, and undermines any claim by Reginald du Bray to being historical fiction rather than a late-18th century sentimental novel in disguise.

In this case the peasant is of course Reginald’s veray parfit gentil knight, masquerading for no reason that makes any sense in the 13th century, i.e. so as not to “presume” upon his saving of Reginald’s life and his rescue of Matilda, and in the hope of making Matilda fall in love with him “for himself”. This absurd imposition of values some five hundred years out of their appropriate time period actually ends up causing Matilda no end of grief, as she is led into what amounts to misbehaviour, with the consequent damaging of her reputation.

The masquerade also gives Ardulph a chance to plant a mole in the household of the man he comes to recognise as his romantic rival, with the result that the person we eventually learn is really Lord Edmund de Clifford is led into a trap that lands him in Ardulph’s dungeons. So, well done, Edmund!

But all this is to anticipate.

The “peasants” slip away in spite of Matilda’s plea that they will allow Reginald to reward them; while the surviving abductors have to face Ardulph, who reacts to their failure in his usual calm and reasonable way:

“Cowards! slaves! base cowards! ye shall feel the weight of my heavy indignation,” replied Ardulph, foaming with rage: “what, two boys! two peasant boys! shame and disgrace attend thee: me too you have involved in ruin: I shall never be admitted to the sight of the peerless Matilda again. The slave who fell, so deservedly fell, will betray me by his garb; it will be known that he belonged to me, and I shall be driven from the presence of the beauteous maid for ever; if I am, thou diest.”

However, Edric, Ardulph’s main man, assures his lord that they removed the body, so there is no evidence of who was behind the attempted abduction.

Around this time, Edward ascends to the throne of England. Across the land, tournaments are held to mark the occasion, with Reginald arranging a particularly splendid event. Ardulph proves himself the supreme knight present, defeating all comers and emerging triumphant over the first two days of the tournament—during which he wears Matilda’s colours without bothering to ask her permission. While this makes everyone else assume a betrothal in the making, Matilda cannot like Ardulph even in his pretended humility, and resents his presumption.

Her secret wishes are fulfilled just as Ardulph is about to announced as the tournament’s champion: he receives a challenge from someone calling himself “the Unknown Knight”, who kicks his butt in the field and then relieves him of Matilda’s colours.

The Unknown Knight is acclaimed by the crowd, and invited by Reginald to become a guest at his castle; which offer is, however, declined—at some length:

“Permit me, noble Reginald,” replied the stranger, “to avoid thy courtesy: reasons of high import, prevent my making myself known to you, and require concealment. My thanks are due to you, for your hospitable invitation; but as I came here unknown, relying on the faith of knighthood, so I hope to depart.” — “Ill would it become me,” replied the baron, “to force you with ungentlemanly discourtesy, to discover yourself, when you wish concealment; I have only to lament that I have not the happiness of being known to so accomplished a knight, or want worth to merit his confidence.” — “No, generous Reginald,” said the stranger, “no; it is from no such cause I desire to be unknown: accuse not yourself of want of worth, nor me with want of discernment to acknowledge it: be assured on the faith of a true knight, I will soon discover myself to you, but it must be in a more private manner.”

(After all this mysterious persiflage, the stupid reasons for Edmund’s concealment are even more exasperating.)

Ardulph takes a moment here to send Edric to follow the Unknown Knight, before revealing that in addition to all his other sterling qualities, he’s a really sore loser:

“You see me, Reginald,” said the furious Ardulph; “you see me covered with shame, confusion, and disgrace; my arms are needless to me now. Shave me, and hide this inglorious head beneath a cowl; the only garb that becomes the recreant Ardulph. Buried is my fame; tarnished is my glory; and sunk forever my name in arms.” — “Be consoled,” said the courteous Reginald; “it was no common arm that overthrew you; the issue of the field is ever doubtful, and there is no man but what is liable to be overcome: great is the glory you have acquired; nor can it be tarnished by one misfortune.” — “It is to me,” replied Ardulph; “to be overcome, to me is death: shame will cloath me; disgrace will attend me: no more must I pretend to cope with men, or enter the lists of honour with the mighty. No, it is fitter for me inglorious, to assume a peasant’s habit and till the earth—Curse on this nerveless arm, that could not defend its master, or obey the dictates of his heart… I never can, I never shall forget this day; this cursed day, that has robbed me of my fame and my happiness. No, Reginald, thanks for thy courtesy; I will retire, and hide my head in solitude, till the memory of my shame is no more. Let the happy seek pleasure; it is mine to shun it. No day like this will ever come again; no day so replete with misery and disgrace to the wretched Ardulph.”

Edric succeeds in tracking the Unknown Knight, aka the Suspiciously Superior Peasant, aka Lord Edmund, to his secluded house. There he inveigles himself into Edmund’s favour, and wins a place in his retinue, by representing himself and his family as victims of Ardulph’s cruelty.

The story Edric tells to Edmund is, of course, a complete lie; a very complete lie; a lie delivered in excruciating detail, and ultimately running to some 12 pages: 12 pages in a “novel” running only 151 pages to start with: a rare case of the interpolated narrative run mad inside the interpolated narrative run mad.

Meanwhile, Matilda is busy convincing herself that the Suspiciously Superior Peasant and the Unknown Knight are one and the same; though it hasn’t yet occurred to her to link these figures with her father’s rescuer. She begins to venture out into the grounds again (chiefly, we are told with a straight face, because, Lord Ardulph was confined to his castle with chagrin, mortification and rage), and spends a lot of time pouring her musings into the ears of her main attendant, Martha.

During these walks, she begins to encounter the peasant, who courts her first via distant love-songs, then via speeches delivered from his knees and with a bowed head. He also confirms two of his identities; though he continues to resist Matilda’s invitations to her father’s castle. His language, however, is such that Matilda cannot go on pretending that she doesn’t understand him. She reproves him, insisting that she cannot listen to such talk without her father’s approbation.

This, bizarrely enough, provokes an Ardulph-like overreaction:

“Then despair, Edmund, despair and eternal woe must be thy portion…”

You see what I mean, don’t you? – about this being an 18th century sentimental novel in poor disguise? Edmund is so determined to create romantic difficulties for himself and Matilda where none exist that he ends nearly getting himself and Reginald killed, and all but hands Matilda over into Ardulph’s power. Yet typically, the author seems blithely unaware that his hero is being a complete (and dangerous) prat.

Edmund’s pertinacity forces Matilda to return to the castle, leaving him, motionless with grief and despair. He then continues to hang around in the grounds, despite the sensible suggestion of his esquire, Alwin (the other “peasant”), that they, you know, go home:

“Why do we remain here?” said he; “the lady is retired, and the shades of night encompass us.” — “It will be always night with Edmund: the sun of beauty is set to me, and darkness and horrors succeed…”

Good God. At least when Ardulph does it, it’s funny.

Alwin finally gets his way, and Edmund mopes at home instead of moping in the garden:

Edmund passed the night in a state of of the greatest inquietude. Many schemes did he revolve in his mind; the only design of them was to see Matilda, and implore her pardon. They were all fruitless, all abortive in the wretched lover’s imagination…

Hey, here’s an idea: I mean, call me crazy, but why don’t you INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO HER FATHER, WHOSE LIFE YOU SAVED!!!!????

Sorry. I don’t know WHAT I could have been thinking. Instead, Edmund starts making all sorts of plans for secret meetings with Matilda, calling upon Edric’s knowledge of Reginald’s castle (he has attended Ardulph there, but of course that’s not the version he gives Edmund).

Edmund starts hanging around under Matilda’s windows, which she notices—causing her to not hang around near her windows:

She concealed her confusion at the sight and avoided going near the window, or giving any signs that she encouraged the pursuit of a man who was unknown to her, and who so obstinately refused to make himself known to her father

Emphasis mine, of course.

This goes on and on as autumn passes into winter, until at last Matilda can’t stand it any more—or his behalf, or her own. Sending Martha out to tell him to go away, Matilda makes this entirely sensible protest, voicing concerns that seem not to have crossed the mind of her self-absorbed lover:

“Surely,” said Matilda, “there is no part of my behaviour, surprised as I was by the sudden interview, that could have given him any encouragement, or inspire him with the hope, that I should approve the boldness of his conduct. Oh, Martha, contrive some method of sending him from thence; there are a thousand eyes that are watchful to find a blemish in the in the unsullied reputation of innocence. Slander will represent him as thus disguised by my appointment, and calumny will stain my unspotted name…”

Martha leads Edmund away from the attending Edric (there for his geographical knowledge, though I like to think that Alwin has dug his heels in) and delivers her message. Of course Edmund goes into fits of despair—and of course, he insists on being dismissed by Matilda in person. Martha finally agrees to try and arrange a meeting, promising to put a signal candle in a certain lower window of the castle the following night, should she succeed.

The signal duly appears; and so fixated is Edmund upon the upcoming meeting, he lets Edric lead him into a trap.

The gloating Ardulph summons his retainers and hangers-on to witness Edmund’s humiliation—he thinks:

The company cast their regards on Edmund, who stood unmoved in the midst of danger, and, with an intrepid look, beheld his foe: indignation and and disdain were visible in his countenance; and his eyes, that hurled defiance, contemptuous defiance to Ardulph, shot flames, that blasted the hopes of his abandoned confederates. Even the haughty soul of Ardulph was humbled before him. He stood in his presence, silent and confused; and the virtuous Edmund did not then less triumph over him, than when he overthrew him on the plain, and tore from him the badge of his ostentatious love for Matilda.

That went well.

Edmund almost goads Ardulph into one-to-one combat, but Edric intervenes. He advises Ardulph to invite Reginald to his castle and to ask him for Matilda’s hand. She, no doubt humiliated by Edmund’s no-show, might be willing; if not, both she and Reginald can be taken by force, with Edmund around to witness the consequences. Ardulph likes this plan, and has Edmund thrown into his dungeon.

