Posts tagged ‘Gothic novel’

08/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 3)


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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the disappearing pilgrim, well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

07/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 2)


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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the sylph is busy again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[To be continued…]

04/08/2021

Forest Of Montalbano (Part 1)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT—

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

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

So:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

[To be continued…]

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!

 

20/12/2018

Very critical indeed…

While doing a little research with respect to my timeline for the development of the Gothic novel, I ended up – as frequently happens upon these occasions – slipping down a rabbit hole.

As was the case with The Adventures Of Sophia Berkley and Longsword, Earl Of Salisbury, Reginald du Bray was brought to my attention via the writings of Christina Morin, who has made an argument for the Irish origins of the Gothic novel. I did a quick search for access and information about this work after wrapping up the previous entry in my timeline, Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose and, while not delving too deeply at the time, became aware that there was something odd about its publishing history.

The Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) listing for this work asserts that Reginald du Bray is:

A reprint of the second volume of ‘The rival friends, or the noble recluse’, London, 1776.

While we know that publishers at this time often did release novels volume by volume, rather than all at once, it seems unlikely that anyone would reprint just one volume out of a novel—particularly the middle one out of three.

Chasing up information about The Rival Friends; or, The Noble Recluse brought me to “Volume the Forty-First” of The Critical Review, a British magazine published between 1756 and 1817: it was initially edited by Tobias Smollett, and carried writings from some of this era’s most prominent literary figures, including Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and David Hume. Of more immediate interest, the magazine made a concerted effort to provide a short review of every novel released in Britain (!). Thus, as you can imagine, it is an invaluable source of information about the now-obscure literature of the time.

In fact, this 1776 issue of The Critical Review offers the only evidence that The Rival Friends ever existed, via the following dismissive paragraph—which, given what I just got through saying about the publishing practices of the time, as illustrated by Susannah and Margaret Minifie’s exceedingly flimsy novel, The Picture, made me laugh like a loon:

But funny as that paragraph struck me, it was distinctly unhelpful with regard to the subject matter of the novel in question, and the issue of its putative connection to Reginald du Bray.

Though Christina Morin does not seem to have been aware of this asserted connection, she is right that the earliest version as such of the work in question carries a Dublin imprint: it appeared in 1779 under the title Reginald du Bray: An Historick Tale, with the author given as, A late lord, greatly admired in the literary world. This particular publication also came to the attention of Montague Summers in his important work from 1938, The Gothic Quest: A History Of The Gothic Novel, wherein he comments that, “Little attention was excited by [it].” Importantly from the point of view of the current literary thread, however, Summers adds that Reginald du Bray, “Acknowledges itself ‘the literary offspring of Longsword'”, which both places it as an early attempt at historical fiction, and suggests that one edition of the tale, at least, carried a foreword by its unidentified author.

A second edition of Reginald du Bray was issued in Dublin in 1784, this time simply as by, A late nobleman (and having lost the ‘k’ in ‘historick’). This is the version available through ECCO, which links it to The Rival Friends—and as it turns out, out of all its different editions and sources, at the present time this is the only available copy.

Accessing it online, we immediately notice something odd about this edition: it carries what is listed as a “Preparatory Discourse”, by “A Celebrated Female Pen”. This, without identification or acknowledgement of any kind, turns out to be Anna Laetitia Aikin Barbauld’s essay, On The Pleasures Derived From Objects Of Terror, which first appeared in Miscellaneous Pieces by Barbauld and her brother, John Aikin. Furthermore, this odd preface to Reginald du Bray also appends, also without attribution, Sir Bertrand, A Fragment, Barbauld’s attempt to illustrate the principles of her essay.

This same version of Reginald du Bray subsequently received a London release, being published in 1786 by William Lane (although prior to his founding of the Minerva Press). At this time it came to the notice of The Critical Review where, while paying little attention to the novel itself, the reviewer took offence at the “Preparatory Discourse”:

Ahem. My conclusion was that “the greater part” belonged to the lady, but we won’t quibble.

Of course we don’t know who wrote either of the brief critical responses here highlighted, so we can’t know if the same person wrote both or not: the tone is similar, but that might simply reflect the Review‘s editorial policy. But there is certainly no indication that the person who rescued Reginald du Bray from “the vale of oblivion” in 1786 recognised in it any of The Rival Friends‘ one-too-many volumes from a decade earlier.

Perhaps a more important point, however, is that remark of Monague Summers’, in which he quotes the author of Reginald du Bray. While the 1784 Dublin edition, as far as a brief examination has revealed, carries no such quotation, Summers presumably found it somewhere, perhaps the 1779 edition. As noted, it sounds like an excerpt from a preface—which makes the unavailability of that edition a frustration, as surely the author’s own words would settle once and for all the question of Reginald du Bray‘s origins: whether it was a standalone work or, the second volume of a three-volume novel, a case of the interpolated narrative gone mad.

Footnote:

I was moved to look into the local availability of Christina Morin’s The Gothic Novel In Ireland, c. 1760 – 1829. Unfortunately it is not held by any library here; and while it is available on Kindle, well…

That’s pretty much the face I made, when I saw the price:

26/08/2017

Julia de Roubigné: A Tale, In A Series Of Letters (Part 2)


 
    The truth rises upon me, and every succeeding circumstance points to one conclusion. Lisette was to-day of a junketing party, which Lonquillez contrived for the entertainment of his friend Le Blanc. Mention was again made of old stories, and Savillon was a person of the drama. The wench is naturally talkative, and she was then in spirits from company and good cheer. Le Blanc and she recollected interviews of their young mistress and this handsome elève of her father. They were, it seems, nursed by the same woman, that old Lasune, for whom Julia procured a little dwelling, and a pension of four hundred livres, from her unsuspecting husband. “She loved them (said Le Blanc) like her own children, and they were like brother and sister to each other”—“Brother and sister, indeed!” (said Lisette.) She was more sagacious, and had observed things better.—“I know what I know, (said she) but to be sure, those things are all over now, and, I am persuaded, my mistress loves no man so well as her own husband. What signifies what happened so long ago, especially while M. de Montauban knows nothing about the matter?”
    These were her words: Lonquillez repeated them thrice to me.—Were I a fool, a driveller, I might be satisfied to doubt and be uneasy; it is Montauban’s to see his disgrace, and, seeing, to revenge it…

 

That Henry Mackenzie intended Julia de Roubigné as a criticism of the theories of sentimentalism is most evident by the mid-novel juxtapositioning of Julia receiving posthumous instructions from her mother, and Julia succumbing to irrational fears upon first setting foot in her husband’s house.

Before Julia sets out with de Montauban, her father gives her an unfinished letter from her mother, which is full of advice and admonitions about a wife’s duty. As with her earlier observation about Julia not listening, we get the impression that Mme de Roubigné is passing on hard lessons learned through bitter experience; that we saw her as an exemplary, self-sacrificing wife speaks for itself. The miserable idea passed on to the reader of 18th century marriage is, alas, no doubt accurate:

    “Sweetness of temper, affection to a husband, and attention to his interests, constitute the duties of a wife, and form the basis of matrimonial felicity. These are indeed the texts, from which every rule for attaining this felicity is drawn…
    “Never consider a trifle what may tend to please him. The great articles of duty he will set down as his own; but the lesser attentions he will mark as favours; and trust me, for I have experienced it, there is no feeling more delightful to one’s-self, than that of turning those little things to so precious a use.
    “If you marry a man of a certain sort, such as the romance of young minds generally paints for a husband, you will deride the supposition of any possible decrease in the ardour of your affections. But wedlock, even in its happiest lot, is not exempted from the common fate of all sublunary blessings; there is ever a delusion in hope which cannot abide with possession. The rapture of extravagant love will evaporate and waste; the conduct of the wife must substitute in its room other regards, as delicate, and more lasting. I say, the conduct of the wife; for marriage, be a husband what he may, reverses the prerogative of sex; his will expect to be pleased, and ours must be sedulous to please.
    “This privilege a good natured man may wave. He will feel it, however, due; and third persons will have penetration enough to see, and may have malice enough to remark, the want of it in his wife. He must be a husband unworthy of you, who could bear the degradation of suffering this in silence…
    “Above all, let a wife beware of communicating to others any want of duty or tenderness, she may think she has perceived in her husband. This untwists, at once, those delicate cords, which preserve the unity of the marriage-engagement…”

This (and much more) is transmitted in its entirety by Julia to Maria…yet Julia’s very next letter finds her not only reporting her doubts and unhappiness to her friend, but indulging in gloomy forebodings about the future. Here is only a short excerpt of the new wife’s feelings:

Why should I wish for long life? Why should so many wish for it? Did we sit down to number the calamities of this world; did we think how many wretches there are of disease, of poverty, of oppression, of vice, (alas! I fear there are some even of virtue) we should change one idea of evil, and learn to look on death as a friend…

So ends the first volume of Julia de Roubigné; the second starts with an interjection from our editor, explaining the difficulty he had working out how to organise his second batch of letters, since they clearly overlapped the first batch in date and in content. As always, “sentiment” is allowed to have the final word:

Many of the particulars they recount are anticipated by a perusal of the foregoing letters; but it is not so much on story, as sentiment, that their interest with the reader must depend…

The second batch of letters were written by Savillon, beginning at the time of his arrival in Martinique, and sent from there to his friend, Beauvaris, in Paris. Though he speaks of his duty to both M. de Roubigné and to his uncle, one theme dominates:

Julia de Roubigné!—Did you feel that name as I do!—Even traced with my own pen, what throbbing remembrances has it raised!—You are acquainted with my obligations to her father: You have heard me sometimes talk of her; but you know not, for I tremble to tell you, the power she has acquired over the heart of your friend…

Though Savillon feels himself unfitted for business, and in particular the business conducted by his uncle (of which, much more shortly), he knows his only hope of being considered a fit husband for Julia is to succeed and make his fortune, which might now weigh in the balance against his (relative) lack of birth. He therefore grits his teeth and knuckles down—but immediately finds himself confronting a barrier he cannot surmount, namely, that his uncle, a planter, runs his business on slavery.

As noted, Henry Mackenzie was in general a fairly conservative individual, who resisted the advanced social theories of his contemporaries; yet in Julia de Roubigné we find him espousing what would, in 1777, have been considered not merely “advanced”, but radical. This is one of the very earliest works of fiction not merely to protest slavery, but to suggest there was a better way; a way both more humane and more productive—and that it appeared more than one hundred years after Aphra Behn deplored the cruelty and mutual degradation of slavery in Oroonoko is a profoundly depressing thought. This time-gap is a chilling indication of the brutality that was the hallmark of the so-called “Age of Reason”. Conversely, we must keep in mind that whatever absurdity and self-indulgence may have belonged to the “cult of sensibility”, it also gave birth to the anti-slavery movement in Britain.

And whatever Mackenzie thought about sentimentalism in general, we have no reason to think he isn’t sincere about the words he puts in Savillon’s mouth:

To a man not callous from habit, the treatment of the negroes, in the plantations here, is shocking… I have been often tempted to doubt whether there is not an error in the whole plan to negro servitude, and whether whites, or creoles born in the West-Indies, or perhaps cattle, after the manner of European husbandry, would not do the business better and cheaper than the slaves do. The money which the latter cost at first, the sickness (often owing to despondency of mind) to which they are liable after their arrival, and the proportion that die in consequence of it, make the machine, if it may be so called, of a plantation extremely expensive in its operations. In the list of slaves belonging to a wealthy planter, it would astonish you to see the number unfit for service, pining under disease, a burden on their master.—I am talking only as a merchant: But as a man—good Heavens! when I think of the many thousands of my fellow creatures groaning under servitude and misery!—Great God! hast thou peopled those regions of thy world for the purpose of casting out their inhabitants to chains and torture?—No; thou gavest them a land teeming with good things, and lighted’st up thy sun to bring forth spontaneous plenty; but the refinements of man, ever at war with thy works, have changed this scene of profusion and luxuriance, into a theatre of repine, of slavery and of murder… Habit, the tyrant of nature and of reason…stifles humanity, and debases the species—for the master of slaves has seldom the soul of a man.

In fact—the most radical part of that might be Savillon’s reference to the slaves as “my fellow creatures”: that black people were not fully human was the basic argument of the slavers; while the anti-slavery movement defiantly operated within a broader concept of “the brotherhood of man”.

Savillon persuades his uncle to let him try an experiment. He starts by forming a bond with an intelligent if understandably wary slave called Yambu, who was the former leader of a band of men captured together in Africa:

Next morning I called those negroes who had formerly been in his service together, and told them that, while they continued in the plantation, Yambu was to superintend their work; that, if they chose to leave him and me, they were at liberty to go; and that, if found idle or unworthy, they should not be allowed to stay. He has, accordingly, ever since had the command of his former subjects, and superintended their work in a particular quarter of the plantation; and, having been declared free, according to the mode prescribed by the laws of the island, has a certain portion of ground allotted him, the produce of which is his property. I have had the satisfaction of observing those men under the feeling of good treatment, and the idea of liberty, do more than almost double their number subject to the whip of an overseer. I am under no apprehension of desertion or mutiny; they work with the willingness of freedom, yet are mine with more than the obligation of slavery…

But while we must highlight and celebrate this interlude, it is only a diversion within the main narrative of Julia de Roubigné. Another comes in the form of a developing friendship between Savillon and an Englishman, William Herbert, which offers the reader both the inevitable “interpolated narrative”, as Savillon reports the details of Herbert’s life to Beauvaris, and the equally inevitable “tragedy we can all wallow in” as, after striving for years to support the wife and children he adores but is separated from, Herbert finally sends for them—and promptly loses them in a shipwreck.

