US English and its Continued Use of Forms from Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century UK English

Pamela-1742.png
Mr.  B snooping and being a hypocrite as usual and Pamela being modest. Does he need reading glasses? He seems to suffer from ‘short arm syndrome’. 

It is an interesting fact that US English retains some of the words and expressions of seventeenth and eighteenth century English, which are wrongly thought of as ‘American English’.

For instance, there is use of the word that is commonly now spelt as ‘aint’, but can be found as ‘in’t’ and ‘an’t’.  That was once as common as the modern ‘isn’t’ and only later stigmatized as non-standard English in the UK. You will find it in plays of the Restoration era such as William Congreve’s play ‘Love for Love’ (1696) and in writings by Joanathon Swift.

You will find ‘an’t’  as a matter of interest, in Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’  (1740) and as ‘in’t’ in Fanny Burney’s ‘Evelina’ (1775).

‘Ain’t’ in fact, persisted up to the early nineteenth century, and was used in Pierce Egan’s ‘Life in London’ (1823).

Then, in reading one William Shakespeare, I have come across various expressions seen as quintessentially American, and meaning more or less the same thing as they do today. For instance, ‘trash’ in Julius Caesar, and ‘right now’ in Henry VI Part II.

There is also the use of such expressions as the US ‘Out the’ rather than the UK ‘Out of the’form.

This can be confusing to those not particularly well versed in the development of English, and various readers have taken me  to task for using ‘ US English’ in my novels set in the UK of the eighteenth century.

This Amazon review by an Australian reader of my spoof highwayman romance ‘Ravensdale’ takes this view to extremes, insisting that in the English speaking countries outside the US, the expressions ‘hey’ and ‘for sure’ have never been used:

when Americans write English period novels: or, why you should use a better editor

In fact, ‘hey’ is a very old English exclamation (though not, so far as I know, used as a greeting as in the US), and you need look no further than a nursery rhyme to find it: ie,in the sixteenth century nursery rhyme:  ‘Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle’  .  Again, it features in Shakespeare’s song, ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’  (1598/1599).

As for ‘for sure’ , it is constantly used by Mrs Honour in Henry Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones’  (1749) and also features in Richardson’s ‘Pamela’.

tomjones

And talking about ‘Ravensdale’, for those interested,  it is at the moment free on Amazon.com Here

and Amazon.co.uk  Here  

…And I would like to add that whilst I may sometimes be confused by the content of reviews of my novels, I always appreciate them, good or bad.

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

Dubrovsky cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dubrovsky image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dubrovsky

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors Basing Characters on Real People: Some Examples from Classic Novels

I don’t know how much most authors base their characters on people they have known. I would guess that most combine various characteristics taken from numerous people in real life with some from those they have encountered in fiction to create something original.

A writer observes on this website

https://litreactor.com/columns/keeping-it-real-a-rough-guide-to-using-real-people-as-fictional-characters

‘Fictional characters, especially main characters, almost never behave exactly like real people would.  They’re smarter, more persuasive, more appealing, more sensitive, better looking, stronger, more hot-headed, braver and at least twice as sensual as anyone we’re ever going to share office space or an apartment with. Make your characters too real and the reader will soon lose interest. Give them some real characteristics and they’ll jump out of the page and into your audience’s mind with a single bound.’

As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with all of that. Most people do meet larger than life characters, people who are outstanding in all sorts of ways. It is merely that they are vastly outnumbered by the greater number of smaller than life characters one meets …

It is however true that they probably don’t combine all these fascinating characteristics together.

For instance, perhaps my own best looking character is Reynaud Ravensdale in ‘Ravensdale’ (though some might prefer the looks of Harley Venn in ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns’).  Readers might imagine that I must have invented his appearance, or based it on some idealised portrait.

In fact, a man I knew looked exactly like that,  wide-set, heavy-lidded eyes, Grecian profile, waving chestnut hair and all. He was a petty villain I knew, who was a nice enough guy, but – to put it mildly –  rather stupid.

Reynaud Ravensdale is certainly more of a man of action than a studious type, and decidedly impulsive and given to theatrical gestures, but only stupid about his love object Isabella Murray and her predecessor Georgiana Toothill. Above anything, I wrote him as an ‘Ideal Type’  of the hero of the traditional robber novels like ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ and ‘Dubrovsky.

According to various books and websites, a fair number of writers of classic novels did base their main character roughly on someone they knew in real life, or sometimes, someone whom they knew only slightly. Or it could be, on someone the author had only glimpsed once.

For instance, it seems the appearance of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of d’Ubervilles’ is based on a farm girl Hardy saw, belabouring some unfortunate mount and swearing.

Various pieces of advice on writing such as the website above strongly advise aspiring authors not to make their characters recognisable as real people. Still,  I remember reading that Kingsley Amis deliberately made the ridiculous Professor Welch in his first novel ‘Lucky Jim’ a wounding portrayal of his first father-in-law.   I don’t know if the unlucky man recognised himself.

What is interesting, is that it is a witty portrayal. Many portrayals dictated by malice seem to read as savage rather than amusing.  Also in the same novel, I believe that the Jim character was based on Amis’s friend Philip Larkin.

It seems that Samuel Richardson said he based his character Robert Lovelace from ‘Clarissa’ on the conversation and attitudes of a man he encountered. I only read this in passing in some piece of literary criticism, and find it rather an astounding notion, given the puritanical notions of that author.

