‘Ferrandino’ the Sequel to Rinaldo Rinaldini – Review.

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It took me ages to find an English translation of the sequel to ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini Captain of Bandetti’ by Christian August Vulpius. In fact, it wasn’t me who finally tracked it down; it was an obliging colleague on Goodreads, who directed me to the site where it can be downloaded google books

The problem with sequels is often that however much readers who love the first in the series may request one, they are not always a good idea. If some of the main conflicts have been resolved, then colflict has to be introduced artificially.

In this,in fact, Rinaldo Rinaldini’s problem in the first two volumes – how to abandon being a robber captain and lead a good life when his past keeps on catching up with him -has not been resolved.

In the original version, he was stabbed to death by his menor, the Old Man of Fronteja.  Vulpius brought him back to life to satisfy public demand, rather like Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes.

I read the first two volumes of the novel back in 2013, when I was writing my own robber novel ‘Ravensdale’.

I loved the first book in this series, wholly tacky and gothic as it was in tone. Vulpius strives to reproduce that  blood and thunder effect here, but does not qute come up to it. Grotesque features, such as Rinaldini’s adoring voluntary servant Rosalia’s body being preserved by the Old Man as a skeleton are added, true. Yet, they seem to have been included in the plot in an atempt to capture some of the gothic excitement of the first volume rather than as a necessary part of the story.

maxresdefaultThese skeletal remains of poor Rosalia are in defiance of the rules of time. It is mentioned that the equally devoted Countess, Dianora, has an infant by Rinaldini. From this we may assume that little more than a a couple of years have passed since the events in the last volume, where the unlucky Rosalia died not long before Rinaldini was attacked by the Old Man, to save him from the disgraceof being taken as a robber. Yet we are are asked to believe that her body has decomposed to the extent of being reduced to bones. That is, unless the Old Man has reduced it to this form by some magical process.

There are some more independent women in this novel, besides adoring ones like Dianora. There are a couple of ‘man haters’ who dwell in a castle where Rinaldini stays, and they expose him as the dreaded brigand in a splendidly dramatic ending to one chapter, where he is offered the services of a dancer who has entertained the company:

‘Ferrdanino looked at the girl in silence. She smiled and cast her eyes on the ground. At this moment, the Countess entered the hall, and enquired: “What is the matter here?”
Ferrandino replied ernsetly, “I have engaged this maiden.” The Countess laughed aloud, and said in an undertone, “Whither?”
Ferrnadino without confusion, and very dryly, replied; “To my companions and fellow travellers.”
“Indeed! My cousin must know that.”
The cousin came, and the Countess told her laughing, of Ferrandino’s intention- the cousin turned to the dancer, and said, “You will go with this man?”
“Why not?” replied the other, with great naivite.
“You do not know who he is.”
“Do you then know?” asked Ferrandino, quickly.
“O yes!” replied the cousin, in the same tone.
Ferrandino looked round him in astonishment- the women laughed aloud. The musicians and the dancer left the hall. The cousin took the dancer by the hand, led her to Ferrandino, and said, “There is the bride – Take her to your den.”
Ferrandino stared at her, and would have asked her meaning, when she held a minature before his eyes.He cast a look at it, and trembling violently, started a few steps back.
“Have you,” said the cousin, “read the writing beneath this portrait? – It is the likeness of RINALDO RINALDINI THE ROBBER CHIEF!”

Then, another woman, Serena,who met Rinaldini and fell for him in the earlier novel, jeers at his faithlessness, which was depicted without comment in the first volume:
‘I cannot desire that you should love me better than you have loved the dearest of your mistresses, Aurelia, Rosalia, Olympia, Dianora, Ersilie, and who knows how many more, as you would and will love, even Serafina. You love very inconstantly. Like as the moon loves the earth, sometimes not at all, generally half, and only on a few days with full adhesion.’

41ZYpCCMnoL._AA160_To be fair to Rinaldini, though he has some sort of compulsion to be promiscuous, he does seem to genuinely fall in love with all of these women in turn, and often at the same time.

Oddly enough, we are informed that he at one point writes to Aurelia, whom he never did manage to win after his abduction attempt failed. She unaccountably turned up to be present at the dramatic stabbing in the last volume. We are never told what her connection was with the Old Man. I may have missed something here. I am far from sure that there wasn’t a connection between her uncle and guardian and the Old Man.

Rinaldo looking poshAnyway, Rinaldini somehow has her address.

Sadly, Rinaldini’s devoted henchman Ludovico, one of my favourtie characters, is killed off in this volume, fighting to liberate some oppressed people, a cause which Rinaldini undertakes and at which he is defeated.

My own edition of the first volumes has Rinaldini die at the age of sixty, fighting in the American War of Independence: this is, of course, and amended ending from the original. Oddly enough, an expert on Vulpius writing on  JSTOR mentions that Rinaldini is killed fighting in the battle to liberate the Haiduks along with his henchaman, and I am confused about this.  Whether in fact, this is Rinaldini’s end in the original novel is a possible explanation.  The one available on Goodle Book is obviously a later edition, and perhaps Vulpius once again gave his hero a exculpatory ending which he later reversed.

The story ends inconclusively regarding Rinaldini’s love life – we don’t know if he went back to the devoted Dianora, though we do know that the Old Man , who turns out to be a Prince, reveals that he is Rinaldini’s father. He arranges things so that Rinaldini can drop his old identity as a wanted man.  As he is now the son of a prince rather than a low born robber chief, we may assume he can wed whom he wishes.

I found that a shame. I preferred him as a goat herd made bad….

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The Difficulty in Portraying the Truly Good Hero and Heroine – Examples from Classic Novels

The literary critic Graham Handley writes of the difficulty of creating a character who is very good: ‘It is a strange but true fact that the truly good person is difficult to portray convincingly in fiction, and Hester Rose (a sort of secondary heroine in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’) may be compared with Diana Morris in ‘Adam Bede’ where there is a similar partial failure of imagination.’

Why this should be so is possibly a question of fashion. These days, we don’t want our protagonists to be too admirable, and the dread spectres of Mary Sue and Gary Stu hover near, whereas in the mid-eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson rose to fame (or infamy) through writing about two Mary Sues and one Gary Stu, namely, Pamela Andrews, Clarissa Harlow and Sir Charles Grandison.

These endless novels were best sellers in that era; people just couldn’t get enough of them. Of course, with ‘Pamela’ there is the issue of whether he drew in the reader with the lure of,  ‘Attempted Rape as Titillation Whilst Expressing Every Sort of Moral Abhorrence’ . I tend to agree with Coleridge that he did, possibly unconsciously.

The rape in Clarissa takes place offstage, and not until Volume Six, so a reader would have had to be as patient as s/he was purile to keep on reading that long just for that, even if people did have longer attention spans in previous centuries. Probably the fascination  of that saga was the villain Lovelace as much as the heroine, and the depiction of his evil if far fetched machinations.

Clarissa is of course, a far more sophisticated creation than Pamela, who to most modern readers comes across as a prize opportunist hypocrite. I can’t answer for Sir Charles Grandison. I have heard that the character is unbearable, and it is worth reading just for that. I have also heard that in it, a woman actually apologises for preferring God to Sir Charles.

Still, having in recent years ploughed my way through ‘Pamela’, ‘Clarissa’ and ‘Pamela in Her Exulted Condition’ (it seriously is called that!) I don’t think I can stand reading any more of Richardson’s self-serving Puritan morality for a long while.

Both the eponymous heroine of ‘Evelina’ and the hero Lord Orville are extremely virtuous and outstandingly dull. I felt like going to sleep whenever Lord Orville spoke.  Fortunately, he does that only occasionally, usually to show a high minded understanding of whatever situation it is in which he is involved.

