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.

 

 

 

Borrowing from the Great Bad Writer of Victorian Romances

$_35I hope to bring out my next novel, ‘The Villainous Viscount Or The Curse of the Venns’ within weeks. There’s been a long delay – over two years – between this and my last ‘Ravensdale’. That was only partly because I’ve written half of the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois as well.

This is the third version of this book I’ve worked on. I began to write this novel as comedy, and I wasn’t satisfied with that after 28,000 words. Cue, writers block…

Then I began to write it as tragedy, and I wasn’t satisfied with that after 56,000 words. Cue,  worse writers block…Yuk, Yuk, Yuk. I became horribly familiar with that. It went on for weeks. I did a blog post on it.

So then I wrote it as Gothic dark comedy with a tragic back story not written as comedy, and – no serious writer’s block to speak of, though  (I always get it for a few days near the end; that’ s nothing).

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I wrote that first comic version  partly as a spoof of the style of novel by the Victorian and Edwardian writer of romantic melodrama, Charles Garvice. This splendidly lurid work is called ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ (1894).

In this, there is a wild viscount called Heriot Fayne who goes in drunkenness and pugilism and goes about dressed as a costermonger. He is also a talented musician. When he falls for an innocent girl, he vows to reform, and escapes the corrupting air of the city to be  a sort of country busker.

This sounds like the stuff of comedy, but sadly the story is written with deadly seriousness. Charles Garvice’s sense of the absurd in his novels can only be detected with a microscope.

However, I thought the idea of a pugilistic, drunken, musical social outcast of a viscount who sometimes went about dressed as a member of ‘the lower orders’ a purely brilliant idea. I was disappointed at how little Garvice explores the possibilities of this, and how flat a character he made Heriot Fayne, given  his outrageous habits.

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Intrigued by these contradictory features, I have borrowed them for my own version of this individual in Harley Venn, also a viscount and a social outcast by dint of his habits of keeping low company, brawling in the street, and other such disreputable habits. Harley Venn, however, has more problems than Heriot Fayne. He is plagued by a family curse and threatening visits by a cloaked and hooded and skeletal being,

In a previous post, I wrote about how I first came by the novels of Charles Garvice, this Victorian writer of bestselling romantic melodrama, so my apologies for anyone who remembers that, if I go into it again.

My parents used to renovate isolated country mansions before it became fashionable. To furnish these ludicrously outsized dwellings they used to go to auctions, and the job lots often contained crates of old books, ideal for filling up empty shelves.

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As I have said before, I first read this book , hooting with derisive laughter as teenagers do, when snowed up in the Clwyd Valley at the age of fourteen – raiding my mother’s Bristol Cream at the same time.

I came across all sorts of books through these job lots, many of them, in those pre-internet days, long out of print.  There were b ooks by Mrs Humphrey Ward and Helen Mathers, memoirs of nineteenth century rural vicars and collections of sermons  packed in with some of Shakespeare’s plays and copies of 1950’s science fiction and fantasy magazines.  Informative books on pig keeping, gardening, and engineering mingled with stories by Enid Blyton with appallingly racist titles, works by Arhtur Conan Doyle, a strange encyclopaedia like tome called ‘Everything Within’, paperback versions of Georgette Heyer and Mary Stuart and hardbacks of PG Wodehouse, and this one book by Charles Garvice.

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I re-read ‘ a couple of years ago. An online friend named Thomas Coterrall tracked it down for me. Thanks, Thomas!

Given that I took inspiration from a theme of Charles Garvice, it sounds highly ungracious if I say that when I re-read it, if anything, it struck me as being even more outrageously bad then when I read it the first time.

Still, I would be dishonest if I said anything else. There are a couple of good paragraphs, where Garvice lapses into good writing. Generally, however, with regard to Garvice’s love of wildly improbable co-incidences, lurid melodrama and purple prose, I have to agree with Laura Sewell Mater, on her article ‘Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist:

‘…I recognised, almost from the moment that I started reading, that I had found something amazingly, almost unbelievably, bad.’