This is somewhat curious, as it exactly the kind of thing that “real” novels of sentimentalism delight in, yet is presented straight in what we interpret as a critique of the genre.

Even more curious is that despite Savillon’s various outbursts of romantic agony about Julia, and about his ideas on friendship (most of which I’ve spared you), Mackenzie uses him from time to time as the novel’s voice of reason—which is to say, he puts into his mouth the frequent (and not unwarranted) rebuttal of “sensibility”, that it was simply a form of self-indulgence:

I begin to suspect that the sensibility, of which your minds are proud, from which they look down with contempt on the unfeeling multitude of ordinary men, is less a blessing than an inconvenience.—Why cannot I be as happy as my uncle, as Dorville, as all the other good people around me?—I eat, and drink, and sing, nay I can be merry, like them; but they close the account, and set down this mirth for happiness; I retire to the family of my own thoughts, and find them in weeds of sorrow…

We should note, however, that at another point Mackenzie is generous enough to make a distinction between “real” sensibility and “false” affectation; although we do come away with the impression that he felt most of it was affectation.

Meanwhile, we continue to hear of Savillon’s life in Martinique, and his affectionate but somewhat uneasy relationship with his business-hardened uncle, and of a new acquaintance:

At one of those dinners was a neighbour and intimate acquaintance of my uncle, a M. Dorville, with his wife and daughter. The young lady was seated next me, and my uncle seemed to incline that I should be particularly pleased with her. He addressed such discourse to her as might draw her forth to the greatest advantage; and, as he had heard me profess myself as lover of music, he made her sing, after dinner, till, I believe, some of the company began to be tired of their entertainment. After they were gone, he asked my opinion of Mademoiselle Dorville, in that particular style by which a man gives you to un|derstand, that his own is a very favourable one. To say truth, the lady’s appearance is in her favour; but there is a jealous sort of feeling, which arises in my mind, when I hear the praises of any woman but one; and, from that cause perhaps, I answered my uncle rather coldly… Her father, I am apt to believe, has something of what is commonly called a plot upon me; but as to him my conscience is easy, because, the coffers of my uncle being his quarry, it matters not much if he is disappointed…

Now—you might be struggling at this point to conceive of a marriage between Savillon and Mlle Dorville, and you’d be right:

    My uncle, who had staid some time behind me with Dorville, came in. He was very copious on the subject of Mademoiselle. I was perfectly of his opinion in every thing, and praised her in echo to what he said, but he had discernment enough to see an indifference in this, which I was sorry to find he did not like. I know not how far he meant to go, if we had been long together; but he found himself somewhat indisposed, and was obliged to go to bed.
    I sat down alone, and thought of Julia de Roubigné…

Like Mme de Roubigné, Savillon’s uncle goes to bed never to rise from it. Having inherited a fortune, Savillon himself embarks for France as soon as he can manage it, with only one thought on his mind. His correspondent at this point switches from M. Beauvaris to Mr Herbert, and for more reasons than one: when Savillon arrives in Paris, he discovers that Beauvaris has suddenly died. This shock is bad enough but, as we know, there is another in store…

While all this has been going on, there have been a few other interpolated letters—from Julia to Maria, and from de Montauban to Segarva: the former, trying to take her mother’s advice, has little say that isn’t superficial; the latter showing himself increasingly aware of the significant differences in temperament and character between himself and his wife. Guests, in the form of a M. de Rouillé and a Mme de Sancerre, drive the point home: de Montauban is often unable to enter into the spirit of their conversation, though his duty as a host requires him to at least seem pleased. He is particularly annoyed when he sees how the often “melancholy” Julia is brightened by de Rouillé’s cheerful and joking demeanour:

    Why should I allow this spleen of sense to disqualify me for society?—Once or twice I almost muttered things against my present situation.—Julia loves me; I know she does: She has that tenderness and gratitude, which will secure her affection to a husband, who loves her as I do; but she must often feel the difference of disposition between us. Had such a man as Rouillé been her husband—not Rouillé neither, though she seems often delighted with his good humour, when I cannot be pleased with it.—
    We are neither of us such a man as the writer of a romance would have made a husband for Julia.—There, is indeed, a pliability in the minds of women in this article, which frequently gains over opinion to the side of duty.—Duty is a cold word.—No matter, we will canvas it no farther. I know the purity of her bosom, and I think, I am not unworthy of its affection…

Perhaps not—but Julia’s “duty”, if not her “affection”, is about to be seriously challenged, and a new emotion reignite her correspondence:

    I have just now received a piece of intelligence, which I must beg my Maria instantly to satisfy me about. Le Blanc, my father’s servant, was here a few hours ago, and among other news, informed Lisette, that a nephew of his, who is just come with his master from Paris, met Savillon there, whom he perfectly remembered, from having seen him in his visits to his uncle at Belville. The lad had no time for enquiry, as his master’s carriage was just setting off, when he observed a chaise drive up to the door of the hotel, with a gentleman in it, whom he knew to be Savillon, accompanied by a valet de chambre, and two black servants on horseback.
    Think, Maria, what I feel at this intelligence!—Yet why should it alarm me?—Alas! you know this poor, weak, throbbing heart of mine! I cannot, if I would, hide it from you.—Find him out, for Heaven’s sake, Maria; tell me—yet what now is Savillon to your Julia?—No matter—do any thing your prudence may suggest; only satisfy me about the fate of this once dear—Again! I dare not trust myself on the subject—Mons. de Montauban! Farewell!

Maria and Savillon do meet in Paris; the outcome is reported to Mr Herbert:

    When I told you, my Beauvaris was no more, I thought I had exhausted the sum of distress, which this visit to Paris was to give me. I knew not then what fate had prepared for me—that Julia, on whom my doating heart had rested all its hopes of happiness;—that Julia is the wife of another!
    All but this I could have borne; the loss of fortune, the decay of health, the coldness of friends, might have admitted of hope; here only was despair to be found, and here I have found it!
    Oh! Herbert! she was so interwoven with my thoughts of futurity, that life now fades into a blank, and is not worth the keeping…

Maria, meanwhile, has the painful task of letting Julia know the truth:

    What do you tell me! Savillon in Paris! unmarried, unengaged, raving of Julia! Hide me from myself, Maria, hide me from myself—Am I not the wife of Montauban?—
    Yes, and I know that character which as the wife of Montauban, I have to support: Her husband’s honour and her own are in the breast of Julia. My heart swells, while I think of the station in which I am placed.—Relentless Honour! thou triest me to the uttermost; thou enjoinest me to think no more of such a being as Savillon.
    But can I think of him no more?—Cruel remembrances?—Thou too, my friend, betrayest me; you dare not trust me with the whole scene; but you tell me enough.—I see him, I see him now! He came, unconscious of what Fortune had made of me; he came, elate with the hopes of sharing with his Julia that wealth, which propitious Heaven had bestowed on him.—She is married to another!—I see him start back in amazement and despair; his eye wild and haggard, his voice lost in the throb of astonishment! He thinks on the shadows which his fond hopes had reared—the dreams of happiness!…

This passage is the most extravagant example of something that recurs throughout Julia de Roubigné, with the characters, Julia and de Montauban in particular – it’s the one thing they do have in common – able to summon up imaginary scenes more real to them than reality. For example, Julia’s early realisation of her love for Savillon came accompanied by a terrifying vision of confessing it to her father, to excuse her refusal of de Montauban: Images of vengeance and destruction paint themselves to my mind, when I think of his discovering that weakness which I cannot hide from myself…

This tendency that speaks back to the way in which the correspondence is organised within this epistolary novel, with the absence of responding letters making the emotional reality of Julia and de Montauban and Savillon its only reality. In Julia’s case, Mackenzie repeatedly places her outbursts against some piece of prosaic reality or unwelcome duty, in order to point out the growing distance between what she should be focused upon and what she is focused upon, and the danger inherent in her lack of emotional self-control. The warning conveyed when we were alerted to Julia’s habit of separating “thought” and “conduct” here comes to poisonous fruition.

Even before she learned that Savillon was not in fact married, Julia’s exact degree of success in driving him from her heart was conveyed to us in a letter from de Montauban:

I was last night abroad at supper: Julia was a-bed before my return. I found her lute lying on the table, and a music-book open by it. I could perceive the marks of tears shed on the paper, and the air was such as might encourage their falling: Sleep however had overcome her sadness, and she did not awake when I opened the curtains to look on her. When I had stood some moments, I heard her sigh strongly through her sleep, and presently she muttered some words, I know not of what import. I had sometimes heard her do so before, without regarding it much; but there was something that roused my attention now. I listened; she sighed again, and again spoke a few broken words; at last I heard her plainly pronounce the name Savillon, two or three times over, and each time it was accompanied with sighs so deep, that her heart seemed bursting as it heaved them…

Now, the fact that she could not bear to part with that miniature of Savillon comes back to bite her (and, by the way, we never do learn Maria’s thoughts on the subject):

    Segarva!—but it must be told—I blush even telling it to thee—have I lived to this?—that thou shouldst hear the name of Montauban coupled with dishonour!
    I came into my wife’s room yesterday morning, somewhat unexpectedly. I observed she had been weeping, though she put on her hat to conceal it and spoke in a tone of voice affectedly indifferent. Presently she went out on pretence of walking; I staid behind, not without surprise at her tears, though, I think, without suspicion; when turning over (in the careless way one does in musing) some loose papers on her dressing-table, I sound a picture of a young man in miniature, the glass of which was still wet with the tears she had shed on it. I have but a confused remembrance of my feelings at the time; there was a bewildered pause of thought, as if I had waked in another world…

His suspicions thoroughly awakened, de Montauban now sees guilt in every word and action of Julia; and (like so many 18th century male leads, though Henry Mackenzie at least has the grace not to call him “hero”) he seems to take a fierce pleasure in thinking the worst of the woman he is supposed to love. Here, de Montauban too shows his skill in conjuring up visions with which to torment himself:

    We dined alone, and I marked her closely; I saw, (by Heaven! I did) a fawning solicitude to please me, an attempt at the good-humour of innocence, to cover the embarrassment of guilt. I should have observed it, I am sure I should, even without a key; as it was, I could read her soul to the bottom.—Julia de Roubigné! the wife of Montauban!—Is it not so?
    I have had time to think.—You will recollect the circumstances of our marriage—her long unwillingness, her almost unconquerable reluctance.—Why did I marry her?
    Let me remember—I durst not trust the honest decision of my friend, but stole into this engagement without his knowledge; I purchased her consent, I bribed, I bought her; bought her, the leavings of another!—I will trace this line of infamy no further: There is madness in it!…

De Montauban’s Spanish upbringing now kicks in, at this perceived affront to his honour—an “honour” which doesn’t prevent him from setting his servant to spy on his wife, or from seeking intelligence about her amongst the other servants. Typically, though the vast majority of what he hears is capable (and rightly) of a perfectly innocent construction, it is the passing suggestion of Lisette that Julia once loved Savillon that de Montauban seizes upon; and from a childhood crush to the guilt of adultery is a small step in his disordered imagination. Lonquillez, the servant (Spanish, and therefore capable of stooping to anything in the name of his master’s honour), persuades de Montauban that Julia and Savillon must be corresponding, and that he should confirm his suspicions by intercepting their letters—

—a decision which coincides with the single exchange of letters between the two, with Savillon finally persuading Maria to send onto Julia a letter from himself begging for a single meeting, and Julia’s reply agreeing to it. The honourable de Montauban has no hesitation sending his discoveries to Segarva, in the name of self-justification:

    “I know not, Sir, how to answer the letter my friend Mademoiselle de Roncilles has just sent me from you. The intimacy of our former days I still recal, as one of the happiest periods of my life. The friendship of Julia you are certainly still entitled to, and might claim, without the suspicion of impropriety, though fate has now thrown her into the arms of another. There would then be no occasion for this secret interview, which, I confess, I cannot help dreading; but, as you urge the impossibility of your visiting Mons. de Montauban, without betraying emotions, which, you say, would be dangerous to the peace of us all, conjured as I am by these motives of compassion, which my heart is, perhaps, but too susceptible of for my own peace, I have at last, not without a feeling like remorse, resolved to meet you on Monday next, at the house of our old nurse Lasune, whom I shall prepare for the purpose, and on whose fidelity I can perfectly rely. I hope you will give me credit for that remembrance of Savillon, which your letter, rather unjustly, denies me, when you find me agreeing to this measure of imprudence, of danger, it may be of guilt, to mitigate the distress, which I have been unfortunate enough to give him.”
    I feel at this moment a sort of determined coolness, which the bending up of my mind to the revenge her crimes deserve, has confered upon me; I have therefore underlined some passages in this damned scroll, that my friend may see the weight of that proof on which I proceed. Mark the air of prudery that runs through it, the trick of voluptuous vice to give pleasure the zest of nicety and reluctance. “It may be of guilt.”—Mark with what coolness she invites him to participate it!—Is this the hand writing of Julia?—I am awake and see it.—Julia! my wife! damnation!

