Anne Brontë’s ‘Agnes Grey’: A Melancholy Story with a Happy Ending

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I first read Anne Brontë’s ‘Agnes Grey’ a long time ago – in my early twenties – about the time that I first read ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’.

I believe a fair number of people consider it her masterpiece in its brevity and tight plotting. I can see it has those features, but I can’t agree that it is the better story . I infinitely prefer the excitement and Gothic drama of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ – but then, as a writer of Gothic myself, ‘I would say that, wouldn’t I?’

There are arguably faults in the structure of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’;  I don’t know if the ‘story within a story structure’ used in it – also famously used by Emily Brontė in ‘Wuthering Heights’ – is the best method of revealing Helen Huntingdon’s former history.  I personally think a series of shorter flashbacks might be more engrossing – but there are valid objections to two parralel stories as more confusing. It is a problem I know from my own experience when writing ‘Ravensdale’.  There are also notorious faults in character portrayal in ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ and other weaknesses.

Overall, thoughy,  I found ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ to be a gripping story in the way that the quiet tale of the dismal existence of the unfortunate early Victorian governess is not. Probably, then, it is a matter of taste.

After all, defenders of the story would say that the quiet tone is the point. The story was written to highlight the miserable position of the governess in the UK of the mid nienteenth century, and could not by its very nature be exciting. Agnes Grey’s lonely existence as a governess contains precious little excitement, pleasure or even peace.

In her position as a social inferior to the family, while also not part of the domestic staff,  she has nobody on her side, and no-one to talk to. She has no social life, and anyway, her wretched salary – £25 a year – is too low for her to be able to socialise, even if she could find a respectable escort to chaperone her.  The families for whom she works don’t even assume that as a young girl she might actually want a little fun. In fact, her feelings are not considered at all.

She has a foreshadowing of this when she arrives at her first post after a long, cold journey: ‘The cold wind had swelled and reddened my hands, entangled and uncurled my hair, and dyed my face a of a pale purple. ..(Mrs Bloomfield) led me into the dining-room where the family luncheon  had been laid out. Some beefsteaks and half cold potatoes were set before me, and while I dined upon these, she sat opposite, watching me (as I thought) and endeavouring to sustain something like a conversation. ..In fact, my attention was almost wholly absorbed I my dinner; not from ravenous appetite, but from distress at the toughness of the beefsteaks, and the numbness of  my hands, almost palsied by their five hours exposure to the bitter windWith a feeble attempt at a laugh, I said, ‘My hands are so benumbed with the cold that I an scarcely handle my knife and fork.’ ‘I dare say you would find it cold,’ replied she with a cool, immutable gravity that did not serve to re-assure me.’

Unfortunately for Agnes, the husband is even less approachable and often downright rude, while the children are  not only completely undisciplined and unmanageable, but impossible to teach. The parents will not back up any of Agnes’ attempts to get them to learn their lessons. Meanwhile they constantly complain of their offsprings’ apparently learning nothing.

Not only that, but some of the family members encourage the obnoxious ‘Master Tom’ in his cruelty to animals, culminating in the notorious scene where Agnes immediately kills a brood of nestlings rather than leave them to his torments.

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Her next post is not quite as exhausting. Her charges are older, while the two unruly boys are sent off to boarding school after some months. Still, the vain Rosalie and the hoydenish Matilda Murray make life anything but easy for Agnes, and the constant snubs that were a governess’ daily lot are a source of great unhappiness to the sensitive Agnes:

‘…(As) none of the afore-mentioned gentlemen and ladies ever noticed me, it was disagreeable to walk beside them, as if listening to what they said, or wishing to be thought one of them, while they talked over me or across, and if their eyes, in speaking, chanced to fall on me, it seemed as if they looked on vacancy – as if they either did not see me, or were very desirous to make it appear so.

If the Bloomfields – who are portrayed as nouveau riche – are ill mannered in their treatment of a dependant, it seems extraordinary that more established families would not have been taught more gracious manners.

Finally, Agnes does find love and happiness. This is after a sub-plot involving the heartless predatory flirtatiousness of Rosalie, who having humiliated the arrogant Rector, moves on to other potential victims.

On the characters in the novel, some of these are excellently done, though it is a shame that so few of them are more likable. In fact, Agnes comments on this dearth of congenial minds about her.  No doub it is based on the author’s own experience in the posts she occupied as governess,  as critics have often noted how both of Agnes’ employer’s families are based on the two for which she worked as govenress.

My own impression is that while the ending is a happy  one, it is so muted in tone that the pervasive melancholy of the novel is what struck me in this reading as much as last time. There is too little happiness in it, coming in at the very end.  Unlike Victorian readers, I find ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ far less distressing. The humour there is more robust, and so is the temperament of the heroine.

Many other governesses in fiction have a less dismal time of it.  Charlotte Brontë’s Jayne Eyre, is plunged into Gothic adventures despite her lowly position as governess, but this is solely dependent on the whims of her master Mr Rochester, who is obliging enough to fall in love with her. I have to admit that I enjoyed that Gothic story, too, far more than the low key and realistic ‘Agnes Grey’.

A story that I didn’t enjoy – though full of wild and improbable adventure involving a governess – is the 1895 one by Charles Garvice that I have reviewed elsewhere on this blog, ‘The Marquis’.

This novel, which ranks as literature rather lower than that of the Brontė  sisters, revolves around the said Marquis falling in love with his governess. He has been decidedly wicked, but he repents very soon after meeting the noble Constance , governess to his annoying   Little Lord Fauntleroy-esque annoying nephew. She has been forced to earn her living as a governess after her father becomes insane after discovering a formula which rivals that of the Alchemists.

Though the Marquis eyes have to flash and Constance has to turn from red to white (but never blue) innumberable times during the improbable happenings that follow, the happy ending is naturally a foregone conclusion. Written as appalingly as only Charles Garvice can, this heroine of this piece of nonsense is so unsympathetic that for my own part, I felt far more anxiety about the fate of Matilda Murray’s  terrier, sold to the cruel local rat catcher, but finally rescued by the hero.

