Lucinda Elliot: Here I go on to discuss the issue of the role of the ‘Protagonist and Antagonist in Elizaeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’. I warn you, when I get started on one of my favourite topics I go and on, so this post will probably stretch into three…
[The last words are shouted above the noise of scraping sounds as cyber chairs are shoved back and not particularly huge group that constitutes the audience votes with their feet.]
Lucinda Elliot: Is anyone still with me?
Reader (pauses in doorway) Nobody sane, anyway (leaves, shaking head in disbelief).
[Lucinda Elliot spies three remaining people in curiously old-fashioned dress at the back of the cyber hall. These are a fine handsome naval officer with dark hair almost in ringlets who flashes his white teeth in a friendly smile, a plain-looking and rather drooping man of the respectable shopkeeper type, and a female figure shrouded in a heavy veil].
Lucinda Elliot: Kinraid, I give you fair notice I won’t speak as your friend any more than as Philip Hepburn’s. By the way, that’s a pinch from Dobbin’s speech to Becky Sharp in ‘Vanity Fair’.
Kinraid (still smiling) I’m well aware of that, Ma’am. You will say that I am a shallow opportunist. You will argue that as a naval captain, I must of necessity have in my later meteoric naval career have colluded with the press-gang I once so violently opposed.
You will point out that: ‘In the French Revolutionary Wars, it was often impossible for a ship to leave port without the captain having recourse to the press-gang, and as has been demonstrated by the research done for the ‘Hornblower’ novels, it was often equally impossible for the captain to be scrupulous about keeping to its legal requirements.’
You will go on to say that as Speksioneer of the ‘Good Fortune’ , I reputedly shot dead two press-gang members – by the by, that’s reputedly, Ma’am; I made no confession; as you know. – You will point out that I only escaped hanging for that through being ‘kicked aside for dead’. (winces at the memory).
You will then say my defenders must admit either that I was right to shoot them then, but wrong to collude with them as a Captain later, or that I was right to collude with them later and wrong to shoot them down then, but I cannot have been right on both occasions, as the press-gang invariably acted outside the terms of it’s legal remit. Am I right?
Lucinda Elliot: You are, mate. Then with regard to your supposed faithfulness to Sylvia during your three years’ absence at sea –
Kinraid: (suddenly notices the woman in veils huddled in the corner). Eh, yon’s not my missus Clarinda?
(The woman throws back her heavy veils.)
Kinraid and Hepburn (speaking for once, as one): Sylvia!!!
Sylvia: I think yon talkative female is right, for all her long words, and you both treated me ill. I didn’t know that about yon naval captain’s winking at the doings of the press-gang, Charley – I mean, Captain Kinraid, and I’m glad as I didn’t marry you to find that out later.
Kinraid (aside) Damn my eyes, but that’s fair saucy.
Hepburn: Ah, Sylvie. I made thee my idol. But thou made yon fickle, false Kinraid thine (glances at his watch). Time to count the takings in yon haberdashery.
Lucinda Elliot: Sit down, now you’re here.
Kinraid: (in a loud whisper) Yon females is main and grouchy. That comes of letting them out from under your thumb (to Sylvia). I don’t see how I used you ill, lass, I was faithful to you for the three years I was at sea after the press-gang took me.
Lucinda Elliot: I can easily disprove that feeble assertion.
Kinraid (starts guiltily) What? Ma’am, you can prove nothing. Yon author Mistress Gaskell wrote my character too fause ever to be tied down, except by the press-gang, never by readers. The evidence about my womanizing is hearsay. The evidence that I’m a murderer is hearsay. I just happened to fall in love with a pretty heiress,but what then? That was just luck, and I made her money as came to me fair and square over to her, so you can’t even prove I’m a fortune hunter. It all comes along o’ being on a whaler called ‘The Good Fortune’ amd gave me t’luck that pulled me though that day I heroically confronted yon press-gang (glances at Sylvia) and that luck was with me e’er after.
Lucinda Elliot: You wouldn’t exactly have had shore leave as an impressed man, in case you made off. After you were promoted to warrant officer for good behaviour, you volunteered to go on that raid with Sir Sidney Smith, were taken prisoner, and kept in a French prison for two years until one Monsieur Phillipeux helped you to escape. I don’t see how you’d have had much opportunity to be anything but faithful, given the circumstances, if one closely follows the dates given.
It is true that no sooner had you reached the UK – now promoted to Lieutenant by Smith in gratitude – than you took off to see the girl you had left behind you only to learn you had been deceived and Hepburn, witness to your impressment, had kept it secret (Hepburn sinks his head in his hands) .
Lucinda Elliot (kindly): Well, there’s no need to go through that painful, climatic scene of the novel again…I’ve always wondered, Kinraid; whatever made you think that ‘your Admiral’ could get you a divorce for Sylvia? A few decades later, even King Georges IV failed to get a divorce.
Sylvia (goes from being a ‘pale, tragic figure’ to being ‘as red as any rose’): Yon fause sod was after my body. His face was ‘all crimson with passion’.