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Yet, I have remained fascinated by the fascinating badness of Garvice’s novels. ‘The Outcast of the Family’ has remained my favourite, perhaps because it is the one I enjoyed first. I still maintain that it is probably his worst. I have read several others, including  ‘A Life’s Mistake Or Love’s Forgiveness’  ‘The Marquis’ , ‘Wild Margaret, Or His Guardian Angel’, ‘The Woman’s Way’ ‘Just A Girl’ ‘Wicked Sir Dare’ and ‘The Story of a Passion’. Yes, I’ve read all those, but they were rather a disappointment after the first. They didn’t provide the same amount of unintentional comedy.

I feel the same fascinated affection for the first Charles Garvice novel I read (despite the scene where the hero shows rebarbative anti-Semitism)  as Laura Sewell Matter felt about ‘The Verdict of the Heart’ . This was a Charles Garvice book which she tracked down after becoming fascinated by the lurid text in the pages she found washed up on a beach in Iceland.

Ms Matter says of Charles Garvice in her article ‘Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist’: –

‘The critics were merciless. His work was routinely dismissed by such highbrow publications such as The Athenaeum, which snidely acknowledged Garvice’s success: ‘The very thickness with which the colours are laid on will make the novels popular in circles which know nothing of artistry.

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‘The question which concerned the critics was not whether Garvice’s work was high art – it patently was not – but whether he was a calculating businessman who condescended to write for the newly literate female masses, or a simpleton who believed in the sort of twaddle he peddled. A fool or a cormorant. Either way, he was damned.’

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However, in my first post on Charles Garvice, I quoted a very telling point that Ms Matter makes towards the end of her article: –

‘ What Moult and the other critics failed to acknowledge, but what Garvice knew and honoured, are the ways in which so many of us live in emotionally attenuated states, during times of peace as well as war (during the First World War, Garvice’s novels had been favourite reading material for soldiers in the trenches). Stories like the ones that Garvice wrote may be low art, or they may not be art at all. They may offer consolation and 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: a story can be a salve’.

Strong and Sentimental Writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Fayne finishes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Another Sour (Though Hopefully Entertaining) Post : Those Seven Female Counterparts to Those Seven Most Annoying Heroes

Having posted about the seven ‘heroes’ I personally find most obnoxious in famous books by deceased authors, it only seems fair to list the seven female leads I thought most annoying, too. 220px-Waterhouse_a_mermaid

The problem here, as I said on that earlier post, was that I generally found these female leads provoking because the woman tended to lose most of her separate identity entirely once she got together with the hero, merging her personality with his and so losing ANY character traits of her own, obnoxious or otherwise. Either that, or she began and ended as a Mary Sue, like Richardson’s Pamela and Fanny Burney’s Evelina.

As an extreme example of a Mary Sue who submerges her identity into that of her man, there’s Lucie from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. I couldn’t dislike her because she doesn’t have any personality at all. She’s just Charles Darnay’s wife and mother to his child. I did however, find the vacuum that she represents dismal.

This being so, it’s difficult to remember all the separate examples of books where thr heroine does this; however, reverting to my previous Annoying Hero list, I try to remember their female counterparts. Were they masochists, Mary Sues, or what?

Number One Annoying Hero on my list was the Marquis Vidal in Georgette Heyer’s ‘Devil’s Cub’. Mary Challoner, I seem to remember (but I’m relying on the sad remains of a once good memory here) was quite witty, not at all vain, sensible, practical and resourceful. True, she did have to do daft things to fit in with the mechanisms of the plot, though, such as running off with the rebarbative Vidal to save her sister. Apart from her terrible taste in falling for a would-be rapist bully, she’s very likable. Far-fetched as Heyer’s escapism is, a woman with a lot going for her throwing herself away on an abusive man is true to life, I’m sorry to say…

Number Two of the Annoying Hero’s was Theseus in Mary Renault’s books ‘The King Must Die’ and ‘The Bull from the Sea’. I said then what I thought of the Apostate Amazon heroine of ‘The Bull from the Sea’, Hippoylata, and her extended case of Stockholm Syndrome once she becomes Theseus’ captive and joins him in spreading his patriarchal rule.