More on ‘Wuthering Heights’ : The Notorious Absence of a Wholly Sympathetic Character and a Moral Compass.

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I am still reading  that fascinating book by Marianne Thormëhelen, ‘The Brontës and Religion’, and it raises a point that had vaguely occurred to me, but which the author brings into sharp focus.

There is no character in ‘Wuthering Heights’ with whom the reader is meant to identify, who is depicted as generally sympathetic – even if flawed  –  and who provides a moral compass from which to view the events.  I believe this is the main reason why I experienced a sense of incompleteness about the story, and found it  vaguely dissatisfying.  This may well be the reasons why so many readers are left with a confused and disturbed feeling on finishing the story.

Marianne Thormëhelen  says:

‘‘Wuthering Heights’ has no such moral focus (as that provided by the heroines of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall’ )  which  might have imparted authority to any ethical standpoint associated with the dramatis personae themselves.  As generations of ‘Wuthering Heights’ readers have observed, with varying degrees of fascination and irritation, none of the persons in the novel is entirely likable; the natural wish to sympathize with a lead character is thwarted at every turn. Attempts to make Nelly Dean the villain of the piece may seem fanciful; but her loyalties are inconstant and her complacency unjustified.  Edgar is surely right to upbraid her for delaying the recognition of Catherine’s illness , and that is only one of her grave mistakes. Convinced of the goodness of her intentions, she shows no sign of ethical development involving recognition of her faults.  Nor does anybody else in the book, with the possible and partial exception of young Cathy.  Hareton is guided towards his happy ending by nature (decent genes in combination with love) not be principle; and Edgar Linton is a gentleman and devoted husband and father, but he does not possess enough force of character to provide a moral centre of gravity in a tale which contains such varied and vehement passions. ‘

The man who thinks that he is a moral authority , the Calvanist serving man Joseph, is in fact, a figure of fun.   Intolerably convinced of his  own spiritual superiority, superstitious and wholly uncharitable,  he provides black humour among the grim melodrama and savage brutality played out between the other characters.

It is also one of the few books I can think of which has been an outstanding success without any firm  moral basis . Of course, there are books with anti-heroes and flawed narrators, and ‘Wuthering Heights’  certainly  does have an anti-hero in Heathcliff, and unreliable narrators in Nelly Dean and Lockwood; but most books which have these do generally have some sort of moral focus provided b y at least one admirable character. While I think that Marianne Thormëhelen is rather harsh in her judgement of Nelly,   In ‘Wuthering Heights’ the reader is left to make his or her own way among a group of characters often behaving unsympathetically,   with generally little in the way of ethical insight.

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Perhaps that is even a source of its continuing fascination for generations of readers.

This makes me  think,  once again, that the  earlyVictorian writers were lucky as regards breaking certain rules in novel writing. They may have faced strict  censorship  regarding the then  rigid notions regarding sexual morality and propriety, but they were perhaps allowed to break rules which today are regarded by most people in  the publishing world as incontrovertible.

Received wisdom today is that if  a book doesn’t have sufficiently sympathetic characters, readers will lose interest and soon enough  stop  reading. This blog featuring writing advice is surely fairly typical

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Yet, ‘Wuthering Heights’  continues to engage readers, and only a portion of these are convinced that Heathcliff  is a romantic hero.  For myself,   I am sorry to say that I was uncharitable enough to hope that Heathcliff  was forced in some way to repent of his evil actions, and to my disappointment, he never did…

…I first read it many years ago, of course; long before I learnt that the author was fascinated in the concept of the fate of the unrepentant Gothic wrongdoer.

As for what motivates other readers who are not partisan regarding Heathcliff  or the older Cathy  into continuing to read the story, I am not sure.  The vivid writing, larger than life characters and Gothic happenings must surely play a part.  Perhaps, they might let me know?

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Heathcliff – No Romantic Hero: Vengeance and Forgiveness in ‘Wuthering Heights’.

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I have recently been reading Marianne Thormählen’s fascinating book ‘The Brontës and Religion’ (Cambridge University Press 1999).

I shouldn’t be. Really, I should be doing more research into the social background of the UK in the early Georgian era for my latest – but I couldn’t resist it.

I came across it through its mention in the notes of the 1994 Wordsworth Classic Edition of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ as containing a good discussion of Anne Brontë’s belief in universal salvation. Having as usual glanced ahead at certain portions, I expect it to provide the key to certain puzzles and ambiguities in the depiction of evil and the development of character in the Brontë sister’s novels.

For instance, as I have said in blog posts elsewhere, I have always been surprised at the widespread and I think, wholly mistaken view that Heathcliff is meant to be a romantic figure (for all his depiction in many films).

Once, in an energetic mood, some years ago, I even entered into a discussion about this on Goodreads. There. a startling number of readers coming to ‘Wuthering Heights’ for the first time, assured me that I was entirely mistaken, and that I ought to read the book yet again, confident that I would immediately see that Heathcliff is a misunderstood romantic hero.

I know that Emily Brontë reflected in her poems an interest in the final fate of the unrepentant evil doer, and it may well be that her depiction of Heathcliff is influenced by that. He goes wholly unrepentant to his grave. Notoriously, when Nelly Dean advises him to send for a clergyman, comes this exchange: –

  ‘You are aware, Mr. Heathcliff,’ I said, ‘that from the time you were thirteen years old you have lived a selfish, unchristian life; and probably hardly had a Bible in your hands during all that period.   You must have forgotten the contents of the book, and you may not have space to search it now.   Could it be hurtful to send for some one— some minister of any denomination, it does not matter which— to explain it, and show you how very far you have erred from its precepts; and how unfit you will be for its heaven, unless a change takes place before you die?’