This is really the only Gothicky touch in Reginald du Bray, and even here the author is less interested in the horrors of Edmund’s surroundings than in finding further opportunities for people to make speeches.

Edric has read Matilda’s mood correctly: she excoriates herself for agreeing to the secret meeting, assuming that Edmund – despite having begged for the meeting in the first place – is so disgusted with her “lightness” that he has lost all interest in her. (This too is a common and infuriating 18th century touch.)

Reginald, meanwhile, accepts Ardulph’s invitation and arrives at his castle only lightly attended. Things start pleasantly enough but soon go off the rails when Ardulph sues for Matilda’s hand. Reginald is willing enough on his own account, but insists upon Matilda’s consent being asked. Ardulph’s instant gloom raises Reginald’s suspicion; ironically enough, he reproves Ardulph for (as he supposes) already having tried to gain Matilda’s affections behind his, Reginald’s, back: how else could he be so sure of her feelings?—

“I will not answer your reproach,” rejoined Ardulph, “in the manner it deserves; but will avow that I never attempted to gain her affections in any other manner than I could always justify; yet well I know that she has received the addresses of others, and can be kind to some inferior in quality to me, and unworthy her.” — “Ill it befits thee, lord Ardulph, to stain the good fame of my daughter with thy ungenerous imputations; I tell thee, that the mother that bore thee was not more virtuous than my child.” — “It suiteth not the deportment of a virtuous maiden to have midnight-meetings with a man whom she knoweth not, but as he weareth the appearance of a man; such a conduct bespeaketh not a chaste or virtuous mind.” — “‘Tis false,” replied Reginald, whose honour was stung to the quick by the aspersions thrown on his daughter; “’tis false as hell, and the revenge unmanly thou takest for the slight my daughter has shewn thee.” — “I will prove it,” said Ardulph, “nay, prove that she sent for her paramour to meet her.”

And guess what? ARDULPH IS THE ONE IN THE RIGHT HERE, thank you so very bloody much, Lord Edmund “I love creating difficulties and embarrassments” de Clifford.

Yeesh.

Anyway— Reginald is provoked into calling Ardulph a liar to his face. He reacts with his usual level-headedness and sense of proportion, and not only drops any pretence of friendship to Reginald, but reveals it was always pretence, a mask assumed to assist his revenge in his father’s name. He waves away Reginald’s insistence that he stand upon his honour with regard to his own safety as his guest, under the laws of hospitality, and takes Reginald prisoner—telling him that the price of his freedom will be Matilda.

Messengers are sent to give Matilda a slightly skewed version of these events, prompting her to set out to her father’s succour. One of the messengers, primed by Edric, tells Matilda that Edmund has joined forces with Ardulph, and that he is responsible for Reginald’s duress. The sensible Martha rubbishes this idea, but Matilda frets herself into a stew over it.

Meanwhile, Ardulph is finding out that imprisoning Reginald is more difficult than he expected: the old knight and his chief attendant, William, manage to hold off Ardulph’s men on their own (their strength being the strength of ten, etc.), while Ardulph himself stands back and gives a pretty good impression of Melville Cooper’s Sheriff of Nottingham:

…the arm that went to seize him lost its power; for the sword of the warrior severed it from his body. His companions beheld the sight with dismay, and retreated: at a distance they eyed their prey, and feared to meet the fate of their comrade. “Slaves,” said Ardulph, “are you awed by a withered arm? But that I scorn so poor a conquest, I would shew you how little you had to dread.”

Things hang in the balance when an unexpected player tips the scale. Ardulph’s current mistress, Alicia, has heard with dismay his plans regarding Matilda, fearing that in spite of his declared purpose of destroying her, Ardulph will end up falling for her instead. While the stand-off in the hall proceeds, Alicia therefore slips down into the dungeons and releases Edmund. He hurries to the rescue, collecting along the way more of Reginald’s men, who had been kept from him.

As it happens, Edmund on his way in meets Edric on his way out:

He would have fled, but surprise and fear tied his feet. He aimed a blow at him with a trembling random hand. Edmund caught his arm ere it fell; “Die, slave, traiterous, miserable caitiff, die.” He spoke, and snatching Edric’s sword from his nerveless hand, he plunged his own into his breast…

Edmund then confronts Ardulph:

Grief and rage had blanched the roses in his cheeks! his hair stood wild, and matted! part fell, and shading his eyes, seemed to hide the vengeance which they threatened, too dreadful to behold! In his left hand gleamed Edric’s sword: his right brandished his faulchion, yet dropping with the traitor’s blood…

(This seems a tad excessive for twelve hours’ imprisonment, but anyhoo…)

Since I’ve already invoked The Adventures Of Robin Hood, I’ll invoke it again—with Edmund and Ardulph sword-fighting and speechifying all over the hall, until the inevitable happens; putting an end to the sword-fighting, if not the speechifying; though it is Alicia who gets to deliver the eulogy:

“Thou hast slain the noble Ardulph then,” replied the dame; “curse on these hands that released thee from thy captivity, and may the arm wither that was raised against the life of Ardulph. Ho, help! the wretch has slain the lord Ardulph. My screams shall rouse their coward souls to be revenged of thee. Mayest thou find Matilda as averse to thee as she was to Ardulph, and hate thee as much as I do.”

Edmund doesn’t stay to bandy words, but rushes out of the castle to head off Matilda and her retinue. Reginald, however, overhears Alicia’s parting shot and becomes convinced that what Ardulph told him about Matilda was true. He too sets out to find Matilda, but not in a good way…

Matilda herself is soon confronted by Edmund, but not the Edmund she’s used to:

…she beheld him bloody: a sword in his hand, yet stained with slaughter: his looks wild and ghastly. It was too much! it was insupportable! Every distressing, every horrid idea crowded into her find at once. She could only pronounce, “Oh, Edmund, oh, my father,” and fell into a deadly swoon…

Consequently, when Reginald arrives he finds, as he imagines, his daughter lying in her lover’s arms—and never mind that she is barely conscious, that the two of them are in the middle of the road in the middle of the day, and that they’re surrounded by Matilda’s ladies-in-waiting and her priest!—

“Degenerate girl, (said he, seeing them still in the same posture, while Edmund’s back was turned to him.) Is it in the hour of thy father’s danger, that thou comest to meet and indulge thyself with thy paramour? Is it thus, that the daughter of Reginald demeans herself? And is it thus, that the fame of Matilda is to become the talk of common mouths? I had flattered myself with the hopes that thou wouldst not have brought disgrace on thy father’s grey hairs, and have bestowed thy affections on thou knowest not whom: and he, whosoever he be, must be base and unworthy, to have thus attempted to stain the honour of an untainted house; and seek to rob me of the treasure of my declining years: but, old as I am, I will take care of my honour, and that of my family.”

Thankfully, Edmund finally stems this outpouring by showing his face

“Lord Reginald,” said he, “you wrong me; the soul of Edmund is incapable of doing such base acts: ’tis true I love your daughter; I—!” — “Gracious heaven!” cried Reginald, throwing himself off his horse, and embracing the youth: “This, this is he, Matilda; this is he of whom you have heard me speak: this is the gallant knight who rescued thy father from the hands of the infidels. Matilda, embrace the deliverer of thy father…”

Oh. Okay. If you insist. And if isn’t too degenerate.

Yeesh!

Edmund’s explanation of his behaviour comes on the second-last page of Reginald du Bray, at which point the reader is made painfully aware that none of this needed to happen. Be that as it may, neither Reginald nor Matilda seems to find anything untoward in his conduct; or perhaps the former, at least, is distracted from the real issue by the revelation of Edmund’s surname. This is how this it all ends—

—noting that Edmund receives permission to marry Matilda the moment he reveals his name

“De Clifford!” exclaimed Reginald: “he is my old, my approved, my honoured friend. Yes, Edmund, I will now discharge the debt of gratitude, that I have so long owed thee: and will not Matilda help me to pay it?” The lovely maid blushed as her father spoke, and on his repeating the question, replied—

Really. That’s it.

This abrupt conclusion functions to remind us that it was not originally the end of a novel at all, but merely the end of a volume. The Rival Friends; or, The Noble Recluse is, as I have said, a lost work; so I guess we’ll never know whether the story of Reginald, Matilda and Edmund carried on into Volume III, or whether Volume III opened with someone complaining, “This is stupid, don’t you know any other stories…?”

 

20/02/2020

Hey, *I* have a list too, you know!

Wow.

I don’t know what could have gotten into The Fortune Press of London, but it turns out that, far from offering any sort of “Gothic bibliography”, they basically just published Montague Summers’ research notes.

And in a 620-page-long limited edition, at that.

In 1938, Summers published The Gothic Quest: A History Of The Gothic Novel, which is a more focused if typically idiosyncratic study of the by-then forgotten genre. A Gothic Bibliography, I would guess, represents a list of the works he accessed in preparation for writing that book. Rather than a coherent attempt to trace the roots of the Gothic novel, it is a completely random hodge-podge of books and authors.

In other words—exactly the same kind of book-list that I have, only of course mine is electronic, while Montague did his by hand. And no-one’s paying to read mine.

*sniff*

This is not to say that A Gothic Bibliography isn’t valuable, but it certainly isn’t what’s on the label. The book makes no attempt to confine itself to compiling a list of Gothic and proto-Gothic novels, but includes fiction of all sorts. It also extends well into the 19th century – embracing both Mary Elizabeth Braddon and E.D.E.N. Southworth, and both George Reynolds and Thomas Prest – and includes a vast number of works by French authors.

(While I have no intention of going down THAT road, these inclusions underscore the argument made by James Foster’s The History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England about the often-unacknowledged influence of French literature on the evolution of the English novel.)

In terms of the Gothic novel, the value of Summers’ study was rather of the negative kind—confirming that I haven’t missed much on the way through.