…all of which goes to show exactly how much de Montauban knows about the women he is married to. But then, we recall his low opinion of the female sex in general – the usual masculine self-fulfilling prophecy, which puts the worst possible construction upon everything on the flimsiest of evidence – and we see it in action when de Montauban calls upon the simple, kind-hearted old Lasune who (having nursed them both) thinks of Julia and Savillion both as her own children, and as brother and sister. But even here de Montauban sees only conscious guilt:

    Whether they have really imposed on the simplicity of this creature, I know not; but her answers to some distant questions of mine looked not like those of an accomplice of their guilt.—Or, rather, it is I who am deceived; the cunning of intrigue is the property of the meanest among the sex.—It matters not: I have proof without her.
    She conducted me into an inner room fitted up with a degree of nicety. On one side stood a bed, with curtains and a bed-cover of clean cotton. That bed, Segarva!… It looked as if the Beldame had trimmed it for their use—damn her! damn her! killing is poor—Canst thou not invent me some luxurious vengeance?

Segarva is, we gather, fully in sympathy with his friend’s homicidal rage; his only caution is that de Montauban should keep his revenge a secret, not in fear for himself, but so that general knowledge of Julia’s guilt should not posthumously tarnish his, ahem, “honour”:

I am less easily convinced, or rather I am less willing to be guided, by your opinion, as to the secrecy of her punishment. You tell me, that there is but one expiation of a wife’s infidelity.—I am resolved, she dies—but that the sacrifice should be secret. Were I even to upbraid her with her crime, you say, her tears, her protestations would outplead the conviction of sense itself, and I should become the dupe of that infamy I am bound to punish.—Is there not something like guilt in this secrecy? Should Montauban shrink, like a coward, from the vindication of his honour?—Should he not burst upon this strumpet and her lover—the picture is beastly—the sword of Montauban!—Thou art in the right, it would disgrace it…

Julia’s agreement to the meeting, however, has not come without agonies of doubt, and many changes of mind; her longing to see Savillon one last time battling with her painful consciousness that if she does so, she will no longer be able to draw that comforting if specious distinction between “thought” and “conduct”. At the last she accepts that she must not do it, and sends via Maria a message to Savillon telling him not to come.

The matter does not rest there, however: Maria, having been subjected to the full battery of Savillon’s own agonies, is overborne, and joins him in persuading Julia to a single meeting. Julia finds herself unable to resist temptation, when it comes from the person she is used to considering as the voice of reason:

    You intreat me, for pity’s sake, to meet him.—He hinted his design of soon leaving France to return to Martinique.—Why did he ever leave France? had he remained contented with love and Julia, instead of this stolen, this guilty meeting—What do I say?—I live but for Montauban!
    I will think no longer.—This one time I will silence the monitor within me…

The meeting, if impassioned, is of course innocent (despite the bed in the corner of the room):

I spoke of the duty I owed to Montauban, of the esteem which his virtues deserved.—“I have heard of his worth (said Savillon) I needed no proof to be convinced of it; he is the husband of Julia.”—There was something in the tone of these last words, that undid my resolution again.—I told him of the false intelligence I had received of his marriage, without which no argument of prudence, no paternal influence, could have made me the wife of another.—He put his hand to his heart, and threw his eyes wildly to Heaven.—I shrunk back at that look of despair, which his countenance assumed.—He took two or three hurried turns through the room; then, resuming his seat, and lowering his voice, “It is enough (said he) I am fated to be miserable! but the contagion of my destiny shall spread no farther.—This night I leave France forever!”

Overwhelmed by the emotion of their final parting (though not so much that she can’t write to Maria about it), Julia is again the victim of her imagination; and we reach the most thoroughly Gothicky bit of the novel:

    You know my presentiments of evil; never did I feel them so strong as at present. I tremble to go to bed—the taper that burns by me is dim, and methinks my bed looks like a grave!…
    My fears had given way to sleep; but their impression was on my fancy still. Methought I sat in our family monument at Belville, with a single glimmering lamp, that shewed the horrors of the place, when, on a sudden, a light like that of the morning, burst on the gloomy vault, and the venerable figures of my fathers, such as I had seen them in the pictures of our hall, stood smiling benignity upon me! The attitude of the foremost was that of attention, his finger resting upon his lip.—I listened—when sounds of more than terrestrial melody stole on my ear, borne, as it were on the distant wind, till they swelled at last to music so exquisite, that my ravished sense was stretched too far for delusion, and I awoke in the midst of the intrancement!…

…though of course, for once this may not be just imagination:

    Chance has been kind to me for the means. Once, in Andalusia, I met with a Venetian empiric, of whom, among other chymical curiosities, I bought a poisonous drug, the efficacy of which he shewed me on some animals to whom he administered it. The death it gave was easy, and altered not the appearance of the thing it killed.
    I have fetched it from my cabinet, and it stands before me. It is contained in a little square phial, marked with some hieroglyphic scrawls, which I do not understand. Methinks, while I look on it—I could be weak, very weak Segarva.—But an hour ago I saw her walk, and speak, and smile—yet these few drops!…

Julia de Roubigné is by no means—by NO means—the only novel of this period (not even amongst just those few we’ve examined in detail) to get its effects out of star-crossed lovers, misunderstanding and tragedy, or to wallow in the emotions of its own situations. The central premise, indeed, is very like that found in Elizabeth Griffith’s The History Of Lady Barton, which also has its heroine married to one man but in love with another. However, there seems to me to be a significant difference between this novel and most of its ilk, in its implicit condemnation of its characters and their behaviour. Most novels of “sensibility” seem to suggest (consciously or unconsciously) that if you have “sensibility”, then the rules don’t apply to you: you’re “above” all that petty, day-to-day stuff. Consequently, it is not uncommon to find the heroes and heroines of such novels behaving with complete self-absorption, in a context exasperatingly free of criticism.

(Which is, of course, exactly the attitude that Jane Austen is attacking via Marianne Dashwood in Sense And Sensibility.)

It is this preening, and the accompanying tacit exemption from the ordinary obligations of life, that Henry Mackenzie takes issue with in Julia de Roubigné. Though he is by no means without sympathy for the way in which his characters have been trapped by circumstance, he obviously considers that they need to just bite the bullet. Julia’s privileging of her emotions is, in Mackenzie’s mind, a recipe for disaster; while her nursing of her feelings for Savillon after her marriage constitutes a real and serious violation of her duty. It is interesting, however, that Mackenzie does not consider Julia the only, or even the worst, offender. On the contrary, he clearly views de Montauban’s “honour” as another form of self-indulgent posturing—and one even more dangerous than the ordinary cultivation of “sensibility”. In this respect, the novel we have examined previously that is closest in spirit to Julia de Roubigné may be John Robinson’s Sydney St. Aubyn, which likewise casts a jaundiced eye over the hysterical self-pity of its misbehaving “hero”.

(In her introduction to the 1999 reissue of Julia de Roubigné, Susan Manning makes the wry point that the novel is, in effect, a version of Othello in which there is no Iago…because there is no need of an Iago.)

For all its effectiveness, there seems to me to be a flaw in Julia de Roubigné—which, ironically, concerns her flaw: it is not clear to me whether Mackenzie thinks that Julia’s “fatal flaw” lies in her marrying one man while loving another, or whether it is that, having done so, she is not able to smother her now-guilty love. Similarly, I’m not sure what to make of the silence that persists between Julia and Savillon prior to his departure for Martinique—his imposed by, sigh, “honour”, hers by “delicacy”. Whether or not Mackenzie intended a criticism of this prevailing societal norm, we cannot be other than painfully aware that if either of them had brought themselves to speak one single word at the time, then none of this would have happened.

(Mind you— Were Julia not so given to turning everything that might happen to her into some sort of dark fantasy, maybe she wouldn’t have been so quick to believe an unsubstantiated report from the other side of the world. I think we can interpret that with confidence.)

Nevertheless, within the context of the novel of sensibility, Julia de Roubigné is a fascinating anomaly; and even were it less successful than it is in offering didacticism in the guise of a familiar tear-jerker, it would still be a novel worth highlighting for its brave early stance on the subject of slavery: one of the first efforts indeed to carry the fight to that section of the public that preferred a novel to a pamphlet.

 

25/08/2017

Julia de Roubigné: A Tale, In A Series Of Letters (Part 1)


 
    Pity me, Maria, pity me! even that quiet which my letters of late described, which I was contented to call happiness, is denied me. There is a fatality which every where attends the family of the unfortunate Roubigné; here, to the abodes of peace, perplexity pursues it; and it is destined to find new distress, from those scanty sources to which it looked for comfort.
The Count de Montauban—why did he see me? why did he visit here? why did I listen to his discourse? though Heaven knows, I meant not to deceive him!—He has declared himself the lover of your Julia!—I own his virtues, I esteem his character, I know the gratitude too we owe him; from all those circumstances I am doubly distressed at my situation; but it is impossible, it is impossible that I should love him. How could he imagine that I should? or how does he still continue to imagine that I may be won to love him? I softened my refusal, because I would distress no man; Montauban of all men the least; but surely it was determined enough, to cut off all hopes of my ever altering my resolution.
    Should not his pride teach him to cease such mortifying solicitations? How has it, in this instance alone, forsaken him? Methinks too, he has acted ungenerously, in letting my mother know of his addresses. When I hinted this, he fell at my feet, and intreated me to forgive a passion so earnest as his, for calling in every possible assistance. Cruel! that in this tenderest concern, that sex which is naturally feeble, should have other weaknesses to combat besides its own…

 
 

In the second half of the 18th century, as a result of increasing emphasis upon general education based upon egalitarian principles, a major and significant societal shift occurred in Scotland which on one hand produced remarkable accomplishments in the areas of science and medicine, and on the other the propagation of philosophical arguments which stressed rationalist thinking and humanitarianism, and the improvement of society through the moral and practical improvement of the self. While the so-called “Scottish Enlightenment” is best reflected by the philosophical works of David Hume, Adam Smith and Thomas Reid, and the scientific writings of William Cullen, Joseph Black and James Hutton, it was also a time that embraced a national literature, best exemplified by the work of Robert Burns.

Henry Mackenzie was something of an anomalous figure within this movement. Though he knew and admired many of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, Mackenzie himself was a conservative thinker who resisted most of the more liberal theories of his contemporaries. A lawyer by training, Mackenzie’s position of Comptroller of Taxes for Scotland gave him the economic security to indulge his passion for writing. He became a major contributor to the important periodical magazines of the time, and eventually became editor for several years of two of them, The Mirror and The Lounger. He was also a playwright and a novelist—in his time and since best known for his first work of fiction, The Man Of Feeling, published in 1771, though written many years earlier.

Recent years have seen something of a reassessment of the works of Henry Mackenzie. Long considered a writer within the “cult of sensibility”, critical reading of his novels now suggests that he was, rather, attacking that movement in his novels. However, if indeed he did intend The Man Of Feeling to act that way, he overshot his mark by some distance: the work in question quickly attained and and still holds a reputation as the ne plus ultra of that lachrymose school of writing.

On the other hand, Mackenzie’s third and last novel, Julia de Roubigné, published in 1777, seems to have been recognised immediately as a critical examination of the tenets of sentimentalism.

This current consideration of Julia de Roubigné was prompted by some remarks which placed it within the timeline of the Gothic novel; and while it bears in outline little resemblance to the works of that genre, some of its details do warrant highlighting in that context. Though this is a wholly domestic novel, it gains some of its effects in a manner that would become a hallmark of the Gothic novel proper. Here, for example, is a just-married Julia reacting to her new home:

There was a presaging gloom about this mansion which filled my approach with terror; and when Montauban’s old domestic opened the coach-door, I looked upon him as a criminal might do on the messenger of death. My dreams ever since have been full of horror; and while I write these lines, the creaking of the pendulum of the great clock in the hall, sounds like the knell of your devoted Julia…

Furthermore, the character of the novel’s anti-hero, the Count de Montauban, would fit him for the role of Gothic villain, being conveyed in ominous signifiers such as “proud”, “stern”, “lofty” and “melancholy”.

The most obvious point, however, is Mackenzie’s choice to place his novel in France, and give it a male lead with Spanish ideas about “honour”. Mackenzie may have perceived sentimentalism as something which “infected” Britain from the Continent, even as the Scottish Enlightenment was heavily influenced by the new ways of thinking that were spreading across Europe in the 18th century. Or perhaps, like many British authors of this time, he felt that extravagant plots were most believable when set “somewhere else”.

