Titles From Victorian Romantic Melodramas to Make You Smile

The news generally being fairly grim – again – and there being nothing like a laugh to raise the spirits, I thought I’d write some more about looking through the titles of best sellers of  the Victorian and Edwardian  era.

And what better way than to begin with some of those by the subject of my last blog post, the writer of Victorian romantic melodramas, Charles Garvice. His titles can raise a smile, at least.

For instance, there is one of his earlier listed novels, the 1887, ‘Twixt Smile and Tear’, and the 1893 tile, ‘’’Twas Love’s Fault’. Then there is ‘The Ashes of Love, Or Fickle Fortune’ (1901?) ‘So Fair, So False’ (1902), and ‘Wicked Sir Dare’ (1911).  There is the best seller that led to his worldwide success, ‘Just a Girl Or The Strange Duchess’ (1898).

His 1908 novel, ‘In Wolf’s Clothing’ (1908) is sadly, almost certainly not a werewolf romance. He did, however, seemingly write at least one historical romance, by the title of ‘The Call of the Heart: A Tale Of  Eighty Years Since’ (1914). That, presumably, would be right at the end of the Regency era, and might even feature a Regency version of his usual Victorian Wild Young Earl (Or Earl’s Heir) Hero…

Astonishingly, given Garvice’s ‘traditional’ – not to say regressive — views on women’s role,  there is one actually called ‘The Female Editor of the Manchester Trumpet’. I can’t find the date for that one at the moment, but I have a ludicrous vision of some official  mistaking that last word for the old term ‘strumpet’ .

‘Mr. Garvice: I always understood that your books maintain an irreproachable moral standard, and are distributed as Sunday School prizes. This one sounds –well, I hesitate to say ‘improper’, but…’

Another best selling author of the late Victorian era who lived into the 1920’’s was Marie Corelli. The sales of her novels exceeded those of  HG Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling combined. These days, like Garvice, she is largely forgotten.

She thought up some rather fine titles. ‘The Sorrows of Satan’ (1895) perhaps being the best. This, of course, was made into a film in 1925, and reflected her interest in spiritual matters. Another is, ‘Innocent: Her Fancy and His Fact’ (1914). These stories seem to be as melodramatic as Garvice’s –and unlike his, sometimes having a supernatural theme.

While they are concerned with love affairs, they would not pass the definition of a romantic novel these days, not generally having ‘upbeat’ endings. In fact, ‘The Sorrows of Satan’ has a Faustian theme.

It is an intriguing fact that the Victorian precursor of the modern romance novel was not required to have a happy ending at all – in fact, as they often dealt with (delicately portrayed) ‘irregular’ relationships, the censorship would have demanded an unhappy outcome for many of the ill starred lovers.

Other wonderful titles I have found with a cursory glance over the introductory pages of Garvice novels include: ‘Love at the Loom’ by Geraldine Fleming; ‘A Woman Without Mercy, Or A Heart of Stone’ by Mary Agnes Fleming and ‘Maid, Wife or Widow?’ by Mrs. Alexander.

Intriguing, that particular writer being only known by her husband’s surname. I think that indicated that she was a widow.  Respectable married women of this era were expected to subsume their whole identity into that of their husband, to the point of being known by his first name as well as his surname.

I have commented before how my mother used to buy job lots of assorted books at auctions to fill the bookshelves in the houses in which we lived, which is how I came across Charles Garvice in the first place. She came by books by Mrs. Humphrey Ward and Mrs. Henry Wood in this way, and I used to wonder why these women had male names…

Mrs Georgie Sheldon was another writer of the same era. Her titles include, ‘Thrice Wed: Only Once a Wife’ and ‘Earl Wayne’s Nobility’. I can’t date these, as one of the problems with much publishing at the time was that the publisher often did not trouble to state the date of publication.

Helen Mathers, whom I know from my mother’s bookshelves as well, wrote a  melodramatic tale called ‘Comin’ Thru’ the Rye’ (the title being based on the song by Robert Burns). This is reputedly based on fact. I assume that it is loosely based on fact, the villainess  Sylvia being an impossible character.

She also wrote, “Sam’s Sweetheart: in Three Volumes’ . This seems an odd subtitle to me. I thought that Victorian novels were always published in the three volume format, so that readers would be satisfied that they were getting their money’s worth.

Another title of hers based on a traditional song is ‘T’Other Dear Charmer’ (from MacHeath’s song of that name in ‘The Beggar’s Opera’). ‘A Wastrel Redeemed’ sounds as if it is intended to be uplifting maerial, while, ‘Found Out’ seems a title guaranteed to stir feelings of anxiety in those up to no good on the sly.

Finally, ‘The Unseen Bridegroom’ by Mary Agnes Fleming and ‘The Fatal Wooing’ by Laura Jean Lippey sound like wonderful pieces of melodrama.