This suggests that Sophia Lee’s 1783 novel, The Recess, is even more important than I had previously realised. There is, so to speak, a gathering of forces beyond that point; though the critical year remains 1789. That was when Ann Radcliffe published her first novel, The Castles Of Athlin And Dunbaynenot a Gothic novel, but one of the many historical dramas that paved the way for the genre. Several other works from the same year indicate (at least by title) that matters were reaching critical mass—a point emphasised by the fact that some authors were already feeling the need to label their novels “domestic” or “taken from real life”, to distinguish them. Then, in 1790, Radcliffe published The Mysteries Of Udolpho, and the gloves were off once and for all.

But to return to the first stirrings of the Gothic impulse—

So far in this respect, I have considered the following (though – gasp! – not in order):

The Adventures Of Miss Sophia Berkley by “a young lady” (1760)
Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury by Thomas Leland (1762)
The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
Barford Abbey by Margaret Minifie (1768)
The History Of Lady Barton by Elizabeth Griffin (1771)
The Hermitage by William Hutchinson (1772)
Sir Bertrand, A Fragment – in Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose by John Aikin and Anna Laetitia Aikin Barbauld (1773)
The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve (1777)
Julia de Roubigné by Henry Mackenzie (1777)
Reginald du Bray by “a late nobleman” (1779)

All of these were brought to my attention by one researcher or another—though not all of them by any one source. Despite his wanderings, Montague Summers does not list Sophia Berkley or Julia de Roubigné, or either Miscellaneous Pieces or Sir Bertrand; and he has the date wrong for The Hermitage. None of these is a true Gothic novel, not even Otranto, but all of them (with greater or lesser degrees of tentativeness) exhibit touches that would later be considered hallmarks of the genre.

Browsing through A Gothic Bibliography, and using 1789 as a cut-off date – and trying not to get carried away – I have noted the following as possibly worthy of investigation:

Anecdotes Of A Convent by Helen Maria Williams (1771)
The Spectre by Charles Andrews (1779) (a play?)
The Convent; or, The History Of Sophia Nelson by Anne Fuller (1786)
St. Bernard’s Priory, An Old English Tale by Mrs Harley (1786)
Olivia; or, The Deserted Bride by Elizabeth Bonhote (1787)
The Solitary Castle, A Romance by Mr Nicholson (1789)

Meanwhile—I have also added the following to The List; not from the Gothic point of view, but from the perspective noted:

– the works of Alexander Bicknell, who in the 1770s seems to have had a serious run at the historical novel proper, something generally considered not to have happened until the early 19th century
– the works of Charlotte Smith who, heaven help me, I’d very much like to include in Authors In Depth
The Widow Of The Wood by Benjamin Victor (1755), which seems very early for a possible sentimental / rhapsodies of nature novel
Female Stability; or, The History Of Miss Belville by Charlotte Palmer (1780), already brought to my attention by Pamela’s Daughters (which we likewise have to thank for Munster Abbey)
The Cottage Of Friendship by Sylviana Pastorella (1788), because someone actually had the nerve to adopt the pseudonym “Sylviana Pastorella” (and got published under it!)
Audley Fortescue; or, The Victim Of Frailty by John Robinson (1795), the author of the bizarre Sydney St. Aubyn; Summers quotes a critic on Robinson: “Remarkable for the murderous catastrophe of his pieces.”
Memoirs Of A Magdalen; or, The History Of Louisa Mildmay by Hugh Kelly (1767), the first “respectable” prostitute bio??
Memoirs Of An Hermaphrodite by Pierre de Vergy (1772), because “MEMOIRS OF AN HERMAPHRODITE”!!??

And meanwhile meanwhile…

…this browse reminded me of something else that happened in 1789:

The first American novel, The Power Of Sympathy, was published…which of course really should be the first work considered in a new blog-section…

…right alongside my consideration of the beginnings of the Australian novel…

Sigh…

 

18/02/2020

Get a little carried away, did we, Montague?

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

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

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

So! – onwards in my Gothic timeline.

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

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

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

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

A quick browse, did I say?—
 

 

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

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

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

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

 

08/02/2020

Ralph The Bailiff, And Other Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

So—

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

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

Then other things happened.

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

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

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

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

All that said—
 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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ETA:

Crap.

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

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

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

31/01/2020

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels (Part 2)


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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeez, Johann. Old and cranky much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenardo ponders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m learning to hate you, Johann.

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

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

No, really.

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

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

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

 

30/01/2020

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels (Part 1)


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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[To be continued…]

04/01/2020

Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue

 

Leandro could not reflect upon such a heap of misfortunes, without the cruellest grief in the World; however being of too brisk a Spirit to stoop to a sorrow, unbecoming the greatness of his courage, he at last endeavoured to evince the memory of his Miseries, by an assurance that Heaven would not utterly refuse him their protection from all those difficulties he must overcome, since ’twas for the sake of a Religion, he was absolutely satisfied was the truest in the World, that he was thus brought to this abyss of misery…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So. Chronobibliography.

Aren’t you astonished?

Back when I originally conceived this blog, I had the year 1692 pegged as “the beginning of the true English novel”, for reasons I will get to when the time is right. While I still think that, subsequent research has led me to tag 1690 as another landmark year, even though the developments in fiction that were taking place then were almost swamped by the resurgence of political writing that greeted James’ attempts to regain his throne—some of which I have looked at in detail (here, here and here), while others have been dealt with just in passing (here, here and here).

Nevertheless, it was during 1690 that a new tendency in publishing began to make itself felt: that of declaring a work of fiction to be, in no uncertain terms, “a novel”.

We have – believe it or not – covered some thirty years of English writing over the existence of this blog; and one of, if not the, most significant developments that occurred across those three decades was a shift away from a need to pretend everything was “a true story”—to the point where it was not only acceptable, but desirable, to admit that you were writing fiction. In fact – as the title-page above illustrates perfectly – you not only admitted it, you said so in a font bigger than that used for your title.

(The true-story impulse would reappear during the 18th century; but that’s story for a much later time.)

And while it was no doubt the printers and booksellers who were controlling the layout of publications, something else of significance occurred during 1690: it was then that an author revealing his or her name on the title-page became a common, if not ubiquitous, practice.

And as we see, the author of Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue went a little further, revealing also his university affiliation.

I haven’t been able to turn up anything about “J. Smythies”, though it seems I should have been: this, from the British Library’s acquisition catalogue, is the best I’ve been able to do:
 

 
The irritating thing is, I haven’t been able to find the referenced entry in the Alumni Cantabrigienses (to which I’ve turned before, successfully, in hunting up obscure authors); though I’m assuming that’s where the British Library people got “James” from.

The other point of note here is that this is yet another BL holding from the collection of Narcissus Luttrell, the 17th century bibliophile to whom we owe the survival of an incredible amount of rare material. (Also helpful is his habit of annotating his romans à clef, as we saw with The Perplex’d Prince.)

Alas—would that what was behind the title-page of Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue was half so interesting as all this. I was frankly disappointed in this short work, which over its opening pages seems to be toying with a new form of novel, but then chucks it away in favour of the same old picaresque / amatory stuff we’ve been encountering for years, albeit scaled down in both respects.

This is a very strange piece of writing. In essence it’s a low-key rogue’s biography, with its protagonist parlaying his physical perfections into a comfortable living; yet it opens with an apparently grave consideration of the persecution of the Huguenots under Louis XVI. It is hard to imagine that we’re supposed to take this work seriously overall; yet the tone is often sober, and what the hell is up with that opening? Conversely, if we are meant to take it seriously—what the hell is up with all the rest?

By which we may deduce that, in spite of the whole “a novel” thing, writers of the time hadn’t quite gotten the hang of things.

And in fact, I think I need to apologise for the unnecessary length of this piece. This is one of those works where, when you read it, you realise it’s bad; but then, when you re-read closely for reviewing purposes, you realise it’s REALLY bad (and quote accordingly). We’ve had some prat-heroes before at this blog, but Leandro might just take the cake.

Leandro opens in the wake of the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the provisions of the Edict of Nantes, instituted by Henri IV in 1598. This granted broad civil rights including the right of the Huguenots (French Protestants) to practise their religion free from persecution. The edict offended Louis XVI, who (among other things) set in motion various “unofficial” methods of persecution, intended to bully or frighten the Huguenots into converting. Then, with the Edict of Fontainebleau, he stripped the gloves off, forcing his Protestant subjects either to convert or flee.

Obviously there was a political purpose in the use of this material; but Leandro is unusual in the way it employs real recent events in a fictional context, in what we might call a recognisably modern manner.

Smythies’ main characters are two noble Huguenots, Arcanius and his son, Leandro:

Leandro was a Cavalier, of a very Noble Extraction, born in the Famous City of Orleans, and the Son of a rich Count, who deriv’d his Family from the most Illustrious House of Conde. History has so loudly proclaim’d the Bravery and Worth of this great Family, that I need no other Character to set out the Vertues and Glory of any of its Progeny, than to say they were allyed to the House of Conde; a Name which had carried so much terrour to the Roman Catholicks of France, that its most treacherous King could never think himself secure on this Throne, ’till the Blood of a most generous and devout Prince, of that Family, had been sacrificed to the revenge of a most unjust Monarch.

There were so many different Princes de Condé involved in so many different wars (and all of them called “Louis”), that this is not easy to pick apart. However, I am reasonably confident that the reference is to Louis de Condé 1530 – 1569 (as some histories actually call him, for obvious reasons!), who took a leading role in the 16th century Wars of Religion, and was executed by the future Henri III despite being wounded and attempting to surrender.

At this early point in Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue I was anticipating something genuinely interesting; but unfortunately the characters’ connection to the Condés turns out to be no more than an Informed Attribute, with the author insisting upon their possession of countless marvellous qualities that we never see for ourselves.