‘I’m rather obliged than angry, Nelly,’ he said, ‘for you remind me of the manner in which I desire to be buried.   It is to be carried to the churchyard in the evening.   You and Hareton may, if you please, accompany me: and mind, particularly, to notice that the sexton obeys my directions concerning the two coffins!   No minister need come; nor need anything be said over me.— I tell you I have nearly attained my heaven; and that of others is altogether unvalued and uncoveted by me.’

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In the same exchange, he refuses to accept that he has treated anyone unjustly, even seemingly, the younger Catherine: ‘As to repenting of my injustices, I’ve done no injustice, and I repent of nothing.’

This annoying refusal to accept responsibility for his wrongdoing is of course, very human. Nevertheless, the author takes care to sprinkle the book with many references to his seemingly demonically inspired behaviour.

As Thormähelen notes, he spits out the words that summarise Christian virtues with contempt: ‘duty’, ‘humanity’ ‘charity’ an d ‘pity’. Although he worships the first Catherine, he does not feel this sort of tenderness towards her, and his savage treatment of her when she is dying in fact hastens her death. This parting, of course, he appreciates will leave him in a sort of hell on earth, as he regards her as his ‘soul’.

The more metaphysically inclined reader wonders at the fate of these two barbaric lovers in the next world. Are they joined in death, perhaps in a form of purgatorial existence, or separated until they can love in a slightly more spiritual way, or condemned to walk the earth together until they can abandon their unholy alliance?

Joseph, that caricature of a Calvinist, has no doubt as to the final destination of Heathcliff or Catherine:

‘‘Th’ divil’s harried off his soul,’ he cried, ‘and he may hev’ his carcass into t’ bargin, for aught I care!   Ech! what a wicked ’un he looks, girning at death!’ and the old sinner grinned in mockery.   I thought he intended to cut a caper round the bed; but suddenly composing himself, he fell on his knees, and raised his hands, and returned thanks that the lawful master and the ancient stock were restored to their rights.’

The country folk would certainly talk about ghosts anyway; but the hint that the two godless lovers do indeed walk, is shown by the famous encounter between the down to earth Nelly and a little shepherd boy on the moor one twilght:

 ‘I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided. ‘What is the matter, my little man?’ I asked.

 ‘There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab,’ he blubbered, ‘un’ I darnut pass ’em.’

 I saw nothing; but neither the sheep nor he would go on so I bid him take the road lower down.’

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As Charlotte Brontë has observed, if it wasn’t for his very occasional flashes of humanity in his mild affection for Nelly Dean and Hareton, it would be difficult to think of Heathcliff as having any human emotions at all, for as she says, the attachment he shares  with Cathy is a terrible and relentless (though intriguingly asexual) obsession, not any form of true love.

Hareton, in fact, is an interesting pointer about the author’s attitude towards the problem of dealing with evil.

This is not done by conscious design on the far from cerebral Hareton’s part. But he is naturally fearless, and not only does he not only feel none of that dread and fear that most people feel for Heathcliff, but he is even fond of the man who led his real father to his ruin and usurped Hareton’s own rights, regarding him as a sort of stepfather.

Therefore, as Thormähelen astutely observes, Hareton is not corrupted. He is, in fact, able to remain essentially untouched by Heathcliff’s scheme to degrade him as Hindley’s heir. He may be able to make him illiterate and seemingly brutish, but he cannot make him mean spirited. Heathcliff himself sees Hareton’s intrinsic worth, particularly compared to his own son, Linton, who was almost certainly conceived in hatred, and very probably through rape. Catherine, of course, comes at last comes to see how she has misjudged him and they fall in love and history comes full circle. This time, however, there is a happy outcome, for Hareton and the young Cathy have all the capacity for human affection lacking in original lovers.

The author also notes, about Heathcliff and his life devoted to revenge, a thing that I have noticed myself. Adopted and spoilt by the ailing Mr Earnshaw, his degradation to the place of a servant by Hindley after the older Earnshaw’s death, leading to his rejection by Cathy, is:

‘The basis for Heathcliff’s revenge,and compared to the crimes and sufferings that prompted his Elizabethan and Jacobean predecessors to take up arms against an assortment of evildoers, it is not a very impressive one. All the wrongs he sets out to avenge are wrongs directed against himself. Nobody has murdered a parent or child of his, and his loved one, as he recognises, in effect murders herself.’

In other words, there is something rather ridiculous and self-pitying about Heathcliff’s refusal to get over his childhood wrongs at the hands of Hindley for twenty years. By the standards of a rough age, they were not excessive when compared to many. Still, Heathcliff dedicates his life to hatred.

Even his speech towards the end, when he sees in Hareton as he sits with the younger Catherine ‘The ghost of my immortal love; of my wild endeavours to hold my right; my degradation, my pride, my happiness, and my anguish’ cannot in all its dramatic effect make this decidedly ignoble basis for his grand scheme of vengeance anything but mean spirited.

Hareton, as the author points out, escapes largely undamaged from his upbringing in the terrible atmosphere of Wuthering Heights precisely because he does not hate his enemy. Presumably sensing Heathcliff’s grudging admiration and affection, he cannot really accept that he is an enemy.

And as Emily Brontë  was, for all her apparent heterodoxy, a parson’s daughter, and as the Christian response to a sinner is to hate the sin but love the sinner, this is highly appropriate.

Partly because he cannot properly degrade Hareton, Heathcliff’s elaborate plans for revenge fail. For now, haunted by his vision of Cathy, he has lost interest in that vengeance, as reflected in his famous speech to Nelly.

‘‘It is a poor conclusion, is it not?’ he observed, having brooded awhile on the scene he had just witnessed: ‘an absurd termination to my violent exertions?   I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished!   My old enemies have not beaten me; now would be the precise time to revenge myself on their representatives: I could do it; and none could hinder me.   But where is the use?   I don’t care for striking: I can’t take the trouble to raise my hand!   That sounds as if I had been labouring the whole time only to exhibit a fine trait of magnanimity.   It is far from being the case: I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing.’

