Johnson’s Criticism of Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’ and the Problematic Nature of Dark Comedy

300px-Souchon1872ImogenCymbeline

‘To remark on the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names, and manners of different times, and the impossibility of events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbicility…’

That is not an attack of a piece of work by some hack writer churning out pot boilers. It is  part of a review of William Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’.

It’s by Samuel Johnson, an opinionated writer by any standards. (I should know, being opinionated myself). Part of the problem, as I see it, is that he is applying the standards of the so-called Age of Reason – Johnson was writing in the eighteenth century UK, which prided itself on its ‘enlightenment’ – to a fairy story/dark comedy, which verges on the surreal.

But even taking Johnson’s view – that he represented The Age of Reason in his attack on the play  and its fantastic notions – there is something biased and absurd about a critic saying this of Shakespeare, when he had praised to the skies that  deeply flawed sentimental novel ‘Evelina’ by Fanny Burney. That is meant to be realistic, with believable characters. Any modern reader who has ploughed through it will have noted the absurd co-incidences in it, and also, the wholly unbelievable behaviour of the characters.

It is of course, possible that characters whose behaviour is plausible to one century might seem to have the strangest motivations to readers two centuries later; an intriguing thought.

Johnson, whose approach in literary criticism often seems unimaginative, approached a fantasy story looking for realism in the plot, and was bitterly disappointed.

The way I see it –  and there are many interpretations of ‘Cymbeline’ with critics arguing about what exactly Shakespeare was getting at – is that Shakespeare was experimenting with a new, darker form of comedy. He did this several times later in his career after the much simpler comedies such as ‘A Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and most people believe that ‘A Winter’s Tale’ is a far superior play to ‘Cymebline’ which is, if our ideas about the timing of his plays is correct, one that followed his great tragedies.

Well, ‘King Lear’ is a pretty hard act to follow…

Anyway, this play seems to follow on from ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ in that it combines traditional fairy tale themes and stereotypical characters from such legends with a contrasting realism in their presentation, which can confuse the reader. The events in the stories are quite dark: however, I don’t believe they are meant to be taken wholly seriously.

In ‘All’s Well That Ends’ Well’ Helena, a ‘low born’ but admirable physician’s daughter cures the king of a supposedly incurable malady. Naturally, he asks her what she might want, as he’ll give it to her. What she wants is to marry her guardian’s son, the Count of Rossillion, and this is an interesting twist. In fairy stories, it is usually the enterprising miller’s son or some such who wins the hand of the king’s daughter, and she is assumed to find being given away as a prize quite acceptable.

By contrast, in ‘All’s Well That Ends  Well’ (which is based on a story by Boccaccio) the Count throws a tantrum, goes through with the marriage, but announces that he will never consummate it. He leaves her a note stating impossible conditions for her to fulfil in order for him to accept her as his wife, and runs off to join the army, egged on by a cowardly braggart toady called Parolles.

So, this brings a new, realistic twist to the fairy tale theme. Helena now has to fulfil these impossible conditions – that is of course, a fairy tale convention – and so bring about a happy ending.

‘Cymbeline’ is actually named after a king of Ancient Britain, whom we don’t see much. Unlike that other defective ruler, King Lear, this king is a shadowy presence in the play named for him. He has fallen under the evil counsel of his second wife, who is also a Wicked Witch and Evil Stepmother to the king’s daughter from his first marriage, Imogen, who has secretly married her comparatively low born childhood playmate Posthumus Leonatus. She is, unusually for these times, also the heir,  as his two sons were kidnapped by an estranged courtier (they all reappear at the end of the play). Accordingly, the king is furious with her for making such a marriage, and banishes Posthumus, and puts pressure on her to renounce him and marry the Wicked Queen’s son, who is a portrayed as a buffoon.

Meanwhile, Posthumus has gone about boasting about how Imogen would never be unfaithful to him, and even enters into a bet with an idle fellow called Iachmo, who insists that he could seduce any woman. He travels to the court to  hide in a trunk and have himself carried into Imogen’s bedroom, where emerges in the night, and leering at her naked, takes back the news to Posthumus that she has a mole on her breast.