The book is, like the first, told from Theseus’ point of view and he sees her as being above criticism. The author who only reveals a character through the eyes of a besotted admirer runs the risk of making that character unsympathetic through such a biased viewpoint.  I suppose it could be done with irony, that wasn’t my impression here. If this story of her betrayal of the Goddess had been told by Hippoylata herself, perhaps she would have come across as more likable, despising herself, perhaps, for her passion for this enemy of female power, but as it is, I found her highly unsympathetic.

Number Three was Heathcliff, whom I’m sure everyone knows from ‘Wuthering Heights’ and whom I’m equally sure Emily Bronte didn’t intend as a hero at all, Byronic or otherwise. I didn’t find Cathy wonderfully sympathetic, but she  clearly was the only woman about seemingly savage and sadistic enough to stand up to Heathcliff’s bullying ways. Sadly, having failed to move either of the two men she wants to accept each other, she sinks into a decline altogether feminine. She is decidedly selfish, but given her dismal background, with her mother dying very early and her father turning against her for her high spirits, plus her brother Hindley’s wild antics, it’s not surprising that she isn’t exactly gentle. She did seem to feel for Heathcliff when Hindley forced him to be a servant.

I was interested in an article I saw mentioned, written by Patsy Stoneman, about Cathy’s wanting to have a ‘non possessive’ relationship of the sort for which Shelley yearned (and which, to be fair to those who advocate a set-up seemingly doomed to failure, probably can’t be properly envisaged or enacted within the narrow confines of our current society, anyway). A friend of mine on Goodreads was trying to trace this article, but hasn’t got back to me, but it does throw an intriguing new light on Cathy and her apparent selfishness in wanting two men at once. To be fair to her, too, she doesn’t show any jealousy when she thinks Heathcliff might desire Isabella, though we might think she is much too blasé about such a savage man when she says words to the effect  of; – ‘If you like her you shall have her – but I’m sure you don’t!”

She comes across as generally insensitive and overbearing, as when she taunts Isabella about her foolish infatuation for Heathcliff, and when she jeers about Edgar’s jealousy over her praise of the returned Heathcliff (she says she isn’t jealous of Edgar’s praise of Isabella’s beauty; but then, that can hardly be intended to be sexual, though in the quasi-incestuous atmosphere that surrounds the story, who knows?). On the whole, if anyone can be said to deserve the fate of being (temporarily) stuck with Heathcliff, she does for valuing the opinion of a man capable of doing such disgusting things. Of course, she’s extremely young; perhaps if she’d lived to maturity, she’d have outlived her strange  passion for him.

Number Four Annoying Hero for me was James Bond, so the heroines (if they can be called that; they aren’t allowed to take much initiative) are legion, with him being a compulsive Don Juan. Most of them have slipped my memory. As Mari Biella commented on the post, these women were largely lay figures created to be part of Bond’s male fantasy world of effortless conquest and hardly even meant to be anything other than desirable, worshiping conquests.

There was one called Honeychile Ryder in Dr No, whom I quite liked before she surrendered to Bond, an athletic woman who lived alone supporting herself by fishing. As a young girl, she’d been beaten unconscious, raped and her nose broken by a man whom she later killed by putting a scorpion in his bed. I don’t much like saying a kind word about Bond, but I seem to remember he thought her revenge fair enough. There was a Countess known – of all names – as ‘Tracy’ who had emotional problems. Bond was in the process of sorting ‘em out after marrying her, but she was murdered. I seem to remember she threw an alarm clock at him once, which I thought a waste of a useful object. I don’t remember much about her personality. There was one called Tatiana Romonova from the USSR who didn’t seem to have any personality at all even before she met him, and then there was one called Pussy Galore who was a lesbian. I do remember Bond’s explanation for lesbianism – he put it down to women wearing trousers too often. Presumably if he’d worn a kilt, then the problems of the heroines’ foolish worship would be at an end, and he’d have gone over to men…