Julia de Roubigné is an epistolary novel which, like The Man Of Feeling, carries an introduction from an editor explaining how he came into possession of the letters, and why he decided to arrange them in the given order. It is evident that the editor is meant to be one of the novel’s “characters”, rather than Mackenzie himself, both from his ideas about the nature of the entertainment he is offering, and his clear alignment with the cult of sensibility, seen in the value he finds in even the tiniest personal detail:

I found it a difficult task to reduce them into narrative, because they are made up of sentiment, which narrative would destroy. The only power I have exercised over them, is that of omitting letters, and passages of letters, which seem to bear no relation to the story I mean to communicate. In doing this, however, I confess I have been cautious: I love myself (and am apt therefore, from a common sort of weakness, to imagine that other people love) to read nature in her smallest character, and am often more apprised of the state of the mind, from very trifling, than from very important circumstances…

The novel proper features three main correspondents, each of them writing to a close friend, to whom they do not hesitate to “unfold themselves”: Julia herself, who writes to her best friend, Maria de Roncilles; the Count de Montauban, who writes to his best friend, Segarva; and Savillon, a young man raised within the de Roubigné family, who writes at different times to a M. Beauvaris in Paris, and to an English acquaintance, Mr Herbert, in Martinique. Narrative necessity will eventually introduce two other letter-writers, but the majority of the story is told from the perspective of these three.

The critical point about the letters given is that we never see those written in response. It is important to recognise that this is not another case of a novel being presented in epistolary form simply because that style happened to popular—as was the case with The Adventures Of Miss Sophia Berkley. Instead, this is a deliberate authorial ploy to trap the reader within the the thoughts and, even more so, the emotions of the three main characters who, however else they may differ, have in common the dominant trait of allowing their impulses to override their judgement. In Henry Mackenzie’s mind, this is a tendency that can only lead to disaster.

Julia de Roubigné opens in the wake of a significant family upheaval: M. de Roubigné, Julia’s father, has lost a lawsuit which has cost him both his property and most of his fortune. Deeply embittered, he is forced to remove his wife and daughter from an existence divided between the luxury and entertainments of Paris and the dignity of an estate to a small, rather isolated country house. Mme de Roubigné and Julia try to show themselves contented with their new lot, and to do what they can to reconcile their husband and father to the situation, but between wounded pride and feelings of guilt, M. de Roubigné is a gloomy and difficult companion.

Finally, it is not the efforts of his womenfolk that eases the burden on M. de Roubigné, but the making of a new friend. In the Count de Montauban, a neighbour, he finds a man of ideas and feelings very similar to his own: upright, dignified and very proud, with little lightness or humour in his demeanour. Though his newly acquired thin skin makes him wary at first, M. de Roubigné becomes grateful for this new companionship, and gradually admits the Count into his family circle.

We see this introduction from the point of view of the Count who, we learn, though French by birth, has been raised in Spain and has Spanish ideas about morality and honour. As he admits to his correspondent, Segarva, returning to France has been difficult for him: he finds his countrymen frivolous and dissipated; while the less said about the behaviour of the women, the better. Not that (so we gather) the Count ever entertained much of an opinion of the female sex; he has no intention of marrying, of entrusting his honour to such a frail vessel.

Except—

    But her daughter, her lovely daughter!—with all the gentleness of her mother’s disposition, she unites the warmth of her father’s heart, and the strength of her father’s understanding. Her eyes in their silent state (if I may use the term) give the beholder every idea of feminine softness; when sentiment or feeling animates them, how eloquent they are! When Roubigné talks, I hate vice, and despise folly; when his wife speaks, I pity both; but the music of Julia’s tongue gives the throb of virtue to my heart, and lifts my soul to somewhat super-human.
    I mention not the graces of her form; yet they are such as would attract the admiration of those, by whom the beauties of her mind might not be understood. In one as well as the other, there is a remarkable conjunction of tenderness with dignity; but her beauty is of that sort, on which we cannot properly decide independent of the soul, because the first is never uninformed by the latter.
    To the flippancy, which we are apt to ascribe to females of her age, she seems utterly a stranger. Her disposition indeed appears to lean, in an uncommon degree, towards the serious. Yet she breaks forth at times into filial attempts at gaiety, to amuse that disquiet which she observes in her father; but even then it looks like a conquest over the natural pensiveness of her mind.

Julia, meanwhile, though glad indeed that her father has found a friend, and his spirits have both calmed and lifted, is repulsed by what she sees and senses of the hardness in the Count’s emotional makeup:

    In many respects, indeed, their sentiments are congenial. A high sense of honour is equally the portion of both. Montauban, from his long service in the army, and his long residence in Spain, carries it to a very romantic height. My father, from a sense of his situation, is now more jealous than ever of his. Montauban seems of a melancholy disposition. My father was far from being so once; but misfortune has now given his mind a tincture of sadness. Montauban thinks lightly of the world, from principle. My father, from ill-usage, holds it in disgust. This last similarity of sentiment is a favourite topic of their discourse, and their friendship seems to increase, from every mutual observation which they make. Perhaps it is from something amiss in our nature, but I have often observed the most strict of our attachments to proceed from an alliance of dislike.
    There is something hard and unbending in the character of the Count, which, though my father applauds it under the title of magnanimity, I own myself womanish enough not to like. There is a yielding weakness, which to me is more amiable than the inflexible right; it is an act of my reason to approve of the last; but my heart gives its suffrage to the first, without pausing to inquire for a cause…

This is a curious and interesting moment. Hardly a reader, then or now, would expect or even desire Julia to prefer “inflexible right” to “yielding weakness”, or read this passage as anything other than the privileging of her “heart” over her “reason”; yet in retrospect, her admission – My heart gives its suffrage to the first, without pausing to inquire for a cause – is the first ominous rumbling of the novel’s main theme.

Julia is dismayed when Montauban proposes to her, and grows angry when, after she refuses him, he nevertheless tells her parents about it, tacitly engaging their sympathy and support (prompting the quote given up above). However, while they certainly desire the match, the de Roubignés put no pressure on their daughter. Aware that her marriage would relieve her father of her support, and that there is certainly generosity in Montauban’s willingness to take her without a dowry, this forbearance makes Julia feel worse rather than better.

Julia de Roubigné strikes a false note here, giving us, in effect, English ideas in a French context. We must remember at this point that, unlike in other countries, in England the novel was from the outset a very middle-class form of literature, and spoke predominantly to that audience. This form of writing was a powerful vehicle for propagating new ideas, including those about love and marriage, and played a significant role in the acceptance of the notion that a girl should have the right, if not to choose her own husband, at least to say “no”. (This was one reason that girls reading novels was often disapproved: they got “ideas”.) If Julia was an English girl of the same social standing, say, of the landed gentry, then her parents’ unwillingness to pressure her might be considered advanced but reasonable. However, in pre-Revolution France, arranged marriages were very much the norm at this level of society. In this respect, Henry Mackenzie’s displacement of his narrative affects its credibility.

Julia’s examination of her feelings following Montauban’s proposal leads to a shocking realisation—shocking to her, in any event:

    The character you have heard of the Count de Montauban is just; it is perhaps even less than he merits; for his virtues are of that unbending kind, that does not easily stoop to the opinion of the world; to which the world therefore is not profuse of its eulogium. I revere his virtues, I esteem his good qualities; but I cannot love him.—This must be my answer to others: But Maria has a right to something more; she may be told my weakness, for her friendship can pity and support it.
    Learn then that I have not a heart to bestow.—I blush even while I write this confession—Yet to love merit like Savillon’s cannot be criminal.—Why then do I blush again, when I think of revealing it?

Savillon is the son of an old friend of de Roubigné, who effectively adopted the boy after his father’s death. He and Julia almost grew up together, even having the same nurse; sharing some of their lessons and learning to think alike on many subjects. However, Savillon’s general situation was a difficult one: his birth was somewhat inferior to Julia’s, and his father’s death left him poor. When, as a young man, he was sent for by his uncle in Martinique, who offered to start him in business, he felt that he could not refuse to go.

Julia’s recognition of her feelings leads us to another of the book’s critical passages:

To know such a man; to see his merit; to regret that yoke which Fortune had laid upon him—I am bewildered in sentiment again.—In truth, my story is the story of sentiment. I would tell you how I began to love Savillon; but the trifles, by which I now mark the progress of this attachment, are too little for description…

Here, of course, Julia finds herself in that familiar deplorable heroine’s situation, conscious that she loves a man without being certain that he loves her. She thinks he does; she believes he does; she sees how honour would have held him silent, considering his circumstances. But

I know I am partial to my own cause; yet I am sensible of all the impropriety with which my conduct is attended. My conduct, did I call it? It is not my conduct; I err but in thought. Yet, I fear, I suffered these thoughts at first without alarm. They have grown up, unchecked, in my bosom, and now I would controul them in vain. Should I know myself indifferent to Savillon, would not my pride set me free? I sigh, and dare not say that it would…

The distinction made here between “conduct” and “thought” would have set alarm bells ringing for contemporary readers.

However, Julia at least has the reassurance of hearing that Maria agrees with her about the sinfulness of marrying one man while loving another—however futile that love:

    I have ever thought as you do, “That it is not enough for a woman not to swerve from the duty of a wife; that to love another more than a husband, is an adultery of the heart; and not to love a husband with undivided affection, is a virtual breach of the vow that unites us.”
    But I dare not own to my father the attachment from which these arguments are drawn. There is a sternness in his idea of honour, from which I shrink with affright. Images of vengeance and destruction paint themselves to my mind, when I think of his discovering that weakness which I cannot hide from myself. Even before my mother, as his wife, I tremble, and dare not disclose it…

Just as well, too, because her castles in the sky are about to come crashing down upon her:

    I have now time to think and power to express my thoughts—It is midnight and the world is hushed around me! After the agitation of this day, I feel something silently sad at my heart, that can pour itself out to my friend!
    Savillon! cruel Savillon!—but I complain, as if it were falsehood to have forgotten her whom perhaps he never loved.
    She too must forget him—Maria! he is the husband of another! That sea-captain, who dined with my father to day, is just returned from Martinique. With a beating heart I heard him questioned of Savillon. With a beating heart I heard him tell of the riches he is said to have acquired by the death of that relation with whom he lived; but judge of its sensations, when he added, that Savillon was only prevented by that event, from marrying the daughter of a rich planter, who had been destined for his wife on the very day his uncle died, and whom he was still to marry as soon as decency would permit.

Again and again Julia must remind herself that there was no word of love spoken between herself and Savillon, and therefore no breach of honour. But this is comfort of the coldest kind, as Julia is left to writhe in the agonies of that special hell preserved for 18th and 19th century heroines who fall in love without being “bidden”.

Julia’s sufferings attract the attention of her mother, who feels the need to speak a few cautionary words to her; though even as she speaks them, she knows (from experience?) that they will probably fall upon deaf ears until it is too late:

“Your mind, child (continued my mother) is too tender; I fear it is, for this bad world. You must learn to conquer some of its feelings, if you would be just to yourself; but I can pardon you, for I know how bewitching they are; but trust me, my love, they must not be indulged too far; they poison the quiet of our lives. Alas! we have too little at best! I am aware how ungracious the doctrine is; but it is not the less true. If you ever have a child like yourself, you will tell her this, in your turn, and she will not believe you.”

(Which, by the way, is a fairly astonishing admission for a novel of this vintage; certainly in the phrasing of it in terms of the natural resistance of youth to cold prudence, rather than of outright wickedness in not believing every word a parent says.)

While Julia wrestles with her own emotions, another blow falls upon the family. While the devastating law-suit has been settled via the ceding of the de Roubigné property, the associated legal costs have not—and these added expenses can only be met by giving up the final mite of de Roubigné’s fortune and the family’s comparatively humble retreat. Genuine poverty stares them in the face.

Mackenzie resorts to a sly and suggestive literary reference here, as de Roubigné prepares to reveal this latest catastrophe to his wife and daughter:

    On his return in the evening, he found my mother and me in separate apartments. She has complained of a slight disorder, from cold I believe, these two or three days past, and had lain down on a couch in her own room, till my father should return. I was left alone, and sat down to read my favourite Racine.
    “Iphigenia! (said my father, taking up the book) Iphigenia!” He looked on me piteously as he repeated the word. I cannot make you understand how much that single name expressed, nor how much that look…

(We must understand here that in Racine’s version of the story, Iphigenia is so dutiful a daughter, she can hardly wait to be sacrificed by her father…)

And though at this point it seems that nothing else can go wrong for the family, the most overwhelming blow of all follows when Mme de Roubigné’s illness proves fatal. Knowing that her death is imminent, she gathers her strength to speak parting words to her daughter:

    The night before she died, she called me to her bed-side:—“I feel, my child, (said she) as the greatest bitterness of parting, the thought of leaving you to affliction and distress. I have but one consolation to receive or to bestow: A reliance on that merciful Being, who, in this hour, as in all the past, has not forsaken me! Next to that Being, you will shortly be the only remaining support of the unfortunate Roubigné.—I had, of late, looked on one measure as the means of procuring his age an additional stay; but I will not prescribe your conduct, or warp your heart…”
    These words cannot be forgotten! they press upon my mind with the sacredness of a parent’s dying instructions! But that measure they suggested—is it not against the dictates of a still superior power? I feel the thoughts of it as of a crime. Should it be so, Maria; or do I mistake the whispers of inclination for the suggestions of conscience?

For one of the few times in the novel, we are given a clear intimation of what Maria says in answer to this, and it isn’t what Julia wanted to hear. Maria accuses her of nursing her feelings for Savillon instead of honestly striving to overcome them, as she is now duty bound to do, and thus of being guilty of “a want of proper pride”.

