Review of Rhoda Broughton’s ‘The Game and the Candle’: A Romantic Novel With An Unhappy For Now Ending

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These days, it is a firm convention of romantic novels that there must be a happy ending – otherwise, it confounds reader expectations.

While some writers and readers hold out that a ‘happy for now’ is sufficient – ie, it is left up to the reader to decide whether the new found happiness between hero and heroine can last for long  – that is generally about as much of a challenge to the requisite ‘HEA’ as you will come by in a romantic novel: anyway, one that is written for the market.

Interesting, is that back in the nineteenth century this was not so. Many of the stories which in all other respects were clearly the precursors of the modern romantic novel, did not have happy endings at all.

Sometimes, this was possibly a moral requirement: there had been adultery, say, and in order to satisfy the moral requirements of the genre in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the guilty pair must be punished.

This lack of a conventional happy ending was what particularly intrigued me about a novel I read a few weeks ago by the late Victorian novelist Rhoda Broughton. It made me want to sample some more by this writer, now virtually forgotten.

This author, who wrote light fiction generally for escapist purposes, could be said often to have written romances. But this one that I read, while in style and theme so like a romantic novel, has an end which borders on the grim.

True, nobody dies in the story, except two older people in bad health, whose deaths are necessary for the plot, and neither are characters the reader has come to know. Still, the story ends with bitter disillusionment for the heroine, who has sacrificed a fortune and the close friendship of a true lover for the superficial attractions of the male lead. As for the male lead, he clearly considers himself heartbroken  – though equally clearly, there will be a rush of women eager to console him.

This was called, ‘The Game and the Candle’.  Here it is described by Wickipedia:

The Game and the Candle (1899) is like Jane Austen‘s Persuasion (1818) rewritten. Only this time the heroine has married for rational reasons and is freed in the beginning for her true love, which reason forbade her to marry years before. Her dying husband’s last will forces her to decide between love and fortune. However, a renewed encounter with her former lover forces her to see it was actually a good thing she had not married him. His love turns to be too shallow for her happiness. The novel is one of a mature and wise woman who has seen the world.

The story begins with the protagonist’s Jane’s husband, Henry Etheridge, who, in his late fifties, is thirty years older than she is, on his deathbed. He tries to exact a promise from her that she will not after his death marry the man with whom he overheard her exchanging love vows five years ago.

After that, Jane told this man, the fair, althletic,handsome,  lively young Jack Miles, that they must part. Her husband says:

‘It is because I wish you well that I am going to make a request to you… When you replace me—my stipulation is that it is not by the—person of whom you took leave five years ago beside the fountain in the circular garden.’

If she does not make this promise, he will disinherit her.

She refuses to make it, though asking for her husband’s forgiveness for being unable to.

Jane’s friend through all these years has been her husband’s intellectual secretary, Willy Clarendon,who is also a distant cousin of her own.  She hardly regards him as a man at all, but there are sufficient hints that he is in love with her.

He is given five hundred pounds through a legacy. He also suggests that Jane, now badly off by the standards in which she has been living since her marriage, must spend the period of her deep mourning – then a year – living near his sisters in Richmond, Surrey ( now virtually part of London; then a leafy village).

The house is described as very small, and she sees herself as relatively poor. but as she has two drawing rooms, has no  need to work, and can afford a couple of servants – it won’t strike many modern readers that she suffers from a dismal standard of living.

They are both well aware that after that time, Jane will be in contact once again with the young man who exiled himself in California after their  mutual love declaration.

Meanwhile, Jane cannot pretend to be overcome with grief at her loss:

Clarendon says: –  “ Would it be possible—just for the present —just while you are out of doors, and liable to ill-natured comments, to—to—look a little less – ‘

‘Radiant’ suggests she, with great distinctness of utterance, though face and neck are in a blaze. ‘ Thank you for the hint. I will try.”’

Another person who lives nearby is – fortuitously for Jane – Lady Barnes, who guessed that she and Jack Miles were in love during that fatal visit to her marital home years back. She – another co-incidence convenient for Jane – has recently met him in California, and was very impressed by both his looks and his melancholy air:

‘He is filled out and bronzed. Oh, but bronzed! so much so that his hair is lighter than his face. I do not know how you feel, but that to me always gives such a superbly manly look…I do not know what his plans were—he did not know himself, poor fellow ! He said he was at a loose end. He repeated the expression several times—at a loose end.” 

The phrase is not a romantic one, but such a pregnancy of sentiment is thrown into it as dyes in painful blushes the younger woman…She had no more doubted her love’s faithfulness than her own—faithful, though parted far as the pine from the palm…’

Jane has a romantic disposition, which has been starved in her loveless marriage. Now she must wait for this seemingly interminable year to be over, so that she can be reunited with Miles.

She leads a lonely life in Richmond. She seems to have no family, and has no real confidante in her difficult situation. Lady Barnes is sympathetic, but self centred, her life revolving about her badly beloved, spoilt dogs. Typical is the behaviour of

‘… a very nice, but not very well-conducted English terrier, who, having stood before her looking significantly up in her face for some moments, now, annoyed at her inability to take a hint, stands up on his hind-legs and begins to scratch at her sombre lap with as much vigour as if he had mistaken it for a rabbit-hole.  ‘ I am afraid that Jock means you have taken his chair,’ says his mistress regretfully. ‘ Would you mind changing to this one? It is quite as comfortable, only he does not fancy it…’

Lady Barnes, however, is in correspondence with Miles, and makes it clear to Jane that she will let him know of her surroundings. Interfering and given to thinking of herself as a romantic, too, she is all for forwarding the cause of love.

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Descriptions of the self indulgent demands of Lady Barnes are typical of  the delightful vein of comedy which runs through this story. At its best it is worthy of Jane Austen.

So is the depiction of Willy Clarendon’s sisters, who have, through years of trying to ‘keep up appearances’, turned into almost professional spongers. They are forever obtaining theatre tickets, presents of cast off clothing, house plants, anything that they can wheedle out of people.

The younger and prettier one, Mabella, is particularly shameless about this. She looks on every male acquaintance as a potential source of funds.

Clarendon himself is tormented by Jane’s dismissive attitude towards the very idea of him as her admirer. For some time, refuses to let her work alone with him on his academic projects, on the grounds that it would cause gossip. Jane remarks that this is ridiculous.  He writhes in humiliation, but she cannot see it.  Finally, he agreed to let her help him with his research.

The months drag on. Spring comes, and  one day, the housemaid announces an unknown visitor:

He who once, in the white light of the Circular Garden, crowded all the agony of his desire and farewell into one mad storm of forbidden kisses, is now raining kisses as mad, but with the glad contrary of farewell in them, upon eyes, and lips, and hair. For an instant or two she is as mad as he, lost in reckless rapture…’

Jane, who is about to receive a visit from her late husband’s sister, who has been estranged from her since his death and her refusal to explain why she was cut from the will, has a delicious short meeting with him, learning that he is staying with Lady Barnes. She then sends him away, though with difficulty, just before her sister-in-law arrives.

Miss Etheridge wants Jane to go back  to living at the hall. Jane cannot accept, and she leaves, bitterly offended.

Meanwhile, the Clarendon sisters agree that Jack Miles as Lady Barnes’ guest will be useful:

‘He gives one the idea of being just the sort of man who would be good for any number of opera-boxes and theatre-tickets,’ for they have heard that he has come into a lot of money lately.

This news disappoints Jane, who feels that if her lover is in a position to give her a life of luxury, her great sacrifice of a fortune for his sake has been rendered ineffectual.

Clarendon, when he hears that Jack Miles has called on her without invitation, bursts out that was ‘the action of a bounder’. Jane is outraged.

He looks at her with despair in his heart; looks right into the irreconcilable wrath of her blue eyes, staring enormous out of a linen-white face. But his ships are in flames behind him, and there is nothing for it but a desperate onward marchThe next thing of which he is conscious is that he is in the roadway, though whether ejected through the window, kicked downstairs, or by the simple process of putting one  foot before another till he gets there, he could never tell.’

Some months later, just as her year of mourning is up, Jane sees Clarendon walking on the common, and is shocked by how thin and haggard he looks.