On the other hand, an amusingly pragmatic reason is offered for the beginning of Louis XVI’s persecution of the Huguenots:

    For the French King being now to begin a troublesome War with his Neighbours, was resolved to drain, as much as possible, the Coffers of his rich Subjects…
    Of those that thus suffered under these intolerable Taxes, the Hugonots to be sure were were the chief, and since Arcanius was one of the most wealthy, the Gallick Tyrant had the strictest Eye over him, and glad that such an opportunity serv’d so timely to satisfie his Revenge and Avarice, one Day summon’d him to his Court at Paris, and, in a private Discourse, told him, That it was expected by the greatest in his Kingdom, that he would no longer persist in a Religion, which was, he said, so absolutely condemn’d and confuted…

Arcanius tries the old Protestant minister vs Roman priest smackdown, winner-take-all, manoeuvre; but

…his Conversion not being the Mark that Lewis aim’d at, he could receive no other answer at a request so reasonable, than That it had already been so often put to the Tryal, that the World was now fully persuaded, that the Hugonots were an Heretical People, and that they ought to be proceeded against as so; adding, That he immediately expected his compliance, without which, he told him, he would no longer acknowledge him under his Protection, and consequently one who had forfeited his Faith and Trust to his Lord and Master; And so, after a little more Discourse, the crafty King dismissed our Count, whose judgment was too mature not to discern the Treachery, and himself too discreet not to avoid the Rock he saw he was ready to split upon…

And Arcanius indeed proves too slippery for Louis: he gathers up his son, as much of his possessions as can be carried, and a handful of trusty servants, and flees his estate; while other servants are left behind to give a false account of their intentions. The parties separate in order better to evade the search they know will be set in motion, all agreeing to meet in England.

Not all the servants are so fortunate, but Arcanius and Leandro manage to elude their pursuers—more through luck than judgement, and bad luck at that: they get lost in the woods.

Unfortunately, this is about the point at which Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue ceases to be engaging. The rest of this short novel is about Leandro’s efforts to re-establish himself at that level of society, and in possession of that wealth, that he is absolutely certain he deserves: his story told via exaggerated language that most of the time just feels like bad writing, but on occasions has a distinct air of tongue-in-cheek. It’s genuinely hard to tell.

Anyway, both Arcanius and Leandro – and, ahem, then just Leandro – are tiresome companions, perfectly convinced of their own deservingness (is that a word?), who despite their supposed piety and repeated insistence upon their intention of bowing to the Divine Will, spend most of their time moaning and wailing and having tantrums over the reversal of their fortunes.

At least, Leandro does. The father and son and their respective manservants are set upon by bandits. One of the servants is killed, the other runs away, and Arcanius is fatally wounded. The thieves strip the two of everything they possess (literally) and depart:

At first they could only behold one another, with Countenances that would have even cut the very Hearts of the most Barbarous; and when they would have vented the torment of their Souls, a flood of tears interrupted their Speech, so that they could only look upon each other with dismayed Glances, till on a sudden Leandro perceiv’d a paleness to spread it self over the Face of his miserable Father, and was just running to his assistance, when the good Arcanius, fainting, fell backwards upon the ground in a stream of Blood, which issued from a Wound in his Head, and which before lay concealed under his Perruke…

That’s some peruke.

Though Leandro clearly isn’t much use in a crisis, he does do his best with what little has been left to him:

    …stripping himself of that single Coat, which the Thieves had left him, covering with it the Body of his Father, and, with a distracted haste, ran up and down the Forrest, making the Woods and hollow Places eccho out the dolour of his complaints.
    It was his hap at last to meet with a Traveller, who, in that spacious unfrequented and uninhabited Place, had lost his way, and who, at the repeated crys of our distressed Count, fled back, being terrified at the sight of a Man naked, and who carried the appearance of one who had wholly lost the Faculties of his Reason.

Leandro manages to convince the Traveller of both his sanity and his need, but it is already too late:

He approached, softly, the Body of Arcanius, and raising him gently from the Ground, took a full view of his Face, but a Face whose paleness too evidently declared the unfortunate Arcanius to be stone dead, and as cold as that Clay of which he was first created. My dearest father, said he,— here the multitude of sighs stopping the continuance of his Speech, and his Legs not being able to support a Body loaded with so many Griefs, he let fall the breathless Carcase of the good Count, himself sliding upon the cold Body, and only saying, O God, this is above what Leandro can bear…

So you tell me: is that just lousy writing, or are we supposed to find it funny?

And actually—one of the most striking things about Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue is its tendency to dwell without criticism upon its protagonist’s emotions, in a manner that foreshadows the exaggerated sentimental fiction of the late 18th century (where it is also hard to believe that some of the writing was meant seriously).

The Traveller – who turns out to be another fleeing Huguenot – snaps Leandro out of it and helps him perform a makeshift funeral. However, he also brings him grim word of Louis’ actions: his father’s (now his) estate has been confiscated; the servants left behind were tortured into giving up their master’s plans; the other servants were captured with their goods; and there is now a price on Leandro’s head.

The two men make their way through the woods, living off berries and evading wolves, until they eventually reach Calais. The Traveller has by then served his various purposes (one of which was hopefully lending Leandro some pants, though the narrative doesn’t say so), and so—

…our good Traveller, not being able to survive the fatigue he had suffered in his Travels, dyed…

Not to worry. Leandro immediately falls in with an English merchant, who he knows by sight and reputation; and after two full pages of hearing about how his spirit is far too lofty for him ever to beg or receive charity—

…the English-man…told Leandro, He was so well pleas’d with his appearance and behaviour, that he had very advantageous sentiments of him; and, to let him see it, presented him with an English Crown, which the young Leandro accepted with such a generous humility, as neither detracted from his illustrious Soul, nor carried the least shew of an abject submission…

Leandro then tells the merchant his story, after which he is invited to hide at his lodgings. There, the merchant consults with some friends, and they try to come up with a safe way of smuggling Leandro across the Channel. Finally, only one scheme seems feasible:

…seeing the Merchant was a Batchelour, Leandro should pass for his wife…

And having committed to this plan, they don’t stint the details:

    The Day for the Marriage comes, Leandro in Women’s Cloaths is carried to the Church in a Coach, where the Friends of the Merchant wait for her, who hindring the Croud from pressing too near, receive her and conduct her to the Altar, where a corrupted Priest performs the seeming Rites, after which they return to the lodging of the Merchant, attended by a World of Peope, who give the Bride and Bridegroom joy. Two or three Days after he commands his Ship to be in a readiness. The Seamen long to see the Lady. The Guards form themselves into two ranks, to let the new married Couple pass through to the Ship. The Merchant, that their curiosity might not be too dangerous to Leandro, scatters small pieces of Money upon the Ground, throwing some before him all the way, which the Souldiers greedily and continually stooping to take up, they passed through them with admirable facility…
    …they land safely at Dover, where the Merchant privately procured an ordinary Seaman’s habit for Leandro, and then dismiss’d him, with reciprocal Embraces and endearing Expressions on both sides, the Merchant reporting to the Seamen, that he had sent his Bride to London by the Stage-Coach.

Leandro responds to all these extraordinary efforts with his usual gratitude and resolution:

Leandro now sees himself safe from the Persecution of Lewis, but not from the Malice of Fortune. He found himself in a strange Country, known to none, and but little Money in his Pocket. True, he had Cloaths, but so poor and unbecoming so brave a Person, that he seldom look’d upon ’em, but his tears and sighs evidently declared how cruelly he bore such a vast change in his State. He had about five or six Guineas about him, which he ow’d to the Bounty of the Merchant; but still he miss’d that respect and reverence he had been us’d to in Orleance; all which reflections were as at so many Darts to his grieved Spirits…

Again, not to worry. The first person Leandro bumps into in London is his own servant, who ran away when the thieves attacked, made it to England on his own, and is in the process of being arrested on suspicion of selling stolen goods—the good in question being his (Leandro’s) clothes.

Having reclaimed his wardrobe – and dismissed his servant – Leandro takes lodgings near St. James’s; where apparently he just sits around being FABULOUS and waiting for Fortune to have a change of mood and smile on him—as, of course, She must:

Leandro was a Person of such exquisite comeliness, that it was almost impossible for a Lady to look upon him without loving him, he was something above the ordinary height of Men, his Limbs and make of his Body being exactly proportionable; his Hair, after the French fashion, being exceeding long, and curiously curl’d towards the end, was a vast addition to his other Graces; his Eyes were grey, and so piercing, that they seem’d to command at one time both love and awe from the Beholder; nor did he appear in any Company, where the Eyes of all were not continually fix’d upon him, as upon an Object that did really challenge admiration. He was naturally of a pleasing conversation, and so ingeniously winning, that his Society was desired by all the young Gallants in the English Court. He was Majestick, but not Haughty; of a Noble and Generous Spirit, without the least shew of Pride or Disdain; of a brisk and gay Countenance, and without that affectation which renders our Town Fopps so intolerably ridiculous to the true Gentry. In short, he was composed of nothing but Majesty and Sweetness, and which was so natural to him, that it attributes vast presumption to my Pen, in pretending an exact Description of what is so much above Comprehension…

There is, I must stress again, no overall suggestion that this novel is not meant to be taken seriously; yet at certain moments, such as that rider to the paragraph above, it is hard not to picture Smythies snickering to himself while writing; particularly when the immediate consequence of all these perfections is that they enable Leandro to turn to prostitution to support himself.

Oooooooooooookay, the narrative doesn’t put it quite like that; though it does provide, a priori, a rationalisation even longer than that description of Leandro:

    …he saw he must fall from the highest precipice of Honour and Gallantry, to the lowest abyss of Beggary and Misery, a thought so cruel and severe, that even cut him to the very soul, at a foresight of such base unworthiness, which he must suffer. Then did he look back upon the Grandeur he once liv’d in, when the Greatness of his Birth rendred his Company acceptable to the highest in the Kingdom, and desired by all. He remembered he was then the Son of Arcanius, and the admired Leandro: But now, poor Gentleman! he saw himself the Son of Misfortune, and the poor Leandro; Leandro that once charm’d the Eyes of all that saw him, and who was now to be the derision of the very Abjects.
    These misfortunes were so hard for the brave son of Arcanius to undergo, that he could not meditate upon them, without that insupportable Grief, that often drove him to the most desperate Resolutions, that despair and anguish could suggest to him. At last he was reduced to the utmost Drachma, and now he beheld nothing but Sorrow and Poverty just seizing on him, and which was represented to his distracted Mind in such dark and dismal colours, that bursting into a Flood of tears, Heavens, said he, with a languishing tone, what has Leandro done above other Mortals, that he is thus more persecuted than they? Since you design such misery for the unfortunate Son of Arcanius, you ought in reason either to lighten his afflictions, or give him ability equal to them: But ’tis too late, added he, and starting up seriously, my misery is already decreed, which I’ll never meet but upon the point of my Sword…

Aren’t you impressed with how this devout Protestant bows to the will of Heaven?