Did Richardson encourage this appalling conversation about the seduction and betrayal of a series of innocents?   Was the man possibly self-deluded, boasting of conquests and betrayals that never happened and persuading Richardson to believe his boastful anecdotes?

But, as the characters that authors create are after all a part of our  own psyches, surely a large part of Lovelace was  the dark part of the puritanical Samuel Richardson’s own unconscious mind?  That he managed to keep such a scheming, exuberant, emotionally abusive and finally rapist aspect to his psyche under control is, if so, evidence of what an astonishing job an effective conscience does.

As it was, all Richardson did was write novels which expressly designed to  oppress generations of women with false notions of purity…

I had wondered on whom Oscar Wilde based his infinitely corrupt Dorian Grey in his famous novel. It seems from this website:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/ten-famed-literary-figures-based-on-real-life-people-3537929

that his appearance at least was based on one John Grey, a minor member of his circle . If so, according to the website below,  the fate of this person was vastly different from that of Wilde’s character. John Grey later took holy orders.

Three inch high watercolour of Irishman Thomas Langlois Lefroy painted by leading English miniaturist George Engleheart in 1798

Critics are still undecided on who is the original of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. Some think his appearance at least was based on the  Irish William Lefroy, who admitted in old age to having as a youth been in  love with Jane Austen.

Some authors seem to have shown naivety in believing that characters they had based on people important in their lives could not be recognised by readers as long as they changed a feature here or there…

For instance, when reading the  ‘Forstye Saga’ by John Galsworthy, I noted his besotted, partisan attitude towards the female lead Irene, whose physical and mental attributes seem to be admired by everyone.

I was unsurprised to find out later that the character of Irene, and her marital misfortunes, are based on Galsworthy’s wife (who was previously unhappily married to his cousin).  Galsworthy seems to have thought that if he changed her hair colour from dark to golden, nobody would draw any conclusions about her origin…

Indie Authors: Don’t Give Up On Your Original Voice When Sales Are Bad

https://www.amazon.com/Longbourn-Jo-Baker-ebook/dp/B00CQ1D3BYFive years ago, when I started writing online, I was lucky enough to meet some outstanding writers on Goodreads (I’ve met others since, on Authonomy before it packed up and elsewhere, but here I’m talking about that original base of writer friends).

They were mostly women, varying in age. Some came from my native England, some from the US, and a couple from the Antipodes. Their genre varied, but they all had one thing in common….

They didn’t write formulaic, predictable stories. They broke rules; they used humour; they featured strong female leads (otherwise, I wouldn’t have enjoyed their stories). They were often a bit cross genre, and this was probably one of the reasons why they hadn’t got that elusive contract with an agent or publisher.

They wanted to achieve something original. Yes, they wanted success and sales – who doesn’t? – but above that, they wanted to write with an individual voice and to get readers for the novels that they had loved creating.

In those days, things were a lot easier from the sales point of view. My goodness, back then Amazon hadn’t introduced Amazon Select and Pages Read, both of which have led to a catastrophic fall in sales.

Why, in 2014 my spoof Regency (technically, late Georgian) Romance ‘Ravensdale’ sold thousands – enough for me to take my daughter on holiday to Paris.

It also attracted a good many resentful reviews from readers who disliked their favourite tropes being satirized, however gently, but that is the price of notoriety, and I think most writers, like me, would rather attract sales and public notice than have no controversy, obscurity, and dismal sales.

Incidentally, since the introduction of Amazon’s new sales policies, sales of ‘Ravensdale’ have plummeted. Because it is sinking into obscurity, I have made it free on Smashwords. I have tried to make it free on Amazon, but they ignore me. Here is the Smashwords link for that:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/721130

My own view is, that while it is nice to make money out of writing, that isn’t why I went into it; in fact, that is only the icing on the cake. The reason I went into it, is because I wanted people to read my stuff.

If I – as someone (I hope) at least partially sane – had gone into writing to make a profit out of it, then I’d be writing: ‘The Duke Gets His Breeches Down: Dastardly Duke Series 101’.

That is the way to make high sales and money out of writing.

Most of those writer friends haven’t sold as much as they deserve. But then, if they got their just deserts, they’d be best selling authors.

Sadly, the market doesn’t work like that; the market recognises the price of everything, and the value of nothing, as someone once said.  As often as not, it’s not the talented and original authors who are among the most successful.

Sadly, I think some of them have become discouraged about writing. Some are taking a long break from the whole business of writing and the weary slog of publicity, and finding it a relief. Of course, many of them are very busy; some of them still have children, and a job…The wonder is anyone in that situation produces good work at all.  But I suspect some have been discouraged by mediocre sales, and the lack of a breakthrough.

I personally, think it would be a great loss if they gave up altogether. Rather, I think that if an author is making a pittance from her writing and it has no visibility on the sales ranks on Amazon, she might as well make her books free.

Smashwords will do it happily enough. The problem is Amazon, who seem to turn a deaf ear when it suits them.

However, they have made my first book, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ free. For anyone interested, the new edition, complete with a faster start, is available here https://www.amazon.com/That-Scoundrel-Émile-Dubois-Light-ebook/dp/B00AOA4FN4

and here

By the way, I wouldn’t like to give the impression that all wonderfully original works are doomed to poor sales and lack of public recognition.  Many receive the recognition they deserve (though sometimes it happens after the author is dead).

There is Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’, for instance. What a brilliant work!