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However, she soon overcomes her guilty feelings about that. She is to be Lady Barnes’ guest  in the Western Isles of Scotland, and reunited with Jack Miles:

The moment that they reach the shelter of the wood he takes her in his arms, and for the rest of that wonderful morning scarcely lets her go out of them again. Up the firneedle-strewn path, with a hundred blissful stops for new and ever new caresses, they slowly climb, till from the colonnade of larch-stems they step out upon the rocky brow of the hill, and look down upon the sea.’

Jane idealises him and wants to hear all about how he has spent his time over the last six years. He is rather vague about this: he has wandered about, earned the gratitude of an older woman for a small favour, and unexpectedly inherited a fortune from her.

When she asks him if during that time he has ever thought, or said, a word of love to any other woman, he says that he refuses to answer such senseless questions, and kisses her into silence.

Jack Miles is dashingly amorous in his courtship of the glamorous widow. At dinners, he shamelessly neglects the other guests:

He has put his elbow on the table, ruthlessly turning his shoulder upon his other neighbour, and is shading his eyes with his hand, so as partly to hide the fury of admiration in them, while he tells her how distractingly beautiful she is, that he should like never to see her dressed in another gown than the one she is now wearing, etc.

‘Shall I come down in it to breakfast to-morrow ?’ she asks, with what she means to be a sobering little laugh of derision, but which shares too much of the quiver in his own voice to serve its purpose. He goes off into fresh extravagances…

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Jane’s disillusionment Miles comes gradually. She finds out that he tells coarse (and one may assume, sexist) jokes with his fellow male guests after the ladies have withdrawn. One of her guests says:-

‘Do you hear them laughing?  How I wish they would let us share the joke! Of course, it is another of Mr. Miles’s stories. Whenever I ask Jim what they have been laughing at, he always says, ‘’Oh, one of Miles’s,’and invariably adds that it is quite impossible to repeat it.’

You are always rather frightened when I begin to question you,’ says Jane, examining the cleared countenance before her with less passion and more keenness in her eyes than her lover quite relishes. ‘ I believe you have some dark spot in your past that you are afraid of my putting my finger upon. No—do not be angry ; it is only a stupid joke.’

Jack Miles sulks, saying it is no joke to imply that he is a blackguard. They soon make up this tiff, but Jane begins to discover that they are far from soul mates.

Another guest teases him about coming back late with Jane, as he had done in London with Mabella Clarendon. Jane would regard it as absurd to allow herself to be jealous over this, but she also learns that:

‘There are limitations to the endowment of that personality which her unknowing idolatry had vaguely gifted with every mental as well as physical grace. If theirs is to be that ideal union which she had pictured, it must be by the suppression of one half of her own nature. Mr. Miles never voluntarily opens a book, and the artless dismay written on his countenance when her full heart leads her to illustrate their own bliss by some quoted line from the poets teaches her not to repeat the attempt.’

Then total disillusionment comes. She surprises the man she is to marry in six  weeks with Mabella Clarendon in his arms. He is comforting her with kisses over her latest financial troubles.

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Jane leaves for Richmond, telling Lady Barnes that she has had bad news and forbidding her to tell Jack Miles or anyone.  On her journey Jane broods on all that she has sacrificed for Jack Miles.

‘She that forty-eight hours ago was rich beyond the dreams of avarice, possesses nothing in this or any other world. She had never had but one thing, having sold or tossed away all else to buy it; and now it is gone…

Her husband, old and crabbed indeed, but who had loved her in his way, and treated her with forbearance and even generosity, and into whose deathbed she had put a sting far sharper than death itself; the desolate old sister-in-law, upon whose broken heart she had flung back her magnanimous offers of help and difficult kindness; the self-less, devoted friend whom she had insulted and alienated; the good name in whose tarnish she had insanely rejoiced, as bringing one more offering to her god’s piled altar ; the position which would have given her weight and authority among her fellows; the riches that would have been a potent engine for the good of others.’

Now Jane despises herself for having worshipped a false god:

For the first time she sees her deity as he is ; the commonplace good fellow, with his cheap jests, his limited intelligence, his promiscuous tendernesses…Has her love, then, when stripped of its fine clothes, been nothing but sensuality? that love which she had clad in such imperial purple, and titled with such high names, the love that had dethroned heaven’s King and overshadowed earth’s brotherhood.’

This is where the novel parts company with the romance genre, where the obligatory happy or happy-for-now ending inevitably rules out such grim ethical and metaphysical quagmires. Romantic love in the romance genre is generally shown to be worthwhile. In ‘The Game and The Candle’ for Jane, it frankly is not. This book, then, both for seriousness of purpose and anti romantic theme, is very reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers.’

Jane in this story and both Philip Hepburn Sylvia herself in ‘Syvlia’s Lovers’ make the mistake of worshipping a fallible human being, Philip with Sylvia, and Sylvia herself with the dashing shameless opportunist Charley Kinraid.

On reaching home, poor Jane spends an hour lying on the floor in pure self abnegation. She rises from it changed. Jack Miles follows her, of course. He duly turns up:

‘ It is clear that he has come straight from the train—travel-stained, with his bright short curls ruffled, pale under his tan, yet in the dishevelled sincerity of his agitation handsomer than ever. Yes, her eyes at least had not deceived her —the shell is what she had thought it.’

He assures her he only felt sorry for Mabella over her bills:  ‘I have never loved, never : shall love, any woman in the world but you. You believe that I love you?’

She responds: ‘I never loved you. I loved someone that was masquerading in your shape.’

The author tells us that he goes quite quickly, though his tears fall on her hand as he takes it to kiss it. She watches him walk off down the street, saying to herself:

I bought you very dear—very dear ; and now I have thrown you away.’ He is out of sight, and she turns from the window, murmuring to herself: ‘ As a dream when one awaketh.’

Oh dear! That is a stark ending. We are not even told if she makes it up with, and even comes to encourage the attentions of,  that formerly despised true lover Willy Clarendon.

Maybe I am cycnical, but it seems to me, that as Jane will almost certainly never fall in love in such a way again, she might as well marry Jack Miles, and enjoy him as an attractive, entertaining and charming but flawed life companion. True, she no longer worships him so absurdly and poetically, but that is hardly a bad thing. As she cannot undo the damage that she has done to others (assuming that she still cannot return Wllly Clarendon”s feelings), she might as well enjoy the prize for which she has sacrificed so much.  After all, he there is no evidence that he has done more than kiss and flirt with Mabella Clarendon. To break things off over some kissing and flirting seems an extreme reaction.

Of course, the author  might, in a roundabout way acceptable to a respectable female Victorian readership, be implying that Jack Miles actually lived as a gigilo with the older woman who left him a fortune.

Still, I suppose that as an orthodox nineteenth century Christina, Rhoda Broughton was thinking, just as Elizabeth Gaskell did, that in making a false idol out of a human being, Jane, like Philip and Sylvia, has broken the first commandment, and must suffer penance accordingly.

As I said, I must read some more of this author and see what I make of her other books.

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Page Turners for the Run Up to Christmas: Review of ‘Dark Moon Fell’ by Mari Biella