By contrast, the villain Sir Clement Willoughby (did Jane Austen borrow his name?) provides a great deal of amusement. He spends much of his time, when not involved in rascally plots, in insisting on his deep love for the heroine. Still, never – the cad -does he  so much as hint at marriage. At the end he informs Lord Orville that she is not well born enough for him to consider for anything but as a mistress.  Lord Orville proposes believing her to be ‘low born’ – but then, he is a hero.

It was left to the genius of Jane Austen to create a hero who insults both the heroine’s face and her family origins.

Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ are another virtuous and dull hero and heroine in a classic novel. Someone has commented somewhere (I have managed to lose the link) that Darnay is just like an android programmed to do good things – he seems to possess no mental life at all, and whenever he opens his mouth, virtuous platitudes come forth. Lucie Manette is an embodiment of a Domestic Angel.

I have to admit that I dislike that novel, because of the influence it has had in portraying the French Revolution in an entirely negative light, in particular shaping the popular misconception about the number of victims of the Terror.

As George Orwell says: ‘ Though he (Dickens) quotes no figures, he gives the impression of a frenzied massacre lasting for years, whereas in reality the whole of the Terror, so far as the number of deaths goes, was a joke compared with one of Napoleon’s battles. But the bloody knives and the tumbrils rolling to and fro create in (the reader’s) mind a special sinister vision which he has succeeded in passing on to generations of readers. To this day, to the average Englishman, the French Revolution means no more than a pyramid of severed heads. ’

That however, is off topic…

Intriguingly, Charles Darnay does come to life – twice – when he is in danger of death. Both when he is being tried for treason in the UK, and later when he is tried for it in France, he is suddenly there, real and believable.

In fact, I found the scene where Lucie Manette (who doesn’t yet know him) sheds tears because she is forced to give evidence against him, and they gaze at each other through the courtroom and obviously start to fall in love, both evocative and gripping.

Generally, then, I find it hard to think of a truly noble hero or heroine in a classic novel who is both interesting and believable.  Readers may have been more fortunate; if so, I’d love to hear of it.

‘The Marquis’ by Charles Garvice: ‘incredibly, almost unbelievably, bad’ writing.

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_The_MarquisA few years ago, I posted about having found the worst written novel I have ever come across. This was ‘The Outcast of the Family’ by Charles Garvice, a romantic novel published in 1894.

I had first read it at fifteen, when bored by being snowed in at the Vale of Clwyd in North Wales. My mother had come by this as part of a job lot of Victorian articles in an auction, along with other books, some of rather more value, for instance, she also got a complete set of the first edition of Scott’s ‘Waverley Novels’.

The writing style in this book was so purely terrible that it startled me at the time. I had recently read Sax Rohmer’s ‘The Drums of Fu Machu’ with its flat characters, excessive use of exclamation marks, etc, and this struck me as being even worse.

When I re-read it a few years ago, I found it as fascinatingly bad as I had remembered. The plot, which revolves around a wild young viscount who drinks, brawls and dresses as a costermonger, was so purely risible that I borrowed these details, including his talent for music, for my Gothic satire ‘The Villainous Viscount Or The Curse Of The Venns’.

In ‘The Outcast of the Family’ Lord Fayne is cured of being bad by two conversations with the innocent heroine Eva, who looks upon him and his ‘wasted life ‘ with tenderly compassionate eyes.

Why she does not turn such a gaze upon the villain of the piece, Stannard Marshbank – who is even worse- is not explained. Perhaps it is because he has pale eyes and a furtive manner, unlike Lord Fayne, who is built like a Greek god and with the profile of one, and who saves her life in passing  when, dressed as a tramp, he stops her bolting horse.

Having declared his love for her, Lord Fayne empties his glass of brandy onto the fire, sells his racehorses, discards his costermonger garb and takes up busking on the country roads as a form of rehabilitation. Apparently after a few weeks ‘he feels a change’ inspired by the country air and the company of ‘simple country folk’.

This is only part of the plot, which involves a murder, for which Lord Fayne is unfairly accused, and the seduction of an innocent, for which he is also wrongly  blamed, Lord Fayne’s short career working on a ranch in Uruguay, and his return, ravaged by malaria, to confront Stannard Marshbank – who has meanwhile forced the heroine Eva to agree to marry him – over all his crimes .

When I had read the last page of this melodrama, and stopped laughing, I marvelled at what sort of author could have written such a story in all seriousness.. I investigated Charles Garvice, partly through an article on Wickpedia, and partly through one kindly supplied to me by Laura Sewell Matter, in her delightfully humorous ‘Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist’ (2007). She too, marvelled at his ‘incredibly, almost unbelievably bad’ writing style.

He was the best selling writer of the late Victorian and Edwardian era, writing over 150 books and by 1913 selling over 1.75 million annually.

I have since read several of his other books, and find them all as  lurid, as devoted to purple prose and as full of ludicrous melodrama as his critics asserted. However, none of them to my mind was as appalling as ‘The Outcast of the Family’. I thought that stood alone: but now I have found a rival for it.

‘The Marquis’ was in fact, published by Garvice in 1895, a year after ‘The Outcast of the Family’. That it is about a wild, careless aristocrat who becomes a solid citizen through the love of a virtuous young girl is not surprising, as more or less all of his stories are about that. However, the Marquis , who is decidedly mature for a Garvice hero, being about 35, has taken his wildness to an unusual level, and has lived not only as an outcast, like Lord Fayne, but as an outlaw.

In fact, over in Australia, as ‘Gentleman Jack’ he has been the leader of a group of bushrangers, whom it is hinted he joined not in order to make money – as a marquis he hardly needed to – but to keep from their worst violence. Like Valentine in ‘The Two Gentleman of Verona’, he imposes on them a moral code, and the exploits of Gentleman Jack become well known throughout Australia.

In one of their last raids before he stops being their leader, he calls on the isolated dwelling of Professor Graham who lives with his daughter Constance, who has violet eyes and is ‘as graceful as a fawn’ in a glorified hut in the outback. A near neighbour is a man called Rawson Fenton, instantly recognisable as the villain by his evasive glance and the coldness with which Constance treats him. We may be sure that, like all of Charles Garvice’s villains, he kicks dogs as a hobby.

Professor Graham has bought a piece of land on which there are many precious gems, surrounded by rock. He has been seeking of a way of making money by freeing the jewels of the stone, becoming meanwhile deranged and fanatical about the topic. Unknown to Constance, he finds it – and the success drives him mad – just before the bushrangers arrive on a raid. Naturally, their leader, who seems a ‘superior’ sort of man, arranges for  the grieving Constance to be escorted to the nearest town.  The sneaking Rawson Fenton remains behind. Finding a written copy of the formula, and understanding its meaning, he pockets it. He also finds a ring with a family crest that the lead outlaw has dropped, which he pockets also.

Professor Graham considerately dies some months afterwards. Constance returns to the UK to take up work as a governess. Naturally, Charles Garvice being wholly addicted to improbable co-incidences (or synchronicity, if one wants to judge his use of them generously) she is offered post as governess to the Marquis’ young nephew at Breakspeare Castle in Buckinghamshire. Of course, he returns on the very day she takes up her new post, having wearied both of wandering about the globe and life as an outlaw.

Despite having the Marquis and Constance having met before and not needing glasses, neither recognises the other. To be fair to Constance, she does think, when being shown his portrait earlier by the Marchioness,  that his handsome face, with its ‘audacity and recklnessness, an air of ‘devilry’ and wildness’ is familiar. But she has no idea from where.