I found it such a refreshing change to read a book set in the UK of the Regency era which is about ordinary people – not the aristocracy (the families of approximately 700 men) or the gentry (approximately 1.5 per cent of the population).

But I will be writing a post about that soon. For now, I would like to say that I wish that all of my original writer friends were back to writing again. I miss them.

‘Ravensdale’ by Lucinda Elliot – Just Awarded the B.R.A.G. medallion for Outstanding Self-Published Fiction

brag-medallion-sticker

I’m celebrating on two accounts.

One, I have won a second award.

I’ve just heard I’ve won a B.R.A.G medallion for ‘Outstanding Self-Published Fiction’ for my historical romance spoof ‘Ravensdale’.

That was a lovely Easter present.

Here’s the B.R.A.G award website, for those writers wishing to enter their own work, but even more for those readers, who are always wanted to review books objectively according to the guidelines of the site.

https://www.bragmedallion.com/about

To have your work bonoured – particularly if it’s regarded as ‘too cross genre’ to attract agents and publishers –gives you a sense that it’s all worthwhile after all.

Goodness knows we self-published authors who strive to write to our best standards, often wonder if it is. There’s nothing like a one star review – or two, or yet more, to make you feel that you’re banging your head against a brick wall.

Here’s the link to amazon for ‘Ravensdale’.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JSPXQV8

A couple of awards put matters into perspective.

The second reason I have to be cheerful is that I’m now up to the final part of the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ – which I think I will call ‘Where Worlds Meet’ (I was thinking of ‘Villains and Vampires’ but that is too close to the title of my last spoof, ‘The Villainous Viscount’ and people might confuse the two).

I expect I am typical, in that I love writing this bit best of all, with home in sight. Writing the end of a full length novel is like running the end of a long distance race – I used to love cross country running at school (that was before I filled out fore and aft and it became a lot less comfortable) – where the lungs are heaving and the legs like jelly, but you know you’ll make it.

I don’t know if I’m typical in this, but I suspect I am –  I don’t particularly enjoy writing the middle of a book.  I suspect that it is where you are likely to give up if at all. The biggest effort seems to be required. You have to develop character, maintain reader interest, build conflict, create obstacles, all that sort of thing, and you are no longer fired with that initial enthusiasm.

I did a post on this a few weeks ago.

here

I believe it is known sometimes as ‘The sagging middle syndrome’ and they aren’t referring to the need for a few workouts.

Then, the middle-coming-up-to-the-end is a bit of a killer, too. There you have to do the above, only higher key.

That was the bit where I decided about six weeks back, looking over my work, ‘No point in kidding yourself, thickhead: you’ve gone in the wrong direction’ (and oh yes, I was known to do that in cross country running, too). So I had to backtrack. I thought I’d have to jettison 15,000 words, and some of it I was really pleased with, but there was too weak a series of links, and insufficient conflict, leading to too fast a denouement.

In fact, I found that I could use some of those paragraphs after all, as the writing was appropriate to later on in the story, but not to where I had put it.

All this is horribly familiar to all writers; just when you think you’re near the home run, there’s a home delay.

12618f13And that is one of the good things about being a self-published writer. You don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck with ‘When will it be ready?’ That, of course, was what happened to Elizabeth Gaskell in the third volume of ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’. She had already been writing it for three and a half years and was being harassed by her publishers. That is why she falls into the easy trap of melodrama and co-incidence (fine in a spoof, not in a work that is intended to be serious).

This is a shame, as it weakens the ending; however, despite those drawbacks, ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ is still one of my favourite novels.

Well, there’s still a long way to go, because this is only the first draft for me. You may be sure that my Beta readers will have many painful suggestions, involving extensive rewrites.

…And that can be like running a long distance race in slow motion, or perhaps, backwards.

Moral Transformations of a Scoundrel Through a Good Angel

41ZYpCCMnoL._AA160_EmileDubois-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

At the moment I’m writing a story where the male protagonist is as wicked as Richardson’s Lovelace in ‘Clarissa’. He talks a good deal of reform, claiming that he wants a good woman to help him to reform – but sincerity isn’t exactly his strong point; as neither is a capacity for objective analysis of his own character (that isn’t easy for any of us anyway, and was a rare quality in the unselfconscious eighteenth century) his chosen good angel is in a dismal position indeed.

She is, in fact, in a similar position to Clarissa – she is being told a heap of lies by a scoundrel who delights in his own wickedness, who makes many specious promises while mentally putting off this uncomfortable reformation of character, and the uncomfortable thoughts and changes in lifestyle that must accompany it – until a more convenient time.

Well, I’m not even halfway along with this new gothic, and at the moment progressing through to the end feels like wading through treacle, but I hope to arrive their in due course. One thing is clear, though- the tone of this is a lot darker than that of either of my robber novels, and is much more like the grim humour of ‘Aleks Sager’s Daemon’.

I have in the past rambled about how reading Vulpius, Gaskell etc, and brooding on their revelation of character, especially as regards moral transformation of a ‘bad’ into a ‘good’ person, made me think again about how much revelation of a character’s’ mental life is sufficient to make that character deep and rounded without being as it were, over exposed, how much mystery there should be, how far the narrator should be omniscient in this regard, etc etc.