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I finished this on Halloween – highly appropriately, as I don’t think it will be writing a spoiler to say that this is a real ghost story – and there is more than one ghost.
But, as ever, Mari Biella’s style is subtle. No crowd of phantoms jumping out of cupboards here – and as ever, the psychological and the psychic are expertly blended.
She has also done a fine job in creating a sympathetic heroine out of Angela Martin – a has been pop star of less than outstanding talent, who becoming a drunk and squandering the money and fame that has so easily come to her, is caught by alcoholic poisioning.
But, at least – unlike ‘reality celebrities’ – she has some talent; and she also has a redeeming sense of irony. This is what she thinks as she fades out of consciousness in her bathroom:
‘ The papers are going to go wild over this, the voice in my head continued, in its arch, you-silly-thing way. Another faded has-been going out with a whimper, drowning in booze. Never mind alcohol poisoning, you ought to die of sheer bloody embarrassment.’
She also speaks of the delusions of fame:
‘You suddenly find that you have no shortage of friends, all of whom appear to offer you unconditional loyalty and affection. They laugh at your feeble jokes and applaud even your smallest achievements. They put up with you when you behave like a jerk, which you frequently do, because nobody dares to challenge you. What you don’t realize is that, through it all, those same friends are quietly keeping score. And when the money and fame dry up, which they invariably do, so too does their devotion.’
I took to Angela after that.
During her period of unconsciousness, she is haunted by an odd dream which she remembers, of a substantial Victorian house, of being hunted, of being chased by an evil pursuer across a moor.
It might not seem surprising that Angela would have a nightmare about pursuit, as she has been stalked for some time by an obsessive fan, who at first inclined to worship her, is now disgusted with her. His letters have become abusive.
Angela is short of money, and options. Again showing her ability to view herself with detachment, she says to her former manager of her group:
‘All I know about is singing reasonably well, dancing a bit and having my photograph taken.’
He feels to some extent responsible for her emotional collapse, having plunged her thoughtlessly into the cut throat pop world as a young girl. Now he offers to help her get a job as a caretaker in one of the houses owned by the owner of her old recording company. Angie is eager to get away from London – especially the stalker.
After a cursory interview, Angie gets the job at Fell House in Northumberland, situated by a sinister moor, which is rumoured to be cursed.
But what worries Angela more is that this is literally the house of her dreams. This is the place she visited when in a coma.
From the start, she knows that someone else is in the house. The question is, is this person living or dead?
Yet, she feels that she cannot give up this opportunity. Besides, it is a lovely old house set in wonderful countryside,and she relishes this new existence.
…There is also another attraction. Ethan Haar, the architect who is designing some work on the house in line with the rules pertaining to a listed building. Angela is attracted to him at once. In fact, with him, she forgets to feel jaded.
As she begins to learn about the tragic history of Fell House, and to uncover the secret of Ethan Haar’s past, Angela finds herself increasingly drawn to solve its mystery, and to help him lay his own ghosts besides.
But there is more danger lurking about the house for Angela than a possible haunting…
Written with the smooth flow, striking word pictures and introducing the vivid characters we have come to expect from Mari Biella, this is an absorbing, sometimes spine chilling, read.
It also includes the extra pleasure of a tender love story.
As ever, I am hard put to it to narrow down my choice of quotes, but here are two:
‘I thought of the years in which we must both have lived in London, he and I, walking the same streets, falling asleep beneath the same grimy sky. We might have passed each other on a crowded pavement, or ridden in the same taxi, or gone to the same shops and bars, but we’d never met. Now we’d been brought together in this obscure little place, two travellers looking for a better tomorrow.’
‘I had the sudden sense that Fell House existed in its own time zone, quite separate from that of the rest of the world. It was a zone, perhaps, where past, present and future lost their meaning. Maybe that was why I’d dreamed of the place before I’d ever set eyes on it.’
‘Stray sheep, startled by my approach, darted away from the path. Pausing to tie my shoelace, I realized that I could hear nothing apart from their occasional, plaintive bleating, and birdsong, and the low whine of the breeze. A few clouds sailed across the sky, throwing fleeting shadows over the rough grass and bracken.’
You can here buy Dark Moon Fell at amazon.co.uk
and at amazon.com

Halloween Post: ‘The Death of Lord Tyrone’ from Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book

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It is nice to tell a spooky tale on Hallowe’en, and it is all the  more enjoyable to relate one which hints at an afterlife. One that contains a love story is the more intriguing.

This is one of the stories from Lord Halifax’s collection of supposedly true anecdotes, and took place in the eighteenth century.

One morning, Lady Beresford, the daughter of the Earl of Tyrone,  surprised her husband Sir Tristram Marcus Beresford  by coming down to breakfast wearing a black velvet ribbon about her wrist. She was pale and seemed distraught, and asked him not to ask her about why she wore the ribbon, as it was not a secret that affected him as her husband. She seemed on edge to read the post and said she expected to hear that her brother Lord Tyrone had died last Tuesday at four o’ clock.

When the post arrived, Lady Beresford did receive a letter with that news.  She then told him that she knew that she was expecting the son and heir for which he wished. This also proved to be true.

Four years later, Sir Marcus himself died. After that, Lady Beresford lived an almost solitary life, only visiting one family, a clergyman and his wife, who had one son, still only a youth at the time that Lady Beresford started to visit them. Some years later, she astonished society by marrying this young man, who was far younger than she and considered by far her social inferior.

‘He treated her with contempt and cruelty, his conduct being that of an abandoned libertine, destitute of every virtue and human feeling. After bearing him two daughters, Lady Beresford was so estranged by his profligate conduct that she insisted on a separation. They had been parted for several years, when on his expressing deep contrition for his former conduct, she consented to pardon him and once more to reside with him. After some time she bore him a son.’

Lady Beresford had given birth just before the age of forty-eight. At least, she thought that she was forty-eight; but when, a month later, a lifelong friend, the clergyman who had entered her birth came to visit, he told her that a mistake had been made about her age, and she was in fact, forty-seven. Instead of being pleased at proving to be a year younger, Lady Beresford said, ‘You have signed my death warrant.’

She then called her son by Sir Marcus into the room besides a close friend as witness, and told him the story of how she had come always to wear the black velvet ribbon.

She said that she and her brother Lord Tyrone had often discussed their belief in Deism, and had made an agreement that whichever of them should die first, should come back and tell the other whether their religious convictions were true.

On the night before the one where she heard of Lord Tyrone’s death, she awakened to see him standing by her bedside. He told her of his death, and assured her that she would hear of  his death the next day, that in seven months she would bear Sir Marcus a sons, and that he would die a few years later. That she would then go on to marry a man who would cause her much unhappiness, and die as a result of childbirth at forty-seven.

He also warned her against ‘infidelity’ but smiled acknowledgement when she asked if he was happy in the afterlife (I do wonder if this warning – not about adultary, but about hetrodox religious views, was added later on to the tale by someone, as it does rather go against the grain of most information given by spirits or gained in NDE’s) .

She asked if she could prevent her unhappy fate, and the brother said yes, but her passions were stronger than she at present knew, and would prove hard to resist.

To prove the reality of his visit, which his sister might otherwise come to think to be a dream, the apparition touched her wrist with fingers cold as ice. The muscles in the wrist instantly withered. He then vanished.

Lady Beresford had tried to avoid her fate by keeping from society as a widow. She never expected to fall in love with the young man who was the son to the only couple she visited, but she had. She long resisted it, but when on the day he was due to join the army, he came and confessed to strong feelings for her, she gave in. The marriage had subsequently proved to be as unhappy as her late brother had predicted.

She had thought herself safe to go back to her husband, being now forty-eight, but as in fact, she was forty-seven, she now expected to die within hours.

She then asked her son and friend to leave her to rest, and when they ran up at a violent ringing of the bell, one of the servants was exclaiming that Lady Beresford was dead. When her son undid the ribbon on her wrist, he found that it was indeed withered as she said.

What happened to her widower is not revealed in the story, nor, sadly, whether the motherless baby thrived.

This was the story that Lord Halifax had from a descendant of Lady Beresford. A later edition corrects a couple of details, concerning  her age (she was in fact forty-nine, believing herself to be fifty) and that it was the brother-in-law of the couple she visited with whom she fell in love, and not their son.

It is certainly an intriguing story and I thought, very suitable for Hallowe’en.

 

 

The Peterloo Affair: A Tale of the St. Peter’s Field Massacre Now Out on Amazon

thumbnailI am happy to say that my latest ‘The Peterloo Affair’,  is now out oon Amazon.com here

and Amazon.co.uk  here

I wrote this tale primarily as a love story – in fact, it can be categorised as a romance – largely because I thought that with the grim background story, some pleasant diversion and a bit of humour was really needed.

I hope readers like Joan Wright  and Seàn McGilroy as much as they – generally – liked Sophie de Courcy and Émile Dubois, Natalie NIcholson and Alex Sager, Isabella Murray and Reynaud Ravensdale and Clarinda Greendale and Harley Venn.

Their love story is set against a background of poverty and injustice, and some of the background research I had to do for this was pretty distressing. Sometimes, the injustice of the treatment of victims, the dishonesty of the cover up, made me outraged.  But, the working people of the UK won the right to vote and to protest in the end., and the story ends on a note of optimism. I also enjoyed putting touches of humour in it.

Here’s an extract:

There was a jeering laugh from behind them. Seán McGilroy, himself stood at the edge of the plot, glowering at Timothy. His blue eyes were flashing, and with his arrogant stance, and his black ringlets, Joan thought he looked like as fierce as a picture of a pirate she had seen in a chap book, minus the cutlass, of course.