Heathcliff’s going unrepentant to his death may strike some readers as romantic, but his end, completely lacking in insight as it is, strikes me as bleak.  It is, of course, impossible for a healthy man in his prime to starve to death in a few days, and his death, whatever it is caused by, is certainly not caused  by his refusing to eat for that length of time.

He is mourned by nobody save Hareton, and all the evil he has devoted two decades towards accomplishing is undone by the coming together of the two young lovers.  Yet, though love triumphs over hate at the end of the story, it is, as Marianne Thormähelen observes,  about as unsentimental a depiction of the power of good over evil as can be imagined.

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Thormähelen considers that neither vengeance nor forgiveness is allowed a decisive victory in the world of ‘Wuthering Heights’. Here, I would disagree: I think that after all the horror of inhumanity, forgiveness does triumph in the world of the novel: but only just.

 

Strong and Sentimental Writing.

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I’ll take some time off from writing comedy to put up a slightly less facetious post than my recent spoofs.

Surprisingly, a couple of years ago a teenager asked me to recommend some ‘strong writing’ (She even read them too, but that’s irrelevant here).

I assumed she meant writing that grips, and doesn’t pull punches, because come to think of it, I wasn’t quite sure what is meant by ‘strong writing’ – like intelligence, I only recognize it when I come across it.

I recommended two classics – ‘The Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad and the long short stories by Laurens Van Der Post collected under the title ’The Seed and the Sower (probably better known as the film ‘Merry Christmas Mr Laurens’).

Then, I realized that I had been guilty of unconsciously going along with sexist standards, and hadn’t recommended a women writer, and I added that by way of gothic melodrama with a truly foul male protagonist, ‘Wuthering Heights’ is brilliantly done for all its flaws. Then, there’s Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

But it’s interesting – while there are some books that maintain strong writing throughout, most books rise to it now and then,even ones that are sentimental in tone. You can find it now and then in works promoting an ‘All’s Right in a Pretty World’  approach (at least for the important characters, anyway, and that’s all that matters really).220px-Charles_Garvice_-_The_Marquis

I have even found this to be true in places in the writing of that most sentimental and embarrassingly emotional of all writers, the late Victorian and Edwardian novelist Charles Garvice.

Here we are with a paragraph where he stops telling us that his hero Lord Fayne has admirable traits, and just shows them.

This protagonist, a wild young Viscount who has gone to bad, and devotes his time assiduously to causing disgrace to his stately family by dressing as a costermonger, squandering the fortune he inherited from a relative in getting hammered and brawling in music halls. is meant to have many sterling traits nevertheless, including a native sense of honour and a disgust with petty minded spite and cowardice or underhand behaviour in general.

This will all make him, of course, a perfect future Earl once he stops dressing as a member of the lower orders and associating with shameless floozies at the Frivolity Music Hall.

Here he hears that the woman he worships from afar (not, of course, one who would set foot in a music hall) is engaged to his cousin and rival, who is called the wonderful name of Marshbank, which sums up his slippery nature –

‘”Yes,” he said, “He is a favourite of fortune. He has stepped into my place, he has got my father’s goodwill –that’s all right enough. And now he has won you! Oh yes, it’s all right! I’m paying the penalty; I’m reaping the harvest that I have sown. But oh God! It’s hard to hear.”1894-The-Outcast-of-the-Family-hardcover-book-by-Charles-Garvice

Despite the melodramatic language, I found that there was something moving about this, though I remained unmoved through pages of purple prose depicting this character’s desperate love of his Eva, his reformation and the opening of his heart to the ways of the simple country folk amongst whom he wanders as a sort of nineteenth century minstrel or busker, his tenderness to a little girl etc.

By contrast, here we have Lord Fayne declaring his love for Eva: –

‘”Forgive me, forgive me!” He whispered, brokenly, hoarsely. “I did not know what I was doing. I –“ he stopped, his dark eyes fixed on her imploringly, as a man pleading for his life might look. If she had met his eyes with a cold, angry stare, all might have been well; but there was something in her gazed which seemed to woo his next words, to draw them out of his heart: “I love you!”.
Eva drew a long breath, and sat like a statue…He stood looking at her in awe and fear..They neared Endell Square, then he spoke. “I will not ask you to forgive me (I thought he already had) he said, hoarsely, ‘I do not deserve it. What can I say? Only this; that – that you shall not see me again…”

She does, of course; he turns up to speak to her at least three times at dramatic points in the novel, including the last, where he proposes to her and then sits down to have her serve him lunch.  But that’s after he’s become Good, which comes over him a while after he stops being Bad, a moral metamorphosis brought about by fresh country air.

Lord Fayne finishes:

“…Perhaps – perhaps some day, if I win the fight,; if I am less unworthy to be near you, I may come – to ask your forgiveness for – for – what I have said today…”

Yes, well…Lord Fayne rides off to be a Better Man, leaving Eva in a dream of virginal shock and romance: – “…Was it real, or only a dream? The world seemed slipping away from under her feet.”’

Then again, Mrs Humphrey Ward in ‘Marcella’ (written, it seems, as  an anti-socialist tract on how women shouldn’t meddle in politics; Mary Ward was a strong supporter of the Anti Suffrage League) is unsparing in some of her details of the suffering of a wretched poacher’s family in a Buckinghamshire village. For instance:-

‘The cottage was thick with smoke. The chimney only drew when the door was left open. But the wind today was so bitter that mother and children preferred the smoke to the draught. Marcella soon made out the poor little bronchitic boy, sitting coughing by the fire….”Hmm! Give him two months or thereabouts,’ thought Wharton. ‘What a beastly hole! –on e room up, and one down, like the other, only a shade larger. Damp, insanitary, cold – bad water, bad drainage, I’ll be bound – bad everything…’

This is excellently and effortlessly done. But sentimentality will out in Mrs Humphrey Ward.   Wharton, the liberal politician and rival for the rebellious Marcella’s hand to the sterling Tory candidate Mr Aldous Raeburn, eventually  reveals himself to be a cad by stealing a kiss from Marcella and engaging in financial chicanery over his newspaper, and all ends as it should: –

‘’Forgive?’ he (Aldous Raeburn) said to her, scorning her for the first and only time n their history. “Does a man forgive the hand that sets him free, the voice that recreates him? Choose some better word – my wife!”