As I said in my last, too, the depiction by Vulpius of Rinaldo Rinaldini’s mental life and especially his becoming disgusted with his life of violence is patchy, so that he certainly doesn’t come across as a rounded character, with human weaknesses (his passion for women hardly counts). If the author had stuck to the goal of writing an exciting story, what I have seen described as ‘extrovert adventure’ that would be less of a problem – it is only because of Vulpius’ claim that his novel is ‘moral’ and his hero high minded that the reader is struck by this inadequacy.

As I have said elsewhere, this is perfectly illustrated by the fact that Rinaldini manages to be in love with three or four women at once; presumably, this surfeit of lovers is meant to arouse envy in the male reader (whether Vulpius expected to have female readers who must necessarily be less impressed with this fickleness isn’t clear). Intentionally or otherwise, by the end of the novel we still haven’t found out exactly what Rinaldini thinks about, or even what his real intentions were, towards any of these woman.

Rinaldo is, however, shown gradually becoming disgusted by his life as a ‘Captain of Branditti’ rather than suddenly transformiing as a result of falling in love with his virtuous maiden, though this disillusionment with life as a robber seems to be originally inspired by his meeting with Aurelia. At first, he appears to delude himself about how he can deceive her about his previous character if he can escape with her.

When he finds out that Aurelia is being sent to a nunnery – whether willingly or not is far from clear – he says he will ‘bring about the contrary’ and lays plans for his men to seize the carriage and bring her to him. This is foiled, however, by an attack on his band by government troops.

As I said in a previous post, his intentions when he and his band attack her wicked husband Count Rozzio’s castle are far from clear – it is uncertain whether he intends to abduct her or not – but after her plea to be allowed to join her mother in a nunnery, he escorts her there and his outburst: ‘Now I feel what I am!’ is presumably meant to indicate a dawning realisation that no idealistic girl is going to like his chosen career.

It is only towards the end of the novel, when Rinaldo is on the run from both the Old Man of Fronteja and his old associates as well as the government authorities that he seems to be willing to put much effort into breaking away from his fellow bandits – but all his efforts to escape to a life of tranquility are foiled by the ubiquitous Old Man who insists that it is Rinaldo’s fate to become a military hero. As I have said too, the moral conversion aspect is dealt with rather sketchily, but it is at least demonstrated as a gradual process.

Dislike Richardson’s Pamela as I do – and the author really has achieved something to make me dislike a young girl powerless and trapped by a lecherous employer and potential rapist – she can’t be accused of not having a vivid mental life, a defect very obvious in Mr B, the anti hero whose moral transformation she achieves.

In Richardson, as in Vulpius, a reader should expect the writer’s depiction of character to be limited by the understanding of the age in which they lived (the only exception to this limitation appearing to be – of course – Shakespeare).

As for Richardson’s rake who reforms – Mr B – he is always seen ‘from the outside’. We never know what he thinks except in so far as he reveals it through his speeches. These, for the most part, are a lot of self justifying nonsense, so one assumes his thoughts are on the same lines, along with a lot of pornographic visualisation of Pamela’s lovely bosom and ‘sweet shape’.

We see him only through Pamela’s naïve eyes, first as a black hearted wretch and then as her fiancé and ‘Dear Master’. It was fairly astute of Richardson not to include any confiding letters from Mr B in the novel; if we knew what he was thinking the plot wouldn’t work so well. Still, he remains a largely unrealized character, only just adequate for the part that he plays.

Though Mr B accepts that he has been wrong about Pamela, how far this acknowledgement of her virtue and softening towards her is meant to illustrate a general moral change is far from clear. Mr B’s moral reformation is rather questionable, like his character.

Usually, Jane Austen’s heroines are charming and a pleasure to read about. It us unfortunate that the most virtuous of them, Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, who is meant to be a personification of kindness and virtue, comes across as priggish and prudish, so horrified by the thought of an elopement that she likes awake shaking with disgust all night.

When the immoral, heartless flirt Henry Crawford (as near a character to a villain as you are likely to meet in Jane Austen, along with the ‘W’ team, Willoughby and Wickham) decides to trifle with her feelings, he ends up genuinely falling for her, a delightful touch. She is cold to him throughout, much preferring the virtuous and bland Edmund Bertram.

Yet, Henry Crawford ‘s passion for the strict Ms Price does come across as genuine – as his being persuaded into a lukewarm elopement with the former Maria Bertram does not.

I have to join with Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra in wishing that the author had brought a repentant Henry Crawford to win Fanny Prices’ grudging affection – so unfortunately, I must be open to accusations of being a romantic.

Henry Crawford’s mental processes are only vaguely touched on by the author. From what one learns of them, one gets the impression she is puzzled by such a superficial man, though heartily disapproving. His basic motivational forces seem to be a combination of vanity, cynicism and laziness.

His attempt at moral conversion seems to have been mainly inspired by a desire to win Fanny Price. We do hear that he loved her ‘deeply as well as passionately’ and that he could have won her love had he been more persistent in his attempt to be virtuous, and this gave me at least a feeling of regret that the story ends as it does.

Henry Crawford, then, is the only character in Jane Austen who comes near to being a villain who attempts a moral transformation, and he fails dismally.

Mr Darcy has a moral transformation – but he is no villain; priggish and ungracious he may be – but he is always a Good Man, though Elizabeth thinks that he is capable of treachery.

The later, infinitely less skilled (though best selling) writer of romances in the late Victorian era, Charles Garvice, portrays his characters’ mental lives almost as sketchily as Vulpius a century earlier. In that strange combination of boys’ adventure story and sentimental romance that makes up ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ we know very little of the thoughts of Lord Heriot Fayne, the said outcast.

