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.
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…
I 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:
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.
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.
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too. If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make a heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
That is, of course, a 1910 poem by the arch spokesman for the expansionist phase of the British Empire, Rudyard Kipling.
The wisdom in it might astonish many – when I first read it, it astonished me – and that is one of the contradictions to be found in Kipling’s writing. It was written as advice to his son, advocating macho Victorian stoicism.
Incredibly in the modern age, perhaps as a result of reading Victorian and Edwardian writers from an early age, I do still believe in those notions of honour – though from the politically opposite perspective. It goes without saying that I think he should have addressed that poem to his surviving daughter, too: ‘Then you’ll be a woman, my daughter’…
It is tragic that John Kipling died very young – too young to have yet been in the sort of situations Kipling describes, save, undoubtedly, where he met his death during the Battle of Loos in 1915 in World War 1. Unfortunately, it seems too likely that he died very painfully of a facial wound. His poor eyesight had led to his being rejected from the navy and twice from the army, and he had only been recruited when his father had written to Lord Roberts requesting that he be accepted into the Irish Guards.
It might surprise readers of this blog to see me quoting an advocate of the zenith of British Imperialism, racism and macho ideology. Yet, his style beguiles; his style beguiles wonderfully. The fact that I don’t agree with any of Kipling’s ideas makes him no less a wonderful example of what George Orwell dubs a ‘good bad poet’ in my eyes, with a genius for concise expression and complete but appealing vulgarity.
Who else could have written, ‘An’ the dawn comes up like thunder’? That phrase is purely brilliant and wholly coarse.
Georges Orwell’s astute essay on Kipling can be found here
‘Kipling is a jingo imperialist; he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.’
On Kipling’s defence of imperialism, Orwell observes:
‘Tawdry and shallow though it is, Kipling’s is the only literary picture that we possess of nineteenth-century Anglo-India, and he could only make it because he was just coarse enough to be able to exist and keep his mouth shut in clubs and regimental messes…’
Orwell, who, unlike many of Kipling’s most dismissive critics, had experienced military action (on the side of the democrats in the Spanish Civil War)and had known such clubs as a member of the Burma Imperial Police, and had read Kipling’s works, notes that, while furiously right wing, Kipling was not, in fact, as uncritical of authority and militarism as is sometimes assumed. While upholding the status quo and the glory of imperialist conquest, he also criticized it realistically:-
‘He knows that bullets hurt, that under fire everyone is terrified, that the ordinary soldier never knows what the war is about.’
Owell notes that: –
‘Kipling’s romantic ideas about England and the Empire might not have mattered if he could have held them without having the class-prejudices which at that time went with them. If one examines his best and most representative work… one notices that what more than anything else spoils them is an underlying air of patronage. Kipling idealizes the army officer, especially the junior officer, and that to an idiotic extent, but the private soldier, though lovable and romantic, has to be a comic.’
Orwell observes about enjoyment of the poems of Kipling something which can be applied to other famous writers who are as politically and aesthetically indefensible and as popular as he once was: –
‘At his worst, and also his most vital, in poems like ‘Gunga Din’ or ‘Danny Deever’, Kipling is almost a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life. But even with his best passages one has the same sense of being seduced by something spurious, and yet unquestionably seduced. Unless one is merely a snob and a liar it is impossible to say that no one who cares for poetry could get any pleasure out of such lines as: ‘For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple bells they say, Come you back, you British soldier, come you back to Mandalay!’
This is highly astute.
When I was re-reading this essay, it occurred to me that much of what George Orwell says of Kipling, arguably applies to Georgette Heyer, that creator of an artificial Golden Era from that most turbulent period of violent social change, the time of the Regency in the UK. She can also seduce the reader into revelling in this wholly artificial fantasy world, so vividly and often humorously portrayed.
This writer, who along with Jeffrey Farnol, arguably created the ‘Regency Romance’, is Kipling’s equal in reactionary and racist convictions. This may be less obvious to those of her UK readers who would rather not see this, and even invisible to those non UK readers who are not aware of the subtleties of the traditional British class system, but it is undoubtedly true.