Naturally, they fall in love. But a sly cousin who stays at the house, Lady Ruth, has her own plans for the Marquis – who incidentally is called the astounding name of Wolf Breakspeare – and joins forces with Rawson Fenton, now returned to the UK to foil matters.  Soon, one of Gentleman Jack’s old gang members named Long Ned turns up, too, singularly hard up – but unlike Constance, capable of recognising the Marquis as Gentleman Jack — and given to saying such things as ‘Lor bless you, guv’nor.’ Will he descend to blackmail?

There is a good deal more in the way of a plot, but it really is too ridiculous to repeat, save to say that Rawson Fenton finds out the Marquis’ dark secret and blackmails Constrance into agreeing to accept his proposal.

During the course of the 350 odd pages, Constance ‘reddens and then turns pale’ on more or less on every other one; Ruth constantly looks and speaks sharply; the Marquis is repeatedly masterful and sometimes a dark look passes across his handsome face as he regrets his past ; Rawson Fenton’s face writhes with passion; everyone admires both Constance (save Lady Ruth)  and the Marquis (save Rawson Fenton), and the Marchioness constantly ‘speaks placidly’.

This book also contains a cringe making love declaration, in which I reproduce the punctuation exactly :

‘But for you I should have dared that man (Long Ned) to do his worst! But for you, I should have left this house never to return! But I could not –Girl” his hand clutched as if in a wild rage at some weakness that mastered him – “girl, what have you done to me? Ever since I saw you, the night that I returned, you have exerted an influence over me. You have robbed me of my strength of will, the strength I gloried in – the strength which, once gone, renders me weak and helpless! Constance” and he used her hand to draw her to him, “what have you done to me? What is it? Constance, I cannot get you out of my thoughts day and night. Is it that I love you?”

Oh dear: purple prose, anybody? This book truly has to take equal first place with ‘The Outcast of the Family’ as the worst that I have ever read.

Fascinatingly, the hard backed copy that I read, which was  a cheap book in the days before paperbacks, has been so well bound, using the old sewing methods, that it has held this dreadful piece of writing together for 124 years.

Charles_Garvice_-_Lord_of_Himself

 

 

Anti-Heroine’s: Part Two Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Novels

Fourth Universe Cover

I wrote in my last post that I have difficulty in finding anti-heroines in both classic and modern novels. I must have been reading the wrong books. Surely an anti-heroine is to be found from amongst all those katana wielding, leather clad female warrior leads? However, as I mentioned, I haven’t read that much modern fantasy, and maybe I keep missing them.

I now recall that I have encountered a couple of versions of the anti-heroine in fantasy.

In The Dan Series Book four ‘Into the Fourth Universe  there is the heartless siren Rannie. This woman in fact is, in her own totally heartless way, sometimes on the side of right. Besides running a criminal empire, she is partly out to save the universe; it is just that she doesn’t let scruples about anyone, including the bumbling, hirsute space age detective Magus get in the way.  However, she underestimates his dogged persistence…

There is an hilarious confrontation between them at one stage at the novel.

‘“You know the first rule of investigation – never accept a drink off a dame ; it always has a Mickey Finn in it.”

 “Not this one; I poured it myself. See.” She took a good swig from the glass.

He tasted it suspiciously. “Seems OK. Ta.” He knocked the pint back in one draught. “Any more? This investigating is thirsty work.”

She poured another for him. “Right; now I suppose I owe you an explanation.”…

His vision blurred. The room shimmered. He felt his senses slipping. “What have you done?” he muttered as he felt his legs giving way. “You said the drink wasn’t drugged…”

“The first one no,”  said Rannie,  lowering him gently onto a couch. “The second one was. You forgot the first rule of investigation; never ever ever accept a drink from a dame.”

There is also another contender for the title of anti-heroine in this hilarious series, though there is the minor fact that she isn’t human. This is the sex android Kara-Tay, another seemingly heartless siren, who spends a great part of the first novel in the series ‘The Adventures of Dan’ trying to kill off Dan Smith, whom she has abducted to join her in a wild adventure across universes.

Kara-Tay was designed by an man as his sex slave; having escaped from her servitude from her creator, she has no high opinion of males. But she has a shameful secret…

Moving on to an anti-heroine who confined her activities to the deep south of the US here is Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara in the 1936 novel ‘Gone with the Wind’. I read it at sixteen, and never forgot the sweeping impact of the story.

This book always struck me as a ‘guillty pleasure’ type of read, with its swaggering anti-hero to Scarlett’s anti-heroine, the sentimental passages, generally good-looking characters (with a few exceptions, such as the supposedly plain Melanie and  the sad Frank Kennedy, that is), detailed descriptions of dresses, balls and feasts and the lifestyle of the plantation families (before they are ruined by the war, of course) and also, on the code of behaviour extolled by the Southern gentlefolk.

Scarlett is notoriously vain, flirtatious and is highly unscrupulous, both in her battle to survive and in her pursuit of the golden haired, suave Ashely Wilkes. She is also, as Rhett Butler points out, barbarically ignorant – she thinks that the Borgias are a family from Georgia, and that her father might have been in the siege of Drogheda  – but she is endowed with a wonderful zest for live and will to survive as the society in which she has grown up falls about her ears.

But even at an unpolitical sixteen, my pleasure in this classic anti-heroine was spoiled by my dismay at the racism. It is not just a case of an author depicting the institutionalised racism of the plantation culture. The writer herself often seems to  suggest that black people were happier as slaves and that the Klu-Klux-Klan was inspired by gallantry.

The Blood of Others cover

A less known, but remarkably engaging anti-heroine is the very young and passionate Hélenè in Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Blood of Others’ (1945) . A critic described her in this way: ‘Hélène, the little shop girl, wild as a hare with the morality of a pirate…is enchanting’. I found her so too.

She is as determined to have Jean Blomart, the guilt driven intellectual renegade bourgeois turned printer, as Scarlett O’Hara is determined to have Ashley Wilkes.  Also, like ‘Gone with the Wind’, the story deals with a desperate war –that fought by the French Resistance in occupied France during World War Two.

However, there the resemblance to ‘Gone with the Wind’ stops. This is a sombre and – for all its human warmth and flashes of humour – essentially serious novel. It is all part of the nature of its achievement of a depth of vision that the opportunistic Hélène becomes heroic, and that Jean Blomart, who was thrown out by his factory owner father for being a violent subversive, should come together with him to forward the aims of the French Resistance.

Another heartless siren anti-heroine is Xenia in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Robber Bride’ (1993). This woman destroys happiness and snaps up and spits out married or committed men like a crocodile and with about as many scruples. The ending is, in line with much of Atwood’s writing, ambiguous. Throughout, Xenia’s viewpoint and understanding of her victims is incomplete; perhaps she has overestimated her power. I believe some readings depict her as a woman who saves two of the female protagonists from unworthy men (the third allows her lover back after Xenia finishes with him). It doesn’t seem to me that either of the women who loses the said unworthy man is any the better for it. They remain heartbroken.

Robber Bride Cover

It strikes me that most of these anti-heroines are, in fact, sirens. Their attraction for men is no doubt invaluable for them as they shoulder their way through the world. Hélėne in ‘The Blood of Others’ perhaps the exception; although depicted as very attractive, and although capable of having affairs with men who mean nothing to her, she is not a siren as such; she is too lacking in artifice and finally, hypocrisy. She is too hot blooded.

Many of these sirens come across to the reader as in fact, sexually as well as emotionally cold. Perhaps sexual relations  with all men strike them as a tedious chore. This means that they can endure them with gritted teeth with the most unappealing of characters.

In ‘Vanity Fair’ Becky Sharp can apparently endure the thought of marital relations with the rebarbative Sir Pitt Crawley (unfortunately for her his wife dies after she marries his much more physically appealing but untitled youngest son) and is by implication the mistress of the repellent (and possibly diseased) Marquis of Steyne,

Becky Sharp’s appearance is dwelt on very little for a siren; we know she has a slim, curving figure, striking green eyes and sandy hair. Her fascination seem to be in her charm, her playing and singing, her mimicry and her manipulative skill in getting what she wants from men in particular. She has no emotional warmth and one assumes this must be evident to anyone who is either immune to flattery and/or reasonably perceptive.