Anyway—it turns out that God has a rather twisted sense of humour, since in response to Leandro’s petulant demand for his “afflictions” to be “lightened”, He sends in his landlady, who first prevents his suicide, then listens patiently to “his story of his Life and Miseries”. So moved is she by this—

    …extorting an Oath from him, never to make any more attempts upon his Life, she frankly flung a small Purse of Gold into his Lap.
    Leandro, at first, was too modest to receive a Gift from one who was so much his Inferiour, denying it with very pretty evasions, till Marcia pressing earnestly upon him, he at last accepted it…

Marcia then makes a passionate declaration of her wishes:

Leandro could not hear this Discourse without a bashful confusion, having to do with a Modesty of which he was a great Master: But gratitude obliging him to to reflect upon her bounty, he soon overcame all scruples of that Nature, and finding how pliant she was, and that he might hope to keep himself in his usual splendour by her means, he quickly yielded to her. We need not batter that Fort, whose breaches are wide enough already to enter, especially when the Garrison it self is willing to surrender. She stood not long to ballance her resolutions, but silently told him, she was intirely his own, which advantage our young Count taking hold of, he soon gave her all the satisfaction she was capable of receiving…

So Leandro begins a new career as Marcia’s paid toy-boy. The two are at it like rabbits whenever they can evade her husband’s notice, until they get a little careless. Jealous by temperament anyway, he becomes suspicious and pulls the old “I’ll be away from home the entire night” manoeuvre, and, sure enough, catches them at it.

But he forgets that he’s dealing with “a gentleman”:

…[Leandro] began to struggle with Corvinius, and getting him down, presented his Sword to his Throat, vowing to dispatch him presently, if he made the least outcry…

Leandro terrifies Corvinius into promising to turn a blind eye, and then takes himself off to better accommodation—which, thanks to Marcia, he can now afford:

…being Master of about fifteen Guineas, he takes his Lodgings at another part of the Town, at a rich Gentleman’s House, who was the Father of the most celebrated Fair accounted in all London…

Because rich men with beautiful heiress daughters like nothing better than to invite good-looking but impecunious young men into their houses, right?

Smythies soon makes it clear that Leandro and Felicia are destined for one another, by insisting on her perfections in that same overpowering yet curiously disinterested manner:

To endeavour to characterize the charming Felicia, would be a talk almost as difficult as to perform impossibilities. Let it suffice then, in short, she was composed of nothing but Sweetness, Beauty, and every thing that’s required to compleat an Angel.

Of course the two of them begin to fall in love, with Leandro’s courtship taking exactly the expected form:

…the Son of Arcanius gave her the relation of his own Life, but laid not the Scene in France, neither did he yet tell her it was himself who was such a Sufferer, but told it her as from the sufferings of a Friend, waiting till she had given her sentiments upon it. Leandro told the History of his Misfortunes in an Air and Stile so well and so exactly fitted to the several parts of it, that Felicia, by her often lifting her Handkerchief to her Eyes, testified what share she took in the Misfortunes of the Son of Arcanius; but when he frankly confes’d himself to be the Person, Felicia gave him a regard both of Pity and Respect…

One wonders how largely Leandro’s previous career as a gigolo featured in his narrative.

Leandro is emboldened to move on to frank declarations, and finally draws an admission from Felicia in turn; however she tells him that in respect of her marriage, her father’s word will be law. Having gone this far in entire consciousness of his own ineligibility as a suitor, in light of his current circumstances, Leandro nevertheless chooses to take this as one more act of a malign Fate:

…he began now to look upon himself, as upon a Man whom Fortune had design’d to persecute with with the greatest Misery…

Leandro nevertheless declares himself to the father, Foscarius:

…he open’d his whole Breast to him, telling him, The greatness of his Birth and Parentage; adding, that he wanted not Friends in the Court of Paris, to solicite the French King on his behalf.

That should give Louis a good laugh.

Foscarius responds to this in a perfectly reasonable manner, telling Leandro he will consent to his marriage to Felicia when he can demonstrate that he’s capable of keeping her in the style to which she is accustomed. And Leandro responds to this response as he responds to everything:

He returns to Felicia, and with distracted look, flinging himself at the Feet of that Lady, Madam, said he, all trembling, Providence has decreed my ruine, and Foscarius has signed it. I must no longer love my Felicia; nor any more think of my self, but as one of the most miserable Abjects upon the whole Earth. O God, added he, rising up, with his Hands and Eyes erected towards Heaven, for what further Miseries have you design’d the unfortunate Son of Arcanius?

Leandro realises he can’t stay at the house any longer and prepares to depart—which he does on a horse gifted to him by Foscarius, which he accepts unhesitatingly, as he does all else. And his thoughts, as he rides away, are – after all this! – about nothing less than scraping back into favour with Louis by converting to Catholicism!—

He had not yet conquered those scruples in his Conscience, so far as to think of changing a Persuasion, so true and Orthodox, for one so erroneous and ill-grounded as that of the Romans…

But happily for Leandro – no less for the rest of us:

Fortune, who had so long taken pleasure to sport her self with this unfortunate Man, at last weel’d a-bout, and happily reversed his State, when he least expected it…

Riding along, Leandro hears shots. He at first thinks it might be a duel, but then comes across a man holding off no less than four highwaymen, his servant having already been killed. Leandro plunges into the fray. He kills one of the highwaymen, but has his second pistol struck from his hand and must rely on his sword against his second attacker. Not to worry:

…with his Sword brandish’d above his Head struck him such a deep cut in the Forehead, that, descending with an unparallel’d strength, it par’d off one side of his Face, which, with a piece of his Shoulder, fell at his Horses Feet; the Thief being so amazed at the blow, that he left his Body unguarded…

Leandro is so busy killing this highwayman, he is nearly killed by another (who is carrying a scimitar!); but the stranger saves his life in turn. The last attacker runs away, leaving Leandro and the stranger to pat each other on the back—and to look each other in the face for the first time: at which point Leandro recognises the merchant of Calais, and the merchant his erstwhile “bride”.

The two make their way to the nearest town where – as it is rather bizarrely put – “orders were taken for the dead Bodies” – and Leandro catches his friend up on what has happened to him since they parted; and oh, surprise! – not without some sorrowful complaints”. The merchant, however, is the means by which everything is to be put right for Leandro: he knows Foscarius, and persuades him to agree to the immediate marriage of Leandro and Felicia, partly by vouching for Leandro’s character (!!), but more practically by bestowing a fortune upon him. Which, of course, Leandro accepts without hesitation:

I shall conclude with telling the Reader, that the next two days put a period to the fears of our overjoy’d Lovers, and they saw themselves at Night in each others Arms, attended with a triumph as splendid as the Match was extraordinary and illustrious.

 

10/12/2019

The Captain Of The Vulture (Part 2)


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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the final, crushing blow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

10/12/2019

The Captain Of The Vulture (Part 1)


 
All Compton might think the Captain dead, but Millicent could not think so. She seemed possessed by some settled conviction that all the storms which ever rent the skies or shook the ocean would never cause the death of George Duke. She watched for his coming with a sick dread that every day might bring him. She rose in the morning with the thought that ere the early winter’s night closed in he would be seated by the hearth. She never heard a latch lifted without trembling lest his hand should be upon it, nor listened to a masculine footfall in the village High Street without dreading lest she should recognise his familiar step. Her meeting with George Duke’s shadow upon the moonlit pier at Marley had added a superstitious terror to her old dread and dislike of her husband. She thought of him now as a being possessed of unholy privileges. He might be near her, but unseen and impalpable ; he might be hiding in the shadowy corners of the dark wainscot, or crouching in the snow outside the latticed window. He might be a spy upon her inmost thoughts, and knowing her distrust and aversion, might stay away for long years, only to torment her the more by returning when she had forgotten to expect him, and had even learned to be happy…

 

 

 

I was more than a little appalled, quite some months back now, to realise I had let a year slip away between my examinations of the novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon; but while I did then make a point of reading The Captain Of The Vulture, writing about it was another matter…not least because I progressively let both the second volume of The Mysteries Of London and The Sicilian join it on the list of things read-but-not-dealt-with.

But that was not the only reason for the delay. I found The Captain Of The Vulture to be the least appealing of Braddon’s novels so far, though that is not to say that it is unentertaining; on the contrary; but it does lack some of the usual Braddon spark. It is an odd book, something of an outlier in her collected works: an historical romance, rather than a contemporary sensation novel, and one lacking any obvious identification figure. It is less packed with incident than we are accustomed to, and (mostly) without the usual daring humour.

This seems to be almost a recurring theme amongst those of Braddon’s works which were intended for a “respectable” audience—as was The Captain Of The Vulture, which was serialised in weekly numbers in The Welcome Guest between April and August, 1861, before appearing as a single-volume book in 1862. It was also published in America in 1863, under the variant title, Darrell Markham; or, The Captain Of The Vulture.

Despite this retitling and his overt “hero” role, Darrell Markham is off-stage for much of the novel; while George Duke, the titular Captain, is anything but heroic. Indeed, the novel abounds in rogues—but they are all of the cut-throat variety, rather than the perversely likeable sort that we encountered in (for example) Lady Lisle. And while we may finally choose to call Millicent Duke this novel’s heroine, this is rather because of the horrors she must endure over the course of the story than for her personal qualities.