Heyer’s characters are equally cardboard cut-outs, and her working people are portrayed with a similar condescension. Her servants are almost invariably comic characters, her heroes titled aristocrats, her heroines from the gentry. Her whole work is informed by snobbery and a terror of democracy, to the point where she created a High Tory paradise out of the era of the French Revolutionary Wars.
Yet, it possesses just that ‘tawdry appeal’ that George Orwell notes in that of Kipling. Like him, and like P G Wodehouse, she has created a world that never existed, and reinterprets history from a highly static and consensus oriented perspective.
So addictive do many of her admirers find her works, that they will return to them again and again as comfort reading.
I would argue that many aspects of Georgette Heyer’s imaginary world are possibly as morally insensitive and even as ‘aesthetically disgusting’ as much of Kipling (to give just one example; in one of her most popular novels ‘Devil’s Cub’, the heroine is happy to marry her would be rapist, indeed, grateful to him for proposing). Arguably, too, the pleasure that can be obtained from her works is of much the same order – that ‘almost shameful pleasure’ which can be had from cheap sweets.
That, anyway, was how Heyer’s writing affected me. I suspect that to be true of many of her readers, and the defensive ‘So there’ tone adopted in countless reviews may even be inspired by a partial realization of this ‘sensation of having been seduced by something spurious’.
I am not saying that it is wrong to enjoy reading a bit of escapist nonsense now and then; I do it myself. What I am saying is that there is everything wrong with pretending that the nonsense in question is work of outstanding literary value, and even going on to discover feminist role models in heroines, whose rebellions invariably dissolve in the arms of the hero at the end. This is what far too many otherwise discerning critics who have a weakness for Heyer’s historical romances try to attempt.
It may seem incongruous to compare the work of a writer of romances with Kipling, the most unthinkingly macho of poets, and yet they have many similarities both in outlook, and in the nature of their appeal. One appeals to one-sided masculinity in men, one to one-sided femininity in women.
Theirs is the appeal of the security exuded by the aggressive conservative who can write vivid prose. Both can write enticingly, gliding along the superficial surfaces of experience, and can also somehow pass off the preposterous as believable, and can make their visions into a sort of security blanket for those eager for a fix of historical romantic escapism.
Back to that wonderfully analytical George Orwell (though, as a self consciously masculine writer – in fact, an appallingly sexist one -you may be sure that being forced to read Georgette Heyer would have featured as torment in his ultimate torture chamber, Room 101). Here he defines the appeal of Kipling’s verse. It may be my dyslexic brain, but it is easy for me to see how these arguments can be applied to Heyer’s prose: –
‘The fact that such a thing as good bad poetry can exist is a sign of the emotional overlap between the intellectual and the ordinary man. The intellectual is different from the ordinary man, but only in certain sections of his personality, and even then not all the time. But what is the peculiarity of a good bad poem? A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form — for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things — some emotion which very nearly every human being can share. ..however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is ‘true’ sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later; and then, if you happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better than it did before. ..’
That certainly explains why the poem ‘If’ appeals to me.
Why Georgette Heyer’s work by contrast has so little appeal to me- even when detaching it, with infinite difficulty, from its highly conservative bias – is another question, and one to which I will be returning several times in the future in this blog.
It may be less the work itself, than the affect which it has on the readership. Regrettably, if online discussions are anything to go by, many of her readers, lacking a base of historical knowledge, seem to confuse her world with that of the genuine Regency UK and even regard reading her books as a substitute for reading real history. This leads to what amounts to a subtle form of Heyer Brainwashing, where they see that age through her own High Tory rose coloured glasses.
Very few people today, apart from outright fascists, think that Kipling’s view of Colonial South Africa, say, was impartial, and to express admiration for his world view would regarded as disgusting. Yet, that analytical attitude is not extended to Heyer. This may partly be because historical romance and murder mysteries have traditionally been excluded from serious literary consideration. There is accordingly, very little literary criticism of Heyer, and so far as I know, only one book on the subject. This oversight may also be because the snobbery and racism in her work is less blatant than it is in Kipling’s.