It would be intriguing to see if there are many other sorts of anti-heroines besides femme fatales, and in fact, there is a wonderful example in the dreadful Miss Bohun in Olivia Manning’s ‘School for Love’ (1951) which I have always regarded as a greatly underestimated minor masterpiece.

That is, I am assuming that Miss Bohun is an anti-heroine rather than an antagonist. She is the main female character. There is a lively, likable and attractive female character, the young widow Mrs Ellis, to whom the bitter Miss Bohun acts as a sort of evil genius and antagonist, but she does not appear until well into the book. Although the final confrontation between Mrs Ellis and Miss Bohun leads to Felix’s final disillusionment with Miss Bohun, this could easly have been effected without her and she is to some exent an interestingly subversive but shadowy presence. Miss Bohun’s malevolent influence is constant.

The story is narrated from the point of view of Felix Latimer, a boy in his early teens and a distant relative of Miss Bohun, who comes to live with her in Jerusalem at the end of World War Two.  Gradually, he begins to realise that Miss Bohun  is not just sharp tongued and undemonstrative and a member of a religious cult; she is a bitter miser and wholly uncharitable, caring for nobody but herself.

School for Love Cover

Miss Bohun is no femme fatale, though there are strong hints at the end of the novel that she wil marry for money. In appearance, she reminds Felix of a stick insect, and she is so mean that she only owns two dresses and leaves her house unheated in mid winter. She is small minded, insensitive and not very clever, but sly enough to be able to manipulate matters so that she ends up outwitting most of the more intelligent characters, who are hampered with a sense of honour. She has none, but always somehow avoids taking responsibility for her mean betrayals. Horribly smug,she ascribes her victories to God’s especial favour for her.

It is a comment on how well this book is written that all the grim events in the novel are po9rtrayed with a wonderfully dark humour.

This post is too long and I must stop here. But I would be interested to hear of any other anti-heroines readers of this post have encountered.

 

 

 

The Anti-Heroine

Wuthering_Heights_scene_2

I have often thought, on and off, what a shame it is how few anti-heroines there are in both traditionally published and self published fiction.

Anti -heroes suffer from overpopulation in the fiction world- particularly in romance – but their female equivalents seem thin on the ground.

This anyway, is my experience, but maybe I am looking in the wrong places (anxiously picks up some stones in the garden).

Maybe I haven’t come across them because I don’t read much fantasy and all its sub sections, and possibly that is the genre in which they are most often to be found, with all those katana waving, leather clad female warriors.  With all the newly published works on the internet, there must surely be many of these outrageous lead females I have missed. But if so, I keep on missing them, as with the 65 bus when I used to live in South Ealing.

There are, however, some excellent classic ones. I have to start off by saying that to my shame, I have yet to read ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ whom I believe count as anti-heroines.

However, I have read ‘Vanity Fair’ twice. The selfish, cold, manipulative  Becky Sharp is certainly an anti-heroine. I dislike her, because she has almost no warmth of feeling , and is prepared to destroy her only friend Amelia’s happiness and future security for her own gain. This also is  part of a mean spirited revenge she takes on Amelia’s fiancé George Osborn, who earlier has prevented her marriage to Amelia’s foolish half-brother Joss.

During the vain George’s honeymoon in Brighton with Amelia, she and  her now husband Rawdon Crawley turn up, and while Rawdon Crawley assiduously strives to relieve George of his small inheritance from his mother, Becky flirts with him and soon succeeds in making him infatuated with her, careless on how wretched this will make Amelia, who was the only person who championed her at school.

As, through George’s interference to prevent the Jos engagement, she is still free later to marry the baronet’s son Rawdon Crawley and aim higher up the social ladder, one might think that she would be philosophical about George’s earlier snobbish interference; but it seems that she is not.

In some ways she is carelessly drawn, I suppose as a result of WM Thackeray’s self –conscious masculine inability to see inside the heads of women. For instance, Becky at the beginning of the story is rebellious and resentful. She alarms Amelia by throwing away the dictionary given her by the school as a parting present, and shouts ‘Vive Bonoparte! Vive l’Empereur!’

I rather liked her for this frank defiance, but she soon changes into a sly flaterer. Within hours of going to stay with the Sedley family in Russell Square, she is suddenly expert at hiding her real feelings, and can draw in the fat and foolish Jos.

Vanity Fair is, of course, one of the greatest novels written about the Battle of Waterloo. That is the way in which it has lingered in my imagination, and not through any great interest in its two dimensional anti-heroine. However, Thackeray deserves all credit for creating one, however clumsily.

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I have to make another shamed confession here; I never finished reading Jane Austen’s ‘Lady Susan’. Jane Austen wrote it when she was very young, and not easily able to handle the subject matter, which is fascinating, being about a widow with a ‘dubious’ character scheming to marry one of a group of eligible young men. I think this is probably why I stopped reading.

I must read it through soon. In Jane Austen’s time, when a novel was abominated unless the author paraded its moral worth, an anti-heroine like the heartless Lady Susan was a theme only the boldest writer would attempt. Perhaps this is why she did not return to it, as she did to the early versions of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

Another anti-heroine is, of course, Cathy in ‘Wuthering Heights’. She dies ‘not with a bang but a whimper’ fading away after she finds that she cannot have both Edgar Linton and Healthcliff. However surprisngly tame the end of life in this world for Cathy is, she is a highly effective ghost.

Her relationship with the Heathcliff is certainly bizarre. Contrary to what so many readers seem to believe, I would argue that she does not appear to have romantic feelings feelings towards him, though they do seem to have some confusion of identiy.  It is difficult to work out what sort of feelings Heathcliff has for Cathy. From some of his comments, he seems to have less divided feelings about his passion for her than she has over hers for him.

In that era, it was, I believe, illegal for a person to marry a foster sibling (there was no formal adoption) whether there was any blood relationship or not, so I am puzzled about why Cathy even mentions marrying Heathcliff in her famous speech about degradation. There’s a good discussion of that, and the incest theme in ‘Wuthering Heights’ here 

Apart from her dependency relationship with Heathliff,  we really don’t know that much about Cathy. She is wilful and selfish and when in her early teens, loves running about on the moors in all weathers and soon develops a normal amount of teenage vanity.

In these characteristics, she does make a refreshing change from most mid Victorian heroines. However, she is not, for all her wild passions and temper tantrums, a fully realised character. For all her apparent ‘large ego’ if set aside from her torn feelings for both Edgar Linton and Heathcliff,  for all her undeniable egotism, she hardly seems to exist at all. Again, I found this disappointing.

I have more I want to write about anti-heroines, including the mid-twentieth century depictions of two in the Hélène in Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Blood of Others’ and Scarlett O’Hara, but for now I had better finsih this post with the request  that I hope someone reading it can recommend a modern anti-heroine to me.

 

 

 

 

On Re-Reading Hamlet

The Play Scene in 'Hamlet' exhibited 1842 by Daniel Maclise 1806-1870I recently re-read ‘Hamlet’ . I hadn’t since studying it for ‘A’ level, more years ago than I care to admit, though I have seen that 1980’s BBC performance, where I thought David Robb’s Laertes was far more sympathetic than David Jacobi’s Hamlet.

While I normally love reading Shakespeare, I can’t say that I enjoyed ‘Hamlet’  much when first I read it, brilliant though I found the dramatic sweep and the breadth of vision of the play.