Posthumus_and_Imogen

Instead of wondering if Iachmo has found this out through trickery, Posthumous immediately takes his word and having run off in a rage, returns to address the audience in a wild rant where he says that all women are sex obsessed, and incapable of fidelity: –

Me of my lawful pleasure she restrain’d,

And prayed me oft forbearance…O, all the devils!

This yellow Iachmo, in an hour, was’t not?

Or less; at first? Perhchance he spake not, but

Like a full acorn’d boar, a German one,

Cried ‘O’ and mounted…’

This is very ridiculous (I assume the said ‘German boar’ wouldn’t have said ‘O’ and the actor makes a  bestial grunting noise), and I found it grimly funny.However, it is worth noting that  when on the ‘Goodreads’  ‘Shakespeare Fans Group’ we discussed the play recently, a lot of people said they could see no humour in the play at all.

Later, however, Posthumus orders his servant to kill Imogen. Naturally, the man doesn’t, and Imogen and Posthumous are eventually reconciled. He does repent, even suggesting that being unfaithful to him was a comparatively small fault compared to his own enormous one in ordering her murder ( one wonders: why one earth did he think it fair to order his servant to do his dirty work?).

This, an unusual admission for the times, made me wonder if Shakespeare was here attacking the notion that a woman’s worth was equivalent to her so called chastity – the word ‘honour’ was used of both of women, though not of men. If so, he was well ahead of his time. More than two centuries later, the puritanical Samuel Richardson was writing in ‘Pamela’ as if physical virginity and mental virtue were the same for his heroines, and the astoundingly repressive view of women and sexuality being mutually exclusive so common in Victorian times is a commonplace.

That, however, is to wander off the topic, which I really meant to be, that experimenting in comedy was a tricky matter many centuries ago, and it remains as tricky a form of writing to do today. Humour is so individual a thing, even in individuals within a culture.

After all, sarcasm and irony, historically so much a part of the British character, aren’t invariably part of it. I have met Brits who wouldn’t know an ironic quip if they met it in the road, and these people aren’t in any way intellectually deficient. It is more that their brains seem to be connected in a different way to those who have a  keen sense of the absurd.  No doubt the same applied in Shakespeare’s time. Presumably, there were many in the audience at the Globe who would assume that Postumus, being the hero of the play, is expressing his creator’s own views, even if he is acting rather dramatically…

I have said before that the line between horror and the ridiculous is perilously thin. Sometimes, it seems easier to write unintentional comedy than it is to write it intentionally…

But for instance, one wonders about much of the melodrama in  various Victorian novels. ‘Wuthering Heights’, for example. The scene, for instance, where Cathy lies on the sofa ‘grinding her teeth as if she would turn them to splinters’. Is that meant to be as absurd as I find it? Or Heathcliffe’s hissed remark when Nelly rebukes him for his ill treatment of his bride:  ‘Let the worms writhe! I have no pity!’ seems to me so melodramatic as to be ludicrous.

And that is one of the good things about dark comedy. The two sides of that thin line between horror and humour, comedy and tragedy, meet and combine. I believe that was what Shakespeare, in his darker comedies, was exploring, in ‘Alls Well That End’s Well’ ‘Cymbeline’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and others.

Advertisements

Where Worlds Meet Out on Amazon

Where-Worlds-Meet-1877x3000-Amazon-300dpi
Sophie looks alarmed; and with good reason; Emile has just led her into his own world outside time – and he doesn’t seem quite himself…

At last, ‘Where Worlds Meet’ is out on Amazon.com

here

And on Amazon.co.uk on

here

the prequel, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ is here free  on Amazon  and on Smashwords here

You can also get ‘Ravensdale’, which also belongs to the same series, free on Smashwords here   and if you care to point out to Amazon that they should price match, they may make that free too:

On this cover, Sophie does look alarmed, in contrast to Émile’s swaggering and savage demeanour, and she has good reason, as he has just introduced her to his own sphere outside time, and doesn’t seem quite himself…

I did love writing this.