But if The Captain Of The Vulture is lacking in certain respects, there is no shortage of mystery and crime within its pages. In particular, Braddon seems to have been experimenting with “doubling”, with her narrative studded with cases of mistaken identity, certain incidents playing out more than once, various plot-points and motifs showing up in parallel at different levels of society,  and the central plot turning upon a “double” of the most explicit kind.

The Captain Of The Vulture is set in Georgian England (in-text references to the novels of Samuel Richardson place the action about 1755), and opens in the village of Compton-on-the-Moor. Darrell Markham, once a resident of the district, arrives unexpectedly at the door of the inn, the “Black Bear”, where a flurry of conversation alerts us to several things: that the woman Darrell loves, his cousin Millicent, has jilted him and married another man; that her husband, Captain George Duke, though overtly a naval officer, is suspected of having a profitable sideline as a privateer; and that Millicent’s brother, Ringwood, though “Squire”, spends most of his time going to the devil in London.

The conversation is awkwardly interrupted by a man seeking directions to a place called Marley Water. This is also Darrell’s destination, as he has already told his companions, despite the danger of highwaymen on the intervening Compton Moor. The landlord, Samuel Pecker, gives the requested information, and the horseman rides off—leaving Pecker to shake his head over the erratic behaviour and frequent absences of Captain Duke, and Darrell to absorb the fact that he has just for the first time glimpsed Millicent’s husband.

Darrell is prevented from immediately taking his leave by the arrival on the scene of Sarah Pecker, now Samuel’s help-meet – and often torment – but once Sarah Masterson, a local widow who was housekeeper to the late squire. In this role, Sarah helped to raise the orphaned young Darrell, who is the apple of her eye. She tries frantically to dissuade him from his ride across Compton Moor, but Darrell explains gravely that he must take the York coach from Marley Water the next morning on a matter of urgent business, and goes on his way.

Barely has he departed than Sarah and Samuel find themselves confronted by—Captain George Duke, who has clearly overheard Sarah’s lament regarding Darrell and Millicent; although her embarrassment swiftly turns to anger when the Captain speaks sneeringly of Darrell as, “A good-for-nothing idling reckless ne’er do-weel.”

Meanwhile, a bewildered Samuel is taking in the fact that the Captain seems to have changed his mind about crossing Compton Moor. When the Captain insists that he has only just arrived in Compton, and was certainly not at the inn half-an-hour before, Samuel can think of only one explanation:

    “Flesh and blood doesn’t creep up to a man unawares like that!”
    Captain Duke looked very hard into the face of the speaker; looked thoughtfully, gravely, earnestly at him, with bright searching brown eyes; and then again burst out laughing louder than before. So much was he amused by the landlord’s astonished and awe-stricken face, that he laughed all the way across the low old hall—laughed as he opened the door of the oak-panelled parlour in which the genteeler visitors at the Bear were accustomed to sit—laughed as he threw himself back into the great polished oaken chair by the fire, and stretched his legs out upon the stone hearth till the heels of his boots rested against the iron dogs—laughed as he called Samuel Pecker, and could hardly order his favourite beverage, rum punch, for laughing.
    The room was empty, and it was to be observed that when the door closed upon the landlord, Captain Duke, though he still laughed, something contracted the muscles of his face, while the pleasant light died slowly out of his handsome brown eyes, and gave place to a settled gloom.
    When the punch was brought him, he drank three glasses one after another. But neither the great wood fire blazing on the wide hearth nor the steaming liquid seemed to warm him, for he shivered as he drank.
    He shivered as he drank, and presently he drew his chair still closer to the fire, planted his feet upon the two iron dogs, and sat looking darkly into the red spitting hissing blaze.
    “My incubus, my shadow, my curse!” he said. Only six words, but they expressed the hatred of a lifetime…

Captain Duke spends the rest of the evening at the Black Bear, and is still there when a bloodied and near-unconscious Darrell Markham is carried in, having been left for dead on the moor. And even as Darrell earlier first glimpsed – or thought he glimpsed – the man for whom his cousin Millicent jilted him, George Duke now first lays eyes on the man he very well knows his wife still loves…

The Captain stays only long enough to learn from the surgeon that though Darrell is gravely injured, he should live provided he is not agitated into fever, before carrying the news home to Millicent.

Millicent Duke is one of Braddon’s equivocal “heroines”, as we know from the first description of her, in which Braddon’s exasperation with the prevailing taste for fair and helplessly feminine young women wrestles with her sense of how the world was likely to treat such fragile creatures:

It is a very fair and girlish face upon which the fitful firelight trembles…with delicate features and dark blue eyes in the soft depths of which there lurks a shadow—a shadow as of tears long dried, but not forgotten… It is not easy to think of her as a married woman; there is such an air of extreme youth about her, such a girlish, almost childish timidity in her manner, that, as her husband—not too loving or tender a husband at the best of times—is apt to say, “It is as difficult to deal with Millicent as with a baby, for you never know when she may begin whimpering—like a spoilt child as she is.” There are people in Compton-on-the-Moor who remember the time when the spoilt child never whimpered, and when a gleam of spring sunshine was scarcely a brighter or more welcome thing to fall across a man’s pathway than the radiant face of Millicent Markham…

Our backstory is filled in here: how the orphaned Darrell was taken in by his uncle, Squire Markham; how he grew up as Millicent’s protector and best friend and, by insensible stages, her lover; how unwittingly he mortally offended his uncle by growing into a handsome, athletic and honourable young man, while the Squire’s only son, Ringwood, grew up “a milksop”, weak and cowardly.

Darrell’s angry intervention in Ringwood’s attempted seduction of a pretty but foolish young farmer’s daughter, which ended in a blow that neither Ringwood nor the Squire could forgive or forget – the latter all the more so because of Ringwood’s subsequent pusillanimous behaviour and telling of lies – saw Darrell banished from his childhood home. Before leaving, he promised Millicent to return and marry her, when he had made his way in the world, and received in return her promise to wait.

Not long afterwards, however, the Squire and Ringwood made the acquaintance of the dashing Captain Duke, whose rollicking humour and air of worldliness suited both Markhams so well, he became all but an inmate of the Hall, and was finally offered Millicent as a bride—her fair prettiness and her fair dowry equally suiting the Captain. Her desperate letter to Darrell going astray, eighteen-year-old Millicent was then bullied and terrorised by her father into breaking her promise; while Darrell, never receiving that agonised plea for his help, knows only that Millicent has been untrue.

The marriage turns out as might have been expected: Millicent does her best but cannot hide her indifference, or her relief when her husband is going away, or her persisting thoughts of her cousin; while he, on his returns from his voyages, takes pleasure in tormenting her—perversely resenting the absence of an emotion which he knew from the outset she never felt for him, nor ever pretended to. Never before, however, has he had such a weapon in his hands as the wounding of Darrell Markham:

    “Trembling between life and death,” repeated Millicent, in the same half-conscious tone, so piteous to hear.
    “He was! Heaven knows how he may be now. That was half-an-hour ago; the scale may be turned by this time; he may be dead!”
    As George Duke said the last word, his wife sprang from her seat, and, without once looking at him, ran hurriedly to the outer door. She had her hand upon the bolts, when she cried out in a tone of anguish, “O, no, no, no !” and dropped down on her knees, with her head leaning against the lock of the door.
    The Captain of the Vulture followed her into the passage, and watched her with hard unpitying eyes.
    “You were going to run to him!” he said, as she fell on her knees by the outer door.
    For the first time since Darrell Markham’s name had been mentioned, Millicent looked at her husband; not mournfully, not reproachfully, least of all fearfully; bold, bright, and defiant, her blue eyes looked up to his.
    “I was.”
    “Then why not go? You see I am not cruel; I do not stop you. You are free. Go! Go to your—cousin—and—your lover, Mistress Duke. Shall I open the door for you?”
    She lifted herself with an effort upon her feet, still leaning for support against the street-door. “No,” she said, “I will not go to him; I could do him no good; I might agitate him; I might kill him!”
    The Captain bit his under lip, and the triumphant light faded from his brown eyes.
    “But understand this, George Duke,” said Millicent, in a tone that was strange to her husband’s ears, “it is no fear of you which keeps me here; it is no dread of your cruel words or more cruel looks that holds me from going to his side; for if I could save him by my presence from one throb of pain—if I could give him by my love and devotion one moment’s peace and comfort, and the town of Compton were one raging fire, I would walk through that fire to do it.”

Darrell does not die, however, though his recovery is anything but rapid; yet he is able deliberately to repeat the charge first made in his delirium, that it was Captain George Duke who attacked, shot, and robbed him…

Darrell is so certain and so pertinacious in his charge that it is finally referred to a reluctant magistrate, who can barely conceal his relief when the Captain can prove an alibi—that he was at the Black Bear at the time in question. Darrell is baffled and mystified, unable to dispute this yet unequally unconvinced that he is in error. Matters are not helped by the testimony of Samuel Pecker, who again nervously insists upon his ghost-story.

With this, the enmity between Darrell and the Captain escalates to a new and dangerous level. Fortunately, word is received that the Vulture has been refitted and is ready for her next voyage; while Darrell himself, as soon as he is able, returns to London and vanishes once more from his cousin’s life.

The Captain leaves Compton a few days early, in order to oversee the final arrangements for the Vulture. To the indignation of Sarah Pecker, when he is ready to sail he insists upon Millicent taking a chilly overnight stage-coach ride in order to meet him at Marley Water and see him off. Obedient upon all but one point, Millicent does as instructed, trying to hide from herself how eager she is for the absence of her husband. Upon reaching her destination, and meeting the Captain, Millicent is unnerved to see that they are being shadowed by one of her fellow passengers, a man swathed in a great coat and a muffler, his face hidden by these garments and the shadow of his hat.

Millicent speaks of her fears to her husband, who dismisses the incident as a mere coincidence of movement, but it seems that she was right: a man later calls at the inn where they are staying until the Captain’s midnight departure, asking for him. The Captain agrees to see him, though angrily, but first hastens Millicent into another room. From there, she cannot hear what is said, only that both men have raised their voices.