This hero is given a basic motivation for a rebellion which doesn’t seem to be owing to a clash of ideas but rather on a sense of outrage at being neglected by his parents.

As to what goes on his head, perhaps not much does, as we only hear of it in crisis points of the novel; for instance, when falling in love with the heroine Eva he decides that he must reform, and at once. He paces about, thinking so hard that his face becomes haggard with the unaccustomed effort. After some mental and facial contortions, he decides that he must break away from his decadent companions and their habit of drinking hard, brawling in music halls and betting on racecourses and sets off on foot to earn his living for the first time as an itinerant musician.

As I have said in an earlier post, the country air and living with country folk appears to cause a moral change in him – after a few weeks he ‘feels a change’ and stops being bad.

So that’s it – that’s the thing to do with ruffianly young men, then! Set ‘em off on a healthful tramp in the countryside as semi tramps to earn a living as buskers. Well, it makes a change from suggesting a return to the use of national service or flogging.

Leaving aside the absurdities of this peculiar cure, what is interesting here is that this popular author gives us only occasional glimpses into the workings of Heriot Fayne’s brain – and here he may be wise, for the little we do see is hardly riveting. Though the character is described as having an ‘acute gaze’ which can assess the selfishness of Eva’s father in a glance, this strange penetration isn’t accompanied by any originality of thought or moral reflection.

In fact, while Vulpius’ earlier Rinaldo Rinaldini can hold his own when discussing a moral conundrum we may be sure that Garvice’s Heriot Fayne would come out with a lot of clichés in which any idea of questioning accepted conventional moral standards would find no place. Eva is good and pure; Lord Fayne has been a naughty boy and disgraced his family; he can only find moral redemption through reverting to some state of innocence and going in for dramatic episodes of heroic self-sacrifice.

Meanwhile, Eva, though in no need of moral redemption, is also busy sacrificing herself like anything for her selfish father in agreeing to marry a man she doesn’t like, but again we only see the external symptoms of this – her white face, her dropping her head on her arms, her occasional fainting fits. As we are told she is already perfect, there can be no development of her character – except possibly in her understanding of evil in the machinations of the scheming villain which are exposed at the ending.

The moral reformation of villainous characters then, is a complex issue and difficult to portray convincingly. Did their rebellion against moral norms come as part of a general – and very likely, commendable – rebellion against convention and hypocritical moral standards? Is their violence – or their collusion in violence – any worse than that of their respectable peers? If the wicked rogue’s wish to reform is bound up with falling in love with a Conventional Good Angel, surely it must be the beginning of a long and gradual process?

When he came to write ‘Clarissa’ Richardson seems to have realized this; of course, Lovelace is meant to be morally far worse than Mr B and unlike Mr B, Lovelace ends up in raping the heroine (though I have never believed Mr B’s absurd excuses in ‘Pamela in Her Exalted Condition’ where he claims that the thought of raping Pamela never crossed his mind). Besides this he has forcefully abducted and forced himself on a woman before ‘…We loved each ohter…It’s cruel to ask a woman if she’s willing…’ This self-delusion is typical of Lovelace’s slippery character, and shows a great advance in Richardson’s understanding of character in general. This one that might well be put down to the advice of his circle of female critics and admirers (generally, and possibly mistakenly, dismissed as foolish sycophants).

The instant desire for moral transformation of Garvice’s flawed heroes (Heriot Fayne is only one of many) through the love of an innocent girl is highly unconvincing. Mr B’s moral transformation seems to have an equally questionable basis, while Henry Crawford disgraces himself by falling in love with an innocent girl and wanting to change but only making a nominal effort to reform before falling by the wayside. Shame on the cad! That did disappoint me; I would have loved to see the brilliant Jane Ausen writing about the successful moral transformation of a rogue.

Those, anyway, were some ideas that influenced me when I had my own villainous hero – Émile Dubois, decide that after meeting his ‘Goody Two Shoes’ Sophie de Courcy, he will ‘put his horrible past behind him’. It is a very difficult subject to approach with humour and a lack of sentimentality, even in a Gothic novel – but, don’t think I don’t love a story where a bad person reforms, as I do – it’s just that I like it, even in a Gothic novel, to be credible.

By the end of the story (after a striking relapse as he briefly turns into a semi monster) he has progressed far enough under the influence of ‘his angel’ Sophie to suggest to his companion in arms Georges that it is ‘High time we reformed – comparatively.’

I am a great believer in the ability of love to transform lives and to transcend social barriers of all sorts – but change for almost everyone is generally a gradual process, however dramatic the moment when a person resolves to make the effort to make that change.

So, it did seem to me that even in writing a Gothic romance a certain scepticism about how quickly the worship of a Good Angel can reform a scoundrel was in order.

Emile, of course, is only ever ‘seen from the outside’ (I used that ploy to make him the more sinister as a scheming semi monster in the middle of the novel). As a human he is generally truthful – except for to the forces of law and order –
the reader can assume that he usually says what he means and means what he says – and he his quite sincere in wanting his good angel to reform him. As an adolescent in ‘Ravensdale’ he even tells his cousin Reynaud Ravensdale that he intends to allow just such a ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes’ as Sophie to help him to undertake his reform, and in the meanwhile he owes it to this paragon to be as rascally as possible, so that she will be cheated of none of the credit for his transformation.