Annoying Hero Number Five for me was Charley Kinraid from Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’. I didn’t blame the heroine Sylvia for despising the cousin who tricks her into marriage with him, and I sympathized with her love of being outside and working with animals and her love of the sea and her longing for adventure, so apart for her foolish worship of Kinraid, I found her generally sympathetic. As I said in an article I wrote about the novel for the ‘F word’, if Sylvia had been able to go to sea and have adventures herself, her tragedy would never have happened. As one critic, I think Jane Spenser, comments, it is only through her own lack of opportunities for adventure in her dull role as a woman and home-maker that she becomes so wildly infatuated with the superficial Kinraid (who could have adventures). This also encourages her to feel helpless after her father’s hanging and her mother’s insanity, so that she weakens and accepts Hepburn.

Number Six was Heriot Fayne from Charles Garvice’s ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’. The heroine, Eva, is a perfect example of a Mary Sue, admired by all. The author instructs the reader to ‘fall in love with her at once’ insisting that she is witty and independent minded. Sadly we never see any signs of either quality, as she spends most of the novel fainting, shedding tears over Lord Heriot Fayne for his ‘wasted life’ and sacrificing herself for her father or shrinking from the repulsive touch of the duplicitous Stannard Marshbank.

My Number Seven was the secondary hero from Georgette Heyer’s ‘’The Talisman Ring’ Ludovic Lavenham. He’s remarkably stupid and lacking in common sense. The secondary heroine, Eustacie, is similarly afflicted and undiscerning enough to think him wonderful, and on the whole I found her almost as tiresome as I did him.

So, there’s my list of the Annoying Heroes’ counterparts, and with a couple of honourable exceptions – Sylvia and possibly Cathy, they do seem to surrender their identities readily when they meet the dominant male.

I did actually forget someone who I should have put on my original list, ‘Mr B’ from Pamela. This fellow manages to be a rake and would-be rapist (I don’t believe his insistence that it was all a misunderstanding in Pamela In Her Exulted Condition; I think those to be  retrospective excuses by Richardson) yet later lectures sanctimoniously about proper conduct in  marriage and a wife’s duties. He gives a long ‘What He Expects’ lecture to Pamela: she must always look attractive, she must rise at five every day, she must entertain all his guests graciously etc, etc. This, presumably, was the bourgois coming out in Richardson incongruously through the voice of his supposed rake, but the sanctimonious tone is highly provoking, given his own history.

Pamela herself is also conceded to be annoying as the original Mary Sue, not just by me, but by many critics, and for an author to have made so many people dislike a servant girl imprisoned by a lascivious master is quite an achievement – but he succeeds. To be fair to Richardson, novel writing being in its infancy, and Pamela being largely told through her own letters, her apparent vanity in solemnly recounting one compliment after another is probably just clumsiness on the author’s part, but the effect, as in the later Evelina, isn’t attractive.

In fact, I can think of one ‘heroine’ – more of an anti-heroine – who does have a very independent character, and whom I didn’t like much anyway, and that’s Thackeray’s Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair. She is certainly tough, resourceful, dismissive of conventional morality and incapable of forgetting her own self-interest in her relations with men – but then, perhaps that’s not so surprising; Vanity Fair being a ‘novel without a hero.’ Still, I hardly think she’d do anything but exploit Vidal, Theseus, James Bond, Charley Kinraid, Lord Fayne or Ludovic Lavenham anyway – and Heathcliff she would not consider worth noticing, having no wish to live in a draughty farmhouse on the moors.