Kinraid (clearly mortified): ‘Tis only a man’s nature, and little enough shore leave to socialize with suchlike amenable wenches as Newcastle Bess, Ma’am, if you take my meaning, you having a post Freudian understanding denied to the women of our own age.
Lucinda Eliot: I fully appreciate the extent of your libido…Then, you married the heiress Clarinda Jackson not eight months after this dramatic meeting.
Kinraid (looks intolerably smug) Love at fist sight(glances at Sylvia); on her side, anyway.
Sylvia: You forgot me in no time, for all you said as you’d marry none but me.
Kinraid (aside) : Well, yo’ has t’give t’lasses a bit o’ nonsense…
Hepburn (raises face from hands): Sylvie, I made thee my idol. If I had my life to live o’er, I’d worship my maker more, and thee less, and never come to sin such a sin against thee.
Lucinda Elliot: I daresay. Well, the poor girl made an idol out of Charley Kinaid. I suppose that’s why she got punished so severely, given Elizabeth Gaskell’s Christian perspective. That and her refusal to forgive Hepburn for so long. You know what I say in my review of the novel –
Hepburn: You were facetious on the topic, and it won’t do. You said, ‘Philip Hepburn worships Sylvia Robson, and finds dishonour; Sylvia Robson worships Charley Kinraid, and finds disillusionment; Charley Kinraid worships himself, and finds a wife who agrees with him and a career in the Royal Navy’.
Kinraid (waves finger admonishingly) Naughty, Ma’am. You’ve been serving an honest sailor a scurvy turn in a-going about yon web, spreading lies about me most assiduous.
Lucinda Elliot: Well, I thought it was a good enough way of summing up a plot in a sentence. By the way, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my disgust with the whaling industry and the near extinction of the Greenland whale as a result (the others look uncomprehending).
Kinraid: She speaks more kindly of them savage fish than she does o’me. Typical o’ that sort of female, and no reasoning with them (begins to whistle ‘Wheel May the Keel Row’) Anyone care to watch me doing the hornpipe(begins to dance the hornpipe).
Sylvia: He is in fine spirits; it takes a deal to ruin t’ life of a man, but ah! I was let down by men as I trusted, and had no help for it.
Lucinda Elliot: You must leave Bella with Hester Rose, and go for a sailor, and have some adventures yourself. But – (seeing a spark in Kinraid’s eye) not on his ship.
Hepburn: Ignore such ungodly talk. Women was meant to stay at home and wait on us.
Kinraid (still doing hornpipe) :True enough,and it were a fair saucy thing to say out against me, but I don’t care a hang. Ma’am. You can’t pin anything on me, though you did a blog post and had my name down as number six in your ‘Most Annoying Heroes’. Fancy, putting my name down along o’ the likes of Heathcliff.
Lucinda Elliot (struck with an idea) He comes from Yorkshire! You could have one of your press gangs impress him. Now, that would be a fitting fate.
Kinraid (continuing to dance): I wouldn’t have the likes of him on my ship. Thieves and murderers yes, but not that fellow (glances at Sylvia) . Er –and I don’t have to do with them sneaking press gangs, anyhow. I’m the hero who won your love by resisting them, remember, my pretty?
Sylvia (tosses her head with a return of some of her old spirits) I don’t care if you do, Mr Clarinda Jackson. I see all t’gossip about you was right at the end of t’ day. No doubt it’s true about you jilting Anne Coulson and being troth plighted to Bessy Courney at the same time as me, too.
Kinraid (still dancing): Yon Mistress Elliot has been filling your head with lies about me, and I won’t admit to any of t’ calumny. Vulgar gossip, that’s what it is. I’m boldly defiant, just like I was when I stood over them hatches to protect me crew from press-gang and shot down and near killed. Dost ta not remember how you worshipped me from yon heroic deed? (to Lucinda Elliot) Have you got any rum, Ma’am? I’m getting main and thirsty.
Hepburn: Well, I was heroic too; I saved his life at the Battle of Acre, and then our daughter’s, too. And it wasn’t very nice being blown up in that explosion.
Lucinda Elliot: We must have some order (hears a knock at the door).
[Press gang enter, waving clubs] Press gang leader: We’re allowed to take women now,and we’ve come for these two. Mouthy couple of women, let ’em live up to all their talk of going to sea and learn their lesson. And that writer one’s a Jacobin. Ought to be made to serve King and country.
Hepburn: Oh, no, that’s not right, though that Mistress Elliot is fair unwomanly with that outspoken talk. Take me instead, though I’ve taken the King’s Shilling already.
Kinraid (stops dancing): Quick, down cyber hold and I’ll stand over yon cyber hatches and shoot ‘em down if they come near!
Dim witted looking press-gang member: Captain Kinraid, we’ll follow your orders, and only fire blanks at you.
Lucinda Elliot: Well, after this piece of madness, and if I haven’t been impressed into the French Revolutionary Wars through a time warp, my next post will be about the one I intended for this week, on how in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ the protagonist and antagonist came to swap places…Aagh1! (leaps out of cyber window, followed by press gang).