Books in the late Victorian era, even the mass market ones, were very well made. My 1900 copy of the Charles Garvice novel ‘The Outcast of the Family’ (1894) has no loose pages and intact covers, I suppose because they were stitched rather than glued. The price of this particular edition was three shillings and sixpence – fifteen and a half new pence, only we don’t have half pences any more.

That would have been quite expensive for someone on the low wages of that time to buy. Most people who weren’t living in downright poverty no doubt found it worthwhile to join one of the ‘subscribing libraries’ which lent out books for sixpence (two and a half new pence).

This book has another intriguing detail. It has a stamped detail on it, stating that it was awarded as a Sunday School prize in January 1901 by St Dennis’ to Arthur Buldrick. It would hardly be likely to appeal to a boy. I wonder if he ever read it through?

Patrick Hamilton’s Dark Humour: ‘The Slaves of Solitude’.

I was delighted to discover recently that the works of Patrick Hamilton, one of my long favourite writers, have come back into fashion.  In fact, my favourite work by him ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ – generally regarded as one of his masterpieces – is currently ranking at 70,000 in the Kindle store.

How far this is due to an revival of interest in fiction related to World War II, and the recent (‘socially distanced’) celebration of VE Day, I don’t know. Anwyway, I was very pleased. I feared that his style, relying as it does on eleborate detail and the gradual building of tension, might seem too old fashioned for modern readers ever to develop a taste for it.

He infuenced my own style of writing, particularly in his darkly comic approach. I have imitated him in sometimes using  the facetious use of capitals to emphasize certain phrases. I am sure other writers have used versions of it .

I remember reading ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ (not quite such early reading for me as ‘The Queen of Spades’ or ‘Carmela’ but in my teens, anyway) and being delighted by the dark humour that pervades that story.

Patrick Hamilton’s own life was to some extent tragic, though he achieved so much as a writer.

Born into an upper middle class background with an overbearing father who took out his frustrated authoritarian tendencies on his wife and family, Patrick and his beloved brother Bruce retained scars from their childhood all their lives. Patrick slipped early into alcoholism, tormented by and a horror of life, which he feared was meaningless.

His success came early, in his twenties, and he went on to write the fascinating trilogy depicting isolation in the London of the late nineteen twenties ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky’.

His masterpieces, however, are ‘Hangover Square’ (from the preface to which I learned the poem ‘The Light of Other Days’) and ‘The Slaves of Solitude’.

Looking for a creed in which to believe, he became a communist. Bitterly disillusioned by the degeneration of the buoyant hopes of a better world that supported so many through terrible war against Nazism into a society based on consumerism, he became a sad and backward looking figure. For the last few years of his life he was hardly able to write at all.

That wonderful sense of the darkly comic aspects of life, of the delightful absurdities to be encountered every day, of the pathos and bathos of life are unique.

I’d like to quote from ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ here, where the dreadful boarding house bully, Mr Thwaites, is ridiculously drunk following Christmas dinner in the local pub.

‘”Methinks it Behoveth me’, said Mr Thwaites, ‘To taketh me unto my mansion. Doth it not? Peradventure? Perchance?”
“Yes,” said the Lieutenant. “Come along the. Get a move on.”…
“Come along Mr Thwaites.” said Vicki (the vulgar, Hitler admierer who coquettishly who encourages his advances).
“Ah, the Beauteous Dame.” said Mr Thwaites. “The beauteous damsel that keepeth me on tenterhooks.”
“Come on then,” said the Lieutenant. “Take my arm.”
“Hooks. Tenter One.” said Mr Thwaites. “See Inventory.”
“Aw, come on, will you?” said the Lieutenant.
“Damsel, Beauteous, One.” said Mr Thwaites.”Hooks, Tenter, Two. Yea, Verily.”…
“April, too.” said Mr Thawaites. “Thirty days hath November.”
At this he lurched forward, and the Lieutenant caught him…”‘

This book, which deals with a microcosm of the menace of fascism during the huge theatre of World War Two, tells the story of the lonely Miss Roach, an unmarried woman in early middle age living in an era when to be a ‘spinster’ was regarded as a grim and lonely fate. Miss Roach is in her late thirties, and many of the young men in her generation were killed of in World War I.  The story is set  in late 1943 in World War II,  and again men of her own age and younger are being killed off.

Bombed out of her London flat, she still works in the capital but commutes from Berkshire and a genteel boarding house in ‘Thames Lockdon’ (based on Henley-on-Thames). In this boarding house, known by the absurd name of ‘The Rosamund Tea Rooms’, she has become the target of an idiotic but sinister elderly man named Thwaites, whose hobbies are  bullying and boring people with his snobbish and absurd views.

Miss Roach does a seemingly lonely German woman friend a favour in introducing her into the Rosamnund Tea Rooms. As a German, Vicki Kugelmannn has been singled out for social ostracism in the town, and is exploited at her curerent lodgings.  She is also single, about Miss Roach’s age, and Miss Roach hopes to find a good friend in her and possibly even a source of moral support against the overbearing Mr Thwaites.