“I heard that, Yorke. It seems to me, you and I need a little talk. Doesn’t do to dispute before t’lasses, and all that, so if you’d care to come along.” He nodded to the lane by the distant plots abutting the meadow. Then he turned a warm smile on Joan. “I hope you’ll wait on me, Miss Joan.”

Timothy looked ready to explode. “They say eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves, and least of all a ne’er do well. You’re for a mill[1], McGilroy, but I don’t hold with such loutish ways.”

“I’m only for a brawl if you’re up for it.” McGilroy’s looked so fierce Joan skipped in between them.

“Don’t go into it now. Do as folks say, and wait on it for a day. You’re both acting daft, and like to harm each other. That’s no good now, when we must all stand together.”

McGilroy said, “What I’ve got to say can’t be heard by any but Yorke himself, till I find out the truth of it.”

Timothy’s face was too highly coloured for his face to redden, but he scowled and breathed hard. “You’ve heard some mean gossip from those who hold it against our family that we’re not in rags and starving, and who make up wild stories out of envy. And I’ll say outright in front of Joan: I see you’ve an eye for her, among others. A girl like Joan is too good for a roving good-for-nothing who’s got a name as a light o’ love besides to come and trifle with. How your Ridley cousins behave is their parents’ affair.”

Now McGilroy’s dark face was flushed with anger and it showed as it didn’t on Timothy’s. “Some of the tattle you’ve been hearkening to is in the right of it. I have lived wild and reckless, and got myself into a deal of trouble and all, and never could settle since coming back from the wars. Maybe I could change if I found something to keep me rooted, but I’m not talking on that before you, or aught else that matters.”

An aloof bit of Joan’s mind noted his use of ‘rooted’ as wholly fitting, when they were standing in a vegetable patch, and she had earth on her hands and teasing grit under her nails.

“You’re an insolent ruffian.” On the other side of Joan, Timothy Yorke drew back from McGilroy, as from a filthy dog ready to spring on him.

Joan broke in. “I don’t like lads scrapping over who is to talk to me like dogs over a bone, just as if I’ve no ideas of my own.”

She put on a haughty air, and again this was like one of Nancy’s books, though those heroines did it in grand drawing rooms. “If either of you has owt to say to me, you can say it another time.”

McGilroy smiled at her, as if delighted. “You’re in the right of it, Miss Joan. Let me do the digging for you.” He took the wobbly spade from her grasp with a gentle twitch.

Timothy looked ready to burst with fury. “Yes, you’re in the right there, Joan, and if this fellow leaves quietly, so shall I.”

McGilroy didn’t take kindly to being called, ‘that fellow’. He clenched his fists, his eyes glinting. Joan saw no way of stopping a fight, and from what she’d heard of McGilroy going in for fighting at fairs and so, Timothy must certainly lose. She didn’t want him hurt, trying though he was.

Suddenly, Tmothy’s younger brother, Jem, was with them. A weedy youth of maybe sixteen, he seemed as ill at ease in the world as Timothy was sure of his rights in it. His nervous look scanned Timothy to Seán McGilroy, to Joan and back again. “You’re wanted at home.”

Something about his nervous look seemed to decide Timothy at once. “I’m coming.” Ignoring McGilroy, he turned to Joan. “If you’re done here, walk along of us.”

“I’ve found nothing yet,” Joan said indignantly. What does he think I wanted in the vegetable plot—him?

Timothy stood staring, but his young brother jerked out, more insistently, “Mam needs you.” Timothy had no choice but to go with the boy. Then, as they turned onto the footpath, he said loudly, “It’s fitting that Irish fellow is set to scrabble after potatoes as eager as a terrier after rats. That’s all they live on, after all, and they bed down with their pigs.”

McGilroy shouted after him, “Rats, eh? I could talk about rats, I’m thinking, such as your tale bearing friends.”

Timothy jerked, as if hit by a pebble, but he walked on with his brother. Joan heard them muttering to each other as they moved off, and now she thought she caught distant sounds of raised voices. Some dispute was going on nearby, with a number of people at it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Ghost Story for Halloween: ‘The Ghosts of Versailles’

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Petit Trianon

As it is near All Hallow’s Eve, and thoughtful bloggers are producing ghost stories all about, it is up to me to come up with something. I meant to produce another ghost story or ‘tale of terror’ but the prosaic demands of getting my novel centred about the Peterloo Massacre out have put paid to that- so I must do the next best thing and recount an old one.

There is the story about ‘The Ghosts of Versailles’. I have always liked that one. In  it, two intellectual late Victorian women visited Versailles and the Grand Trianon, and on their way to Marie Antoinette’s notorious retreat the Petit Trianon, they saw inexplicable sights and heard equally incongruous noises.

The two women ran St. Hughes college in Oxford, a ‘ladies college’ together. Anne Moberly was the daughter of the Bishop of Salisbury, and the principal. Eleanor Jourdain was the daughter of the Vicar of Ashbourne. They were both, then, from indisputably orthodox religious backgrounds.

Before Eleanor Jourdain took up her post as vice-principal of the college, it was proposed that the two women get to know each other better. They stayed together in Paris, took a trip to Versailles on 10 August 1902, and had a strange encounter with a series of seemingly ghostly figures and surroundings.

They were disappointed at Versailles, and so set out for the Petit Trianon, but became lost after coming on the Grand Trianon, which was closed to the public. They went along a lane, passing the Petit Trianon without realising it. Moberley noticed a woman shaking a cloth out of a window, and Jourdain noticed an old farmhouse with an antiquated plough outside.

They were overcome by a feeling of oppression. They came on some dignified looking men in three cornered hats and long greyish green coats. They assumed they were officials, and asked the way and were told to go straight on.

Jourdain noticed a cottage with a girl and woman standing in the doorway.  They appeared to be unnaturally still, the woman holding out a jug to the girl.

According to Wickipedia:

Jourdain described it as a “tableau vivant“, a living picture, much like Madame Tussaud’s waxworks. Moberly did not observe the cottage, but felt the atmosphere change. She wrote: “Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees seemed to become flat and lifeless, like wood worked in tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade, and no wind stirred the trees. ” They reached the edge of a wood, close to the Temple de L’amour and came across a man seated beside a garden kiosk, wearing a cloak and large shady hat. According to Moberly, his appearance was “most repulsive… its expression odious. His complexion was dark and rough.” Jourdain noted “The man slowly turned his face, which was marked bysmallpox. His complexion was very dark. The expression was evil and yet unseeing, and though I did not feel that he was looking particularly at us, I felt a repugnance to going past him.A man later described as “tall… with large dark eyes, and crisp curling black hair under a large sombrero hat” came up to them, and showed them the way to the Petit Trianon.

‘After crossing a bridge, they reached the gardens in front of the palace, and Moberly noticed a lady sketching on the grass who looked at them. She later described what she saw in great detail: the lady was wearing a light summer dress, on her head was a shady white hat, and she had lots of fair hair. Moberly thought she was a tourist at first, but the dress appeared to be old-fashioned. Moberly came to believe that the lady was Marie Antoinette. Jourdain, however, did not see the lady.

After this, they were directed round to the entrance and joined a party of other visitors. After touring the house, they had tea at the Hotel des Reservoirs before returning to Jourdain’s apartment.’

Other events happened, including a figure dressed as a footman appearing at a gateway and calling a warning to the sketching woman.

 

They did not speak of their experience for some days, but then compared notes and decided to write up separate accounts. It was then that they found that on 10 August 1792 with the besieging of the Tuelleries Palace in Paris, the events unfolded that led to the overthrow of the monarchy six weeks later.

They were subsequently to publish their experiences in a book called ‘An Adventure’  (1911). Unfortunately, the genuine nature of these experiences were queried in a review by a representative of The Society for Psychical Research.

Later, the writer Phillipe Julien in his biography of the decadent Robert de Montesquiou commented that he often used to throw parties in the grounds of Versailles where the guests, often cross dressers, would wear period costume and re-enact just such tableaux as witnessed by the women.

The story of what  became of the two women professionally after their experience is long and complicated. It ends on a dying fall, with Jourdain, who had succeeded as the college principal, dying when undergoing an investigation into her fitness for the academic post.