I was dismayed by the misogyny which pervades it and Hamlet’s brutal treatment of Ophelia. It seemed to me that the eminent critics seemed to think that didn’t matter much, and to concentrate more on the question, say, of whether or not he does delay excessively in carrying out the injunction of the ghost of his father to avenge his murder.

Re-reading it now, I am glad that the approach seems to differ, and the misogny that underlies the thinking in the Danish court is seen as frankly absurd.

In fact, I was very struck by the comment of the critic in the edition I read, that it is almost as if Shakespeare is deliberately emphasizing how women are frequently blamed for situations where they have little or no power.

Alan Sinfield, the co-editor of the late TJB Spencer’s 1980’s Penguin edition of the play, remarks: ‘Misogyny is routine, re-iterated, and active in the plot, as though the play were designed to persuade us of it as a fact’.

It may even be that Shakespeare was exposing a tendency to shift the blame of social problems onto the behaviour of women.

Laertes and Ophelia

Despite my reservations about it, I have always found it a fascinating play. That is hardly surprising, it being one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, written at the height of his powers.

Being by Shakespeare, it goes without saying that what might be in the hands of another playwright a drama with an exciting but shallow revenge theme, cannot avoid being transmuted into an absorbing tale with what have often been called ‘universal themes’.

It becomes an exploration of motivation, frustration, tormented self-doubt, of the corrosive effects of a corrupt world upon youthful love and aspirations, of the morality of the role of the avenger, of the shifting world of alliances and power politics in the treacherous court of Denmark as an analogy of the wider world.

I also found it illuminating  that this point is also raised by Alan Sinfield: it largely accounts for the frustration that many have felt when trying to make sense of the seeming inconsistencies in the behaviour of Hamlet and the other characters.

‘Placing too much emphasis on character, many commentators have said, is too expect an early modern play to answer to a critical approach that would suit a nineteenth century novel.’

There are certain inconsistencies in Hamlet’s character as there are in all the supporting ones. Fascinating as they are, I have to agree that full and rounded characterisation was probably not Shakespeare’s main focus of interest.

Least of all is this the case with secondary characters. If we are left feeling confused over what goes on in Hamlet’s head, then we are even more so over that of the rest. Gertrude, for instance, gives us no clue as to how her private discussion with Hamlet – during which he has stabbed to death the eavesdropping Polonius through the arras – has changed her attitude to the King.

In that interview, she raises no objections to her son’s suggestion that she keep away from Claudius’ bed; but whether or not she has kept to this resolve, and how far her relations with Claudius have been changed through Hamlet’s insistence that he is a murderer, we don’t know. She is given no lines that cast light on this.

It could be that those lines have been lost – as I suspect that lines have been lost from the last scenes of ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, ‘Measure for Measure’, ‘Two Gentleman of Verona’ and others.  But it could equally be that Shakespeare lost interest in the marital difficulties that Gertrude must have been left with because they were no longer directly part of Hamlet’s further adventures.

We only know that when Polonius’ son Laertes returns, determined to avenge Polonious’ death, and accompanied by a crowd who are willing to elect him ruler, Gertrude calls them ‘False Danish dogs’.

hamlet-and-horatio-in-the-cemetery-1839-1(1).jpg!Large

There are various troubling inconsistencies in the time frame (obviously, far less obvious in performance) . We are unsure how long it is since the death of King Hamlet, and how long it is since Claudius married his widow. It seems odd when near the beginning, Hamlet’s great ally Horatio says that he has come to the court from university for the funeral. Yet, this is presumably some weeks later, and yet he has not only not returned to Wittenberg, but Hamlet has seemingly not met him. Perhaps he is too self-effacing to call on the Prince.

This is a minor defect, though even so important a detail as Hamlet’s age is contradicted in the text, though he is often referred to as youthful. And certainly, his attitude of thunderstruck amazement and horror towards Gertrude’s remarriage – before he knows of the murder, that is – makes  more sense in a youth in his mid teens than in a man. Of course it is also true that by the standards of Shakespeare’s time, Gertrude’s remarriage to her former brother-in-law is incestuous.

Of course, it is hardly surprising that there are inconsistencies in Shakespeare’s timing and the lines given to various characters, given that there are no definitive texts for any of his plays, only various prompt copies possessed by theatre employees that comprise various ‘folios’ which frequently contradict each other. There may well be missing lines for all the characters which might go a long way to solve the difficulties and inconsistencies to be found in his plots and his characters.

Yet, it is also possible that the missing lines may not explain anything about the motivation of Shakespeare’s creations, for the reasons mentioned above.

To me, the most disturbing thing about this play is the potential happiness lost between Ophelia and Hamlet. In being drawn into the plot of her father Polonius and the King, Ophelia becomes suspect to Hamlet as a spy. He rants wildly at her about women’s sluttish ways and denies he ever said he loved her, despite the passionate notes he has previously sent her.

Later, Polonius is spying behind the arras again when Gertrude and Hamlet have their supposedly private confrontation, and mistaking him for Claudius, Hamlet, who before then has rebuked himself for his delay in carrying out his killing, immediatly stabs him to death.

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After this, and Hamlet’s subsequent banishment (which he seems to accept despite the fact that it greatly reduces his chance to avenge his father by killing his uncle) Ophelia runs mad and sings about desire and betrayal:

Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s day,

All in the morning betime,

And I a maid at your window

To be your Valentine.

Then he up and donned his clothes,

And dupped the chamber door;

Let in the maid, that out a maid

Never departed more.

By Gis and by St. Charity,

Alack and fie for shame!

Young men will do’t if they come to’t,

By Cock, they are to blame.

 Quoth she, ‘Before you tumbled me

You promised me to wed.

He answers:

 “So would I ha done, by yonder sun,

An thou hast not come to my bed.’

Finally Ophelia falls into a river and drowns.

Hamlet returns to Denmark to witness her funeral. Here, when her brother in his anguish leaps into her grave, her estranged lover (in the old sense) rushes forward, and claims that he loved her more than ‘Forty Thousand Brothers’. He and the outraged Laertes wrestle in the poor girl’s grave.

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King Claudius sees a way of disposing of his troublesome nephew and heir by exploiting Laertes’ vengeful fury and arranging a duel, with a poisoned sword tip.

By the end of the play, not only Polonius and Ophelia, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet are all dead.

Horatio would like to follow his friend, but Hamlet pleads with him to stay alive to clear his name.

At the end of ‘King Lear’, though the slaughter and waste caused by injustice and selfish ambition has been similarly tragic, I felt that Edgar’s final speech offered a sense of optimism for the future. But despite the youthful energy of Fortinbras as the new ruler, I didn’t have that sense of optimism with Hamlet. I felt, above everything, a sense of weary sadness.

There is a stark grandeur to the story, as in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Still, when the play closes, leaving Polonious, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius and Hamlet dead from the chain of events set in motion by late king’s plea from purgatory to be avenged on his murderer brother, I felt a sense of great futility and a senseless waste of lives.

The demand of the murdered King from purgatory, that his son avenge his murder, has led to this grim scene. Was vengeance for his murder and betrayal by his brother worth this price?  I can’t feel that it was.

Critics notoriously argue that there are severe problems with a traditional, pagan revenge drama being set within the Christian era.  as I say, my  reaction at the end was different from the feeling of carthasis I had on finishing ‘King Lear’.

Yet, perhaps this weary sadness is exactly the effect for which Shakespeare was aiming. This play certainly should be read by those with a vengeful disposition – I am sometimes guilty of that myself – just as ‘King Lear’ should equally be read by those whose judgement is weakened by flattery. That is a fault we all no doubt share.

 

 

 

Paul Debreckzeny’s Criticism of Pushkin’s Robber Novella ‘Dubrovsky’

Dubrovsky cover

I orginally wrote this post nearly five years ago, just before I published my spoof historical highwayman romance ‘Ravensdale’.