I would someone had given Mrs Humphrey ward the same advice about the above paragraph.

Of course, in line with the sentimental tone of the novel, Henry Wharton(no relative of Harry Wharton in Billy Bunter, I assume) is forced to recoup his fiannces by marrying an opportunistic woman – shockingly – ten years older than himself, and notoriously cruel to her servants.

I think that these brief extracts from a couple of late Victorian writers of popular fiction is fascinating evidence that even writers who choose to go in for melodrama and to pander to superficial emotions can write strongly enough when they choose – they just choose not to.

 

Spoof Sequel to Wuthering Heights; Heathcliff, Huntingdon, and Gambling for Grassdale Manor

wuthering heightsSetting: Wuthering Heights, the dining room . The table is laid for three. Joseph clumps about in his heavy boots, slopping unappetising looking porridge into bowls.

Arthur: Silence, fellow! Last night’s excess has overwrought my steely nerves. I can no more take that appalling din, than I endure to eat any of this filthy slop. Make me some coffee and be quick about it. Milk indeed; are we infants?

Joseph: [only daring to speak to himself under his breath] Are things come to this, that I, fifty years in this house, mun take orders from such a nought? [Aloud] Maister Heathcliff, am I to endure this?

Heathcliff: [even more darkly brooding than usual  this morning] Quiet, or I’ll  kick you out. Make some coffee and I’ll have some too. Be quick about it, or i’ll use your good books to stoke the fire.

Jospeh: Ah, wicked furren ways. Hareton, lad, sup thy milk in blessed innocence.

Hareton: I’ll have some too. [Jospeh goes out, lamenting ]

[Some minutes pass in grim silence]

Hareton,[to Heathcliff Did I hear knocking last night?

Heathcliff: Tha’ did, lad. A lass knocked on the door, and I sent her away into the wind and the rain. You know what I always say: ‘Let the worms writhe, I have no mercy’.

Arthur: [to himself] Just the sort of quip to set the table on a roar; this fellow’s a social lion.

Hareton: Nay, it weren’t right, if it were a lassie.

Arthur: You’re right, young sir. I should have spoken up for the wench, plain-looking though she was, but I was a trifle elevated. Here’s that old Pharisee with the coffee at last

[Enter Joseph] They drank all the wine and brandy I keep for t’good of my health and my old bones last night, and now they’re at my coffee. Sinful. Someone knocks. Mayhap, the devil himself.

Heathcliff; Just so long as its no more trespassers from other novels.

thHareton: If it’s that poor lass Jane Eyre, let her in this time.

Huntingdon: Damn me, I can’t stand this biblical cant over breakfast, when I’ve got to surmount last night’s excesses. My wife was bad enough for that, but at least she had didn’t have a face like that. I’ve seen happier looking ghouls. Young sir, what’s the best way to Wildfell Hall?

Hareton: I’ll put you on your way, Mr Huntingdon.

[Joseph returns] Maister Heathcliff, there’s two boxes of books out there, wi’ fair shocking covers, wi’ wenches a-flaunting their bosoms in indecent low gowns, wi’ their cheeks and lips looking fair painted, and t’wind a blowin’ their skirts above their ankles, and you with your shirt off, and a snarlin’ like our house dogs, and all called ‘Wuthering Heights. T’shame of it! That folks should credit such things go on here!

Hareton [hurries out] I must see this!

Huntingdon: A shame I’ve seen no such fine wenches here. Why anyone would choose to write about this damned sorry place, is beyond me. Now I’ll take my leave. I thank you for your hospitality. I believe I lost tuppence over the cards last night? As a debt of honour, I must pay that. [throws down coin]63daa92b710561d87498049b891eb71b

Heathclif: [hurls his marked cards down on the table in a rage] And I was dreaming of getting my hands on that Grassdale Manor of yours!

Huntingdon: Never mind, at least you have some reading matter more agreeable than ‘Torments in the Pitt (Extended Edition,  with Lurid Illustrations by Hironymous Bosche)’ and ‘One Thousand Reflections for a Sinner’. [Exit]

Hieronymus Bosch - Hell 2

Heathcliff Meets Huntingdon and Jane Eyre: Wuthering Heights Spoof Sequel Part Two

thSetting: Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff and Arthur Huntingdon now sit at the table in the great room with the ‘houseplace’ and the great fire, decidedly the worse for drink. Both clutch a pack of marked cards.

Joseph and Hareton go along the passageway outside, making for the stairs.

Joseph: ‘Tis fair shocking. I’m afeered t’upstart maister is behaving as he did in t’auld days when he strived to take this house from its rightful maister. Worse. For I’ve heard him laugh out loud. A fair sin and a shame I call it. I’m to my bed in t’attic with my bedtime reading: ‘The Hideous Sufferings of the Damned in The Lake of Burning Fire, and How the Elect Chuckle to See It’. That day can’t coom soon enough, I reckon, for t’gentry in there.

Hareton: Well, I’ll not join ‘em; I’ve got a full days’ work tomorrow. I’ll smoke my pipe in bed (starts upstairs; pauses:) Joseph?

Joseph: What, lad?

Hareton: Dust eever think that there might be more to life than this?

Joseph: Why, nay lad; never. What more could theere be?

Hareton: (casts around in his mind) Well…

Joseph: You see; idle nowts of fancies put in thy mind by the fiend himself. Beware! You’ll be thinking o’ nasty flauntin’ queens next.

(They are halfway up the stairs before Hareton suddenly stops) Fun!

Joseph (drawing back) What?!