For my own part, I would wonder why a sort of time slip should be sparked by the events in Paris of 10 August 1792 rather than, say, the events of 5 October 1789 at Versailles itself. On this day, the market women of Paris raised a crowd of thousands to march on Versailles (about seventeen miles; people were far more accustomed to walking long distances in those days, particularly when driven by hunger and desperation) and forced the monarchy to accompany them back to the capital.

In fact, when I saw the television film version of the story back in 1981, the later date was used, and it seems that the women later came to think that the events that they believed that they had witnessed probably happened at the time of the march on Versailles.

The story is now considered to be disproved. I wonder if this is not a little glib. Can it all be explained away as a masque, the antique buildings and plough included? The women were accused of subsequently embroidering what they saw.

However, I have a footnote of sorts, though even more inconclusive.

When I went with my daughter to Paris, and to Versailles, just over  three years ago, it was also a hot day in August, though in fact, round the end of the month (I have forgotten the exact date and would have to check on my passport).

We also wished to escape the crowds at the main palace, set out to find the Petit Trianon, and depsite our map, also lost our way.

It was very hot and still. I suddenly became aware of a feeling of heightened awareness, a strange sort of nervousness, and I had that highly prosaic symptom of mild nausea which I always have, when about to have what is known as ‘a psychic experience’ (I am glad to say that I don’t have them very often).

Remembering the details of the story of the  ‘Ghosts of Versailles’ I muttered, ‘It’s here…It’s happening…’

My daughter (who previously has shared strange experiences with me, particularly at the old house in Denbighshire where my family once lived  before it was demolished) was unaffected. She said briskly, “What?”

Then the sensation went.  I saw nothing exceptional, and that is all I have to report.

A sceptic might say that I created those sensations myself, through some need to believe in the story. Yet, I do not subscribe to the conventional, sentimentalised view of the role of Marie Antoinette in the French Revolution, and I have no romantic illusions about the surface glamour of Versailles.  When I went it was as a visitor with a detached disapproval of  the monstrous injustice of the Ancien Regime as symbolised by the cut off, luxurious lifestyle of the inhabitants of Versailles.

Taking in account all the rational explanations, I would still say that some element of the mysterious, where times may well occasionally merge, lingers in the grounds between the Grand and the Petit Trianon…

Formulaic Writing: Romantic Melodrama and Charles Garvice, ‘The Great Bad Novelist’.

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I have written before on this blog about the terrible allure of bad writing, both good bad writing, that is, writing that is so bad it’s good – like ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini: Captain of Bandetti’  and frankly terrible writing.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading another late Victorian best seller by that writer of melodramatic romances, Charles Garvice. The very title reveals how bad the subject matter is going to be:  ‘Leslie’s Loyalty:  Or His Love So True’.

Dreadful stuff; and horribly compelling.

I would like to add that this isn’t the only reading material I have been getting through in these last couple of weeks. I have also reading a science fiction novel by an indie author which is fascinating, but heavy going, intellectually.  In fact, to appreciate it, I find that I can only read about five per cent at a time. I am also getting to the end of E P Thompson’s  wonderfully insightful masterpiece on the suppressed history of working class radical organisation in the UK from the 1790’s on ‘The Making of the English Working Class’.

But to ask what might seem a glaringly obvious question: why is it so easy to read escapist nonsense– whereas challenging novels are not by definition an easy read?  Of course, it is partly that the latter may be introducing unfamiliar concepts, or a whole new way of looking at the world, which can be stimulating but tiring to read about. But it goes beyond that, and  beyond the fairly simple sentence structure and vocabulary that usually go with light reading –though these are important.

I suppose it is also that in formulaic, escapist writing no demands are made on the imagination either – because the reader knows with these stories where things are going. We know that there is going to be a happy ending, however improbable it may be. The hero may have fallen off a cliff  (this does in fact happen to the hero in one of his within the first two chapters) or been seemingly shot dead in front of the heroine’s eyes, but all will be well.

In her article on Charles Garvice, Laura Sewell Matter puts the lure of Garvice’s novels succinctly: ‘I had found something amazingly, almost unbelievably, bad…This was melodrama..The outcome was never in doubt… The characters were caricatures…the plot…was ludicrously improbable. I wanted confirmation that I had correctly inferred what would happen…I wanted both the expected outcome and surprise.’

She, of course, came across Garvice’s writing in a singular way, thorough picking up some water drenched pages on a beach in Iceland. It became to her a challenge to discover from what book of yesteryear this incredibly bad piece of writing came (she eventually was able to track it to the Iclandic translation of ‘The Verdict of the Heart’).

She sums up there the appeal of all formulaic writers who make a huge success of writing recognisably the same story over and again. The appeal of this sort of writer is that the reader knows where s/he is.

Garvice’s stories are always about young, wild, aristocratic young men. The extent of this wildness varies between novels and according to the requirements of the plot. The hero of ‘Only One Love Or Who Was the Heir’ is still welcome in society despite his brawling and gambling proclivities, but the male lead of ‘The Outcast of the Family’ , through drinking before breakfast, fighting in music halls and dressing as a costermonger has made himself an outcast from society as well as the family in question (I borrowed these and other qualities for my anti-hero in ‘The Villainous Viscount  Or the Curse of the Venns’).

Often these young men have gambled away a fortune. They have usually have, or recently had, ‘a disreputable connection’ with one or more dancers or music hall singers, but they are immediately ashamed of these the minute they find true love with the innocent flower of a heroine and break things off.

Quite often another women  is in love with the handsome hero, but he cannot return her passion, although she is a desired by all other men and has a fortune.

Very often a Conniving Cousin is introduced into the mix. He also falls in love with the heroine and/or covets the hero’s title or his being heir to a title, or has some other motive for conspiring against the hero getting together with heroine. Sometimes, he conspires with the scorned ex-mistress, though not inevitably. Sometimes, he conspires with both she and the love stricken society belle.

The hero is framed for various wrongdoings ranging from faithlessness to seduction of innocents to bigamy and fraud and occasionally murder, and the heroine is broken hearted. However, after a few months or weeks, a series of co-incidences result in the villains and villainesses being unmasked (sometimes they have committed suicide or been killed off even before that). Then  all ends happily, with the hero and heroine brought together.

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Interestingly, when I began to read ‘Leslie’s Loyalty: Or His Love So True’ it didn’t seem to compare in badness to ‘The Outcast of the Family’ , ‘The Marquis, ‘A Life’s Mistake’ or other favourites of mine.  The writing style was mediocre rather than appalling. There were even an astute couple of remarks, and there were also some flashes of the humour ususally singularly lacking in Garvice’s books, in the description of the dreadful art work done by the heroine’s father, who considers himself a neglected genius (as I also wrote about a similarly deluded individual in ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’ I appreciated this).

I need not have worried; this was a glitch. Very soon the purple prose, the stereotypical behaviour and the hectoring authorial style reasserted themselves; wildly improbable co-incidences were happening; faces became taut with passion; plots were hatched between baddies, and it all turned into a typical Charles Garvice novel.

Laura Sewell Matter comments: ‘It is hard to imagine how a writer could be so prolific and widely read less than a hundred years ago, and totally forgotten today…The critics who found his work so risible that they would rather rend the pages from the spine and toss them into the drink have had their way in the end.’

I do find that one Charles Garvice style novel every few months is enough for me.

Even if I had the good fortune to be apolitical, and therefore could read such works without thinking about the ‘reactionary function’ which they must have played with regard to social class and women’s role, they are anyway rather like ready meals; it might be possible to get by on them, but it must be highly unsatisfactory. There is something intolerably bland about them; there’s nothing to get your teeth into.

So, it’s back to that science fiction novel for me…

But I will leave the last words to Laura Sewell Matter:

‘The formula that Garvice so successfully exploited – virtuous heroine overcoming numerous obstacles to attain happiness – is a predictable one, which any author might employ. His readers are now dead, and their Garvices – if they exist at all – moulder in the attics of the Western world where books like them, by authors who have learnt the same lessons and applied the same patterns to their fiction, are being read on the beach today.’