Well, I always love most of the writing part, but I particularly enjoyed  drawing back from the dead the half undead Kenrick and Arthur and describing the grotesque absurdities of his monster men. Also, I loved  writing about Émile Dubois and his cousin Reynaud Ravensdale working together as a team, and Reynaud’s Amazonian true love, his ex-comrade-in-arms Isabella,  as a foil to the spiritual Sophie.

When writing ‘Ravensdale’, about the adventures of Reynaud and his meeting with Isabella as a highwayman (that career seems a popular one in that family)  I was tempted to bring in Émile for them to live as outlaws together, but complications to do with Émile’s needing to be over in France at that time made it impossible.

One of the things I really enjoyed about writing this latest, was that one of the main driving points of the plot is a love affair between two characters from the servant class – Kenrick’s man Arthur, and the sultry Éloise, maid to Sophie (and once her rival for Émile’s attentions). In contradistinction to the traditions of so much historical gothic, it was interesting making the actions of a servant have strong consequences for good or evil.

There is a wicked siren in this – would it be  spoof Gothic without – the late Ceridwen Kenrick’s  own cousin (cousin’s abound in this), whose humanity has been compromised by both Ceridwen and Kenrick. She has her secret reasons for joining in Kenrick’s schemes; for Kenrick has still failed to find reunion with his beloved first wife, and as before, will stop at nothing to achieve his aims.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the practical but Tarot consulting Agnes – one of my favourite characters – back at their now home at Dubois Court in Buckinghamshire for this. I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with competing assertive characters, and for that same reason, I had to give only a walk-on role to Mr Kit in this, and to keep Mrs Kit and Émile and Sophie’s adopted waif  Katarina offstage.

I suppose I am fairly typical in being very fond of my own characters, even such specimens as Kenrick.

What made me reflect on this was reading an excellent Indie novella, ‘The Carrot Man’ by Theo A Gerken which is unusual in having as its theme a sordid, petty struggle between two wholly inadmirable characters that has no serious consequences for anyone.

That is, of course, just about the opposite for the blurb for most books.

Perhaps that was what the author had in mind.  Certainly,  it works brilliantly: here  is the link to my review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2219824577

The author thought I was a bit too hard on the protagonist, and I could have been more charitable about him  (I expect he was fond of him in the same way that I am fond of Kenrick).

Anyway, it makes a great read. Like all of the darkest comedy, it’s somehow cathartic.

It can be very hard to carry out that excellent bit of advice by James N Frey and to ‘follow through’ and deliver that bloody end, that unhappy ending, when it comes to writing an unhappy fate of a character to whom you have become attached (in a good way,  I mean, not as in ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’).

And that brings me to another book I relished recently, Mari Biella’s ‘Pietra and Other Horrors’.  This series of dark tales, like ‘Lord of the Flies’ is an exploration of the uneasy coexistence of the savage and amoral and the civilized, both in the external environment, and in the human heart and psyche.

Besides her elegance of style and vivid writing, I have always admired the way that this author never draws back from wreaking havoc to the lives of her characters when the plot requires it.  This is never easy to do.

The author brings a new approach to a series of classical themes of terror, the vampire, the zombie, the werewolf, the sea folk, and the traditional and malevolent spectre.

Here’s my review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2219833247

Reverting to Arthur Conan Doyle, whom I mentioned in my last post, he seemingly could do it quite happily. He admitted to being utterly callous about the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes in  1893 in that fight to the death with Professor Moriarty by the Reichenbach Falls. Still, perhaps he resented his character for taking up so much of his time and attention.  He had to be offered – for those times – great sums of money to back his creation and write more Holmes’ stories.

He was equally callous about poor Watson’s wife, the Mary Morstan whom he meets in ‘The Sign of the Four’. As he wished to have Watson share the rooms at Baker Street with Holmes again, Mary Morstan had to be killed off with a pen stroke.

It must have been convenient for him to be so oblivious to his characters happiness. While I do not, like Dickens or George Eliot, shed tears over my characters’ fates if they are sad, they do give me a pang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and ‘Ravensdale’ due out soon

 

 

Now is the time to wish all readers of this blog,  and all my wonderful writer friends, Season’s Greetings.