Julia’s response is fascinating—at once a perfectly reasoned and reasonable argument, and a still louder ringing of the warning bell.

We have considered before the grave difficulty faced by young women at this time, with many being pressured into marriage upon an assurance that they would “learn” to love their husbands. Imagine my surprise when the emotionally irrational Julia de Roubigné offered the perfect riposte (and from a man’s pen!):

The suggestions I have heard of Montauban’s unwearied love, his uncommon virtues, winning my affections in a state of wedlock, I have always held a very dangerous experiment; there is equivocation in those vows, which unite us to a husband, our affection for whom we leave to contingency.—“But I already esteem and admire him.”—It is most true;—why is he not contented with my esteem and admiration? If those feelings are to be ripened into love, let him wait that period when my hand may be his without a blush. This I have already told him; he almost owned the injustice of his request, but pleaded the ardour of passion in excuse. Is this fair dealing, Maria? that his feelings are to be an apology for his suit, while mine are not allowed to be a reason for refusal?

Yet alas, this is not what we are to take away from this exchange of opinions, but rather Julia’s initial rejection of Maria’s counsel:

There is reason in all this; but while you argue from reason, I must decide from my feelings…

Surprisingly, after some consideration de Montauban concedes the strength of Julia’s argument, withdrawing his suit and apologising for causing disturbance in the family in their time of grief. This seeming generosity takes Julia off-guard, and softens her feelings towards him. However, de Montauban’s next move is quietly to pay off the final crushing debt hanging over de Roubigné’s head, saving him and daughter from ruin and eviction and, in de Roubigné’s case, a debtor’s prison…and leaving Julia with little choice.

(This is not presented as a deliberate ploy on de Montauban’s part, but it is impossible to believe this outcome wasn’t lurking somewhere in the back of his mind.)

The Count’s announcement of his triumph in a letter to his friend, Segarva, also contains a great deal of back-pedalling. This is, after all, a man who has always held a low opinion of the female sex, of Frenchwomen in particular, and who always swore he would never marry: sentiments in which Segarva wholeheartedly joined him:

    Trust me, thy fears are groundless—didst thou but know her as I do!—Perhaps I am tenderer that way than usual; but there were some of your fears I felt a blush at in reading. Talk not of the looseness of marriage-vows in France, nor compare her with those women of it, whose heads are giddy with the follies of fashion, and whose hearts are debauched by the manners of its votaries. Her virtue was ever above the breath of suspicion, and I dare pledge my life, it will ever continue so. But that is not enough; I can feel, as you do, that it is not enough. I know the nobleness of her soul, the delicacy of her sentiments. She would not give me her hand except from motives of regard and affection, were I master of millions…
    You talk of her former reluctance; but I am not young enough to imagine that it is impossible for a marriage to be happy without that glow of rapture which lovers have felt and poets described. Those starts of passion are not the basis for wedded felicity, which wisdom would chuse, because they are only the delirium of a month, which possession destroys, and disappointment follows. I have perfect confidence in the affection of Julia, though it is not of that intemperate kind, which some brides have shewn.  Had you seen her eyes, how they spoke, when her father gave me her hand! there was still a reluctance in them, a reluctance more winning than all the flush of consent could have made her. Modesty and fear, esteem and gratitude, darkened and enlightened them by turns; and those tears, those silent tears, which they shed, gave me a more sacred bond of her attachment, than it was in the power of words to have formed…

With nothing to wait for, the marriage takes place in only a few days’ time. Julia reports her intentions to Maria but, as the time draws near, finds herself unable to write again—since (we understand) her letters are reports of her feelings, and her feelings are particularly what she does not wish to share. It is left to her maid, Lisette, to send off a report to Maria, in which the position occupied by women in society at the time is presented to us all the more painfully for the complete obliviousness of the person making the point (emphasis mine):

And then her eyes, when she gave her hand to the Count! they were cast half down, and you might see her eye-lashes, like strokes of a pencil, over the white of her skin—the modest gentleness, with a sort of a sadness too, as it were, and a gentle heave of her bosom at the same time;—O! Madam, you know I have not language, as my lady and you have, to describe such things; but it made me cry, in truth it did, for very joy and admiration. There was a tear in my master’s eye too, though I believe two happier hearts were not in France, than his and the Count de Montauban’s

When Julia finally does write again to Maria, it is to apologise for her neglect, which she puts in terms of, not merely not wishing to share her feelings, but of not being able to put them into words. However, she makes it clear that understands the step she has taken, and means to do her duty, if nothing else:

Montauban and virtue! I am your’s. Suffer but one sigh to that weakness which I have not yet been able to overcome. My heart, I trust, is innocent—blame it not for being unhappy.

Yet this vow comes in the middle of Julia caught once again between her reason and her feelings, when in packing up her things she comes across a miniature of Savillon drawn when he was only a boy, which she has had in her possession for many years:

The question comes strong upon me, how I should like that my husband had seen this.—In truth, Maria, I fear my keeping this picture is improper; yet at the time it was painted, there was one drawn for me by the same hand, and we exchanged resemblances without any idea of impropriety. Ye unfeeling decorums of the world!—Yet it is dangerous; is it not, my best monitor, to think thus?—Yet, were I to return the picture would it not look like a suspicion of myself?—I will keep it, till you convince me I should not…

 

[To be continued…]

 

18/01/2017

Ermina Montrose; or, The Cottage Of The Vale

erminamontrose1b    One fine evening, when the children were retired to rest, Ermina stole gently down stairs, and crossing through the hall to her own apartment, opened the glass door which led into the shrubbery, which she walked, and passed lightly over the lawn to a favourite walk, which was a long avenue of trees by the side of a canal, at the end of which was an elegant alcove, where she frequently delighted to seat herself, as she now did. A pleasing languor stole over her senses…
    The dews of eve that bathed the various fragrant plants and odoriferous shrubs that surrounded the spot where she was, diffused a sweet refreshing perfume, which, added to the general stillness that reigned amidst the shades of night, lulled her mind into calm repose. The images of those she loved, and had so cruelly lost, presented themselves to her imagination in the most pleasing forms, and she pictured to herself that they beheld her conduct and sufferings with approbation. “Alas!” she mentally exclaimed, “though unrelenting fate persecute and tear from me all that my soul holds dear, yet have I the soothing consolation of preserving a heart unsullied with guilt, though not free from error, and this bosom can boast of moments of happiness which the conscience of those who injure me will not suffer them to enjoy, and of which they cannot deprive me, poor and dependent as I am.”

 

 

.

.

When your bosom starts boasting, it might be time to worry.

Emily Clark’s Ermina Montrose; or, The Cottage Of The Vale is a fairly typical second- (or third-) tier novel of the turn of the 19th century, featuring a persecuted heroine and much high-flown sentiment, but with lingering flickers of the Gothic impulse (which, indeed, would not be fully extinguished for another two decades or so). Though the persecution persists, most of the Gothic touches are confined to the first of the novel’s three volumes; after which the narrative settles down and goes through essentially the same set of cyclic motions until the three volumes have been filled—viz. our orphan heroine finds a refuge where she can work and support herself, someone traduces her character, she flees secretly for some reason or another, she struggles with poverty until she finds a refuge where she can work and support herself…

But the repetition of the action is not the major shortcoming of Ermina Montrose, which is rather that Ermina suffers more at the hands of the people who are supposed to love her than she does through the machinations of her enemies. Indeed, this is one of a worrying number of novels I’ve read recently that turn on a man’s willingness (even eagerness) to believe the worst of the woman he loves. This novel features one of the most unlikeable “heroes” of a genre that rarely seems to recognise dickish behaviour when it sees it, and Ermina’s repeated forgiveness of her lover’s distrust, tantrum-throwing and selfishness grows ever more exasperating.

While it will turn out to play the most minor of roles in the story, aside from its symbolic value —“cottage” is a signifier for a sentimental novel in the same way that “abbey” is for a Gothic novel—Ermina Montrose does open at the titular cottage; while the language – and the occasionally infelicitous grammar – used in these opening paragraphs let us know clearly what we’re in for over the next 700 pages or so:

    Embosomed in the deep romantic valley of Riversdale, stood the habitation of Colonel Montrose. Simple was its structure, being little superior to the cottages of the neighbouring rustics. Yet, with all its simplicity, dear was this abode to his feeling heart; for it had sheltered his beloved Ermina from the storms of life, and witnessed her flight to those regions of happiness, which the superior virtues of her mind rendered her worthy of attaining. The soft harmony of her voice, the æthereal sweetness of her smile, all dwelt on his imagination with forcible and pained remembrance.
    Oh! souls of sympathy, cannot ye picture to yourselves the poignant anguish which overwhelms to agony a mind of sensibility, when it has lost a tenderly beloved friend and companion? What is the grief of common souls compared to theirs, who wear not only the semblance of sorrow, but its keenest shafts penetrate their lacerated bosoms; and objects that formerly created pleasure, serve only to bring the mournful recollection, that, alas! the chief source of delight is fled for ever?

If anything has the power to divert us from our attempts to make sense of that last sentence, it is the text’s apparent revelation that this novel’s heroine is dead—but of course, this turns out to be Ermina Montrose Sr. She and Colonel Montrose married without the permission of her father, Lord Belvidere, “a haughty, imperious nobleman”, who responded not merely by disinheriting her, but by actively persecuting the young couple, who finally fled to their isolated cottage to escape his vindictive wrath. Six years of happiness which included the birth of their only child followed, but now Colonel Montrose has been widowed and left the raise his daughter alone. The narrative skips lightly over this, content with observing matter-of-factly that, Each year, as it rolled away, brought some accomplishment in Ermina nearer to perfection, until she is fourteen, at which time the Colonel decides to place her in a convent in France for two years, so that she can perfect her French.

Like many sentimental novels of this period, Ermina Montrose chooses to behave as if the French Revolution never happened; though it goes its competition one better by forgetting, evidently, that its characters aren’t Catholic, and having Ermina decide to become a nun (it is clear later that she hasn’t converted). But while they occupy a fair chunk of the first volume, Ermina’s convent experiences and friendships – and hints at interesting back-stories for several of the nuns – ultimately turn out to have nothing to do with anything; except to make me suspect, in conjunction with what happens to her once she gets out of the convent, that Emily Clark originally intended writing a much more Gothicky novel, but for some reason changed her mind and instead sent her narrative in a domestic direction over the succeeding two volumes.

Neither Ermina’s sojourn in the convent nor her entering upon her novitiate prevents every man who sees her from falling in love with her. Victim #1 is the Count de Valcour, a volatile (to say the least) young Frenchman, who goes so far as to break into the convent in order to get up close and personal with her; Victim #2 is Father Eustache, a young Benedictine monk (!!), who starts repenting his vows the moment he lays eyes on her; and Victim #3 is Lord Henry Beauchamp, the son of the Earl of Darlington, who saves Colonel Montrose from bandits. The latter is invited to accompany the Colonel on one of his visits to the convent, and the damage is done. Here, however, we get damage in the other direction too:

…she was then as much charmed with his manners as with his appearance. She thought him learned without pedantry, sensible without affectation, and animated and witty without being frivolous or a coxcomb; and she admired him mostly for not being the least vain of his person (as handsome men in general are), but apparently unconscious of possessing more beauty than what falls to the usual lot of the male part of creation…

As it turns out, it’s just as well he’s got his looks to depend upon.

Lord Henry lays indirect siege to Ermina via poetry and then, as the time for her to take the veil draws near, declares himself in frantic smuggled letters, begging her to marry him. She is moved and confused, but still intends to take her vows when her father’s health collapses—because he can’t stand her becoming a nun, as he might have wanted to mention about a year ago. Ermina decides to leave the convent, and she, her father and Lord Henry become the guests of de Valcour.

The convent may be a thing of the past, but we’re not done being Gothicky just yet:

At supper the count introduced them to Father Anselmo, a monk, his friend and confessor. Ermina felt something repugnant to her feelings in his appearance; for though his sallow countenance was always dressed in smiles, yet under those smiles she fancied lurked cruelty and deceit… He easily perceived he was no favourite with her, as he had a great deal of penetration; and the glances he sometimes gave her from his yellow eye balls were replete with venom and ill-nature…

De Valcour regrets inviting Lord Henry to his chateau from the moment he gets a good look at him. His fears are well justified, as we learn with amusing casualness that—

…this animated party had been three weeks together at the chateau, which had passed on such silken wings that it appeared but as one. In this happy interval Lord Henry had again offered himself to Ermina, who, with the sanction of her father, had accepted his addresses…

…provisional upon Lord Henry receiving the approbation and consent of his father: this probably wasn’t intended as a pot-shot at her own parents, but it sure does read that way. Lord Henry is then abruptly called back to England, to the bedside of Lord Darlington, who is seriously ill, and must part from Ermina:

A cold shiver came over him…and his eyes were dimmed with tears as he entered the carriage… He could not shake off an uncommon depression of spirits, which he feared presaged some misfortune to himself, or (who was dearer to him) his innocent and beauteous Ermina.

He’s right about that, of course; although ironically he himself is the main misfortune which strikes her.