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When Comedy Falls Flat: The Difficulties of Writing Comedy

 

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I couldn’t resist posting that new cover from EBook Launch  for ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’. I think the former one was too cartoon like.  Some might say that there is a difficulty with this one in it being too romantic. That all fits in with the end of this post.  I do like it, though. I think the artist did a brilliant job. Sadly, Émile’s freckles are missing…

One of the problems with writing humour is that everyone’s sense of humour must be slightly different. Of course, there is mainstream comedy, and there is dark comedy, and there are satires and spoofs. What one person finds hilarious leaves another cold.

And that is the problem with comedy. If you don’t amuse, you can annoy. Comedy, or books with a strongly comic undertone, must surely be amongst the most difficult of genres to write.

For instance, I usually enjoy the writing of that writer of the mid-twentieth century Monica Dickens.  The regular reader of this blog won’t be surprised to find that I came across a copy of the first book I read by her, ‘One Pair of Hands’ at the age of twelve on one of those invaluable and innumerable bookshelves my mother had stocked with books bought by lot in furniture auctions. It was a 1930’s edition, and even had the postscript left out of modern editions, the discussion on ‘the servant problem’ at the end.

To digress a bit: Monica Dickens was the great-grand-daughter of Charles Dickens,  a debutante who went to work as a ‘cook general’, an amazingly eccentric move in the UK of the 1930’s.  This led her to write this book of her experiences with various employers in the London of the Great Depression.

Work may have been scarce, but ‘good servants’ were equally so just before the outbreak of World War Two, as people came to regard the long hours, poor wages and necessary subservience of ‘service’ as demeaning. In Victorian times, any lower middle class household would have had its ‘Mary-Ann’ who had to do just about everything for her employers; in the 1930’s things had changed, while many employer’s attitudes had not, and Ms Dickens’ book was about just that, and written with sharp observation and humour.

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The edition that I found on my parents’ bookshelves.

I found some other books of hers on the shelves, including, ‘Man Overboard’. This, an account of the misadventures of a British naval officer axed by a reduction in the navy circa 1955, I found so dull that I nearly stopped reading it, save then – as now –  a stupidly stubborn streak usually kept me reading a book I didn’t enjoy as ‘I’ve put this much effort into it; I might as well go on to the end.’

Most of it hardly raised a smile from me. That was, until I got to the climatic bit, which is is fact, the protagonist’s coming to a sense of proportion through the death of his father. At twelve, I was shocked to find that Monica Dickens had written a humorous depiction of a funeral. I had thought myself irreverent! That was black comedy indeed, and I was full of admiration that back in the conventional 1950’s she had dared to write it.

She did not in any way ridicule the grief of the mourners, but she did send up the foolish emptiness of many of the rituals, and much hypocrisy on the part of various distant relatives to a family loss. I was fascinated at how a humorous attitude towards life’s tragedies can in fact be a great bulwark, and I think I learnt a lot about dark comedy.

I read various other books of hers that I did consider funny (and tragic, for this author often combined the two). ‘Kate and Emma’ was one, ‘The Heart of London’ was another, and ‘The Listeners’ was another ( and no, that isn’t about the day-to-day ups and downs of the hard working people who do surveillance; it is about the author’s experience as a member of The Samaritans).

But I am unable to say why it was exactly that I found some of this author’s work hilarious, and other parts only raised from me a weary smile. It might have been that ‘Man Overboard’ was told from the point of view of the male protagonist, whereas her books are usually either told from the point of view of a female one, or have multiple points of view.

Another aside: How I wish that style of writing would come back into fashion…

It could just be that every comic situation depicted in that book left me cold until the end.

And that is one of the perils of writing comedy. When it falls flat, it’s about as acceptable to the reader as a heavy cold pancake, without any sugar, lemon, syrup, etc.

When it fails, it often frankly grates. Far more so than, for instance, pathos which misses the mark and turns into bathos, which after all, does make you smile at least.

I found this a couple of years ago, when I read some of a comic series by a female author. The books were well written. I enjoyed the first. In it, the heroine allowed herself to be beguiled by a charming wastrel, who subsequently let her down and wandered off with a regretful wave.

On beginning the second, I realised with dismay that the scenario was much the same as in the first. The protagonist had learnt nothing from being so badly let down by the first anti -hero. She met another one here, a supposedly different character, but in fact, virtually identical to the unreliable lover in the first. He looked the same, and his character flaws were identical. The heroine allowed herself to be drawn in by  him in exactly the same way as she had with the first, and he let her down in just the same way . So indecisive was he, that he didn’t even finish things properly; he wandered off exactly like the first, possibly to return in some future volume.

I looked at the third. Here that same anti-hero was again, hardly changed at all, though with a different name and a slightly different hair colour, being unreliable and winning the heroine’s heart and letting her down all over again…

This was obviously the case of a protagonist who learnt nothing and remained static. She was depicted as being supposedly sophisticated and in her late thirties. The author obviously found her guillable nature adorable, but for myself, I only find a naïve and ridiculously romantic female protagonist charming if she is young and inexperienced. If my own twenty-one-year-old Sophie de Courcy had led a less sheltered life, then her romantic silliness over the eponymous Scoundrel Émile  would have been  less exusable…

The protagonist of the series I mentioned seemed to have had many love affairs, but in the ones the reader is shown she was a sort of romantic recidivist, falling for the same sort of man, and being exploited in exactly the same way, again and again and never learning anything. In subsequent volumes, the former exploiters had a habit of returning with a weak apology, and the starry eyed heroine would admit them to her bed all over again before they strayed off again…

It was certainly realistic about a certain sort of woman. I found these constant re-runs of the first story not hilarious, as it is clear from the reviews that many did, but irritating.

There are in fact, ways in which an author can allow her protagonist to make the same mistake about one character, a love object, without depicting her as a static character incapable of learning. Magic is one, hypnosis is another, and a theme involving re-incarnation is a third.

In fact, in one of my favourite fantasy series, ‘Child of the Erinyes’ by R A Lochlann, a combination of these magical and reincarnation explanation is used to great effect. The heroine has no memory of the anti-hero’s abuse of her in previous incarnations, and so we do not become frustrated with her.

I suppose the author of the series about the non-developing woman had looked at some of the characters in classic comedy – ie, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, and seen that they were essentially static, but this in no way detracted from people’s enjoyment of the stories.

And the odd thing is, that I enjoy those stories, myself.

She may have been right in her assessment. In all fairness, only a minority of reviewers reacted as I did. The majority seemed to enjoy the female protagonist, and to root for her without respecting her, chuckling indulgently as she made the same mistake about men all over again.

Which comes back to my point; writing comedy is so hazardous precisely because readers’ tastes and sense of the ridiculous differ so greatly.

A reader of  one of ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ wrote to me, ‘I found it read more as a straight paranormal romance. I couldn’t find any spoof elements.’

She added, ‘But I really enjoyed it.’

Well, that’s the main thing, anyway…

Structure in Novel Writing, James Scott Bell’s ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ and a Certain Way to a Unique Writing Voice – Joy.

 

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I am sure there is a lot of happiness mixed up with the anxiety, in this elopment…

I read something the other day that made me think (unaccustomed exercise: new pathways created, and all that).

It was actually in an intriguing book about how useful the novel (excuse that Freudian slip) approach of ‘writing a book from the middle’ is, in giving a clear, effortless structure. This is, in fact, a book full of a good advice on structure for every sort of writer. It can be applied by those who begin writing with only the vaguest plan –(I am one of those, in good company with Stephen King) – for those who plan their novels like a military campaign, and for those who are in  between.

In fact, I would recommend this book, which explains how if you have the strong core at the centre of a book (a bit like Pilates for wordsmiths, I suppose) then the rest of it can hold up.

It’s ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ by James Scott Bell Compendium Press (2014).

The author quotes various massively successful novels which have, for all their superficially rambling, epic nature, that ‘Magical Midpoint Moment’ that gives structure and coherence to the whole. This, he suggests, applies to films as well as novels of all genres.  He quotes ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Casablanca’ as two perennially successful examples of stories with a watertight core. He quotes ‘The Hunger Games’ as another example (I am still meaning to read that, though I have seen the film).

This intrigued me. I was interested enough to pick up some of my favourite novels – Margaret Attwood’s ‘Bodily Harm’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ were two – and in fact, the conflict that lies at the base of both plots is indeed at the centre of the novels.