I am posting it again, as I am again writing a spoof historical novel that features highwaymen, and I have never lost my admiration for this uncompleted novella of Pushkin’s.

At that time,  I was reading the traditional robber stories, including Christian Auguste Vulpius’  1798 ‘Penny Dreadful’ ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ and Freiderich Schiller’s  1781 play, ‘The Robbers’.  Besides these, I read some well known highwayman romantic novels, including Georgette Heyer’s  1917  ‘The Black Moth’.  Not then knowing about Project Gutenburg, I didn’t realise that I would have been able to get hold of a copy of Harrison Ainsworth’s 1834  ‘Rookwood’. which features Dick Turpin, or to read some of the Blood and Thunder novels of  Jeffrey Farnol which feature highwaymen.

Besides these, I read an unfinished novella on a landlowner turned brigand by ‘The Russian Shakespeare’ Aleksander Pushkin”s 1832 ‘Dubrovsky’. This I found to be by far the best of them all, despite the unedited long legal document in the middle of it. Some critics think that this project of his, to write a piece of popular literature was a failure. I think that he gave up on it too easily.

There is a paucity of criticism on Pushkin’s prose works in English, and this is particularly true of his robber story ‘Dubrovsky’ which I described in my previous post (before pc was down for some time!) as notably Pushkin’s attempt to reconcile popular and ‘worthwhile’ literature in a novella form.

As I said there, there has been critical division (when isn’t there?) on how far he succeeded in this aim of bringing together popular tastes – excitement, romance, and a high literary quality to a story.

This is, of course, an area that impinges on all writers who are out to produce something of quality – how far to cater for popular taste?

Rosemary Edmonds, in her introduction to ‘The Queen of Spades and Other Stories’ describes ‘Dubrovsky’ as ‘One of Pushkin’s masterpieces’.

‘Melodramatic in subject, it is extremely simple in style. The fairly elaborate plot develops swiftly against against a background which presents an illuminating picture of rural conditions in Russia and Russian legal procedure under Catherine II…The two noblemen, Troyekurov and Vereisky, along with the Byronic hero, the young Dubrovsky, are impressive creations in Pushkin’s portrait gallery.’

She considers that ‘The heroine is more of a lay figure’ and indicates that this is one of the reasons why Maria Kirilevna doesn’t elope with Dubrovsky when she is given the chance after her forced marriage (which, as she hasn’t made the marriage vow, is no marriage at all in fact); having thought it ‘most romantic’ to be kidnapped from the alter by her brigand suitor, when the enforced marriage to the elderly prince goes ahead she is quite happy to slip into the role of another ‘heroine’ – that of the ‘devoted wife’.

Another critic writing of Pushkin’s prose works – Lezhnez in his book, ‘Pushkin’s Prose’, while only mentioning Dubrovsky in passing, makes a telling point about the strangely uplifting quality to be found in this, as in all Pushkin’s works, however sad their content.

‘Life in him smiles, though sometimes with a terrible, but charming, smile…Dubrovsky leaves without taking revenge, and without tearing Masha out of the arms of the old prince; he has lost his name, his love, and his property…But the sun shines. And the moving shadows of leaves tremble on the earth. And people know how to love selflessly and to sacrifice themselves. There is a spirituality in them, simplicity, generosity. They have faith in life, and Pushkin injects us with this faith….’

For my own part, I agree with this judgement, and think it is one of the reasons why, for all the drawbacks to it’s melodramatic romantic plot, ‘Dubrovsky’ is a great story.

With regard to the weaknesses in the presentation the melodramatic romance, Paul Debreczeny in  ‘The Other Pushkin’ is almost merciless on this topic and comes to the conclusion that Pushkin himself stopped writing the novel because he could see that his attempt to combine ‘the serious with the entertaining’ had failed.

Debreckzeny takes the view that the problem begins with the presentation of Vladimir Dubrovsky, which is at first detached and ironic, in much the same way that the depiction of the tyrannical Kiril Petrovitch and the elder, proud and unbending Dubrovsky are portrayed; when we first meet Vladimir, he is a rakish officer of the guards, with little thought for the future ‘Irresponsible and ambitious…Occasionally, the thought crossed his mind that sooner or later he would be obliged to take to himself a rich bride’.

Later, the narrator remarks that young Dubrovsky, who has been from home since boyhood, values family life all the more highly for ‘having had so little opportunity to enjoy its peaceful pleasures’. However, Debreczeny remarks that the portrayal of Vladimir Dubrovsky soon becomes ‘the unhumorous stock in trade of romantic literature.’

Dubrovsky image

Certainly, the meetings between Dubrovsky and his true love Maria, Kirol Petrovitch’s daughter, are depicted in a straightforwardly melodramatic way as Eugene Onegin’s courtship of Tatiania, for instance, never is. When Dubrovsky tells Maria of his developing love for her, for example, he admits to having stalked her in her grounds: ‘I followed you in your careless walks, dodging from bush to bush…I established myself in your house (as a French tutor).These three weeks were days of happiness for me; the memory of them will be the joy of my melancholy existence…’

Debreckzeny’s point if very valid; this wild devotion of Vladimir Dubrovsky to Maria is touching, but the picuture it sums up of his stalking her in the garden is also faintly ludicrous and the turns of phrase are too melodramatic (in fairness, this is a translation; the effect may have been different in the original Russian, though one doesn’t get the impression from Debreckzeny that it is).

It is arguable that the problem could have been overcome by Pushkin using his habitual ironical detachment as narrator, so that the reader feels both moved by Dubrovsky’s hopeless passion and amused by it. It may have been Pushkin’s intention to revise the work, and do away with this ‘straight’ presentation of the lovers contrasting with his detached one of the other main characters.

That, anyhow, is my opinion, but Debreckzeny takes a dimmer view of the central cohesion of the novel: ‘Although the robber theme could be fused with the theme of social or political protest, in Pushkin’s novel it does not serve to shed light on or further elaborate the problem of peasant rebellion…It’s only function is to somehow bring a romance into relation with a revolt…’

I don’t personally see why story of social protest can’t also involve a romance, and think that one of the fascinating aspects of ‘Dubrovsky’ is its combination of romantic melodrama and it’s depiction of a nobleman rising against his society in company with his erstwhile serfs.

Debreckzeny however is of the opinion that a lack of interest in ‘Dubrovsky’s love life’ leads to the various oversights in the text, the timing of the old princes’ proposal and Dubrovsky’s offer to Maria to rescue her from a forced marriage distasteful to her and so on, even down to peculiarity of Maria refusing to run away with Dubrovsky when he does belatedly rescue her, which the critci argues is based on literary precedent (ie, from Walter Scott’s writings) rather than a moral stand.
This critic is dismayed at a scene I particularly enjoyed – the one where the ‘French tutor’ unmasks himself as the Dubrovsky the leader of the robber band in the dead of night to the treacherous man who perjured himself to help Kirol Petrovitch take his estate: ‘Be quiet, or you are lost. I am Dubrovsky.’

Pushkin was a perfectionist and seems to have been unable to appreciate the literary value of even those works he considered failures; while a lesser talent, delighted by what s/he had achieved in this novella, might well have carried on with the story, attempting to work out the problems in the plot, varying tone, narrotor objectivity, etc, Pushkin cast it aside and never returned to it.

Instead, he went to work on his history of the Pugachev rebellion. He also completed a long short story or novella connected with it, ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ which I actually found far less absorbing than the flawed but fascinating robber melodrama ‘Dubrovsky’.

Dubrovsky

Some Popular Victorian Reading: ‘Jack Sheppard: A Romance ‘ by Harrison Ainsworth.

