The Delights of Good Bad Writing

 

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

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

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

Here he is summed up by Wickpedia:

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

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

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

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

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

The Amateur Gentleman (1913)

The Jade of Destiny (1931)

John o’the Green (1935)

Adam Penfeather, Buccaneer (1940)

The Fool Beloved (1949)

Sorry about the uneven print size.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Charles Garvice as an Influence on the Modern Romantic Novel – and Caught out by Garvice’s Devices

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_The_MarquisIn my last post, I admitted to a terrible thing – I have actually been able to read four more of the novels of Charles Garvice after re-discovering that one I snorted through at fourteen – ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’.

Since then I’’ve read ‘His Guardian Angel Or Wild Margaret’ , ‘Only One Love Or Who was the Heir’, ‘The Woman’s Way’ and ‘Just a Girl’. Admittedly, I’ve done it when suffering from migraines, but still, Laura Sewell Matter’s inability to get through one after the first surely shows a more respectable taste in reading material; frequent migraines only excuse so much.

I’m sorry to say, I’ve always had a weakness for the tacky, the melodramatic, the lurid and the ridiculous ( that’s why I write spoof Gothic). I revel in badly written ghost stories ‘The Haunted Saucepan’  by Marjorie Lawrence, anyone? ) I loved the Hammer House of Horror films. I love too absurd epics with cardboard characters, anachronisms and dramatic lines delivered in flat voices. I rather envy people whose tastes are rather more elevated, and who have no desire to pursue such stuff.

I said in my last post how there are several characteristics that unmistakably define a Charles Garvice hero. These include: –

1. Astounding good looks and wiry physique
2. Skill as a boxer
3. An ‘indefinable air of command’
4. Being closely related, usually the heir, to an Earl
and
5. Being a fully paid up, card holding member of the Anti
Dog Kicking Society.

Also –
6. The open hearted fellow is almost always afflicted with
an underhand relative or friend, often after his inheritance or
lady love or both and secretly working against him.

I’ve even become blasé about recognizing these, and other of Garvice’s Devices – for instance, the Heroic Sacrifice: here either the hero agrees to sacrifice himself for the heroine, perhaps in taking the blame for some piece of caddishness done by the sneaking fellow above (typically, ‘ruining’ a young girl) or even, a crime (in ‘The Woman’s Way’ the hero takes the blame for a forgery).

Often this leads to his flight from the country and a series of Boys Own type adventures abroad (working on a ranch, joining a circus).

Anyway, in ‘Just a Girl’ (written in 1898 and Garvice’s first international bestseller) I was startled when the author seemed to be straying from his normal rigid rules. The heroine, Esmeralda, who lives in the wilds of Australia, happens to come upon an obviously aristocratic, reckless and gallant young man with striking blond good looks; he’s fallen from his horse in a fainting fit after being shot in the leg by a caddish opponent to whom he gave a drubbing after – naturally, seeing him kick a dog.
This of course, set off the levers in his brain, and he had to punish the mean spirited coward, who then proved himself even more despicable by staggering from the floor to shoot at his back as he galloped off.

‘Ah, here we are. The hero…’ I said to myself;  but I was puzzled when he was slower than Esmeralda at shooting and firing at the coward, who’s been following him (Esmeralda, brought up in a mining camp, is very gung-ho for a Garvice heroine, and can shoot and ride with the best of ‘em).
The cad, obviously a passionate defender of his right to ill treat dogs, had sneaked after young Lord Norman to kill him off. As he had was still fairly dizzy, perhaps Garvice had excused him from not being the first to see and shoot down the enemy, but this seemed to me an interesting reversal of sex roles, and I even began to wonder if I had done Charles Garvice an injustice, and he was capable of doing this. After all, this had to be he hero- he’d defended a dog.

But then , I realised, he couldn’t be – unless Garvice was breaking all the rules – as the miners in the camp all take to him, but though young Lord Norman is strong in the arms, refer to him as ‘Rosebud’ on account of his almost girlish golden haired good looks.
Surely a man subjected to this humiliation couldn’t be the hero – surely none of Garvice’s heroes could ever be mistaken for a girl – though a scene follows where Lord Norman shows astounding pluck when they get out the bullet from his leg, not even wincing. When he runs a fever, Esmeralda has only to place one cool hand on his fevered brow, and that soothes him into sleep.