But Emile Dubois and Reynaud Ravensdale are essentially open hearted rogues, and have a basic respect for women. My current male lead does not, any more than did Richardson’s Robert Lovelace; and that is the difference.

The (Must Have) Devoted Follower in the Classic Robber Novel

Ravensdale-300x200(1)EmileDubois-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalimagesThe dashing hero – or anti hero – of classical robber novels has to have a Devoted Follower.  It’s a must have accessory.

For instant Rinaldo Rinaldini has the ruffianly Ludovico. Pushkin’s Dubrovsky, by contrast, is spoilt for choice – all his band, who consist of his former serfs, are devoted. Perhaps the former blacksmith Arhip is best fitted for the role.

George Orwell in ‘Homage to Catalonia’ described the sort of man perfectly, I think – ‘The sort of man who would commit murder and die for a friend’. Personally, I have a great deal of sympathy for such an attitude – I find it in some ways far more understandable than cold calculation, a limited loyalty and an aloof moral attitude.

Accordingly, my own characters Émile Dubois and his cousin Reynaud Ravensdale, must have a devoted fellow scoundrel, too.

Georges Durrand is a handsome with his curly black hair, flashing dark eyes, devastating profile and muscular build, and can’t get over it. His self indulgent philandering in the days in Paris when he and Émile are running rival groups of robbers is notorious.

Just as the cynical Émile meets his fate in his ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes’ Sophie de Courcy, so Georges meets Sophie’s pretty, Tarot reading maid. Both of them, however, give in to temptation with another woman and accordingly end up as Man Vampires, and a menace to the women who they love.

I must admit, I thought Georges would have more admirers than he has acquired so far – unless women readers who find him appealing prefer to keep quiet about having a liking for such a ruffian (true, Émile is very violent, too, but his savagery is to some extent diluted by his intellect – Georges might be called an ideal type of a ruffian).

On the same topic, some readers have said how they admire Émile for going in to a fight to the death with Kenrick and his own devoted follower Arthur Williams to protect Sophie and the other women in his household; this when he knows as he does, having lost most of his inhuman strength that the chances are massively against him.

Yet only a couple of reviewers have commented n the heroism Georges shows when he joins Emile in that desperate fight; for while it’s certainly partly through devotion to Emile – and to protect all the women in their house, too – it’s mainly to protect Agnes, who at this point refuses to have anything to do with him.

Georges deserves some credit for unselfish devotion…

While Georges, though no intellectual, is a suitably efficient and unscrupulous partner in crime, fellow bandit and highwayman for Émile, Émile’s cousin Reynaud Ravensdale, another highwayman (the family is rather given to taking up that occupation) is a good deal less lucky in his own Devoted Follower, Jem Higgins, otherwise known as Longface. Longface is ineffectual, and has the most infuriating habit of leading the thief takers and Bow Street Runners directly to his master. Ravensdale longs to get rid of him…

rapejokes

My Family’s Herat Book Tour and Extract from ‘Ravensdale’

51iQa6lLcOL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_myfamilyheartbutton

My Family’s Heart Book Reviews are running a book tour for my book ‘Ravensdale’ this week. I’d like to thank Tonya and Everyone.

Here’s an extract from ‘Ravensdale’.

Mr Fox stole towards a back garden separated from the park by a ha-ha*. Jumping the ditch, he vanished amongst the shrubs and bushes. Longface, following more cautiously, nearly twisted his ankle.

Suddenly, Mr Fox sprang behind a bush. Longface leapt behind a lilac tree. The strapping wench who’d floored Filthy Fred came round the side of the house, holding a pair of pistols, and made for a target fixed to one of the shrubs.

She wore a pale lemon dress with matching floppy bonnet contrasting with her dark mane of carelessly piled up black hair. Longface supposed that she looked quite pretty. The sight of her had an astounding effect on his companion, who reeled on his feet and ogled like a madman.

She went over to a bench, and began to load the pistols. Longface shuddered. She got into difficulty with the wadding in the first, and after struggling for a while, shocking Longface with her language, threw it on the bench and marched about the rose garden in her rage.

Here Mr Fox showed the full extent of his madness. He stole up to the bench, and using a stone, hammered the wadding securely into place, darting back as the girl turned.
Longface awaited detection. On seeing that the pistol had been loaded, the girl merely raised her eyebrows, smiled, and moved towards the target. Longface, behind a bush nearby, threw himself to the ground, covering his head with his arms. The shot rang out. Looking up, he saw that she had shot through the centre of the target and was smiling happily.
Longface, startled at how charming her smile was, dreaded its affect on the deranged Mr Fox, who quivered and seemed about to have a fit.

The next hour was both dull and nerve racking. The besotted outlaw dodged from bush to shrub, yearning eyes fixed on the hoyden, while she practiced her shooting, singing happily as she loaded the pistol, swearing savagely when she bungled her aim.
Longface dreaded that she must see one of them, but Mr Fox was good at concealing himself. Once he sprang behind a bush at the back of which Longface had already rolled. One of his booted feet came down on Longface’s favourite neck cloth. Longface felt at his last gasp when his tormentor finally moved, tearing it and leaving Longface panting.

At last, a maid came out to speak to the girl. In frozen horror, Longface heard the words, ‘Mr Ravensdale’. Could this be the cousin whom the rumour went had been involved in the then Viscount’s disgrace?