On that, I wish I had that plug in with snow drifting across the screen that everyone else seems to display at this time of year, but I believe you need to have the self hosted wordpress to enjoy that. No matter. ‘I ask everyone to picture a snowstorm…’ as I once heard a drama teacher say. Update: lovely Jo Danilo has just told me how to do it; so here are those snowflakes.

In common with many areas, we had the real thing here last week. A foot of the stuff, so that for days people round here had to abandon car dependency and walk down to the town. People actually started to talk to each other and strange things like that.

Snow and plug ins or not, I’ve been in a jubilant mood these last few days, because at last, I have finished the final edits of “Where Worlds Meet’ the sequel to both ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and ‘Ravensdale’ . I hope to bring it out after Christmas. Well, at this time of year, everything is ‘After Christmas’. I hoped to bring it out before Christmas, but that schedule is too tight for the formatters, who have a backlog of work, no doubt of Christmas novellas.

That surge of relief the author has, when finally, s/he has read that manuscript through  for inconsistencies, anachronisms, and typos for the last time!

Now, you can get on with the next project. Well, there always is a new project, isn’t there?

That is the problem with reading something over and again. It slightly ceases to entertain.  There will be a time when once more, you can bear to look it in the face – but re-reading can be torment when you come on those same jokes and funny scenes again and again. You do remember that you thought they were funny when you wrote them; you can only hope that the reader doesn’t feel as weary on encuntering them the first time, as you do, on your sixth reading…

Being dyslexic and so having a mild form of ‘word blindness’ , I am particularly prone to missing those typos: what would I do without my Beta readers? And, it’s amazing how none dyslexic authors say that they have the same problem, and some typo becomes invisible. Ah yes, I know there are copy editors. But the expense, the expense…

Anyway, back to ‘Where Worlds Meet’.

You can download ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ for free here

Spoilers follow.

Readers may remember that Goronwy Kenrick’s half vampire household on the Famau Mountain is a menace not only through their liking for a nice sup of blood, but through their time travelling ambitions.

Kenrick has come back from a journey to Transylvania, having accidentally killed his beloved wife. Having no faith in another life, he now set his mind on time travel as a form of reunion.

Being unable to find a capable enough mathematician who will work with him willingly, he uses his siren second wife to lure in the rakish French émigré  Émile Dubois, then besotted with his aunt’s companion Sophie de Courcy, but at odds with her and seeking diversion elsewhere.

Gothic adventure amongst the snows on the isolated Famau Mountain in North Wales in the bitter winter of 1794-1795 follows – some of it alarming, much of it comic. Finally, the mutual hatred between Émile and Kenrick culminates in a brutal knife fight where Émile and his ally Georges – as they think – stab Kenrick and his man Arthur through the heart.

They believe they have killed them. But an explosion soon follows, which draws the bodies away before they can sever their heads.

End of Spoilers…

Three years have passed.  Kenrick and Arthur plan to return from that other sphere in the time distortion, and Kenrick, having failed to achieve reunion with his wife there, once again sets to draw in Émile into his schemes. He has a new accomplice in another siren, Ceridwen’s cousin Guinevere.

Émile and his cousin Reynaud Ravensdale, the eponymous anti hero of ‘Ravensdale’ available from Amazon here,  are now on their way up to North Wales to investigate if all is yet still at Kenrick’s house, and the sharpshooter Reynaud carries silver bullets. Kenrick sends through some odd creations of his own to waylay them.

Kenrick – who always suffered from what was once known as a ‘servant problem’ – has been far from idle in his other sphere, and has created a private army of monster men.

…And if they don’t deter Émile and Reynaud, perhaps his new siren accomplice will.

Meanwhile, he sends ahead his man Arthur to prepare his house for his own return. Unluckily for Émile and Sophie, their maid, the sultry Éloise, has always had a soft spot for Arthur. When she comes upon him, bloodied and seemingly dying, she can’t resist helping him, paving the way for another full scale confrontation between the deadly enemies.

Can Sophie – with the invaluable help of Agnes – her mentor and nominally her maid –  change the course of events, so the men and half men do not once again descend into another bloodbath?