In Lord Henry’s absence, Ermina takes to wandering the grounds of the chateau alone, and on one of her expeditions comes across a lonely cottage occupied by a young Englishwoman and an elderly Frenchwoman. This, of course, is the cue for an interpolated narrative. Long story short, Adeliza’s intended marriage to de Valcour was prevented by the revelation of him being already married, so he abducted and eventually seduced her.

Shocked by her discovery of de Valcour’s true nature, Ermina begins to consider how to help Adeliza escape, but is diverted when Colonel Montrose’s health collapses. On his deathbed, he succeeds in extracting from de Valcour all sorts of promises about Ermina’s welfare; but no sooner is he dead than the count begins laying siege to her, intercepting her correspondence with Lord Henry, refusing to let her return to the convent, and finally imprisoning her, refusing to release her until she promises to marry him. Ermina withstands all this, and at length even persuades de Valcour to let her walk in the grounds, on the score that her health is suffering from confinement. On one of these expeditions she discovers a grotto, with a cave that has been turned into an apartment in its depths. Here she overhears a terrifying conversation between Father Anselmo and another monk:

    After something that Anselmo had said, the other monk replied in an agitated voice, “Hold, ’tis cowardly to assassinate a woman, poison would be better.”
    “No,” rejoined Anselmo, “she may then by some means escape, and suspicion be infused into her bosom. She shall no longer stand between me and my interest; for, were she disposed of, I could do whatever I pleased with de Valcour, and his fortune. Call it not murder.” Here he raised his voice, his countenance assuming a more diabolical expression, which she plainly perceived, as the cowl he wore concealed but half his face. “Is it not a religious act to stab an heretic, who, wedded to the count, will raise a brood of others? Here, mark me! take this dagger, steal to her chamber in the dead of night, and point it to her breast: for I’ve decreed it; ere three days more shall pass, she dies: France shall not another week contain alive the hated offspring of Colonel Montrose.”

At this point I had high hopes of Ermina Montrose, on the level of entertainment if not as literature, exactly; but sadly from here it’s downhill all the way. The present situation resolves itself when Adeliza’s outraged brother finally catches up with de Valcour and kills him; Adeliza dies of grief; Anselmo flees, never to be seen again (alas!); and Ermina returns to the convent to recover and sort out her life. There she becomes acquainted with Lady Julia Vernon, in retreat while mourning her husband (a short interlude that gives Ermina a completely false idea of her character), who offers to carry her back to England.

From here we settle into the wash-rinse-repeat aspect of the novel. Invited to stay with Lady Julia for a time, Ermina does in the hope of finding out why Lord Henry is not responding to the letters she is now certain he is receiving. Despite her disinclination, she feels obliged sometimes to accompany Lady Julia into society, and one night is taken to Ranelagh, where a certain Mr Devereaux becomes smitten with her.

From this point, Emily Clark strives in Ermina Montrose for the kind of social satire and character types with which Frances Burney’s novels abound, but her efforts are feeble, and occasionally embarrassing (as, for instance, when she stops to explain to us that any person with a disability or some sort of deformity, or is simply not physically attractive, will invariably prove to be “deformed” on the inside, too). All sorts of eccentrics wander in an out of the narrative, in scenes that are generally tiresome, rather than amusing as they are intended to be.

Clark is on firmer ground with the endless scenes of her heroine being persecuted; and we return to this dominating theme when, as Ermina walks with Devereaux, someone steps on the train of her gown:

The intended apology died away in confused murmurs on Lord Henry’s lips, the glow of surprise faded to an ashy paleness, and instead of returning the animated smile, he received from her, with the same look of pleasure, or accepting her proffered hand…he surveyed her with a repulsive gravity, uttered in a faultering voice, a few incoherent words of congratulations on seeing her in England, coldly bowed, and left her.

Get used to it, people: scenes like this comprise most of what this novel has to offer by way of “a love story”; when, that is, Lord Henry isn’t ranting at Ermina for being a whore. (My word, not his; but that’s the gist of it.)

When she can extricate herself from Lady Julia, Ermina returns to “the cottage of the vale” and is happy there for a time, reuniting with old acquaintances, until she receives word that the bank in which her small inheritance was placed has failed, and the banker fled. Forced to find work, Ermina requests her various friends to find her a position as governess, and is taken into the country house of Sir John and Lady Assop: near neighbours of the widowed Mrs Helderton, another person who, at this time, she considers a friend. For a time all seems well: the Assops are kind, Ermina’s young pupils well-behaved, the surrounding countryside beautiful. The first reversal of fortune comes when Mrs Helderton makes it very clear that her “friendship” for Ermina has altered with the girl’s circumstances.

But if Mrs Helderston dislikes Ermina as a governess, she positively hates her when she sees that her handsome cousin, Sir Charles Melrose, is immediately attracted to her. Mrs Helderton has no intention of remaining a widow, and Sir Charles is one of the two marital prospects she is assiduously pursuing, though only her second choice. The first happens to be Lord Henry Beauchamp…

By one of those capricious chances, in which fortune delights, a friend of Lord Henry’s and Mrs Helderton’s told her in confidence (unsuspecting her designs), of the hold Ermina still had on his affections, notwithstanding he was convinced of her unworthiness, though in what manner she had improperly acted Lord Henry would never tell his friend. Enraged, that she should be slighted for this insignificant girl (as she styled her), she vowed to do every thing in her power to mortify her…

And in this respect, at least, Mrs Helderton is a woman of her word; and her machinations and their consequences will b e at the root of much of what Ermina suffers over the following two volumes.

For a time Ermina is oblivious to the evil currents that are beginning to swirl around her; but one evening she overhears an enlightening conversation between Mrs Helderton’s maid and the Assops’ nursery-maid:

“Sir Charles may amuse himself with her as a mistress, but she will never be any thing more honourable to him. For my part,” continued Bridget, “if I was such a noble, handsome, rich gentleman as Sir Charles…I would never take up with other people’s hangers-on… Only to think now, that this wicked Miss Montrose enticed away my dear lady’s lover Lord Henry Beauchamp, when he was in France. She spent almost all his fortune, and then ran away with another gentleman, whom she intrigued with beforehand, which broke her poor father’s heart. There’s a wicked hussy for you, when she knew my lady was engaged to Lord Henry…and the poor gentleman, who was as beautiful a man as ever the sun shone on, is now wasting to a shadow: for nobody thinks he’ll live, it hurts him so, to think of her bad conduct; and I’m sure I wonder such a good woman as your mistress keeps the naughty creature in her house. Now you can’t be surprised that my lady hates her; and then to think, that she should make Sir Charles in love with her too! I do believe her to be a witch.”

This speech is a good example of the kind of talk that follows Ermina throughout the rest of the novel, always a framework of circumstantial truth surrounding the worst possible interpretation of events. But while it may be understandable that people who don’t really know Ermina may begin to lend an ear to the constant denigration of her character, there is no excuse for the people who are supposed to know and love her.

Annoyingly enough, the main thing that Ermina carries away from her enlightening eavesdropping (she does that a lot, though the narrative takes pains to find excuses) is the bulletin about Lord Henry’s failing health. This possibility preys upon her mind, affecting her spirits and her health so that everyone notices—including Sir Charles, who is so moved by her evident distress that he impulsively proposes marriage. Caught between her lingering feelings for Lord Henry, her awareness that he now despises her, and her gratitude for the generosity of Sir Charles, whom she likes and admires, Ermina wrestles with herself but finally accepts his proposal. News of the engagement spreads quickly, pleasing the Assops and causing everyone but Mrs Helderton to treat Ermina with increased respect.

Soon after this, however, Ermina is walking out when she is accosted by a gipsy—who turns out (for reasons not worth getting into) to be Lord Henry in disguise. She is taken so much by surprise that she stays to hear what he has to say for himself. As she suspected, their letters were intercepted; and Lord Henry knew nothing concrete until the news of Colonel Montrose’s death was reported. Shortly afterwards, still trying to bring his father (who objected to Ermina’s all-but-penniless state) to consent to their marriage, Lord Henry received further word of Ermina through a French friend of Lord Darlington’s, who mentioned to him a certain beautiful Englishwoman who was known by common report to be the mistress of the libertine Count de Valcour:

“I now attributed your neglect of me to a passion for my rival; and rage, jealousy, and contempt for your depraved conduct and infidelity, seized complete possession of my soul…”

Then the meeting at Ranelagh: he wondered at seeing her with Lady Julia—but assumed she had deceived her, too; he noted her mourning—and concluded it was for de Valcour… And so on. Finally he tore himself away from London and went wandering, ending up by pure chance at The Cottage Of The Vale, where Ermina’s maid, Therese, told him what had actually gone on in France:

“But, oh heavens! when she related in those simple unadorned terms, which so forcibly convey the truth, the various miseries and misfortunes in which you had been involved by the treachery and deceit of your worthless enemies, I execrated my credulity and unfeeling behaviour, reflecting with remorse that I ought, before I had condemned, to have heard your justification, and enable you to defend yourself against every calumnious aspersion.”

On the back of this, Lord Henry confronts the gossipy Baron de Belmont:

“…whom I brought to a confession that he had been instigated by Lord Darlington (whom de Valcour had treacherously informed of our attachment, and at the same time suppressed our letters) to invent those falsehoods of you, having himself never seen, or even heard of you and de Valcour, and would not for any consideration have aided such a scheme, if my father had not represented you as a girl of infamous character, who wished to seduce me to marry her.”

Now—you’d think an experience like this might have taught Lord Henry a thing or two, but you’d be very wrong: he spends the rest of the novel listening to anyone who has a bad word to say about Ermina; when, that is, he isn’t busy behaving like a dick of monumental proportions.

When telling Ermina’s story, Therese also informed Lord Henry of her engagement to Sir Charles Melrose; and now, though she forgives him for his distrust of her, Ermina insists that honour forbids her to break with the baronet. Lord Henry begs and pleads, but she is adamant; which produces this outburst:

Almost frantic at the idea of losing her, Lord Henry implored her compassion, intreating her not to sacrifice their happiness to a vain phantom of honour. This she steadily refused; and, irritated, abandoned to passion by the stings of disappointed affection, he exclaimed: “Then you have never loved me, deceitful girl, if I am to be resigned for the empty opinion of the world! You must prefer Sir Charles; but I swear by God, that I will not live to see you his wife—either one or other of us must fall. I will hasten instantly to him and demand satisfaction.”

Ah! – the always charming and by no means a sign that you are dealing with a narcissistic sociopath if-I-can’t-have-you-no-one-will gambit! (Which was last seen around these parts in Barford Abbey.) I must admit, though, to being intrigued by Lord Henry’s casual dismissal of “honour” as a mere excuse, given how many novels of this period have their characters tying themselves in knots over merely perceived demands of honour, let alone a case as clear as this one.

Ermina manages to calm Lord Henry down, admitting that she still loves him, and pleading with him neither to risk his own life nor Sir Charles’s. Finally they part—forever, as far as Ermina is concerned. Preparations for the wedding continue, and the entire party travels from the country to Sir John’s house in London, where the ceremony to to take place. All is well until a few days before, when Sir Charles’s behaviour towards Ermina suddenly changes. He offers no explanation, however (of course not!), and Ermina is at a loss until the party attends a play: so emotionally caught up in the miseries on stage that she nearly swoons, Ermina is just recovering when…

…the first object she saw was Lord Henry Beauchamp contemplating her with an air of the deepest dejection, apparently regardless of every one but herself, whilst Sir Charles surveyed him with a fierce and sullen countenance…

Sure enough, the threatened duel takes place, though at Sir Charles’s seeking, and on the morning of his wedding-day!—and it is Sir Charles who gets the worst of it, being carried back to the Assops’ covered in blood and not expected to live. Mrs Helderton has been in the mix lately, so we are not much surprised at this, even if Ermina is; and in a state of guilt and shock, contemplating Sir Charles’s death on one hand and Lord Henry either under arrest or fleeing the country, she flees herself, slipping out of the house unseen and making sure no-one knows where she has gone (and that no-one will be able to find her, should things prove not quite so grim as anticipated, sigh).

Under the name of “Miss Smith” (no really), Ermina finds lodgings – poor, but with a kind landlady – and work, being employed to do fancy needlework by a French modiste. Though tormented by not knowing whether Sir Charles is alive or dead, and Lord Henry consequently safe, under arrest or on the run (it doesn’t occur to her to buy a newspaper), Ermina settles into her new, narrow existence until discovered by the dissolute Sir Patrick O’Neil, to whom she was introduced at Lady Julia’s. He informs his good friend, Mr Glencarnock – “an ugly, little, hump-backed man” – and the two begin persecuting her, both determined to obtain her in one capacity or another. Glencarnock, indeed, finally proposes marriages—provided Ermina is willing to keep it a secret.

In the face of this harassment, Ermina starts regretfully making plans to change her lodgings; but this is forestalled by an offer of work as a live-in seamstress for a certain Colonel Rivers. She accepts this offer with relief, only to be shocked by the discovery that – duh! – she has been decoyed into a trap by Glencarnock. To her credit, Ermina shows some backbone and makes several unsuccessful attempts to escape, failing narrowly only when she suffers a bad fall, before Glencarnock unwisely gets into a physical confrontation with her over the key to her room and is left sprawling with a head injury. Ermina takes to her heels and is fortunate enough to find someone willing to help her, one “Zemin Linmore”.