Miss Isabella agreed to be led in, the maid fussing about her heavy dark hair tumbling down, one piece having snaked as far as her waist. On her way into the house, Mr Fox’s goddess dropped a lace edged handkerchief. Of course, as soon as she had gone in, he darted to snatch it up, sniffing it ecstatically and fondling it as if it were the girls’ own flesh.

Then he staggered over to a tree, and beating his head on it, muttered of ‘Outlaw’ ‘Cozened, by Hell and the Devil!’ ‘Brigandage’ and ‘Disgrace’. Longface’s embarrassment at this display was swept away in fear that the Young Hothead might do himself an injury.

He also wondered vaguely if he was Disgraced himself. The emotional effect was the same, but as after his father’s ruin his goods amounted to half a donkey and a pound in silver, the practical effects weren’t. Meggie was lucky to have had any solvent man offer for her after it, even if her husband was a misery.

He started forward to stop Fox just as the outcast pulled away from the tree. Then he stole round the side of the house. Here great windows opened on to a long terrace. With bleeding forehead and wild eyes, he hid behind one of the rhododendrons, staring across at the windows, one being that of a drawing room. Longface feared even more for his sanity, wondering if they would ever leave.

After a while, the Disgraced Earl’s patience was rewarded. Several family members came into the room, including the hoyden, now dressed for dinner in ivory silk, her hair up again. She did look well, and the outcast groaned aloud. Longface’s fears were confirmed at the appearance of an upright, tall, vigorous young man with bright brown hair and handsome features who could almost have been the outlaw’s twin.
A woman’s voice came stridently over the lawn, repeating, ‘Mr Ravensdale’ as if she could never say it often enough. Soon, this other Ravensdale came up to the piano near the window and Miss Isabella sat down to accompany him while he sang in a fine baritone:

‘Where’er you walk, cool glades shall fan the glade;
Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade;
Where’er you tread, the blushing flowers shall rise,
And all things flourish, where you turn your eyes…’*

Mr Fox writhed. Longface felt his pain. Miss Isabella laughed with his cousin as they finished the song, and so the outlaw’s torment wore on.

Then Edmund Ravensdale came out onto the terrace to take a turn in the air alone.

Now the outlaw’s hand crept to this pistol, and he took aim. The only thing that stopped Longface from throwing himself on him was a strange sense, he knew not from where – that something of the sort had happened before with Reynaud Ravensdale and turned out badly. He stared frozen instead.

Then his chief put his hand on the rumpskuttle’s handkerchief and thrust his pistol back into his belt. His cousin went back in. The robber turned away hunched. On his way back towards his horse, he murmured once:

‘Ye Gods, and is there no relief from Love?…
On me love’s fiercer flames forever prey,
By night he scorches, as he burns by day.’

Longface, dolefully chewing on a piece of grass, muttered, ‘He’s gone fairly off his chump.”

After a few more steps, Mr Fox stopped. So did Longface, but the other, without troubling to turn round, called him.
Sheepishly, Longface approached. He was astounded that his chief had seen him when he had been hiding so skillfully. Still, Mr Fox had sharp eyes, so needed in their trade.
Fox was too distracted even to be angry. He swallowed. “Now you know.”

Longface met his eyes, and turned away. “I’m sorry,” he offered. He had once known the torments of love himself.
On their long, silent ride back to the inn, Longface tried to think of some comforting words to say, but found none. Perhaps, ‘There must be other strapping wenches with gipsyish looks and a liking for fisticuffs and shooting,’ wasn’t tactful. To suggest Kate’s cure might spark off a fit of rage. So, he kept a discreet silence, fingering his torn neck cloth.

As they drew into the inn yard, Longface’s chief spoke. “We’ve got our prize; Jack is to Town. Now is your chance to retire into respectability, Longface, as I’m going for a respectable occupation myself.” To Longface’s amazement, he grinned.

Late that night, when all was still in The Huntsman, Reynaud Ravensdale appeared downstairs, light in hand, looking for something. He searched first in the bar, then in the kitchen. At last his eyes fell on the brown bottle of the pedlar’s cure, also known as The Famed and Marvellous Elixir, which stood next to the teapot. Finding a big spoon, he gulped down a large dose. Then he stood, waiting for the result.

This came speedily. His eyes widened, his face drained of colour, his breathing quickened and he swallowed and looked very ill for the next five minutes. Finally, recovering enough to speak, he swore heartily, poured the bottle down the sink, and trudged back to bed.

The Original Robber Novels

Rinaldo looking poshRinaldo reclining
These last few months I’ve been doing some reading up on classic robber novels as a background for my spoof Historical Romance (why do I always type ‘Hysterical Romance’? Is it Freudian?) on the tired theme of Disgraced Earl Wrongly Accused of Murder Longs to Clear His Name but Meanwhile Turns Brigand.

Of course, the oldest story of an (unfairly) disgraced Earl turning brigand is Robin Hood, and that probably dates back to the thirteenth century, possibly before. However, the stories of Robin Hood were folk tales and oral poems long before they were written down, let alone put in the form of a novel.

I’d say ‘The History of Rinaldo Rinaldini’ is the oldest of the ones I’ve read so far – it dates back to 1798.

Frederich Schilller’s play ‘Die Raüber’ was, I think even earlier, written in the 1780’s though not performed until later if I remember correctly. It sets a lot of the classic themes – a Conniving Relative taking advantage of the Wild Young Aristocrat’s Bad Reputation to frame him for something he didn’t do, the surrounding of a robber band by government troops, the innocent girl who loves and is loved by the brigand, etc.