Horeshoe_Pass
This is the scenery thorugh which Emile and Reyand ride on their way up to North Wales. This is in fact, the Horseshoe Pass, not created until 1811. They would have passed near here, but in the very different landcape of June – albeit the very wet one of 1797.

 

Inspired Endings – That State of Transendence

I have written before about the inspired ending to Patrick Hamilton’s ‘The Slaves of Solitude’, which is, along with ‘Hangover Square’ considered to be his masterpiece.

I won’t do it justice here,  unless I explain something of the story, which is essentially a dark comedy. It concerns the grim – and often ludicrous – experiences of the lonely, early middle aged Miss Roach in a Henley boarding house called – with a typical Hamilton facetious touch – ‘The Rosamund Tea Rooms’ – in England during 1942; in other words, in the middle of World War II.

She incurs the wholly unjustified vindictiveness of two of her fellow lodgers. One of these is a German woman, Vicki Kugelmann, whom she has previously tried to befriend, the other a type which I gather was common in the ‘genteel’ boarding houses of the era – the impossibly overbearing and reactionary Mr Thwaites. They encourage each other in taunting Miss Roach, and gibing at her support for democracy.

Miss Roach has developed a mild flirtation with an American GI, the generous but unreliable Lieutenant Pike,who wishes, if he survives the war, to enter the laundry business. He has even proposed to Miss Roach: ‘Though she had laughed at the laundry, she had never entirely discounted it’.

The predatory Vikki, taken along to a meal with Lieutenant Pike and some of his GI friends through Miss Roach’s charity, throws herself at the unreliable, drunken Lieutenant Pike, and contrives to come between him and Miss Roach and to steal him as ‘her American’, though she smugly informs Miss Roach that:  ‘I am not the Snatcher. I do not snatch the men’.

Then Miss Roach, already feeling undermined through the constant sniping comments from Mr Thwaites and Vikki, hears that Lieutenant Pike in fact is notorious for going about proposing to every woman with whom he becomes entangled, so his previous proposal was empty. She feels; ‘deprived of all dignity’.

Vikki gradually reveals herself as hating the British, and Mr Thwaites has always been a closet fascist. After a prolonged psychological battle with these two, Miss Roach finally emerges triumphant.

Lieutenant Pike shifts his allegiance back to Miss Roach, but has to leave when his unit is transferred. Having inherited a sum of money from her aunt, she leaves the boarding house in triumph. Mr Thwaites has now died of a sudden agonising illness  –  and Vicki has been asked to leave to boarding house for inviting Mr Thwaites and Lieutenant Pyke into her room in a drunken spree.

Miss Roach is invited  to see the retired actor Mr Prest – always despised as ‘common’ in the Rosamund Tea Rooms – brought out of retirement to star as the wicked uncle in a pantomime. This, and the delight of the childish audience, gives Miss Roach a feeling of transcendence: ‘There was an extraordinary look of purification about Mr Prest..and…Miss Roach felt purified.’

She has taken a room for a couple of nights in Claridges (able to pay through her small inheritance from her aunt): Here her strange feeling of purification continues:

‘An orchestra was now playing in the lounge, and sitting and having that last drink…something else was added to Miss Roache’s state of mind…there came a sort of clarification of mind, in which she could see in their correct proportions all the things which had occurred to her in the last few months…

She saw Mr Thwaites in his right proportions…The trouble with that man was that he had never stepped beyond the mental age of eleven or twelve, nature having arrested him at a certain ugly phase…

She saw the Lieutenant in his right proportions. Not strong of mind, easily affected by drink, in a foreign land, in a mood of sexual excitation, in fear of the future and over anxious to live life to the full, the poor man had gone about in drink making love to the girls and asking them to marry him…

She saw Vikki in her right proportions. A wretched woman that, more wretched than evil…savagely egoistic. And in her sex obsession, vain. And in her vanity cruel…She probably wasn’t really the concentration camp, stadium yelling, rich, fruity, German Nazi which Miss Roach had at times thought her (and yet she very probably was!) and now Miss Roach found it easy to forgive her.’