CRIME/JACK SHEPPARD

These last few days, I have been reading Harrison Ainsworth’s ‘Jack Sheppard.’  I knew little about this writer before, save that he wrote sensationalist literature at about the same time as Charles Dickens, including a novel called ‘Rookswood’ which reputedly featured a highly glamorised version of Dick Turpin.

It seems that he was at one time massively popular with the Victorian reading public for his ‘neck and axe’ adventure novels. ‘Jack Sheppard’ was his third novel, and ran concurrently in serialised form in one of the Victorian literary magazines, ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’, with Charles Dickens’ ‘ ‘Oliver Twist’.  It seemed that there was a controversy between the two men over the subject of ‘Newgate Novels’. Though Dickens left the magazine as a result, he was the eventual victor, for while the public greedily devoured Ainsworth’s melodramatic blood-and-thunder novels, he was despised by critics, and never came to equal Dicken’s stature as a writer. His fame barely outlasted his lifetime. These days he is largely forgotten.

One critic even wrote of him: ‘ Let us start with an opinion fearlessly expressed as it is earnestly felt, that the existence of this writer is an event to be deplored.’  I think this criticism is undeservedly harsh, though of course, this was written around 1875, before Charles Garvice’s romantic melodramas showed critics what successful bad writing truly is.

I can see from the half of the novel that I have read so far that Ainsworth’s prose is often turgid, and he has a passion for the lurid and melodramatic. However, in an age when novels moved along at a snail’s pace, his tales are comparatively eventful and fast moving: I found it difficult as a modern reader not to find this a great relief. His stories are gripping and the action is vividly portrayed.  While Thackeray and Dickens wished to stimalate thought, and often, indignation in the reader, Ainsworth is obviously less out to point a moral than to give the reader an exciting tale.

Not only that, but if Ainsworth’s prose is turgid, his research immediately struck me as impressive. I know how exacting and time consuming research can be, even with the internet to hand. Ainsworth knew all about the topography of  London, the sort of buildings extant in 1703 in  The Mint, the ‘rookery’ where Jack Sheppard was born, and the architecture of the first London Bridge. He could depict the dress and manners of all classes of society in that era, and also, bring to life the famous (or infamous) characters who featured in Jack Sheppard’s tragic history; for instance, the dreaded informer and thief catcher Jonathon Wilde, and the ruffianly Bueskin.

This industrious research is not a quality one associates these days with a poor to mediocre author, and it is intriguing that while Harrison Ainsworth acquired a name as a purveyor of sensationalist tales that tickled popular taste in the Victorian era, Dickens – whose writing also has very strong senstationalist themes – is seen as the writer of a grander form of literature, the ‘social protest novel’.

Well, I promise I won’t rant here about the lurid popular view of the French Revolution, all rolling heads and snapping guillotines, that began with Dickens.

Certainly,  it is true that Dickens was the writer of the Victorian age who set to work to expose social injustice, who attacked hypocrisy and who had a wonderful sense of the ludicrous.

Still, Dicken’s writing also comes with a great supply of  faults – for instance, the infamous sentimentality and male and female leads so dull I wonder that he could bear to  write about them at all.

And I have to say that if you compare Ainsworth’s style with that of various other generally far more respected writers – and the earlier Samuel Richardson and Fanny Burney immediately comes to mind – this novel at least comes out as a good deal less lurid and improbable.

Of course, the tragically short life of the anti-hero  of the story, the eponymous Jack Sheppard, in itself reads like something made up by a writer of ‘Penny Dreadfuls’.  A renegade London apprentice carpenter turned thief, he soon became famous – or infamous, depending on the point of view – for his escapes from prison.

His career was short but brief, for he made an enemy of the hated thief taker and informer Jonathan Wild, who schemed to destroy anyone who would not work for him.

At last chained to the stone flooring of his cell, the young man managed to escape again, but was captured when blind drunk.  In gaol in chains and a secure inner cell, he was painted by the king’s painter James Thornhill. The gaolers charged high society figures four shillings a time to view him. There were petitions for leniancy from various well known figures, but these were rejected.

Stealing a sum valued at above five shillings in those days meant a death sentence.  Jack Sheppard was offered a reduced sentence if he informed on his associates, but refused, and huge, admiring crowds turned out to follow the procession to Tyburn on 15 November 1724.

He had planned to cut himself down from the gallows with a penknife, but unluckily the guard found it.   Failing that, he had hoped to be revived following his official death by the gruesome process of hanging by a short drop, and perhaps that is why the crowd did not surge forward to give him a quick death by swinging on his legs, or perhaps the platform was too well guarded for this to be possible. His slow death is not mentioned in the novel, but is in other accounts, and makes a grim end to a likable villain. However, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether or not people who are being hanged are conscious after about twenty seconds, as they usually die of strangling (cutting off the blood to the brain) rather than oxygen strvation (cutting off blood to the lungs) although the body still makes spasmodic movements until brain death, so hopefully he did not suffer as much as the crowd imagined.

To our own age, to hang a man of of such obvious talents and wit at the age of 22 seems an absurd waste.

Harrison Ainsworth, writing 120  years after Jack Sheppard’s death, was hardly the first to recount the dramatic story of his life. Within weeks of his hanging a pantomime was performed about him, and he influenced the depiction of Macheath in  John Gay’s ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ and other dramas.

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I knew well enough that the eighteenth century was a brutal and violent age, but even so, the amount of beatings that this anti-hero endures in the course of one day at the grand old age of twelve is astounding. He is beaten for idling by the master carpenter to whom he is apprenticed, knocked down by the master’s stepson Thames for saying he wants a kiss from that master’s daughter, then slapped in the face by the girl herself (whom he is inclined to worship, as he does Thames himself), slapped much harder by the master’s wife, who resents his being in the house at all, and finally beaten by the constables in Wild’s pay. However, he is still apparently not too stiff to be able to break free from custody.

Such treatment would surely be enough to make a rebel out of anyone, even in an age when thrashings were the general form of chastisment, and in the story it is the slap in the face from his master’s wife which finally tips the balance and makes Jack decide on a life of crime.

Whether this depiction of so much corporal punishment in a day is a matter of sloppy editing on Ainsworth’s part, or was put in by him to indicate the harshness of life among the London poor, it certainly makes the latter point vividly.

Here are a couple of  typical samples of Ainsworth’s writing in ‘Jack Sheppard’, showing both his excellent background information and his lively style.

Here is Jack making his first prison break:

‘As Jack concluded his ditty, the door flew open with a crash, and Thames sprang through the aperture. This manoeuvre was so suddenly executed that it took Abraham completely by surprise. He was standing at the moment close to the hatch, with his ear at the keyhole, and received a severe blow in the face. He staggered back a few paces; and, before he could recover himself, Thames tripped up his heels, and, placing the point of the spike at his throat, threatened to stab him if he attempted to stir, or cry out. Nor had Jack been idle all this time. Clearing the recess the instant after his companion, he flew to the door of the he flew to the door of the inner room, and, locking it, took out the key. The policy of this step was immediately apparent. Alarmed by the noise of the scuffle, Quilt and Sharples rushed to the assistance of their comrade. But they were too late. The entrance was barred against them; and they had the additional mortification of hearing Sheppard’s loud laughter at their discomfiture. “I told you the prison wasn’t built that could hold me,” cried Jack.’

And here is a depiction of his mother’s house:

‘The room in which this interview took place had a sordid and miserable look. Rotten, and covered with a thick coat of dirt, the boards of the floor presented a very insecure footing; the bare walls were scored all over with grotesque designs, the chief of which represented the punishment of Nebuchadnezzar. The rest were hieroglyphic characters, executed in red chalk and charcoal. The ceiling had, in many places, given way; the laths had been removed; and, where any plaster remained, it was either mapped and blistered with damps, or festooned withdusty cobwebs. Over an old crazy bedstead was thrown a squalid, patchwork counterpane…’

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Whatever the criticisms that the critics may have levelled at Ainsworth, he tells an engaging story, and I am puzzled that this book has disappeared so completely from view. In that, of course, it shares the fate of another robber novel,  Christian Auguste Vulpius’ ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ (1798).