Here erupts one of Ermina Monstrose‘s most absurd subplots; though its absurdity cannot compensate for its bad taste. Linmore turns out to be the son of a Native American chief – no, really – who has been handed over to one Captain Linmore to be raised and educated as an English gentleman. The narrative goes on and on about how handsome Zemin is, how good, how generous, how high-principled, how accomplished…before shaking its head over how sad it is that he isn’t white, without which the rest means nothing. Zemin falls in love with Ermina, of course, and equally of course knows it’s futile, since he isn’t white. He finally leaves the country to try and get over his hopeless passion—and when a newspaper reports that his ship sank with all hands lost, it is accompanied by a straight-faced suggestion that an early death was a fate to be desired, considering that he wasn’t white, and therefore could never be happy. (Too bad for the rest of the passengers and crew…)

Anyway— Zemin cannot prevent Ermina being dragged back by Glencarnock’s servants, but he arranges her escape and places her with friends of his, Quakers called Mr and Mrs Fairfield. Here the wash-rinse-repeat cycle starts again: Ermina is safe and happy for a time, until the Fairfields carry her to London, on a visit to their far less unworldly son and daughter-in-law. Against her will, Ermina is taken out into society, usually under the chaperonage of a Mrs Ballenden, where she attracts the attention of an elderly nobleman, the Earl of Valency, to whom she is also drawn for reasons she cannot articulate. (Jane Austen alert!) Other consequences are less pleasant, and include an encounter with Mrs Helderton. Soon enough, the daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, is asking pointed questions about Sir Charles Melrose, and excoriating Ermina for abusing the trust of the Fairfields:

“I have already spoken to them,” replied the quaker, “and it has occasioned a misunderstanding between them, my husband, and myself; for thy arts, of which I have been fully informed, have blinded them to believe any thing thou doth choose to advance. Verily, it was not well done of Zemin Linmore to introduce his mistress under the roof of our respectable parents, whose ill-placed charity in protecting thee, must bring disgrace on all their family.”

In the wake of this, Ermina has an excruciating encounter with her former employer, the modiste, who in front of Elizabeth addresses her as “Miss Smith”—which leaves her with nothing to do but run away again. This time she cannot find employment, and sinks into real poverty before being discovered and rescued again, this time by the same Mr Devereaux whom she met at Ranelagh, before her first encounter with Lord Henry. Devereaux finds a position for her as companion to his aunt, the eccentric Mrs St Austin. Before she leaves London, he begs her to allow him to escort her to the theatre. She feels that she cannot refuse the invitation—but of course is made to regret her decision:

…she perceived to her extreme consternation, Mrs Helderton and another lady of a most unprepossessing appearance, looking at her with a sneer on their countenances, and talking at the same time, apparently about her, to a gentleman who seemed very much interested in what they said… Suddenly, however, he turned round to seat himself by Mrs Helderton, and, overcome with joy, surprise, and terror, Ermina felt ready to faint, when their eyes at the same moment meeting, she discovered the man whom she had so long regretted, whom she fancied to be wandering, forlorn, unhappy, and anxious for her fate, far from his native country, to be now before her; for it was indeed Lord Henry…

…who behaves towards her exactly as we expect; and for a few glorious moments, Ermina reacts to it as she should:

When at liberty to reflect on the conduct of Lord Henry, she felt keener resentment against him than she could ever have thought it possible for her to feel for any person, particularly one who had so often vowed his affection for her was interwoven with his existence…How sincerely did she regret the loss she had sustained in the alienated affections of Melrose, whose faith and truth were so much more valuable than the fickle passion of Lord Henry… She regretted bitterly, that he should have prevented an union in which the greatest felicity would most probably have been her lot… She even worked up her imagination to a belief, that the story he had told her at their last interview in Devonshire, was a fabrication to exculpate himself…

Well—it’s nice while it lasts, anyway.

Ermina travels to Mrs Austin’s country estate, where she is safe and happy for a time; until—

Do I really have to say it?

First, however, Ermina interests herself in the situation of a peasant family living on the estate. Long story short (again), the beautiful daughter became the object of the lustful interest of a Squire Brandon, who to pave his own way to her, had her soldier-fiancé transferred to a regiment about to be sent overseas on active duty, while forcing Helen and her grandmother off their farm in order to deprive them of their income. Ermina relieves the immediate wants of the unfortunate women, but worries that Helen’s illness may be fatal. She and Dame Primrose agree to present an account of the circumstances to Edward’s commanding officer, in the hope that he will undo the young soldier’s transfer if he knows why it was brought about. Ermina writes a letter, stating everything she knows and asseverating her belief in the good character of all three, and Dame Primrose carries it to Carlisle. She manages to see the regimental colonel, and he does indeed read the letter—and is so affected by it that even the hopeful grandmother is surprised.

And here we get the novel’s one successful touch of humour as, thanks to Dame Primorose’s extreme country accent, Ermina does not recognise who she means when she speaks of “Lord Bochon”.

Sure enough, Lord Henry soon rocks up. He is scrupulous in assisting Dame Primrose, Helen and Edward; but when he sees Ermina, we start all over again:

“Fool, mean-spirited madman that I am, not all your infidelity and ill usage can eradicate the fatal passion you inspired, which has been my ruin… Yes, wretched woman, you have been my destruction, blasted every prospect of my happiness, and forced me to seek in battle an oblivion of my sorrows; as the fatal remembrance of your cruelty has denied me peace in this world. In a few months I quit England for ever; and in far-distant Eastern climes will bury all recollection of the falseness and treachery with which you have required my faithful love.”

He then has the gall to promise “always to be her friend”, if she will “return to the paths of honour”; warning her however that “the loss of [her] innocence is never to be recovered”.

Ermina is not unnaturally stunned by this outpouring, but as he starts to leave she insists on being heard; and again she says exactly as she should—except for not sending him on his way with a hearty wish of a close encounter between himself and a cannon-ball:

    “That you should harbour suspicion after the explanation that took place between us in Devonshire, appears to me beyond belief; for having once made me suffer from your credulity, it is certainly unpardonable of you to err a second time. I have not much to say on the subject, because I feel myself perfectly undeserving of reproach, and know not who are my accusers; but in talking of injuries you totally mistake the affair, as it is myself, and not you, that is the injured person. I compassionate, however, the weak credulity of your disposition… Perhaps you will find a pleasure…in the reflection that you have insulted a woman you pretended to love with the most gross suspicions…”
    “I would fain believe you innocent,” replied Lord Henry, “and what you affirm overwhelms me with fresh doubt, but will listen no more; warned by those, who know you and your power over me, not to attend to your fascinating voice…”
    “Alas! I see but too plainly,” exclaimed Ermina, “the extent of my misfortunes. Not any assertions of mine will make you believe me innocent, and to combat with prejudices so rooted is quite useless. And now, Lord Henry, I take my leave; yet the time I hope will come…when you will repent your too easy belief, but it will then be too late, as from this moment I obliterate all traces of you from my remembrance; and be assured, that wounded pride and injured virtue will make the task far from difficult.”

And, oh!—if only she’d meant it! If only she had married Devereaux – who is in love with her, of course – or Charles Melrose – who isn’t dead, of course. I’d’ve quite liked this novel then, or at least liked it better. Buuuuuuuut, no; and sadly, Catherine Cuthbertson’s Santo Sebastiano remains the only novel of this era I’ve yet discovered to have its heroine respond to mistreatment by breaking with a man who doesn’t deserve her and finding one who does.

Around this time we finally get some explanation of the chain of gossip which has pursued Ermina, and how Mrs Helderton managed to rope the Earl of Darlington, the Baron de Belmont, Mr Glencarnock and even Sir Charles into her plots against the girl; convincing the latter that she was Lord Henry’s cast-off mistress, and calling various “witnesses”, including her maid, Bridget, who overheard the conversation betweem Ermina and Lord Henry in Devonshire (translated into a “secret assignation”), to back up her story.

In the latter Mrs Helderton overreached herself, having certainly not meant for Sir Charles and Lord Henry to try and kill each other; and great was her exasperation upon discovering afterwards that although she had succeeded in ruining Ermina with both men, neither of them showed the slightest increase of partiality for her. Her malice then pursued Ermina to the Fairfields, where to the existing stories another involving Zemin Linmore was added; while later, applied to by Lord Henry, who knew her only as a connection of the various interested parties, after Ermina’s disappearance from the Assops’ house, she added to the mix the assertion that her reduced circumstances forced Ermina to become the mistress of Sir Patrick O’Neil; after which she taken under the protection of Mr Devereaux.

Mrs Helderton overreaches again, this time fatally, when she sends an anonymous letter denouncing Ermina to Mrs St Austin: the latter shows the ugly epistle to its subject, and Ermina recognises the handwriting. She tells as much as she understands of the sorry tale, which isn’t that much (as she knows nothing of Mrs Helderton’s personal plans for Lord Henry and/or Sir Charles), and Mrs St Austin persuades her (or orders her) to travel to London, to seek out those to whom she believes she has been calumniated by Mrs Helderton, and to show them the letter and the handwriting. Ermina obeys, but finds everyone she needs to talk to out of the country.

Forced, reluctantly, to wait in London for their return, Ermina is at least moved to send Mrs Helderton a satirical letter, thanking her for all her good offices (not that she knows the half of it!). This is a tremendous shock for Mrs Helderton, whose guilty conscience brings on hysterics, which eventually reduce her to a convenient state of shattered health, and put her into an even more convenient mood for confession.

But that is some time in the future. First (through circumstances too dumb to be dwelt upon), Ermina goes through one more round of lonely destitution; this time being rescued by the long-forgotten Earl of Valency, who turns out to be – surprise! – her grandfather, who inherited another title after he was introduced to us as the “haughty, imperious” Lord Belvidere. His lordship has long since repented his cruel treatment of his daughter and son-in-law, and wants to make amends of sorts by re-establishing Ermina.

After that, things fall into place pretty quickly, the process being greatly assisted by Bridget who, after being sacked by Mrs Helderton, retaliates by telling the truth to the Assops; while Mrs Helderton, literally dying of shame, as we are asked to believe, calls for Lord Henry and tells him the truth. This sends him flying to Ermina, and to her feet, to beg forgiveness.

So we would hope.

And yet there is still time for one more outbreak of dickishness from Our Hero, when the altogether too forgiving Ermina rightly “determine[s] to punish him just a little for what he had caused her to suffer”, by telling him:

    “…your present confession, though it cannot restore my love, which your ill treatment of me quickly effaced, yet gains you my esteen and friendship”; and as she uttered these last words, with an assumed coldness and indifference, she held out her hand to him.
    So well did she dissemble, that with an angry and mournful air mingled with surprise, Lord Henry rejected her proffered hand. “Cruel, insulting woman,” said he, “I will not accept your friendship; your love I require or nothing. Oh! had I ever been truly valued, you would not thus have wounded my feelings by such cold language, but would eagerly have forgiven errors for which I have been sufficiently punished.”

That’s right, folks—SHE has been cruel to HIM. And, yup, SHE ends up apologising:

Lord Henry now drew from the blushing Ermina a reluctant confession, that, notwithstanding the reasons she apparently had to detest him, he had always continued dear to her…

Woman—you ought to blush…

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12/01/2017

Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose

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To date we have seen the various tropes that would finally come together to form the Gothic novel appear in fits and starts, usually putting in only brief appearances within the framework of the sentimental novel. The next fictional step in the process was a mere fragment of prose, an experimental piece of writing that appeared amongst a number of non-fiction essays and critical writings that comprise 1773’s Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose.

John Aikin was a qualified doctor who practised for some years in the north of England before relocating to Norfolk and finally to London, where he gave up his medical career to concentrate on writing. Initially Aikin was known for his pamphlets of social criticism and his views on the liberty of the conscience, but later he became the first editor of The Monthly Magazine.

Anna Laetitia Aikin, now better known by her married name of Barbauld, was an important figure in late 18th century literature, until her political opinions (viewed as “radical” and “unpatriotic”) killed her popularity in the early 19th century, and saw her largely expunged from the record; although various feminist writers are now attempting to re-establish her. At the outset of her career, Anna Laetitia worked as a teacher while publishing treatises on childhood education and stories for children; her theories on education were widely adopted. She was one of the first female literary critics, and later the editor of an anthology of 18th century British novels; she was also a poet and essayist of note. In conjunction with her brother, John, across 1792-1795 she wrote and published Evenings At Home, a set of writings intended to encourage family readings, particularly amongst the newly literate, which were hugely popular all over Europe.

However, John and Anna Laetitia Aikin first published together in 1773. Their Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose is exactly what its title suggests, a collection of writings of various themes and approaches, but mostly focused upon how art and literature achieve their effects. It has been asserted that Anna Laetitia wrote the bulk of these pieces, and while no justification for this view has been forthcoming, I’m inclined to agree with it for reasons of my own. Reading these essays close together, it is evident that there are two different voices within the writings, and that the major contributor (i) is familiar with the state of English popular fiction; and (ii) has a sense of humour.

Though only a sliver of this volume is relevant to our purposes, here is a brief overview of the rest of the contents:

On The Province Of Comedy: – an essay describing the functioning of “the ludicrous” in plays, and distinguishing between the effects achieved through character, and those achieved through incident.