I have gone into both in depth elsewhere, so no need to repeat myself in detail about that conflict here. But briefly: –

In ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ there is a discussion between the heroine’s parents about the rumoured fickleness of her preferred, stimulating, but supposedly dead lover and the dogged devotion of her still living cousin, whom she finds dull. This really, is the core of the novel. Which one will bring her long term happiness (if either)?

In ‘Bodily Harm’ we have this: ‘Paul smiles: a kindly, threatening smile. “I like you,” he says. “I guess I’m trying to tell you not to get too mixed up in local politics.”’ And there it is, the core:r Rennie is a journalist who writes superficial ‘lifestyle’ magazine articles, who, after some devastating real life experiences, decides to ‘escape from it all’ on a working holiday in a little known Carribean island; here she gets drawn into local politics willy nilly.

I  couldn’t resist looking at one of my own novels, my first,  ‘That Scoundrel Ėmile Dubois’ to check the middle. Sure enough, there at about the centre, we have the anti hero taking his bride Sophie to their newly rented house after the wedding ceremony.

There, waiting to greet her, along with other staff members, are their new butler and housekeeper Mr and Mrs Kit. It just so happens that they are former associates of his in his old career as the highwayman Monsieur Giles. Ėmile is an incorrigible scoundrel yet – in fact, potentially a far worse one, for he has been possibly infected with the vampire virus – and Sophie sees that she will live in a household (with the exception of Agnes, her maid) run by his former disreputable cronies whose first loyalties are to him. She is uneasy about that, without knowing why…

…But, she doesn’t run off. She’s too besotted; besides, she knows underneath that she is going to stay and fight to bring out the best in the rascal.

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I was – of course – pleased to find the story has a strong core, in fact, done unconsciously. Perhaps, the unconscious sometimes tidies up those issues which the conscious neglects?

I am not saying that novel doesn’t arguably have other faults in its composition. Some find the plot too complex, for instance.

Anyway,  that was a novel I particularly loved writing. I have loved the actual writing part of all my novels (I have whinged often enough about how I hate the editing), but that one – it was, to quote a silly pop song, ‘like flying without wings’. It was a joy ride in the best sense.

And that brings me on to a point the author of ‘Write Your Novel From the Middle’ makes: ‘When an author is joyous in the telling, it pulses through the words…Because when you’re joyful in the writing, the writing is fresher and fuller. Fuller of what? Of you. and that translates to the page and becomes that thing called Voice.’

And isn’t a distinctive voice what makes a novel stand out?

Now, I would love to write like Margaret Attwood. I am going to repeat that: I would love to write like Margaret Attwood! But I  never will  write like Margaret Attwood.  I can only  write as the best Lucinda Elliot possible, and the only way to do that is to write what I love.

What happens to people who write what they don’t love is illustrated all too clearly in the case of the writer Patrick Hamilton.

The contrast between the wonderful vigour of his early works, such as the trilogy ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky’ and the tragic comic grandeur of his vision in his masterpieces, ‘Hangover Square’ and ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ and the sour impression left by last work, ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’ is painfully obvious.

Hamilton had lost, not only his faith in people and the progress of history, had not only descended into alcoholism and bouts of depression, but also his joy in writing.

It is not that he wrote about some very unpleasant people in ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’; becasue he always wrote about mainly unpleasant people.  However, before his last novels, he portrayed their absurdities, snobberies,  bigotories and impossible behaviour so humorously that one was left with a sense of being uplifted. Not only that: in his earlier books, there is always what he called ‘the country dance’ where the reader is truly inspired, and sees – along with the admirable character who is always there at the core of the novel  – that life has its joyful side.

In his later novels, the portrayal of that decent person is weaker and weaker, and finally, in ‘Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse’  it is actually lacking. He had forgotten that the normal reader wishes to be left with a feeling of having been ‘brought out of himself or herself’ as well as bieng wryly amused.

Had he, with his massive talent, only somehow kept in touch with that joy, he could have avoided that dying fall.

We must remember to write with joy. And that, by the way, is my true answer to a blog post I wrote maybe a year ago, about a novice writer friend of mine who was devastated by her first one star review (and I am still proud I did not say in reply ‘How nice to have only one of those: would you care to count how many I have?’ ).

One should ignore unfair criticism (just criticism with some basis for it is a different matter; we should take a lot of notice of that) and go on in revelling in the joy of writing. There will always be detractors, and anything that stands out must come under fire, but the best way to treat that is to keep on having joy in what you create.

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The Peterloo Massacre and its Bicentenary on 16 August 2019

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On 16  August 2019, it will be the bicentenary of the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

In this dismal episode in British history, the part time militia of the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry charged  a peaceful crowd of 60,000. This gathering was in fact  a large part of the then population of Lancashire,  many of whom were impoverished cotton workers  who had come to St Peter’s Field to hear reformers, led by the notorious Henry Hunt, talk on the issue of parliamentary reform. Through this means,they hoped to improve their living conditions.

Such were the vagaries and injustices of the electoral system  in Britain at the time, that not only were the majority of the working population  not allowed to vote , but there was not even an MP in Manchester.

On seeing such a massive crowd gathering, the local magistrates, watching from a nearby building, panicked. The normal procedure for dispersing a supposedly disorderly crowd was to have the Riot Act read, and if they crowd had not dispersed in an hour, to send in troops.

Professional mounted troops would move slowly into a crowd, using their horses and the flats of their swords to part them. However, on St Peter’s Fields on that day, the local militias charged into the crowd, using the sabres to cut down men, woman and children alike. Women holding babies were sabred, and the horrors of the day were vividly  reported by the before then unsympathetic journalist from The Times, who was standing on the platform as the massacre began, and who was mistaken for a radical and arrested.

It may astonish people to read that the official death toll was only 15, with about 700 people who either were reported as injured. However, it has to be remembered that many of those injured, however severely, would not have dared to report it. After the massacre the victims, and not the aggressors, were treated as criminals, and feared discrimination by their employers.  Lord Livepool’s government supported the local magistrate’s foolhardly decision to send in the inexperienced (and possibly drunken) local militias.We only have the figures of those injured from the numbers of those incapacited who applied for funds for relief from a charitable fund set up by sympathizers.

No doubt many of those injured subsequently died as a result  of their injuries some weeks or even months later. In those days of primitive medical care and lack of welfare provison, a serious injury was often a death sentence, and for a wage earner in the family to be incapacitated equalled the threat of starvation for a family. Many handloom weavers and spinners at this time were living in a state of semi starvation already.

One of those who later died of injuries received on the day was 21 year old  John  Lees, a spinner and Waterloo veteran from Oldham, whose father had disapproved of his attending the meeting, and who did not at first realise the serious nature of his son’s  injuries. When John Lees died on 7 September, his father demanded an inquest. The jury was  ready to return a verdict of wilful murder against the militia, when the coroner took advantage of a legal loophole to dissolve the whole proceedings.

Subsequently, the repressive Six Acts were rushed through parliament, which effectively muzzled radical newspapers, political meetings, marching and any form of dissent.

Henry Hunt, Samuel Bamford and the other radical leaders were arrested for treason. This capital offence was latter commuted to a a lesser one, and they served prison sentences of severaql yesrs.

This was the outrage which inspired the poet Shelley to write his famous  ‘Masque of Anarchy’ (so subversive that it wasn’t in fact published until 1831, a couple of years after his own death).

‘Rise like lions after slumber;

Rise in unvanquishable number,

Cast your chains to earth like dew,

Which in your sleep hath fallen on  you,

Ye are many;  they are few.’

It is a grim enough episode in British history. However, I felt that I ought to write a story based about the Peterloo Massacre.  I didn’t actually know at the time when I began work on my novel, that there is in fact an epic feature film coming out about it, and I thought that the occasion of the bi-centenary should not slip by without someone writing of the appalling suffering of the Lancashire cotton workers at this time, and particularly, the injustices meted out on that day.

With luck there will now be many articles, books, blog posts and television posts over the next year on the bi-centenary of this shameful episode, which shows the neglected dark side of Regency history, and the repressive nature of the state.

 

 

 

Victorian Sexuality and Prudery: Some Victorian Novels

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The following article follows a line that has become more popular in recent years. This suggests that the previous view, that Victorian’s were repressed regarding sexuality, and prudish to the point of hiding the legs of tables by long tablecloths, was at the least, exaggerated. It argues that in fact, sexuality was widely discussed in the UK – and by implication various other countries –of Victorian times.