There’s a wonderful melodramatic scene in it which I’ve borrowed for my spoof ‘Ravensdale’ where the Conniving Relative paces, tormented by bad conscience, in a gallery hung with family portraits.

The History of Rinaldo Rinaldini then is probably the oldest robber novel. It is written in the Gothic tradition, and is melodramatic and to spare.

There is a hero Byronic before the term was invented, dashing, handsome, and brave, but tormented by guilt and his inability to escape his destiny as Chief of Bandits; there are ruined castles, a strange atmosphere of magic surrounding one of the characters, a guru known as The Old Man of Fronteja’, fixed battles between government troops or between rival brigands, a woman is kept captive in a dungeon accessible by a secret passage – it’s never explained why her wicked husband goes to such lengths rather than just caddishly deserting her – but anyway, she’s rescued by Rinaldo and his fellow brigand Ludovico (there’s some wonderful names in this!).

I was pleased to come across two stock characters I used myself in my Gothic ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ too, in the Ruffianly Devoted Follower (Ludovico in this, Georges in mine) and the Sinister Siren (Olympia in this, Ceridwen in mine). I didn’t have a secret passage leading to a dungeon in that – curses – nor does one feature in ‘Ravensdale’, but I’ll have to remember it as a Gothic cliché for future use.

Rinaldo is meant to be very intelligent, and for sure he does read sometimes, unusually in a robber chief. He can debate philosophical issues with a vengeance, and in fact, when we first meet him he is suffering from one of his periodic fits of conscience. I was struck by how excellent the writing is in this opening sentence, but unfortunately, here, as so often, the writing and action deteriorates into melodrama bordering on farce:

‘The boisterous winds rolled over the Appenines like the mountain waves of the ocean; and the lofty oaks bowed their lofty heads to the storm. Rinaldo and Altarverde had kindled a fire beneath a rock, and sat sheltered in a narrow dell….

Rinaldo: Once I was an innocent boy; but now –
Altarverde: You are in love.
Rindaldo: I am a Captain of Banditti…
Alterverde: Since you have been in love, one can hardly say a word to you…Have you not often been a more powerful protector of right and justice than the magistrates?…
Rinaldo: I tell you I can neither approve nor boast of my actions; and even should some of them be thought to deserve applause, yet the bad ones are far more numerous, and will doubtless some day bring me to the scaffold…’

I would say of many parts of this novel that it’s so bad, it’s good. For instance, the meeting in a ruined castle between Rinaldo and a leader of a rival group of banditti, Baptistello (another wonderful name) who has no problem in admitting to his feelings of inferiority:

Baptistello: I am Baptistello, captain of a formidable band of men who are the terror of the whole country…I am jealous of your fame; and this encounter can only end in the destruction of one of us.

After a hard fight, the cad tries to cheat by drawing a pistol, but it misfires, and Rinaldo shoots him through the head and goes back to the arms of Rosalia, a gypsy girl whom he has bought as a slave but to whom he gallantly offers her freedom. She, needless to say, is already too much in love with him to be anything but a slave in fact if not in deed.

Rinaldo isn’t always so chivalrous; his treatment of a countess who, along with her party, mocks his reputation (he is in one of his infallible disguises) is a rather shabby:

Rinaldo: You wished to see something of Rinaldini; you see him now…I have complied with your wish, and you must comply with mine, that of possessing your watches, your rings, and the trifling sum of one hundred sequins…’

I thought that was very ungallant of him, and one assumes she has hurt his pride. It is perhaps significant that he usually passes himself off as a baron or count, though he describes his origins as that of a ‘herder of goats’.

At other times as he can be very tender in his relations with women (even if he does somehow manage to be in love with three – possibly four, at once), as in his seeing a picture of (one of) his true loves, another countess, Dianora, who, like Aurelia before her, has screamed and fainted on learning that he is a bandit, and afterwards left him in horror and repentance: ‘He hurried to the picture (of the countess), took it from the wall, and kissed it with ardour…’

When he finds out that Dianora has fled from him again, poor Rinaldo decides to kill himself, but his arm refuses to work and he sees a sinister black figure who has started to give him moral sermons regarding him sternly.

As these black robed figures, who cart about an assortment of joined skeletons by way of props, are subsequently revealed to be another crew of robbers, it is far from clear how their leader managed to effect this magic.

I wish I was an expert enough at IT to copy over the two illustrations which accompany this splendidly lurid classic which I could only obtain by buying on Amazon (the British library’s copy is reference only). It depicts a man with the most over developed thighs supporting a fainting woman with an astoundingly developed bosom, looking at her face with tender concern and showing a noble Grecian profile (it is interesting that this is in fact how Rinaldo is described in the book).

Meanwhile, the Old Man closes in inexorably, and now it is revealed that he has even recruited Rinaldo’s devoted follower Ludovico into his group dedicated to the overthrow of French rule in Corsica. I have to say, I had doubts about this. Ludovico strikes me as being the sort of villain who is devoted to individuals, not to abstract notions.

Anyway, poor Rinaldo hears that Rosalia is dead,and becomes even more despondent. He has no wish to find everlasting fame as a military leader, but wants either to live in seclusion or die.

Next Post:
Rinaldo Rinaldino and Classic Robber Novels Part Two.