Hareton: Fun. I vaguely mind me we had some o’ that now and ageen, in t’auld days. wuthering heights

Joseph: Don’t be daft, lad. I’ve never had any fun in night on seventy year, and its never done me any harm.

(Hareton remains silent: Joseph sighs and groans about idle thoughts as they clump up to bed.)

Huntingdon: (aside) This sneaking fellow may well scheme to get his hands on my property with his pack of marked cards, having used that trick before. But he shan’t fool me as he did that pathetic fool, Hindley Earnshaw. I’ve got my own pack of marked cards, and few have a more seasoned head than I.

Heathcliff: (slurring) Don’t tell me you usuhally drink like thish. You musht be a confirmed drunkard. Maybe worshe than Hindley.

Huntingdon: No, I’m a gentleman, and believe in good living. Damn me, d’you usually take your meals with that sour faced old bible spouter? No wonder you’ve got no joie de vivre. If I was you, I’d throw him out, closely followed by his good books.wuthering heights

Heathcliff: She and I did that onshe, wit’ his blashted good booksh, and laughed ourshelves sick. (struck) Can’t remember when lasht I laughed.

Huntingdon (appalled) What type of melancholy excuse for an existence is thish? (aside) This wine is getting even to my seasoned head. I’m starting to slur like him.

(The wind howls eerily about the isolated farmhouse. A tap on the window)63daa92b710561d87498049b891eb71b

Heathcliff: Damn! Whosh there? (Another tap)

Heathcliff: Can it be Her at last?

(A wailing sound)

Huntingdon (uses many maledictions) Seeing you won’t see who it is, I suppose I must. (goes to the window and flings back the curtain) There’s nobody there.

A female voice: Oh yes, there is!

Huntingdon: (peers downwards through the darkness) Damn me, it’s some plain faced woman no bigger than a well grown child. Wait a minute, I’ve heard of you! You’ve lost your way; you belong in another novel.

Jane Ere’s voice: Ah, I have been forced to flee my master, who offered me a bigamous marriage and wicked temptations. But I feel no temptation to stay in the company of either of you. I must go on to the River’s household.

Heathcliff (rushes to the window with terrible imprecations) What d’you mean by raising my hopes, you miserable slut? Get out of it, before I set the dogs on you! You’re the sixth character from another novel come here in a week!

Huntingdon: (returning to the table and removing a couple of cards from his sleeve): Anyway, she isn’t handsome enough to tempt me.

Heathcliff: (visibly paling) Silence! You know who said that! The last thing we want is Mr Darcy calling in!

The credits roll up. Voiceover: What will happen next? Don’t miss the next installment of ‘Huntingdon Meets Heathcliff’.

That Dreaded Manuscript in Your Drawer: join Jane Austen and Pushkin in having a Manuscript in That Drawer of Doom

Alex2LargeItaliano(2)First of all, I’d like to wish everyone Season’s Greetings.

Then I’d like to thank Robert Wingfield of INCA for designing for me such a wonderful new cover for ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’.  Here it is, above. You can get it on:

http:/’www.amazon.com/Alex-Sagers-Demon-Pushkins-Nemesis-ebook/

or

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alex-Sagers-Demon-Pushkins-Nemesis-ebook

I wanted to write a skit for a Christmas post, perhaps something on the lines of ‘Christmas at Castle Dracula’ or even ‘Heathcliff meets Arthur Huntingdon for Christmas cheer at Wuthering Heights’ or  some such,  but what with one thing and another I have run out of time.  Typical bad time management from me.

So instead, I will write about The Dreaded Manuscript in the Drawer.

I was thinking that for me, 2015 was the ‘Manuscript in the Drawer’ year. I put two of ’em in there. One 50,000 words, one 22,000 words. How’s that for wasted effort? And all done first thing in the morning before a cup of tea.

I’ve also got the opening chapters of a dystopia in there.

I’m halfway through writing the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and I have re-written the beginnings of ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and of ‘Ravensdale’ and ‘Alex Sager’s Demon’, it’s true, so it hasn’t all been Writers’ Block and Consigning to Drawer of Doom for me. Still, I did write about a third each of two versions of the same Gothic story, and both led to prolonged writer’s block and finally were sucked into that Drawer of Doom, which is too often like a black hole for manuscripts.

Once through that good old event horizon and they are usually fated not to escape; too much heavy matter in there.

There was a purely comic and a darker version, and I think one of my resolutions for 2016 must be to draw one of them out, and bring it to completion.

This must be so common a fate for so many initially promising manuscripts. I’m sure many other authors have that manuscript in the drawer that they intend to get round to drawing out from the dustbin of history (perhaps these days, more take the form of abandoned files on the pc which are never printed out and don’t even get to the Shoved Into A Drawer’ stage. No doubt many are eventually deleted, accidentally on purpose).

It would be interesting if we all were to pull them out of drawers or locate those forsaken files in 2016, and see if we can overcome the problems that led us to abandon them.

I can’t help pleading on behalf of these unfortunate manuscripts, you know; after all, the problems that caused their creator to consign them to limbo may not have been insurmountable. Perhaps it was a case of that famous ‘wrong timing’ (Gets carried away) . Perhaps a little give and take,an acceptance that there were  faults on both sides (and other cliches) might be the best approach to adopt to resolve the conflict, and the best way to a creative solution? (Pulls herself together) What’s the matter with me? I’m talking about words, not people, even if those characters did seem vivid!

I’m always morbidly fascinated by the whole dismal matter of the Drawer of Doom. All  famous classic authors seem to have them; Pushkin relegated that unfinished robber novella ‘Dubrovsky’ to his, so that it was only published after his death, complete with the unabridged and convoluted legal document that comes in the middle.

I think it is a shame he abandoned it, as unlike some harsh critics, I loved it when I read it.  He was attempting to produce a work of literary merit which also had popular appeal, and that’s as laudable an aim as can be for an author; after all, it’s trying to emulate Shakespeare in a way. He wrote plays with an eye to popular success, though he just happened to be a genius.