More of all this, and the similarities between P G Wodehouse and Heyer, later. On this, and on Heyer and trivialisation in popular understanding of UK late eighteenth/early nineteenth century history, I have been anticipated several times. Here’s one blog post, by the late writer and historian MM Bennets. here
I have always admired this author’s writing, and I am really pleased that this novel is now available on Amazon. I only occasionally read YA, but I really enjoyed this one.
Excellent! I was really impressed.
This novel combines lively action, humour, vivid descriptions and characterisation in an expertly woven creepy supernatural adventure alternated with prosaic high school life in a small Yorkshire town.
There is a curse on a house by Tinker’s Wood, and it must begin and end with a death.
When new neighbours move next door to the protagonist Daisy May and her mother, something re-activates it from its decades long sleep.
This is a spine chilling story, and a funny and a sad one. It’s full of action and vivid descriptions, tersely recounted. I was hooked from the moment I read of foul Mr Braithwate, and his habitual saluation to all – with two fingers.
The protagonist Daisy is a delight; unlike so many heroines,who leave all the wise cracking to the boys, she even retains her wicked sense of humour after she falls in love (I don’t think it’s writing a spoiler to say that she does that ) and retains her sense of identity, too. She’s tender and tough if a bit diffident. She comes from a one parent family, and they’re hard up, and she has to work to help out, but she doesn’t whinge.
Daisy has normal teenage concerns – whether or not to agree to her boyfriend, the school’s prize athlete Fred, taking things further: after all, she’s sixteen now and, they’ve been going out for a couple of years…
But she is dismayed to find herself unaccountably attracted to the new boy in town, Will Mckenzie, soon to become an object of fascination among her friend group. Daisy, who blames him for allowing her dog to be run over, is in a quandary about her mixed feelings over him.
This male lead, Will, is as lovable a hero as Daisy is a heroine – even when he turns Daisy’s life upside down,you have to love him. Daisy is puzzled as to how she comes to attract two of the most desired boys in the school; the reader sees it as evidence of her attractive personality.
The pace is quick, the characters real, the humour perfectly balances the grim happenings, and I found it – here’s a cliche – ‘A real page turner’.
The story begins with the body of the unpleasant Mr Braithwaite being taken from the house next door, where he has lived alone since the mysterious disappearance of his wife many years ago. This sets Daisy off on a new activity for her – ‘curtain twitching’.
She has never spied on him before, as: ‘He had nothing to show me except for his slow crawl into urine-scented senility. There was more entertainment to be had watching bananas slowly rotting in a fruit bowl.’
But then the McKenzies move in and Daisy becomes fascinated by what is going on in the house. What makes Will act so oddly when he is in his room, and why does he feel the need to avoid going home? How does all this tie in with the story her Grandfather tells her, of the disappearance of an encampment of gypsies from Tinker’s Wood at about the same time of Mrs Braithwaite’s disappearance?
Try it yourself. You won’t want to put it down (I didn’t, and sadly I’m no YA).
Finally, here are a few of my favourite quotes.
“Death to begin it.” The whisper tore my eyelids open and made me spin round with a gasp. It was so close I could have sworn I’d felt the whisperer’s breath tickle my ear. I stared hard into the blackness but there was nobody there. Nobody at all. I heard the fear in my own uneven breathing. The Braithwaite light surged again, flooding the lane with a brief light and sending the same shooting pain into my temple. “Death to end it.’
‘A gentle breeze made the trees whisper and sway, and patches of sunlight danced across the floor. Everything was tinged with spring green, even the sound nearby fields, the soothing song of the wood pigeon. And through the tree trunks were glimpses of the patchwork hills and chocolate-brown moors beyond the wood, stretching on and on.’
“I wish I had half of what you have,” Will continued. “My grandparents never bothered with me and my parents aren’t interested in anything I do.”
‘He’s a little bit hunched over, as if he has a heavy pack on his back that weighs him down. But all this new vulnerability only enhances his charm. Everyone wants to look after him and take away his hurt.’
‘I twisted round frantically, to see whose dreadful claws were clutching my waist, adrenaline using my veins as a Grand Prix circuit.’
‘He looked awful, the whites of his eyes shot through with red and his skin so pale. Like a dead boy.’
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.
‘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:
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.
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…
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:
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.
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.