Here is the link:

https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/victorian-sexualities.

It is an interesting article, but I find it odd that the writer insists that:

‘These stereotypes of high prudery were famously critiqued by Michel Foucault as the ‘repressive hypothesis’: the idea that the Victorians could not mention sex. Foucault pointed out that, far from being silenced, sex was spoken everywhere in the 19th century in a wide range of contexts including the law, medicine, religion, education. Much academic and popular work since has considered the many ways in which Victorians did experience and speak of desire. ‘

The author goes on to state that for instance, Queen Victoria made her desire for Prince Albert obvious in the following quote: –

‘ Albert really is quite charming, and so excessively handsome, such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers; a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist.’

Certainly, it is a commonplace that Queen Victoria was in love with her husband and no doubt enjoyed their physical relationship. But I think applying modern awareness to a nineteenth century girl’s admiration of a man’s appearance is hazardous. There will, of course, be a great deal of unconscious sexual desire in the admiration – but how far this is any way recognized consciously or whether an overt expression of desire is intended  is a completely different matter. It was all swept under the carpet as not to be mentioned in public.

No doubt many men did indeed write about sexuality – for a male readership.  The author of the article does acknowledge how great a role the indoctrination of women as ‘angel of the house’ and asexual played in their repression in the UK of the Victorian age. As always, of course, there would be individual exceptions.

The writings of the German born Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)  is the most outstanding example of an outspoken Victorian man – and the bawdy writing of the French novelist Ėmile Zola  -who perhaps was part of the reason why ‘French novels’ were synonymous with indecency  – another.

What was considered suitable reading material for a man was very different from what was  seen as suitable reading for females. The double standard, already well established regarding sexual morality, became applied to sexual knowledge itself by this era.

In ‘Pamela’ the priggish heroine is fully aware exactly what it is that her caddish master wishes to do to her. Descriptions of his frustrated attempts and his thrusting his hand in her bososm abound. This all changes in later novels.

And in the case of Freud, he did indeed write at length about sexual desire, but the reaction of horror and disgust of many of his contemporaries to his giving a prime place in the psyche to sexuality surely indicates how problematic writing about sexuality was, particularly that of women.

One only need read Victorian novels by, or for, woman, or written ‘for family entertainment’  to see this. I shall use as examples several I know well.

For instance,  Elizabeth Gaskell, writing in the mid rather than the  late Victorian era – the decades traditionally regarded as less prudish – got into all sorts of difficulties, precisely because of the sexual reticence which she brought to her writing.

This made it impossible for her to reveal in her novel ‘Ruth’ the exact circumstances of Ruth’s seduction at the hands of her admirer Mr Bellingham. We leave Ruth being urged by him to go away with him, and when we next meet them, they are openly living together outside wedlock on a prolonged visit to North Wales. Mrs Gaskell felt herself unable to write about what had happened in the interval. She indicates that Ruth in her innocence does not know that she is ‘living in sin’ until a remark repeated by a child reveals it to her.

‘Fancying’ together with  a heroine who is ‘no prude’ and courted by a physically appealing man and a far less attractive one are dealt with in her later historical novel ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ (1863), about which I just might have written before. It is assumed by various critics that Elizabeth Gaskell was depicting a heroine with a strong sexual urge, and that she found this less disturbing in a heroine who is an illiterate country girl at home with tending animals.

I think this is questionable. Just as ‘lovers’ had a different meaning in Victorian times,  meaning only ‘romantic admirers’ so, almost certainly, did ‘fancy’, which possibly meant only ‘romantic admiration and liking’.

Because of Elizabeth Gaskell’s reticence, as I have said in my article in ‘The F Word’ on this novel, it is impossible to distinguish if Sylvia is supposed to find her persistent admirer Hepburn physically unattractive or to be indifferent to him. It may even have been that the author saw the heroine as indifferent to the sexual act with all men, even her hero Charley Kinraid. She is shown as having a ‘virginal fierceness’.

Certainly, the handsomeness of the one, and the plainness of the other is emphasized; the modern reader is left with the impression that Sylvia is sexually frustrated in a marriage loveless on her side, but given that her age had imposed such reticence on the author, we cannot be certain of this.

George Elliot, whose writing Elizabeth Gaskell admired, but whose unmarried status she abhorred, was equally circumspect in ‘Adam Bede’.  She makes no  mention of how Hetty’s pregnancy has escaped the hero’s notice, and everyone else’s – as she is surely at least seven months pregnant when she runs  away from home, one would think her expanding girth was obvious by that time, tight lacing or not.

Dickens’ hero Charles Darnay and his heroine Lucie Manette in Dicken’s 1859 novel, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ are depicted vividly as falling in love in opposite sides of the courtroom, when the former is on trial for treason against the British crown. No doubt the hero’s facing the possibility of being hanged, drawn and quartered adds fuel to their developing passion as Lucie is obliged to act as an unwilling witness for the prosecution.

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However, this pair unfortunately thereafter degenerate into a typical asexual Dicken’s couple. Their children are lay saints, possibly as a result. On their honeymoon Darnay is depicted – the sensualist! – as standing with his ‘hand on Lucie’s heart’. However, she is clearly unaroused by this corporal act. She calmly lectures him on  how he must be kind to the man who cynically saved his life in the treason trial – his double Sidney Carton.

I think it is difficult to find an age which considered it ‘indecent’ to mention a man’s trousers – seriously! – as anything but one which was dominated by prurience and a fair degree of hypocrisy.  At the end of the nineteenth century, we have the writer of romantic melodramas for the mass market, Charles Garvice, describing the  outfit of the anti hero of ‘The Outcast of the Family’ . He describes in detail the costermonger’s outfit he wears as a sign of rebellion – his ‘absurdly short coat’  ‘vulgar cap’ and ‘red kerchief’, even the pearl buttons  on his gaiters-  but makes – Good Heavens no! – no mention of his trousers, or should I say, his ‘unmentionables’.

The heroine agrees to marry the slippery baddy, appropriately named ‘Stannard Marshank’. She certainly spends a lot of time shuddering at the touch of his lips on her hand, etc, and ‘white faced’ at the thought of their coming marriage.  Whether this is meant to be moral horror at intimacy with another man than the one she loves, or physical repugnance, is hard to say.

And I can’t resist adding another couple of books. In ‘Mrs Humphrey Ward’s’  ‘Marcella’ the hero breaks off his engagement with the heroine when he learns that the heroine has (unwillingly) been kissed on the lips by another man.

Then, in ‘Dracula’, Mina Harker acknowledges that in walking down the street on her husband’s arm, she is actually breaking the rules of good conduct she taught as a mistress at a select boarding school for young ladies. This contrasts with the Regency age, when a woman was actually allowed to be ‘handed up into a carriage’ or ‘taken into dinner’ (rather as if she couldn’t move on her own voilition) by any man of her acquaintance. Promiscuity indeed…

The case of the seduced innocent seems to be an obvious case of the mistaken nature of the assumption that regarding sexual matters, it was easy for naïve Victorian women to ‘read between the lines’. We belong to an enlightened age. We know what authors are hinting at, and chaperones, too, in their veiled warnings of ‘man’s nature’ and hints at sin. We know the physical acts that lie behind  these veiled allusions . Sheltered Victorian women too often did not.

Even in a later age, women often did not associate admiring a man’s physical attractions with sexual feelings and their expression. Barbara Cartland was by her own admission so disgusted in the 1920’s  when the mystery of human procreation was rather belatedly explained to her, that she broke off her first engagement.

These few examples – and I could quote dozens more – make me think that the reputation Victorians had for a prurient sex obsession was fully deserved, if later exaggerated for humourous purposes.

In the next age, by contrast, the ‘elephant in the room’  became death, a topic about which the Victorians were extremely open. In fact, a Victorian novel without a death bed scene was hardly worth opening. The Victorian emphasis on death, which, in the absence of effective hygiene and medical treatment, could come at any time, even to the young and healthy, was seen in the twentieth century as morbid.

I don’t think that it was. I  personally would argue that they were right, to embrace its inevitability, and later ages are wrong to behave as if it is an indecent, ‘not quite nice’ topic.

But then I have been accused of being morbid myself, what with  my affection for walking in graveyards.