The departure of the unwelcome visitor leaves the Captain with no excess time on his hands. He and Millicent walk to the docks, where the latter is assured that her husband will be gone for three months at the utmost.

It is at the moment of departure that Captain George Duke demands from his wife some token, by which she may know him again, no matter how much time has passed. Bewildered, she gives him one of her earrings, of an unusual design:

    “Remember, Millicent, the man who comes to you and calls himself your husband, yet cannot give you this diamond earring, will not be George Duke.”
    “What do you mean, George?”
    “When I return to Compton, ask me for the fellow jewel to that in your ear. If I cannot show it to you—”
    “What then, George?”
    “Drive me from your door as an impostor.”
    “But I should know you, George; what need should I have of any token to tell me who you were?”
    “You might have need of it. Strange things happen to men who lead such a life as mine. I might be taken prisoner abroad, and kept away from you for years. But whether I come back three months hence, or ten years hence, ask me for the earring, and and if I cannot produce it, do not believe in me…”

After the sailing of the Vulture, Millicent hurries back through the chill night to the inn, only to encounter the strange man along the way. Her immediate fear is that she will be robbed; but when the moonlight falls upon him, she is seized with a far greater terror:

    She stood face to face with him, rooted to the ground, a heavy languor paralysing her limbs, an unearthly chill creeping to the very roots of her hair.
    Her hands fell powerless at her sides. She could only stand white and immovable, with dilated eyes staring blankly into the man’s face. He wore a blue coat, and a three-cornered hat, thrown jauntily upon his head, so as in nowise to overshadow his face.
    She was alone, half a mile from a human habitation or human help—alone at the stroke of midnight with her husband’s ghost.
    It was no illusion of the brain; no self-deception born of a fevered imagination. There, line for line, shade for shade, stood a shadow that wore the outward seeming of George Duke.
    She reeled away from the phantom figure, tottered feebly forward for a few paces, and then summoning a desperate courage, rushed blindly on towards the quay, her garments fluttering in the sharp winter air…

Despite his promise – or threat – of a three-month absence, ten tick by without any sign of Captain George Duke. Alone most of the time in her little house, with only her dog and her novels for company, and an occasional call upon Sarah Pecker at the Black Bear to relieve her loneliness and tedium, Millicent does not know that Sarah has been unable to keep the secret confided to her, and that the story of the Captain’s ghost is all over Compton. Indeed, none of the villagers expect the Captain to return, accepting this visitation as a portent; and by the ten-month mark, even Sarah is suggesting that Millicent should think of mourning—adding to her persuasions the story of her own widowing by the sea:

    “Him as you saw upon the pier at Marley, perhaps, Miss Milly,” answered Sally solemnly, “but not Captain Duke! Such things as you and Samuel see last winter aren’t shown to folks for nothing; and it seems a’most like doubting Providence to doubt that the Captain’s been drowned. I dreamt three times that I see my first husband, Thomas Masterson, lying dead upon a bit of rock in the middle of a stormy sea; and I put on widow’s weeds after the third time.”
    “But you had news of your husband’s death, Sally, hadn’t you?”
    “No more news than his staying away seventeen year and more without sending letter or message to tell that he was living in all those years, Miss Milly; and if that ain’t news enough to make a woman a widow, I don’t know what is!”

Millicent, however, who desperately wants her husband not to return, will not allow herself the comfort of believing that he won’t…

To divert her own thoughts, Millicent pursues the matter of Sarah’s first marriage, of which she rarely speaks, and soon realises that she has opened up old wounds. She hears of Sarah’s disillusioned discovery that she had been married for her small inheritance and, far worse, her further discovery three months after her marriage that Masterson was a notorious smuggler with a price on his head. Sarah’s only consolation in the life of shame and fear she was forced to lead was her baby; but as he grew, even that was poisoned for her by the realisation that Masterson was teaching the boy his own ways:

    “I could have borne to have been trampled on myself, but I couldn’t bear to see my child going to ruin before his mother’s eyes. I told Masterson so one night. I was violent, perhaps; for I was almost wild like, and my passion carried me away. I told him that I meant to take the child away with me out of his reach, and go into service and work for him, and bring him up to be an honest man. He laughed, and said I was welcome to the brat; and I took him at his word, thinking he didn’t care. I went to sleep that night with the boy in my arms, meaning to set out early the next morning, and come back to Compton, where I had friends, and where I fancied I could get a living for myself and my darling; and I thought we might be so happy together. O, Miss Millicent, Miss Millicent, may you never know such a bitter trial as mine! When I woke from pleasant dreams about that new life which never was to be, my child was gone. His cruel father had taken him away, and I never saw either Masterson or my boy again.”
    “You waited in the village where he left you?” asked Millicent.
    “For a year and over, Miss Milly, hopin’ that he’d come back, bringing the boy with him; but no tidings ever came of him or of the child. At the end of that time I left word with the neighbours to say I was gone back to Compton; and I came straight here. I’d been housemaid at the Hall when I was a slip of a girl, and your father took me as his housekeeper, and I lived happy in the dear old house for many years, and I loved you and Master Darrell as if you’d been my own children; but I’ve never forgotten my boy…”

During this time, Millicent never hears from Darrell directly; but he does write to Sarah from time to time. By these means, she (and we), learn that he has found employment in London as secretary to a Scottish nobleman: a position not without certain dangers, since his employer was “suspected of no very strong attachment to the Hanoverian cause.” (This is, we recall about a decade after Culloden.)

The narrative of The Captain Of The Vulture now shifts perspective, and we follow Darrell on various missions carried out for the nobleman, who we know only as ‘Lord C—‘. One of these finds him carrying letters through a foggy November night. He stops at an inn in Reading, the establishment already hosting a rather riotous gathering under the aegis of a Sir Lovel Mortimer. Darrell has no interest in the baronet and his drinking companions—at least, not until he goes to the stables to check on his horse, and finds stabled there his previous horse, called Balmerino, who he had owned for seven years before he was stolen the night of the attack upon Compton Moor. The two know each other instantly.

To the landlord’s dismay, Darrell insists upon being conducted into the baronet’s presence:

    In an easy-chair before the open hearth lolled an effeminate-looking young man, in a brocade-dressing-gown, silk stockings with embroidered clocks, and shoes adorned with red heels and glittering diamond buckles that emitted purple and rainbow sparks in the firelight. He wore a flaxen wig, curled and frizzed to such a degree that it stood away from his face, round which it formed a pale-yellow frame, contrasting strongly with a pair of large restless black eyes and the blue stubble upon his slender chin…
    Sir Lovel Mortimer was as effeminate in manners as in person. He had a clear treble voice, and spoke in the languid drawling manner peculiar to the maccaronis of Ranelagh and the Ring. He was the sort of fopling one reads about in the Spectator, and would have been a spectacle alike miraculous and disgusting to good country-bred Sir Roger de Coverley…

The baronet tells Darrell that he bought the horse in question a few months previously at a fair from a man who seemed to be an elderly farmer. Darrell in turn tells the story of his attack and the losses suffered; admitting disappointment at gaining no clue to the identity of the man who robbed him. The baronet almost forces the reluctant Darrell to sup with him, and spends much of the meal probing his political convictions, a topic of conversation which Darrell cautiously evades. Finally, though, Sir Lovel agrees to return Balmerino, in exchange for Darrell’s current horse and twenty guineas.

Darrell is delighted to be astride Balmerino again, so much so that the following evening he decides to ride on in the dusk rather than cut his day of travel short—and again he pays the price. And while it is not George Duke, or his double, who attacks and robs him this time, Darrell is left with a very good idea of who it was:

When Darrell Markham recovered his senses he found himself lying on his back in a shallow dry ditch; the fog had cleared away, and the stars shone with a pale and chilly glimmer in the wintry sky. The young man’s pockets had been rifled and his pistols taken from him; but tied to the hedge above him stood the grey horse which he had left in the custody of Sir Lovel Mortimer…

Painfully, Darrell makes his way to the nearest hostelry—and discovers that the people there know even more about the identity of his attacker:

    “Was the West-country baronet a fine ladyfied little chap, with black eyes and small white hands?” he asked eagerly.
    “Yes.”
    The man looked triumphantly round at the by standers. “I’m blest if I didn’t guess as much,” he said. “It’s Captain Fanny.”

(And, not for the first time, we are left to ponder whether Braddon’s respectable middle-class readers were expected to understand the implications of her improper joke.)

After this interlude, we return to poor Millicent who, the more everyone else assumes her long-absent husband is dead, becomes all the more convinced that he isn’t: that he is staying away deliberately, allowing her to grow comfortable, so that his return will make her suffer all the more.

These passages mark some of Braddon’s most daring writing within The Captain Of The Vulture: it was not often that a heroine in a Victorian novel (albeit one set a century or so before) could get away with expressing such frank dislike of her husband, such an open wish for his death—and without any attendant guilt or lip-service paid to her duties as a wife. The Duke marriage is presented from the outset as an almost deliberate act of cruelty by the three men involved, or at best one undertaken with complete disregard for Millicent’s welfare; while she, young and ignorant as she is, soon accepts one Victorian truism in place of another: that there is no hope that she will “learn to love her husband”; and the best she can do is “suffer and be still“.

Meanwhile, at the Black Bear, Sarah Pecker is up to her eyeballs in her preparations for the Christmas rush. Tradespeople and carriers make frequent appearances at the inn’s back door, delivering their wares; pedlars and beggars likewise, there to sell, beg or steal—though under Sarah’s sharp eye, opportunities are few. One pedlar is particularly pertinacious, refusing to move on at the orders of the inn’s servant, so that an angry Sarah finally confronts him—and to the great surprise of the girl and the inn’s cook, she then meekly agrees to see the man’s wares, ordering the other two away. Shut outside the room, the others try unabashedly to eavesdrop, but can hear nothing of what seems a strangely lengthy conversation…

At last the voices die away, yet Betty and the cook find the kitchen door still locked against them; nor does Sarah reply when they call out to her. The frightened Betty finally runs to Samuel Pecker.

