Discovering More So Bad It’s Good Writing

Alice Askew
A wonderfully dramatic cover for a book. I love the way that the ghost is waving…

I never get much in the way of writing done in the summer and early autumn; family matters always take precedence. I feel guilty about not getting down to that editing of my latest, but there seems to be no time…

I have been doing some reading. I am Beta reading a fellow author’s fantasy book, which has a darkly comic twist that appeals, and still reading the background material on the Peterloo Massacre. But there are so many distractions, and coming across So Bad It’s Good writing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is one of them.

I have written in posts before of how my mother filled the bookshelves in the rambling old houses in which my family used to live when I was growing up by buying job lots at auctions.

These included much late Regency and Victorian writing, including books on farming, the care of poultry, guide books of the North Wales coastline, collections of sermons, classic works and much else. There was,  for instance, a massive book with the ambitious title ‘Everything Within’ which could surely only have been written by a British Victorian. In it you could find advice on supposedly all the subjects under the sun – geography, mathematics, astronomy (written, of course, from that oddly static pre Einstein perspective) a solemn exposition of phrenology,  advice on how to write letters on delicate topics, such as breaking off an engagement, and a massive amount of other varied information.

There were also, besides much twentieth century popular fiction, many  Victorian and Edwardian novels of the sort lent out by circulating libraries and deplored by the serious minded as a bad influence on maidservants.

My older half brother still lives in the Clwyd Valley in the area where my family lived for six years (the area where I set ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ and my latest – which still needs editing). He still has some of that stock which I investigated on snowy and rainy days long ago.

I came on a book which seemed likely to rival Jefferey Farnol for melodrama. It is called ‘Eve and the Law’, written by ‘Alice and Claude Askew’, published in 1905. It is a cheap hardback of the sort mass produced before paperbacks were invented, and I recognised it at once as one of the romantic melodramas of the sort churned out by Charles Garvice.

I glanced at the frontispiece. This depicted a man obviously intended to be a villain, as he sported a moustache and a conniving, suave expression – standing by the side of the tall heroine, whose upright bearing is obviously intended to illustrate a noble soul – and knew I had to read it.

I have never heard of these writers, but Wickipedia says of them that they were a married couple of British authors who wrote over ninety novels together between 1904 and their deaths when their boat was  sunk by a torpedo attack by a German submarine in 1917.

That tragic end did make me stop laughing at the sheer melodramatic absurdity of the plot of ‘Eve and the Law’ and of the list of titles generally, which includes such gems as ‘Bess of Bentley’s: A True Shop-Girl Story’ and ‘Fate- And Drusilla’.  There is something particularly horrible about a couple who depicted life in terms of romance and happy ever afters coming to a violent end.

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Sadly, I don’t think this one is in print. I’ll have to go in for sour grapes and say maybe it wasn’t about a real vampire, but a suspected one…

Oh dear.  And oh dear, for purely selfish reasons. What with ‘Martin Coninsby’s Revenge’ and this, my background reading on the Peterloo Massacre for my planned novella will be slower than it ought to be…

 

The Delights of Good Bad Writing

 

Picture_of_Jeffery_FarnolI am run off my feet at the moment in real life with family responsibilities – as always happens during July and August – so I haven’t been able to keep up with writing at all these past few weeks.

That’s a good thing in a way; real life events should always take precedence over our imaginary worlds, as long as one has writing time over the year. Anyway,the last editing of my latest novel, that sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’’, must wait until the autumn. Still,  I do feel that I have been neglecting my blog for too long.

Apropos my last post, which commented on the similarities between the the poet and spokesman for the days of the British Empire, Rudyard Kipling, and the writer of historical romances and detective novels Georgette Heyer, I was reflecting that I must explore the writings of Jeffrey Farnol, who has something in common with either:

Here he is summed up by Wickpedia:

‘Jeffery Farnol (10 February 1878 – 9 August 1952) was a British writer from 1907 until his death, known for writing more than 40 romance novels, some formulaic and set in the Georgian Era or English Regency period, and swashbucklers. He, with Georgette Heyer, founded the Regency romantic genre.’

The synopsis of the plot for ‘ Martin Coninsby’s Vengeance’ made me laugh out loud. Here it is, in all its glory:

‘Jeffery Farnol brings back the pirate days of the Spanish Main in this stirring book with a company of picturesque characters. It is a full-blooded, wholesome novel that captivates the reader.
Martin Conisby, sour from his five years of slavery on the Spanish galleon Esmeralda, escapes during a sea fight on to an English ship and makes his way back to England. Seeking revenge on Richard Brandon, who was the cause of his father’s death and his own imprisonment. Broken both in body and spirit, he arrives home disguised as a tramp, just in time to save a beautiful girl from the hands of robber, Lady Jane Brandon, the daughter of the man whom he has sworn to punish.
In the tavern he meets an old friend, Adam Penfeather, who tells him the tale of Black Bartlemy, the infamous pirate, with his treasure buried on a desert island–treasure of magnificent value.’…

I see. I simply have to read that one. It sounds as if it must be a classic following the ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ blood and thunder So Bad Its Good type of reading.

The titles alone are a delight. Here are a few:

The Amateur Gentleman (1913)

The Jade of Destiny (1931)

John o’the Green (1935)

Adam Penfeather, Buccaneer (1940)

The Fool Beloved (1949)

Sorry about the uneven print size.

I have not yet explored the contents of any of Jefferey Farnol’s novels, but from those titles and that synopsis alone, I am willing to take a bet that regarding purple prose and stereotypical characters, they have something in common with the novels of Charles Garvice, writer of  best selling Victorian and Edwardian romantic melodramas.

I may be proved entirely wrong, of course, and they may contain brilliant writing along with the bad – many novels do.

Charles Garvice, to my mind, wrote the worst prose, and created the most cardboard characters, of any writer I have ever encountered. I must admit that Barbara Cartland may be a strong runner up. However, I could only endure reading two of hers. Both were terrible and full of unintentional comedy.

One was about a disguised courtier turned highwayman in the court of Charles II. The other was about an obese, drab haired girl who went into a coma for a year and emerged as a slender ash blonde creature who came over to the UK to work for her own estranged husband, with whom she had been forced into a marriage of convenience, and who didn’t recognise her.

These gave me a pretty good  idea about the value of her literary output. However, as I read these many years ago, and have been unable to track them down,  I don’t feel that I have recently read a fair enough sample of hers to claim to be properly informed.

Regulars of this blog will know of my fascination with Garvice’s works, and how Laura Sewell Mater’s article more or less summed up my own reaction, that she had only to read the few paragraphs on the pages of that Charles Garvice novel she found washed up on a beach on Iceland, to know that the writing was ‘incredibly, almost uniquely, bad’.

Many writers combine both good and bad writing – that is certainly true of Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters –  but they include too much excellent writing ever to come close to vying for the title of a Good Bad Writer, unlike Vulpius with his ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’, Kipling in much of his poetry, Georgette Heyer, and Charles Garvice.