However, Vicki soon reveals that far from being grateful to Miss Roach, she is eager to steal from her a generous but drunken American lieutenant who has been taking Miss Roach out. Now, despite her ver ordinary appearance, Vicki is shown as being insanely vain, and to regard herself as a sort of femme fatale. Worse, she gangs up with Mr Thawaites against Miss Roach, and both of them gradually reveal their Nazi symapthies…

A psychological thriller, the novel depicts a struggle against the power of evil which reflects world events.

Intriguingly, the novel ends with what I consider a truly inspired phrase from this most irreligious of writers: ‘God help us, God help all of us, Every one, all of us.’

More Comedy for Testing Times: An Extract from ‘Ravensdale’ (Now Free on Amazon ): Morpeth the Thief Taker, on the Trail of Reynaud Ravensdale, Calls in to Question the Landlord of the ‘The Huntsman’.


“If this ain’t a Bow Street Runner or some other thief taker, then I’m a Dutchwoman,” Kate told Suki, as they watched the short, stocky, dapper man came up to the Inn door. “Good morning, Sir. What will you have?”

They knew he was staying with their rivals in The King’s Justice up the road. The landlord there prided himself on running a respectable house. The tenants of The Huntsman knew he was jealous, because he didn’t have such open-handed customers. The man was even applying for a licence to have his premises made into a gaol, possible future lodgings for some of the regulars at The Huntsman.

The customer glanced about with hard pale grey eyes, fixing them on the baby, who let out a wail.

Kate picked him up. “Serve the gentleman, Suki.”

“A tankard of porter. A fine infant; is he your only one?”

“Seeing as I was only married fifteen months come Saturday, yes, Sir.” The man wetted his moustache. “Has Reynaud Ravensdale been in lately?”

“Ravensdale?” Kate laughed. “You can’t mean that Lord? The gentleman has high notions of our patrons, Suki. Yes, Sir, him and the Prince of Wales, they came in together.”

The man’s eyes hardened still more. “Exercise your wit, Mistress, if you will, but Lord or no, now he’s an outlaw, and lower than the merest farm hand, a wanted murderer with a price on his head for highway robbery. I hear tell he’s been seen hereabouts.”

“By who?” Kate looked outraged. “That old harridan over the way, I’ll be bound. There’s so many sightings of that Ravensdale in different places, he must have a better horse than Turpin’s Black Bess to get about the way he does, is all I can say. What did they say he looked like?”

The man took some swallows of his drink before he pulled out a printed bill. “Here’s the official description, and not so helpful, with him having medium colouring, and no distinguishing features, save it does say, ‘noticeable eyes’ whatever that means. Tall, it says, and spare though strongly made, and he has a fair trick in disguise. When he stayed with you, I think his hair was dyed and unpowdered and it was described as brown.”

“Could be anyone,” Kate gazed at him with her jaw slightly dropped. “Does he have the trick of adding pock marks to his face, makes him look fair ugly? Remember, Suki? There was a man stayed who looked like that, brown hair and so on, said he was going Reading way.”

“Or maybe,” Suki looked struck, “It could’ve been that stout man that would never take off his coat? He could have stuffed in pillows underneath his waistcoat. I remember thinking his thinnish face went ill with his body. I mind he rode a dun coloured horse and went up north.”

The man snorted: “Do you take me for a fool? Have a care, mistress; the magistrates don’t like to renew licences for those who harbour known highway robbers. Where’s the master of the house?”

“This is a respectable house, and I’ll give my mind to anyone who says different,” Kate said angrily, while Suki tossed the bright blue ribbons Flashy Jack had given her in defiance. “The master’s away on business; he ain’t due back till tomorrow at the earliest.” Kate looked squarely into those judgmental eyes, which seemed to know the purpose of that trip.

The baby let out a furious wail.

“Now see what you’ve done! They understand more than you think, and he don’t like you coming in here making out we ain’t fit to run a decent establishment.”

Suki clicked her tongue.

The man actually looked abashed, before draining his porter with a business-like slurp. “I play my part in keeping the world safe from marauding thieves and murderers like His Lordship Reynaud Ravensdale, and if you’ve nought to hide you won’t mind my questions, nor your baby neither.”

They all turned about at a crash. The one time librarian at Wisteria House tottered into the yard to collapse on the bench.

The thief taker nodded to the women. “I may call in again.”

“Do, Sir, and we promise to keep a sharp look out for His Lordship.”

The man paused in the door, saying to Suki, “Look out for his fellow robber John Gilroy too: tall, fair hair, quite the swell and a ladies’ man. He’d have an eye for a pretty wench like you, miss; you and half the girls in London if I hear right.”

He must have been disappointed at her indifferent shrug. Kate snorted: “Be serious, Sir! As if we don’t get young men in here all the time, making up to her, and half of them called Jack or John.”

‘Ravensdale’ is free on Amazon.com  here

and on Amazon.co.uk here

and on Kobo here