The Hill Of Science, A Vision: – an allegorical sketch (populated with symbolic characters, a la John Bunyan) differentiating the pursuit of fame and the pursuit of happiness.

Seláma; An Imitation Of Ossian: – a florid tale of medieval conflict and doomed love. Although this passage doesn’t get highlighted in discussions of this collection (possibly because of the still-ongoing debate about “Ossian”), it too presents a number of the themes and situations that would later sustain the Gothic novel.

Against Inconsistency In Our Expectations: – a philosophical essay arguing for reasonable expectations and ambitions as the basis of happiness and content (and warning about the reverse).

The Canal And The Brook. A Reverie: – a romantic piece defending the irregular beauty of the brook against the sterile utility of the canal (with both bodies of water speaking for themselves).

On Monastic Institutions: – an essay arguing that despite the inherent failings of the whole Catholics-and-monks arrangement (the Aikins were Nonconformists), monasteries played an important role in education and the preservation and propagation of fine literature and art; and were also important in a broad moral sense.

On The Heroic Poem Of ‘Gondibert’: – the toughest piece of the lot, an overlong examination of the criticisms made of William Davenant’s epic poem, Gondibert, and an equally overlong defence of it.

A Tale: – another allegorical story, about the coming to earth of the children of the gods: Love, Joy, Hope, Sorrow, etc., etc.

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The remaining three pieces need to be examined in more detail, as they both shed some light on the peculiar mindset which we have noticed in many of the novels of this period, and point forward to the further development of this branch of writing.

On Romances, An Imitation is an essay commenting upon the peculiar place occupied in society by the writer of popular fiction, pointing out that while the products of most professions (concrete or theoretical) reach only a limited and pre-defined audience, the writer of fiction can reach almost everyone. It then segues into the question (so very pertinent in the second half of the 18th century, when the sentimental novel was at its peak and the Gothic novel on the horizon) of why reading about other people’s miseries should be so attractive to so many:

It is, indeed, no ways extraordinary that the mind should be charmed by fancy, and attracted by pleasure; but that we should listen to the groans of misery, and delight to view the exacerbations of complicated anguish, that we should chuse to chill the bosom with imaginary fears, and dim the eyes with fictitious sorrow, seems a kind of paradox of the heart…

(“Complicated anguish”—goodness me, what a perfect summation of 18th century fiction!)

An Enquiry Into Those Kinds Of Distresses Which Excite Agreeable Sensations is an examination of a phenomenon which we have noticed often enough at this blog: the tendency of sentimental novels to pile on the misery, not infrequently to the extent of a thoroughly unhappy ending, and featuring scenes wherein other people’s sufferings are not only treated as a kind of performance art, a perverse “entertainment”, but as a source of empathetic emotion so strong that it can induce crying and fainting in the other characters: which is, however, tacitly viewed as a desirable, even pleasurable, outcome. The underlying implication is that readers would, likewise, find scenes of misery pleasurable:

It is undoubtedly true, though a phenomenon of the human mind difficult to account for, that the representation of distress frequently gives pleasure; from which general observation many of our modern writers of tragedy and romance seem to have drawn this inference, that in order to please they have nothing to do than paint distress in natural and striking colours. With this view, they heap together all the afflicting events and dismal accidents their imagination can furnish; and when they have half broke the reader’s heart, they expect he should thank them for his agreeable entertainment…

(“Afflicting events and dismal accidents”— Note to self: write an analysis of 18th century sentimental literature and publish it under that title.)

Anna Laetitia (and I’m quite sure this is Anna Laetitia talking) goes on to reprove contemporary authors for overdoing it; or at least, for being indiscriminate in the kinds and degrees of miseries that they pile into their novels:

The view or relation of mere misery can never be pleasing. We have, indeed, a strong sympathy with all kinds of misery; but it is a feeling of pure unmixed pain, similar in kind, though not equal in degree to what we feel for ourselves on the like occasion; and never produces that melting sorrow, that thrill of tenderness, to which we give the name of pity. There are two different sensations, marked by very different external expression. One causes the nerves to tingle, the flesh to to shudder, and the whole countenance to be thrown into strong contractions; the other relaxes the frame, opens the features, and produces tears…

Of the latter she then goes on to add:

…there must be some other sentiment combined with this kind of instinctive sympathy, before it becomes in any degree pleasing, or produces the sweet emotion of pity. This sentiment is love, esteem, the complacency we take in the contemplation of beauty, of mental or moral excellence, called forth and rendered more interesting, by circumstances of pain and danger. Tenderness is, much more properly than sorrow, the spring of tears; for it affects us in that manner whether combined with joy or grief; perhaps more in the former case than the latter. And I believe we may venture to assert that no distress which produces tears is wholly without a mixture of pleasure…

While she is speaking in the context of the novel, we note that Anna Laetitia is here referring to the social theories expounded by the Deists (which we considered in detail with respect to James R. Foster’s History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England), who contended that the indulgence of positive emotions – those name-checked here, love, esteem, pity, tenderness – made the individual a better, a more moral person. (The downside of this is that the pursuit of “sensibility” produced a lot of ridiculous posturing, both fictional and in reality.)

The essay then goes on to argue that in this arena, the novel has a great advantage over the drama, because it is able to focus upon the small and the delicate, whereas plays have to strive for big effects. Yet it is the following criticism of where novels tend to get it wrong that really grabs the attention:

Tragedy and romance-writers are likewise apt to make too free with the more violent expressions of passion and distress, by which means they lose their effect. Thus an ordinary author does not know how to express any strong emotion otherwise than by swooning or death; so that a person experienced in this kind of reading, when a girl faints away at parting with her lover, or a hero kills himself for the loss of his mistress, considers it as the established etiquette upon such occasion, and turns over the pages with the utmost coolness and unconcern…

More ‘Advice To Aspiring Writers’ follows:

Scenes of distress should not be too long continued… It is…highly necessary in a long work to relieve the mind by scenes of pleasure and gaiety; and I cannot think it so absurd a practice as our modern delicacy has represented it, to intermix wit and fancy with the pathetic, provided care be taken not to check the passions while they are flowing… Those who have touched the strings of pity with the finest hand have mingled light strokes of pleasantry and mirth in their most pathetic passages. Very different is the conduct of many novel writers, who by plunging us into scenes of distress without end or limit, exhaust the powers, and before the conclusion either renders us insensible to every thing, or fix a real sadness upon the mind…

…or induce uncontrollable giggling, as the case might be.

Interestingly enough, the essay concludes by suggesting that the over-indulgence of “sensibility” tends to blunt the capacity for sympathy and pity, rather than augment it—as was contended by many of the Deists, who viewed the novel as a sort of training exercise, to be used to keep the emotions flexible when no real circumstances of misery were available. Specifically, it is argued, novels raise virtuous emotions without offering an outlet for them in action, and this in turn blunts and inhibits those emotions. Furthermore, by making misery too “pretty”, novels tend to give people a disgust of the real thing, killing the charitable impulse.

But the best novels do exactly what they are intended to do, make people better for reading them:

Yet there is a species of this kind of writing which must ever afford an exquisite pleasure to persons of taste and sensibility; where noble sentiments are mixed with well fancied incidents, pathetic touches with dignity and grace, and invention with chaste correctness.

Alas! – no examples are offered. Instead, the allegorical A Tale follows.

But while these views on the state of literature, circa 1770, are fascinating, what we’re really here for is a related essay.

One of the most influential pieces of writing published during the 18th century was Edmund Burke’s 1757 essay, A Philosophical Enquiry Into The Origin Of Our Ideas Of The Sublime And Beautiful, which first insisted upon the inherent pleasure of apparently negative situations and emotions. Burke’s arguments, though much more thoroughly and emphatically presented, are generally those we have just seen used by Anna Laetitia in her contention that, No distress which produces tears is wholly without a mixture of pleasure. Burke is likewise the origin of the argument for two different physical reactions to different kinds or degrees of misery: One causes the nerves to tingle, the flesh to to shudder, and the whole countenance to be thrown into strong contractions; the other relaxes the frame, opens the features, and produces tears.

Here, however, we are concerned with the first reaction. It was Burke’s belief that:

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature…is Astonishment; and Astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.

Critically in respect of the development of the Gothic novel, which seized this idea and ran with it, Burke further contended that the ruling principle of the sublime was terror—that is, the sublime could be so overwhelming as to induce a fear that was nevertheless pleasurable.

This is the point picked up in On The Pleasures Derived From Objects Of Terror. Having considered in the previous essay the pleasures of misery, this one considers the still more perverse pleasures of terror, at least in the realm of literature. An argument is made here that the power of the tale of terror—one shared by all fiction, to a greater or lesser extent–is its capacity to create suspense and raise curiosity:

We rather chuse to suffer the smart pain of a violent emotion than the uneasy craving of an unsatisfied desire. That this principle, in many instances, may involuntarily carry us through what we dislike, I am convinced from experience. This is the impulse which renders the poorest and most insipid narrative interesting when we once get fairly into it; and I have frequently felt it with regard to our modern novels, which, if lying on my table, and taken up in an idle hour, have led me through the most tedious and disgusting pages, while, like Pistol eating his leek, I have swallowed and execrated to the end. And it will not only force us through dullness, but through actual torture…

(Hey, we’ve all been there!)

But is this really sufficient to account for the willingness, eagerness, of readers to be scared?

    This solution, however, does not satisfy me with respect to the well-wrought scenes of artificial terror which are formed by a sublime and vigorous imagination. Here, though we know before-hand, what to expect, we enter into them with eagerness, in quest of a pleasure already experienced. This is the pleasure constantly attached to the excitement of surprise from new and wonderful objects. A strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps it on the stretch; and where the agency of invisible beings is introduced, of “forms unseen, and mightier far than we”, our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid open to its view, and rejoices in the expansion of its powers. Passion and fancy co-operating elevate the soul to its highest pitch; and the pain of terror is lost in amazement.
    Hence, the more wild, fanciful, and extraordinary are the circumstances of a scene of horror, the more pleasure we receive from it…

(So the next time someone asks me why I like horror movies, I’ll have an answer.)

In this context, we are given some examples—One Thousand And One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights), in particular the stories of Aladdin and Sinbad; The Castle Of Otranto (naturally); and a particular segment of Tobias Smollett’s Ferdinand, Count Fathom:

…where the hero, entertained in a lone house in a forest, finds a corpse just slaughtered in the room where he is sent to sleep, and the door of which is locked upon him…

But is not this essay in itself which qualifies Miscellaneous Pieces, In Prose for a place in the timeline of the Gothic Novel, but the fact that it is appended by an attempt at the sort of writing just described.

Sir Betrand, A Fragment finds its eponymous hero lost on the moors with night closing in. He is close to despair when he hears a tolling bell, and sees too a distant light. He follows these welcome signals to the edge of a moat surrounding a desolate and crumbling castle. He ventures across the draw-bridge into the courtyard, and finally works up the courage to knock upon the massive doors of the castle proper; even as the faint light comes and goes, sometimes plunging him into total darkness:

A third time he knocked, and a third time all was still. He then fell back to some distance that he might discern whether any light could be seen in the whole front—It again appeared in the same place and quickly glided away as before—at the same instant a deep sullen toll sounded from the turret. Sir Bertrand’s heart made a fearful stop—He was a while motionless; then terror impelled him to make some hasty steps towards his steed—but shame stopt his flight; and urged by honour, and a resistless desire of finishing the adventure, he returned to the porch; and working up his soul to a full steadiness of resolution, he drew forth his sword with one hand, and with the other lifted up the latch of the gate. The heavy door, creaking upon its hinges, reluctantly yielded to his hand—he applied his shoulder to it and forced it open—he quitted it and stept forward—the door instantly shut with a thundering clap. Sir Bertrand’s blood was chilled—he turned back to find the door, and it was long ere his trembling hands could seize it—but his utmost strength could not open it again…

Forced to go onwards, Sir Bertrand finds more strange and terrifying adventures awaiting him, including an encounter with a ghostly figure with a bloody stump instead of a hand. He makes his way into a huge room occupied only by a coffin:

At the same moment the lid of the coffin flew open, and the bell tolled. The flame still glided forwards, and Sir Bertrand resolutely followed, till he arrived within six paces of the coffin. Suddenly, a lady in a shrowd and black veil rose up in it, and stretched out her arms towards him…

And so on…but, critically, to no conclusion. Sir Bertrand, A Fragment is just a fragment, with no beginning or end, and no explanation of its events—and it is precisely this, the context-free and therefore disorientating nature of Sir Bertrand’s adventures, that gives it its power. (Whereas the later Gothic novels, feeling obliged to explain themselves, very often fall apart at the last.) This piece of short fiction, only 1500 words long, packing into its narrow confines an amusing plethora of touches later to become tropes, has long been recognised as an important step in the evolution of literary horror in Britain: no other piece of writing at this time is so intent upon horrors for their own sake.

We should note too that Sir Bertrand’s behaviour mirrors that attributed to readers by the author when explaining the attractions of the horror story, wherein he chooses to enter the castle rather than flee by, A resistless desire of finishing the adventure. Knowing, however terrifying, is better than not knowing.

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