Settling down to sleep, Miss Roach, ‘That slave of her task master, solitude …hopefully composed her mind for sleep – God help us, God help all of us, every one, all of us.’

Patrick Hamilton was in fact an atheist, but if ever a line was written in a state of inspiration, that last line of supplication to the Deity is it.

To me, the feeling that it inspires sums up the state of mind in which the author must be himself or herself, in order to inspire that same leap of transcendence in the reader.

This is the culmination of that satisfactory ending. We’ve had the fireworks, and we’ve done the prosaic stuff with tying up the loose ends.Now you must impart to the reader a feeling  of peace and completion.

This is the culmination; this is where you leave the reader who has paid you the compliment of joining you in a sojourn through your imaginary world. You must leave that reader contented.

In a fictional work that has any aspirations to merit, that moment of parting is all important. .

You can’t afford to leave that reader dissatisfied. Unless you are writing a series, in those last pages,  you must tie up those loopholes in the plot, that goes without saying. You must resolve your main characters’ dilemma, end that quest, bring down those barriers .
You have to bring about completion as surely as any conveyancing solicitor handing the client those coveted house keys.

And evocation of mood is a great part of it.

In light novels, say a romance pure and simple, you only aim to solve the main characters’ dilemma and bring them together. It is that which gives the reader her (less often his) emotional high. It’s ended nicely, for those protagonists, anyway.

But if you are writing something deeper, that is hardly enough. You want to evoke a more expanded mindset that that. You want that reader to feel almost stunned and emotionally both drained and fulfilled, by first the drama of those concluding chapters, and then to come to a sense of peace.

I’m not, of course, implying that we can hope to come even close, were we to write and rewrite our ending lines several thousand times,  but below are the ending lines to ‘King Lear’.

Cordelia is dead, Edmund’s repentance when he found himself dying after his fight with Edgar wasn’t in time to save her; the once foolish, vain and authoritarian King Lear, who has run mad and been restored to sanity again by that rejected daughter, has himself died of a cracked heart; Goneril has poisoned Regan, and then stabbed herself to death, and ‘My poor Fool is hanged’.

The slaughter is awful. It is given to Edgar (the probable future ruler) to say:

‘The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.’

It wouldn’t even be a good idea if we could replicate that tragic grandeur. It is probably better for the mental stability of the population that we don’t read several such great works of literature each week. We would become overwrought.

For all that, we must, of course, always try to write the best version of whatever it is that we are writing or we won’t be aiming high enough: we’ll be churning out pot boilers.

There are some writers who have managed to do that and produce something of lasting value – I would argue that Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories achieved that, however light a value he placed on them – but they have not been many.

But if we want to write something of value, then at the conclusion of a story, that feeling of transcendence, that mindset of rising above petty differences, of compassionate awareness of the tragedies in life – of the terrible waste in human misunderstanding, must come through.

When I first finished reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ – a good long time ago, and read the concluding passage:

‘I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fl uttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.’

Those evocative words gave me that feeling.

That was as myself in a transcendent mood.

Later, when I came to think about it, having reverted once more my everyday self – I decided that I personally found the ending of the story unsatisfactory because Healthcliff never repents of his evildoing – he explicitly tells Nelly Dean that he has done nothing wrong.

I have learnt since, that Emily Bronte had given much thought to the final destination of the ‘unrepentant man of iron’. Now I would hazard that the ending is not meant to give any definitive indication of what that final account will be, other than at the last, we are all perhaps incorporated into that all encompassing peace.

And, of course, with regard to all the above,  if you are writing a series, then that job is in some ways even harder, as in each stage, you must have an interim ending which gives a partial sense of completion and then finish with the fireworks and the roll of drums and then – that final piece of imaginative empathy.

Well, that is what we must aim for. We can only try.

I’m on to the last 30,000 words in my latest now, building up to the fireworks, which I can only hope don’t prove to be damp squibs, and then I’ve got to pull off those final moments .

Wish me luck.

Conspiratorial Conversation Between That Scoundrel Émile Dubois and His Right Hand Man Georges

8d4ccd6b3c77b8917e8c371f4354c2d6-1

I would like to apologise for this post appearing late. It was fine on the preview, and now I find that there was nothing there for three days! IT does NOT like me.