Emily Bronte and Anne Bronte don’t have any unfinished manuscripts, for the simple reason that they urged their sister Charlotte to destroy their unpublished manuscripts after their deaths.

Jane Austen had three unfinished short novels, ‘Lady Susan’ ‘Sanditon’ and ‘The Watsons’. I am sure I am fairly typical of Jane Austen admirers in that I think that none of them deserved to go into that drawer, or anyway, to stay in it. I was particularly interested in ‘The Watsons’ when I read it, and wondered how the plot and sub plots would have worked out.

I am intrigued about some more deceased prolific authors, who were, shall we say, less perfectionist in their attitude to their work. For instance, Charles Garvice, who wrote 150 romantic novels during his writing career, or Barbara Cartland, who easily beat him with a total of 700 (but she did live until she was nearly ninety compared to his seventy).

Did they have their Manuscripts in the Drawer?

Perhaps, though, the Christmas and New Year round over, 2016 will be the year when through a strange process of synchronicity,writers all about the world will draw out those neglected manuscripts from drawers and open those long neglected files on the pic.  I will certainly try and do something with mine; that’s my writing New Year’s resolution. That, and finishing the sequel to ‘Scoundrel’.

Oh yes, and another one about time management.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Seven Most Annoying Heroes in Famous Novels – Uncharitable New Year’s Rant

Before I get on to being what followers of various forms of New Age ‘Courses on Miracles’ would call ‘negative’, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and especially wish one  to my wonderful fellow writers and to my readers. Thank you for all your inspiration and support.
The ‘negativity’? Well, as I was watching a James Bond film (not such a bad one as they go; at least the replacement ‘M’ was a woman and called him a ‘misogynistic dinosaur’) I reflected that he probably was the hero I detest most in books (all right; that particular film doesn’t come from a book; still, the character does) . Then in a truly charitable fashion, I effortlessly remembered another male lead of a book I disliked even more; but then I realised that I detested another hero of a well known book yet more – and before I knew it, I had a virtual shopping list of the Heroes I Detest Most.

As none of these novels were written by currently living authors, I don’t see why I shouldn’t publish this bitter list to give a laugh to those who, like me, feel a bit jaded after over indulging in the recent festivities, so here it is.

I warn readers that the list is based on personal prejudice and some of these heroes probably don’t, as ‘heroes’ go, deserve to be on it at all; there are probably much nastier or annoying male leads out there I have yet to meet and find objectionable.

Oh, and anyone who wants to nominate a vain, annoying, Marty Stu or downright obnoxious male lead in a famous novel by a deceased author is very welcome to do so.

Have I a list of annoying, obnoxious heroines, who may or may not be Mary Sues? Yes, but unfortunately my complaint about all these female leads tends to be the same – that once she gets together with the male lead she loses all her independence of mind and becomes half of a smug couple, or even if she doesn’t, that she loses all critical faculties regarding the man of her dreams. Therefore, my list needs some more work to make it in any way entertaining; but by way of a hint, Hippoylata in Mary Renault’s series on
Theseus, his captive Amazon who fights by his side against her former Amazon subjects and Fanny Burney’s Evelina are both on it.

Number One

Dominic Alistair, Marquis Vidal, the ‘hero’ of Georgette Heyer’s ‘The Devil’s Cub’ is totally obnoxious. Even at fourteen, I cringed when I read this. Oh dear. This fellow’s got problems; in fact, he needs intensive psychiatric treatment and a good kick up the backside (sorry!). He likes killing men who annoy him, and he half throttles the heroine at one time, and at another, tries to rape her. This doesn’t stop her from falling in love with him, though.
To be fair to the heroine, she does have the sense to try and shoot him during the rape attempt, but she’s so sorry to see him in a fever as a result of the wound she’s inflicted that she longs to ‘kiss his bad temper away’.
To be fair to Heyer as well, she never again had a would be rapist as a hero, and it’s unfortunate that the publishers have seen fit to keep this one in print. It still gets glowing five star reviews as a lot of woman readers think that the fact that the woman shoots at him makes things even.
I don’t. If he was shown as at least repenting of it, it might be different, but the whole sorry episode is happily swept under the carpet by heroine and many an avid reader alike.

Number Two

Theseus in Mary Renault’s ‘The King Must Die’ and ‘The Bull from the Sea’ .
By the living lord Zeus, this man annoyed me! OK, so he is meant to be over confident and machismo, and the men of the age didn’t see why women had any problems with being taken as war prizes (of course all Theseus’ war prizes adore him), but I detest him anyway, if only because the reader is expected to cheer him along as he avidly sets about destroying the nasty king-for-a-year sacrificing matriarchies wherever he goes (it’s worth noting here that it’s always on the one day a year that the King is due to be sacrificed that he comes across them). Everyone admires him, which isn’t surprising, as he generally kills off anyone who doesn’t.
I don’t see why the series isn’t called ‘The Queen Must Die’ as that’s what happens to all the women who marry him. He slowly chokes the unfortunate Phaedra to death (why, as an accomplished wrestler, he doesn’t use the quick and more effective strangle isn’t explained).
This fellow deserves to be made to clean the female lavs in Hades for a thousand years.
This series (brilliantly researched and in parts equally well written, by the way) also features the Hippoylata I mention above, who finds Theseus’ charms so irresistible that she joins him in promoting his patriarchal conquests.

Number Three

Heathcliff.

Now, I’ve said several times on the discussion thread on Goodreads that I started that I detest Heathcliff’s actions, not the pathetic character, who is clearly off his head. Also, I don’t believe that Emily Bronte intended him to be viewed as any sort of a hero, Byronic or otherwise. Still, I remain astonished that anyone can possibly find this fellow romantic, with his habit of boxing girls’ ears and bullying children. And then he’s so sorry for himself, and mourns his loss of Cathy for such a ridiculously long time.
I’m sorry to say many woman readers find his despising all women save his idol Cathy romantic. I can’t relate to that. I think too, that if he’d had his dream fulfilled he’d soon have tired of Cathy and started abusing her too. Also, he’s so mean that while he’s making a lot of money out of being a ‘cruel hard landlord’ he still rations the amount of tea the younger Cathy is allowed to offer to guests and has porridge for supper.