The literary critic Graham Handley writes of the difficulty of creating a character who is very good: ‘It is a strange but true fact that the truly good person is difficult to portray convincingly in fiction, and Hester Rose (a sort of secondary heroine in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’) may be compared with Diana Morris in ‘Adam Bede’ where there is a similar partial failure of imagination.’
Why this should be so is possibly a question of fashion. These days, we don’t want our protagonists to be too admirable, and the dread spectres of Mary Sue and Gary Stu hover near, whereas in the mid-eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson rose to fame (or infamy) through writing about two Mary Sues and one Gary Stu, namely, Pamela Andrews, Clarissa Harlow and Sir Charles Grandison.
These endless novels were best sellers in that era; people just couldn’t get enough of them. Of course, with ‘Pamela’ there is the issue of whether he drew in the reader with the lure of, ‘Attempted Rape as Titillation Whilst Expressing Every Sort of Moral Abhorrence’ . I tend to agree with Coleridge that he did, possibly unconsciously.
The rape in Clarissa takes place offstage, and not until Volume Six, so a reader would have had to be as patient as s/he was purile to keep on reading that long just for that, even if people did have longer attention spans in previous centuries. Probably the fascination of that saga was the villain Lovelace as much as the heroine, and the depiction of his evil if far fetched machinations.
Clarissa is of course, a far more sophisticated creation than Pamela, who to most modern readers comes across as a prize opportunist hypocrite. I can’t answer for Sir Charles Grandison. I have heard that the character is unbearable, and it is worth reading just for that. I have also heard that in it, a woman actually apologises for preferring God to Sir Charles.
Still, having in recent years ploughed my way through ‘Pamela’, ‘Clarissa’ and ‘Pamela in Her Exulted Condition’ (it seriously is called that!) I don’t think I can stand reading any more of Richardson’s self-serving Puritan morality for a long while.
Both the eponymous heroine of ‘Evelina’ and the hero Lord Orville are extremely virtuous and outstandingly dull. I felt like going to sleep whenever Lord Orville spoke. Fortunately, he does that only occasionally, usually to show a high minded understanding of whatever situation it is in which he is involved.
By contrast, the villain Sir Clement Willoughby (did Jane Austen borrow his name?) provides a great deal of amusement. He spends much of his time, when not involved in rascally plots, in insisting on his deep love for the heroine. Still, never – the cad -does he so much as hint at marriage. At the end he informs Lord Orville that she is not well born enough for him to consider for anything but as a mistress. Lord Orville proposes believing her to be ‘low born’ – but then, he is a hero.
It was left to the genius of Jane Austen to create a hero who insults both the heroine’s face and her family origins.
Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ are another virtuous and dull hero and heroine in a classic novel. Someone has commented somewhere (I have managed to lose the link) that Darnay is just like an android programmed to do good things – he seems to possess no mental life at all, and whenever he opens his mouth, virtuous platitudes come forth. Lucie Manette is an embodiment of a Domestic Angel.
I have to admit that I dislike that novel, because of the influence it has had in portraying the French Revolution in an entirely negative light, in particular shaping the popular misconception about the number of victims of the Terror.
As George Orwell says: ‘ Though he (Dickens) quotes no figures, he gives the impression of a frenzied massacre lasting for years, whereas in reality the whole of the Terror, so far as the number of deaths goes, was a joke compared with one of Napoleon’s battles. But the bloody knives and the tumbrils rolling to and fro create in (the reader’s) mind a special sinister vision which he has succeeded in passing on to generations of readers. To this day, to the average Englishman, the French Revolution means no more than a pyramid of severed heads. ’
That however, is off topic…
Intriguingly, Charles Darnay does come to life – twice – when he is in danger of death. Both when he is being tried for treason in the UK, and later when he is tried for it in France, he is suddenly there, real and believable.
In fact, I found the scene where Lucie Manette (who doesn’t yet know him) sheds tears because she is forced to give evidence against him, and they gaze at each other through the courtroom and obviously start to fall in love, both evocative and gripping.
Generally, then, I find it hard to think of a truly noble hero or heroine in a classic novel who is both interesting and believable. Readers may have been more fortunate; if so, I’d love to hear of it.