 

Reblogged from my Archieves: The Gary-Stu or Marty-Stu; Neglected Compared to the Mary-Sue.

evelina-or-the-history-of-young-lady-entrance-into-the-world-by-fanny-burney-0486808580

 

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, and am reblogging it as it seems to have had a fair amount of reads…

I’ve been looking for discussions about the male equivalent of characters defined as Mary-Sue’s online, and what interests me is how few posts there are about Gary-Stus and Marty-Stus,and how few male characters are defined in this way.

In fact, I read a blog which, while admitting that there are few Gary Stu discussions compared to all those  Mary-Sue accusations flying about, didn’t explore this, going on instead to list various heroines perceived by the author as Mary Sues. I was surprised to find Elizabeth Bennet on this blogger’s list; but more on that later.

Goodreads has a ‘Listopia’ list of Gary-Stus. As I am not a great reader of current fantasy, and most of the male leads named came from this genre, I didn’t know enough about the characters to comment. Even I, however, knew the male leads from the top two. First on the list was Edward Cullen from ‘Twilight’ by Stephanie Myer, and second was Jace from ‘City of Bones’ by Cassandra Clare.

Well, I think I said in my last post that the fact that many readers define the heroes and heroines of these books as Marty-Stus or Gary-Stus seems to have done little to detract from their bestselling status and continuing popularity.

I did let out a hoot of laughter at seeing that Frances Hodgeson-Burnett’s tiresome ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ featured on this list, that infamous young Cedric of the sailor suits and suave compliments.

lord-orvilleI added the hero of Fanny Burney’s ‘Evelina’ to this list. Lord Orville is, surely, the original Marty-Stu, perfectly matched to the heroine who competes with Pamela for the title of the original Mary-Sue.

Lord Orville is handsome, witty, suave, gallant, and unlike his roguish rival, Sir Clement Willoughby, tenderly respectful of the heroine’s innocence (this is off topic; but did Jane Austen borrow Clement Willoughby’s name for her own rogue in ‘Sense and Sensibility’?).

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I also added the secondary hero of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ to the list. Charley Kinraid ‘the boldest Specksioneeer on the Greenland Seas’ is handsome, fearless, irresistible to women, can drink endlessly and never fall down, is a brilliant raconteur, beguiling and the life and soul of the party. Just about the only person who doesn’t admire him in the book is his jealous rival Phillip Hepburn.

Not only that, but he has so much good luck that he is virtually indestructable. He survives two serious gunshot attacks without seemingly lasting ill effects. A woman is rumoured to  have died of a broken heart after he finished with her.

The only bad luck he has is falling victim to a press gang, and the Royal Navy officers quickly take to him and realizing his exceptional abilities, promote him so that within a few years, he is able to marry an heiress. Then, further promoted to Captain, he is able to send out press gangs of his own…

As the term ‘Mary-Sue’ (later mutated to ‘Marty-Stu’ or ‘Gary-Sue’ to accommodate male characters) originated in fantasy fan fiction, I suppose it isn’t surprising that most of these online discussions are about this genre.

I did find a very witty catalogue of types of Marty-Stu on this link. Unfortunately, it’s about those on television rather than in books. It is excellent, and the types are easily recognizable in novels as well as television series and films:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MartyStu

This biting paragraph is particularly apt:

‘Dark Hole Stu: His gravity is so great, he draws all the attention and causes other characters (and, often, reality itself) to bend and contort in order to accommodate him and elevate him above all other characters. Characters don’t act naturally around him – guys wish to emulate him and all the girls flock to him regardless of circumstances. They serve as plot enablers for him to display his powers or abilities, with dialogue that only acts as set-ups for his response. He dominates every scene he is in, with most scenes without him serving only to give the characters a chance to “talk freely” about him – this usually translates to unambiguous praise and exposition about how great he is. Most people don’t oppose him and anybody who does will quickly realise their fault in doing so or just prove easy to overcome. ..’

Nevertheless, looking about for Marty-Stu or Gary-Stu discussions, I am a bit perturbed. There was seemingly so much more talk of Mary-Sues on the web compared to that centering on their male equivalents.

This seems accurately to reflect the different standards  and expectations applied to male and female characters. There does appear to be a good deal less resentment of male characters presented as admirable, handsome, unflappable, invincible in fights, and invariably attractive to most women.

A male character is permitted to have glaring character flaws and still be presented as generally heroic. He is also allowed to be sexually adventurous and even promiscuous; a female character so free with her favours would be defined as ‘slutty’ and lose the sympathy of many female, as well as male, readers.

In fact, being emotionally challenged is often seen as a desirable attribute in these stereoptypical male leads. It is only rarely one with female leads. This has led me to wonder how readers would react, say, to a female version of the Byronic male?

This strikes me at least as being unfair.

I also note, that  for some reviewers, the term ‘Mary- Sue’ is applied rather loosely, being leveled at almost any female character whom they for whatever reason, resent.

This leads me back to the term being applied by one blogger to Elizabeth Bennett. She doesn’t seem to me at all to qualify.

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Yes, she is lucky to attract the hero’s admiration, but she does that through wit rather than her looks, which as everyone knows, originally elicited that  ‘not handsome enough to tempt me’ remark from him. It is true that her mother doesn’t appreciate her, and a virtual requirement for Mary-Sues is not to be appreciated by her family – but she is her father’s favourite daughter.

Apart from wit and dancing, she has no particular skills apart from perception.  In the book (as distinct from the film versions) she is depicted as a mediocre singer and pianist; her sister Mary in fact described as more skilled, but with an affected style, so that people find her performances tiresome.

I suspect that the blogger disliked the character of Elizabeth Bennett, but not because she is a Mary-Sue. Possibly, the blogger disliked her because she is generally such a favourite among Jane Austen lovers that the chorus of praise from them becomes boring.

Therefore, it would be good if readers applied that suggestion I found on a fan fiction website about Mary-Sues: ‘Would I find these characteristics so annoying if she was male?’

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Finally, a highly perceptive remark from a  male poster called Tim Kitchin on Gary Stu’s:

https://www.quora.com/Who-are-the-most-notable-Mary-Sue-characters-in-books-and-literature

‘Jason Bourne, Tintin, James Bond, Ethan Hunt would all ‘fit the description’. The absurdity of these Gary Stus doesn’t go unremarked by fans, but it doesn’t seem to evoke the same cultural baggage and resentment as many Mary Sue characters – for one thing because the intrinsic role-conflict (for which read ‘socially conditioned expectation’) inside male character leads is less complex…and for another because we are so used to them..

The song from ‘The Blackwood Crusade’ by Jo Danilo

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This morning I woke up from a dream I could not remember, save that part of it was the haunting poem from Jo Danilo’s ‘The Blackwood Crusade’.

It is a very touching poem.  Here is is in full.

‘Tis just the beginning of you and me

As we wander by the stream.

You on one side, I on the other,

Just water in between.

I’ll sing to you as time goes by,

As winter melts to spring.

As flowers bloom, and die again,

So to life we’ll cling.

I’ll sing to you as the river floods,

And we’re poured into the sea.

And then I’ll hold you in my arms

Together, finally.’

This is the song that the joint hero, Silas, sings to his baby sister, a strangely precocious and magical infant who seems to come, like the rest of Silas’ family, to a tragic end in the river.

Thinking of it, reminded me what a great book this is.  It is a fairy story for all ages, by turns funny, sad and adventurous.

Here is the page on Goodreads