Émile Dubois: [lounging in his rich dressing robe] Georges, I have news of the most tiresome. And by-the- by, mon ami, we are not alone. We are surveyed – even as we speak, so be discreet.

Georges: [clenching his fists] Merde! Do you mean, them Bow Street Runners has finally guessed who Monsieur Gilles and his Gentlemen of the Road really was and is spying on us? The sneaking –!

Émile Dubois:  No, I do not think we need fear the forces of justice closing in upon us.

Georges: Never say that mad vampire inventor is back yet again! [Expresses himself even more coarsely.]

Émile Dubois:   I have yet to hear that happy news.  No, by news of the most tiresome, I mean that our biographer has delayed in recounting our further adventures, in favour of some story about some fellow in 1821.  No, when I say we are surveyed, we are followed in the form of what is known as a ‘web log post’. That is why we’re speaking English, with some French expressions thrown in.  That being so, limit your maledictions.

Georges: Merde! What’s maledictions?

Émile Dubois:  The low manner in which you and I normally converse, when we are alone, mon vieil ami.

Georges [bristling]  What does this fellow have, that we don’t?

And 1821? Le diable, by then we may well have gone to our final account. [uneasily] I hope Madame Sophie still prays for us every day?

Émile Dubois:  She prays for us every day, and twice on Sundays. It don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of good, though we try, après tout, and we ain’t ridden out to rob anybody since we met les femmes.  I am advised that highway robbery is out of fashion by 1821. You know how difficult it was become for us, with those toll gates and patrols.

Georges:  [reminiscently]  Monsieur Gilles, you said we must leave Southern England until the hue and cry had settled after that latest brush with the patrols, and we went to visit your cousin Lord Rhuddlan high on that mountain most isolated in the North of the Wales, I did not expect such adventure, or that we would meet such wilful women, eh? Vampires and time snags, and mad inventors.

Émile Dubois:  Vraiment, Georges.  Neither did I expect to meet in my aunt’s companion one Sophie de Courcy, the lost Anglaise I had encountered when I was living in Paris under the guise of Monsieur Gilles, robber chief.  Least of all did I expect her to have no memory of our meeting, because it was yet to happen for her through a journey back in time.

Georges:  And then, you were piqued, shall we say, at her attitude, and that sent you straight into the arms of that vampire siren, who changed you.  I know when to be discreet; I will not speak of the assignation in which she changed you/ You returned from that encounter most feverish, and (resentfully) spewed upon the most magnificent pair of boots I ever owned. I cut such a dash in them boots that respectable matrons approached me in the road.

Émile:  Tais toi, Georges! You have complained at my treatment those boots ever since. I weary of hearing about them.

Georges:  And then, my Agnes having decided against me, I sought diversion elsewhere also, so that it ended by that local girl biting me. Such sport as we had in our bloodlust!  I remember most vivid jumping out at Agnes from a cupboard, while you would chase your Sophie about the room. Au bon vieux temps, or as they would say in English, ‘the good old days’.

220px-Renoir23Émile: That is one way of putting it, Georges.  

Georges: It were a fine adventure [struts over to the mirror, and regards himself complacently as he rearranges his neckcloth]. I  don’t think our biographer emphasized  how fine looking a man I am. And then, there is the title of that romance: ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’.

Émile Dubois:  Are you outraged on behalf of two such morally upright characters as myself and yourself, Georges? It seems an accurate character depiction to me. You recollect those are the very words Lord Dale said, when he recognised me by my eyes when we held up his fine carriage. Perhaps our biographer laid little emphasis on your handsome looks for fear it might pain me.

Georges: Bien sûr, we did right to rob Monsigneur of his gains most ill gotten. He was a scoundrel himself, who stole from the poor to give to the rich. No, it ain’t that I mean. But why wasn’t it called, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois And Handsome Georges Durrrand His Friend of the Most Gallant Renown ?’

Émile: Alors, you rascal, do you desire that more was recounted of your part in that adventure?

Georges:  No. I am a modest man, and I do not desire to seem boastful.