Number Four

James Bond. What can I say?
Well, I believe this fellow certainly suffers from serious sexual repressions of some sort as a compulsive Don Juan who goes in for such unimaginative seductions; for instance, why are the erotic episodes described so mechanically? Is it because I’m dyslexic that I particularly notice the way ‘his right hand went to her right breast’ or does this unconsciously betray the political bias of Ian Fleming?
This man deserves to be made to work as a peace campaigner for fifty years (zero hours and no pension).

Number Five

Charley Kinraid in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ is almost an ideal type of a Marty Stu (I dislike the whining Philip Hepburn, the ‘real’ hero of the story, even more, but Charley Knraid is clearly meant to be the romantic interest so he gets the listing). It shows what an excellent writer Gaskell is that despite this, ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ is still one of my favourite novels.  Almost everyone, save the carping, envious Hepburn, admires Kinraid. He’s a brilliant harpooner, handsome, fearless, a good friend, a hard drinker, a bold fighter, irresistible to women and the life and soul of the party. Nobody dances the hornpipe like him.
This opportunist is indestructible and always falls on his feet with a merry quip.
There’s no pleasing me! Heathcliff exasperated me by mourning his loss of Cathy for twenty years; Kinraid annoyed me by forgetting Sylvia six months after his dramatic parting from her.
He starts off his glittering career as ‘the most daring Specksioneer (chief harpoonist) on the Greenland Seas’ during the French Revolutionary Wars. When on shore, he’s a dedicated flirt and heartbreaker, causing at least one girl to go into a decline when he loses interest in her. At one point he seems to be engaged to both the eponymous heroine and one of her neighbours at the same time (weirdly enough for Gaskell, this ridiculous situation isn’t portrayed humorously).
I disliked him for that, but I did applaud his standing up to a press gang operating illicitly, though I was sorry he shot dead two of its members. With his invariable luck, he escapes hanging for this through being ‘kicked aside for dead’. Later on, however, after he’s press ganged into the Navy, Kinraid goes in for more heroics, though this time on their side, and is promoted to Captain. As all Naval Captains had to rely on press gangs to raise enough men to go to sea, and couldn’t be too scrupulous about the rule of their having to be sailors, he’s obviously happy enough to collude in the press gang’s activities and forget he shot dead two men for doing what he now endorses.
When Kinriad comes back to claim Sylvia, whom he has sworn he’ll marry or remain single, only to find she’s been tricked into marriage by Philip Hepburn, he’s forgotten about her and married to a pretty heiress in no time. This silly girl admires him nearly as much as he admires himself.
Hepburn dies expiating his sins, while Sylvia, overcome with guilt over renouncing Hepburn for his trickery, dies of a broken heart. However. the shallow opportunist Kinraid complacently faces a glowing future in the new century. I found him and his undeservedly good fate supremely annoying.

Number Six

Lord Heriot Fayne in Charles Garvice’s ‘The Outcast of the Family’.
I disliked this hero initially for his habit of threatening to throw Jewish money lenders out of windows. For the rest, for some reason I found this cardboard baddy turned goody totally exasperating in that everyone who meets him feels inexplicably awed by his ‘air of command’. He inspires respect, it seems, even when he’s togged up as ‘Coster Dick’ to get hammered and brawl in a music hall. He’s so macho that when one of his opponents caddishly sneaks up behind and hits him over the head with a cut glass decanter, knocking him out, on coming to, he suffers no sissy symptoms like nausea, but happily lights up a pipe and strolls through the streets, rescuing the odd waif.
He also rescues the heroine when her pony bolts towards a disused quarry (he’s disguised as a tramp at the time). Then he saves a little girl who gets lost in a forest somewhere in South America (he’s gone there as a ranch hand). His reformation is effected by his going round the country as a busker. This course of behavioural modification is seemingly so swift and effective it is obviously to be recommended as a way of taming all young tearaways.

Number Seven

Ludovic Lavenham in Georgette Heyer’s ‘The Talisman Ring’.
To be fair, this fellow, who serves as a sort of ‘secondary hero’ , probably doesn’t deserve to be on here.

This is another Heyer historical romance I read at fourteen when snowed in. I  re-read it a year or so ago during several visits to a doctor’s surgery. I found this swaggerer purely infuriating as a teenager, and cringed with embarrassment at the way he flirted with his ‘little cousin’ when lying on his sickbed after being shot by excisemen:

Him: ‘Is that a tear, little cousin? Don’t you like your cousin Ludovic?’

Her: ‘Oh, yes! But I was so scared that you would die.’

After that scene, I’m sorry to say I almost wished he would. Reading the story again all these years later, (this research on romances) I expected to regard him more kindly. I didn’t. To be honest, I don’t know exactly why I find this Heyer hero in particular so annoying. True, he’s stupid and arrogant and full of over-the-top macho posturing, but that does tend to be so of several of Heyer’s young heroes and ‘Sherry’ in ‘Friday’s Child’ is equally idiotic. Ludo Lav is also, like Charley Knraid, really only a secondary hero, the real one being Sir Tristam Shield (get the names) his older and acidic cousin.

So, there’s the list, and probably in the case of the male leads who don’t go in for rape, throttling their wives or at least hanging their spaniels, quite unfair. Charley Kinraid, Heriot Fayne and Ludovic Lavenham are at least portrayed as being fairly gallant, even if they are Marty Stus. I’m sure there are many heroes out there, particularly in classical literature, who are far worse than even Dominic Alastair.

So, there’s a highly uncharitable post to start the 2015. How jaundiced; I think I’d better go and do some weights or change my resolution to vowing to be kinder about such male lead characters in general…