We get one of the novel’s nastier bits of “doubling” here, as the much bullied and put-upon Samuel responds “hopefully” to Betty’s story with an inquiry of whether his wife has been, “Took bad?” – Surely it was not a ray of joy [in his face]? comments the narrator. Samuel is even more delighted by a suggestion that the pedlar has “carried off” his wife, questioning Betty as to whether he was a large enough man to succeed in such an undertaking. It takes some effort on the part of the impatient Betty to get Samuel to bring his keys, so that they can find out what has happened; and even then he dawdles:

“You’re right, Betty,” he said; “get the lantern and I’ll come round with you. But if the man has run away with your missus, Betty,” he added argumentatively, “there’s such a many roads and by-roads round Compton, that it wouldn’t be over much good going after them…”

But Sarah at least has gone nowhere:

There was no sign of the foreign pedlar; and stretched upon the hearth in a dead swoon lay Mrs Sarah Pecker…

It takes some considerable time for Samuel and Betty to bring Sarah back to consciousness, and when they do, she seems literally a different person:

    Mrs Pecker revived very slowly; but when at last she did open her eyes, and saw the meek Samuel patiently awaiting her recovery, she burst into a sudden flood of tears, and flinging her stout arms about his neck, indifferent to the presence of either Betty or the carrier, cried out passionately,—
    “You’ve been a good husband to me, Samuel Pecker, and I haven’t been an indulgent wife to you; but folks are punished for their sins in this world as well as in the next, and I’ll try and make you more comfortable for the future; for I love you truly, my dear—indeed I do!”

And a quiet and submissive Sarah it is from this point onwards, one who goes out of her way to show her appreciation of her placid husband. She does not even react with anger when it is discovered that the pedlar robbed her of her ready cash, her watch and some silver spoons, though his haul was worth some ten or fifteen pounds. As for Samuel:

    The meek landlord of the Black Bear walked about as one in a strange but delicious dream. He had the key of his cellars in his own possession, and was allowed to drink such portions of his own liquors as he thought fit; and Samuel did not abuse the unwonted privilege, for he was naturally a sober man. He was no longer snubbed and humiliated before the face of his best customers. His tastes were consulted, his wishes were deferred to. Nice little dinners were prepared for him by Sarah’s own hands, and the same hands would even deign to mix for him a nightcap of steaming rum-punch, fragrant as the perfumed groves of Araby the blest. Mr Pecker was almost master in his own house. Sometimes this new state of things seemed well nigh too much for him. Once he went to his wife, and said to her, imploringly,—
    “Sarah, speak sharp to me, will you, please; for I feel as if I wasn’t quite right in my head…”

Some months roll away after this incident, and the narrative of The Captain Of The Vulture shifts to London, where the cousins, Ringwood and Darrell Markham, are following their very different paths. Darrell, having discovered that dissipation does nothing to make him forget Millicent, has knuckled down to his work instead, and has hopes of success as a political writer. Ringwood, meanwhile, having no personal qualities that might win him friends, is wasting his inheritance in an attempt to at least buy a few. He is beginning to taste desperation when he receives a most unexpected, and unwanted, call from his cousin. It is now eighteen months or more since George Duke was last heard of, but Darrell has only just learned of it. Like everyone in Compton, his immediate reaction is “good riddance”:

    “And what do you think of all this?” asked Ringwood.
    “What do I think? Why, that Captain George Duke, and his ship the Vulture, have met the fate that all who sail under false colours deserve. I know of those who can tell of a vessel, with the word ‘Vulture’ painted on her figurehead, that has been seen off the coast of Morocco, with the black flag flying at the fore, and a crew of Africans chained down in the hold. I know of those who can tell of a wicked traffic between the Moorish coast and the West India Islands, and who speak of places where the coming of George Duke is more dreaded than the yellow fever. Good heavens! can it be that this man has met his fate, and that Millicent is free?”

(After Braddon’s The Octoroon, we are not surprised to discover the specific nature of George Duke’s “privateering”.)

Ringwood cares nothing for his sister, and less than nothing for George Duke; but he is glad to be handed something to torment Darrell with. Curiously, he comes to the same conclusion as Millicent: that Duke is choosing to stay away as his form of torment.

The real purpose of Darrell’s call, however, is to press upon Ringwood his responsibility for Millicent, who in her husband’s absence has only the interest of the pittance secured to her upon her marriage to live on. Darrell also insists upon helping Millicent himself, although he adds that Ringwood must keep it a secret. Ringwood makes no protest to any of this, but on the verge of penury himself, he has neither the means nor the inclination to help his sister. If Darrell wants to give him money, though…

Ringwood is particularly eager for a new source of income, for he has recently made a new acquaintance before whom he is eager to cut a fashionable figure:

…he had appointed to meet a gay party at Ranelagh, the chief member of which was to be a certain West-country baronet, called Sir Lovel Mortimer, and better known in two or three taverns of rather doubtful reputation than in the houses of the aristocracy.

Ringwood is too much of a country-bumpkin to recognise certain giveaway flaws in Sir Lovel’s manners and diction: he thinks he’s hit the social jackpot, and is only too eager to accept an invitation to dine and gamble at his new friend’s lodgings; being positively honoured by the thought of losing money to a baronet.

When the door is opened by Sir Lovel’s servant, Ringwood gets a shock:

    …the speaker’s face illuminated by a feeble flicker.
    Sir Lovel Mortimer’s servant was drunk; his face was dirty; his wig pushed over his eyebrows, and singed by the candle in his hand; his cravat was twisted awry, and hung about his neck like a halter; his eyes were dim and watery from the effect of strong liquors; and it was with difficulty he kept himself erect by swaying slowly to and fro as he stood staring vacantly at his master and his master’s guests.
    But it was not the mere drunkenness of the man’s aspect which startled Ringwood Markham.
    Sir Lovel Mortimer’s servant was Captain George Duke!

Ringwood sends word of his sighting of Captain Duke to Darrell. He is out of town when the note is delivered, but as soon as he returns and reads the message, he forces his presence upon his cousin and demands an explanation of what seems to him a ridiculous lie. Though hungover, dull-witted at the best of times, and pretending to be gravely insulted by Darrell’s language as he is, Ringwood sticks to his guns—adding to his initial information just who Duke is working for; prompting Darrell in turn to tell what he knows of “the baronet”:

    “You mean to tell me, then,” he said ruefully, “that this Sir Lovel—”
    “Is no more Sir Lovel than you are,” answered Darrell: “all the fashionable breeding he can pretend to is what he has picked up on the king’s highway; and the only estate he will ever be master of in Devonshire or elsewhere will be enough stout timber to build him a gallows when his course comes to an abrupt termination. He is known to the knights of the road and the constables by the nickname of Captain Fanny, and there is little doubt the house in Chelsea to which he took you was a nest of highwaymen.”

And of course, Darrell’s mind goes back to the night he was attacked on Compton Moor—by, as he would still be prepared to swear, George Duke. He puts two-and-two together in startling fashion:

“The upshot of it is, that while we have thought George Duke was away upon the high seas, he has been hiding in London and going about the country robbing honest men. The ship Vulture is a fiction; and instead of being a merchant, a privateer, a pirate, or a slaver, George Duke is neither more nor less than a highway man and a thief.”

Except that the reader knows that there is a Vulture, at least…

Darrell succeeds in getting a warrant sworn out against Captain Fanny, but by the time Ringwood manages to pick out the correct house – having generally been rather tipsy when carried there by “Sir Lovel” – the occupants have fled. Darrell comes away with nothing more than the fact that the baronet called his servant by the name of Jeremiah.

Sir Lovel and his friends did not leave before emptying Ringwood’s pockets, however, and the young squire is forced to give up his efforts to cut a dash in London, and retreat to his ancestral halls. His experiences harden his heart: as his fortunes recover, Ringwood develops miserly tendencies, becoming tight-fisted and a hard landlord; he certainly has nothing to spare for his sister.

There is now a time-gap in the novel; and The Captain Of The Vulture resumes its narrative when George Duke has been missing almost a full seven years—long enough to be declared legally dead, and his widow, should she wish it, to legally remarry.

Ringwood’s niggardly tendencies have only grown, meanwhile: he acts as his own agent, so as not to have to pay one; and he distrusts his workers, so that he spends much time riding around his estate keeping an eye on them. On one of these rides, he catches a chill which, with his weak constitution, threatens his life. Like his late mother, Ringwood is consumptive…

Millicent moves back into her childhood home to nurse her brother, and her gentle unselfishness and obvious unhappiness evoke a glimmer of remorse in the self-centred Ringwood. Knowing himself dying, he is moved to apologise to Millicent for being such a bad brother, and for his part in forcing her into marriage. He also speaks to her of the estate which, neglected as it has been through his reluctance to spend money, will still bring her a good income—the bulk of their father’s money having been tied up in it, to keep Ringwood from wasting it (the late squire knew his son).

Ringwood also speaks to Millicent of George Duke—and insists upon writing a last letter, to be delivered to Darrell come the end of the following January, once the seven years have fully passed.

When Ringwood dies, the estate does indeed pass to Millicent: the manor house, its grounds, and its surrounding farmlands; as well as what is considered, in Compton, to be a tidy fortune. After her years of deprivation, in spite of the sorrowful event that brought it about her possession of so many solid blessings seems to Millicent almost too good to be true. There is, of course, just one drawback:

If he should come home! If, after all these years of fearful watching and waiting, these years of terror and suspense, in which she had trembled at the sound of every manly footstep, and shuddered at the sound of every voice which bore the faintest resemblance to that one voice which she dreaded to hear; if, after all, now that she had completely given him up—now that she was rich, and might perhaps by-and-by be happy—if, at this time of all others, the man who had been the scourge of her young life should return and claim her once more as his, to hold and to torture by the laws of God and man!

 

[To be continued…]