Yet, despite these telling scenes, I couldn’t believe that anyone nicknamed ‘Rosebud’ could ever be a Garvice hero, and here I was right. Soon, Lord Norman is telling Esmeralda (with whom the poor fellow has fallen wildly in love) of his cousin, Trafford the Marquis, who is tall, dark, capable of knocking down a man with a straight one from the shoulder, all muscle and not an ounce of fat, with whom all the ladies are madly in love.

That could only be the hero – whom no man would dare to call a girlish name, or indeed, any sort of name without incurring one of those stunning blows straight from the shoulder – and I realised my mistake; I’d allowed myself to be diverted from the standard requirements of a Charles Garvice hero by the episode of canine championship and reckless courage;  this only shows that Lord Norman is a pretty good sort and can be prepared to do the right thing in the end, which he does, in putting his aside his love for Esmeralda when he sees that she can’t return his feelings.
Esmeralda, as a missing heiress, soon ends up in England and in love with Lord Trafford herself, while he wonders if he can bring himself to do such a shabby thing as marry so fresh a girl for her money…

I was disappointed after that beginning! I actually thought Garvice was going to go in for some gender role reversal, and give us a wiry and impulsively brave, but rather effete looking hero who didn’t always shoot first. No such luck…
Ah, and I do have some sort of excuse for reading Garvice. You see, like Laura Sewell Matter’s pursuit of the missing pages of ‘The Verdict of the Heart’, it’s a form of research (looks about guiltily). I’m interested in the history of the development of the modern romantic novel.

TheTalismanRing.jpg
I’ve said before how I came to read Garvice and a number of old historical romances when cut off for some time b y bad weather as a teenager, and forced to ransack the bookshelves. Even when I was an unreflective fourteen, I could see that Charles Garvice had written an earlier form of the romantic novel of the twentieth century. During that period of being snowed in at home in isolated rural North Wales, I also read, as I have said, one Barbara Cartland novel about a Disgraced Earl turned Highwayman (I’ve forgotten the title of that). I also read two early Georgette Heyer novels ‘The Black Moth’ and ‘The Talisman Ring’ – about respectively a Disgraced Lord turned Highwayman and a Disgraced Earl turned Smuggler .

Robert_Lovelace_Preparing_to_Abduct_Clarissa_Harlowe
In both the influence of Charles Garvice (who was the best selling novelist of their youth) was immediately obvious.

The bold, careless, swaggering young scapegrace hero, the innocent heroine, the mean attempts of the underhand relative to frame the said hero for his own crimes, the sentimental tone to the courtship of young lovers, are all there. I’d say the ‘Byronic’ heroes of Regency Romance owe something to the pen of Charles Garvice.  In these early Heyer novels, there are even,albeit in a far less crude form, those elements of adventure to be found in Chalres Garvice.
Georgette Heyer didn’t, so far as I know, admit her debt to so low brow an influence as Charles Garvice. She preferred to point to the influence of Jane Austen – but Jane Austen didn’t write about Disgraced Earls turned Highwayman (Willoughby in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is the nearest thing to that, and he doesn’t have a title or take to the road). By contrast, Garvice’s heroes, though they can’t become Gentleman of the Road as the time had passed for that, do sometimes become outlaws. When not outlaws, they are sometimes virtual social outcasts by dint of their disgraceful reputatons – again a frequent characteristic of the Regency Romance hero.
Charles Garvice is the unacknowledged ancestor, so far as I can see, of a substantial element of the tradition of the Historical and Regency Romance . However, my researches continue, and I may be able to add another name to the list of these; I think there was a writer of singularly lurid novels of the eighteenth century called Eliza Heywood, whom I intend to investigate next.

I said in my last post that I hoped that the outlook of women, their tastes and aspirations had developed just a little since 1890. I still do; but I can empathize with a wish to delve into foolish, predictable escapism.

Laura Sewell Matter in her witty and perceptive article on Charles Garvice ‘Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist’ says of the ‘attenuated state’ which Thomas Moult suggested was the cause of the craze for Garvice’s novels in the trench warfare of World War One: –
‘What Moult and the other critics failed to acknowledge, but what Garvice knew and honoured, are the ways so many of us live in emotionally attenuated states, during times of peace as well as war. Stories like the ones Garvice wrote may be low art, or they may not be art at all. They may offer consolation or distraction rather than provocation and insight. But many people find provocation enough in real life, and so they read for something else. One cannot have contempt for Garvice without also having some level of contempt for common humanity, for those readers – not all of whom can be dismissed as simpletons – who may not consciously believe in what they are reading, but who read anyway, because they know that a story can be a salve.’