I can hardly blame her for exploiting the weaknesses of people  of higher rank, with no talent, but the money and power denied to her by birth, yet I don’t agree with critics like Seymour Betsky that ‘part of Becky’s superiority to others lies in the absence of ill-humor, meaness, or savage intensity in her self-interest.’ In her encouraging Rawden Crawley to get the foolish George Osborne to gamble away the few thousand pounds left to him after his father has disinherited him for marrying Amelia, she shows all of these qualities. She has a grudge against him because he prevented her marriage to Amelia’s brother Jos as he didn’t want a low born sister-in-law. You might think as that leads to her getting a baronet’s son for a husband, she might be almost grateful to him, but she does indeed show a good deal of savage vengefulness here. If she ruins George by seducing him to play with the cheating Rawden Crawley, she ruins his wife too, and Amelia has been up to that point her only staunch friend, but Becky doesn’t seem to worry about that. Instead she lures George to the gaming table by making him infatuated with her and so ruining the few weeks that he and Amelia have together before he’s killed at Waterloo.

Years later, she shows Amelia the letter George has written to her asking her to elope with him – presumably, she’s unaware that just before the Battle of Waterloo he repents of this and says he hopes if he’s killed Amelia never hears of it, but probablyn she wouldn’t care if she did know that  – and her having kept this note for years, which can hardly do her any good with George dead, seems to indicate a startlingly vindictive streak.

Fate pays Rawden Crawley back for his part in this piece of shabbiness, when he’s in turn betrayed and humiliated by Becky when she tries to get him out of the way so she can have a shockingly private meeting with the Marquis of Steyne. Steyne is  a man so physically repulsive, with his white face, yellow teeth and dyed red hair,  that Becky surely deserves an award for being able to endure physical intimacy with him. Well, this being a Victorian novel, we are never quite sure that she is physically intimate with him – but his words, ‘Every jewel on her body has been paid for by me’ might, if inverted, give the answer.

So, I found Becky Sharp equally, if not more, unsympathetic than some of those Identity Shedding heroines. Amelia Sedley, interestingly, I didn’t dislike, though she is very much a Victorian heroine, and portrayed as such by the author. I didn’t feel impatient with her as I did most of the others, perhaps because the poor girl’s infatuation with George Osborn turns out so dismally for her.

With the exception of Sylvia, Cathy  and Countess Tracy, all the other heroines, even the idiotic Eustacie in Heyer’s ‘The Talisman Ring’, are saved from the consequences their stupid actions by plot devices (and those heroes) but poor Amelia Sedley is made to suffer years of attrition. But then these are a mixed selection of books, with more serious works jostling with light romances, and in Thackeray only the unscrupulous generally thrive in Vanity Fair. We leave Becky flourishing.

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.’

Yes, I admit it – I’ve read some more of Charles Garvice – adds quickly, ‘Don’t worry, I can handle it, I can give it up at any time…’

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_The_Marquis

220px-Charles_Garvice_-_Lord_of_HimselfCharles_Garvice_-_She_Loved_HimIn a previous post, I mentioned how I’d done some exploration of the novels of that most mawkish and critically lambasted, but outstandingly popular of the romance writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Charles Garvice.

This writer interested me, because he seems to me to be at least in part the inspiration for many of the plot devices and character types of later romance writers.

I first came across a novel by Charles Garvice which my mother had got as part of a job lot of other Victoriana in an auction. This book, wonderfully named ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ I skim read in between pacing the corridors during a spell of being snowed in at fourteen in rural North Wales. I was astounded even then by the sheer badness of the writing, the wonderful combination of sentimental love scenes and wild melodrama, the cardboard characters, the wildly improbable co-incidences and the solemn, moralising tone.

Recently, I remembered it, and my fellow writer Thomas Cotterill was kind enough to track it down for me, and I read it through, guffawing now and then. Since then I have been sampling more of this most prolific of author’s output. I’ve found a page on Charles Garvice on Wickipedia, with some wonderful covers posted (that one for ‘Lord of Himself’ is particularly lurid).

I also found a very amusing article ‘Pursing the Great Bad Novelist’ by Laura Sewell Matter on how she became intrigued by the output of this shamelessly commercial writer. In it, she comments on the astoundingly predictable nature of the plots: – ‘Little beyond the heroine’s hair colour differentiates one from another’. But they sold incredibly, making Garvice a fortune; his readership swallowed his predictable twaddle and begged for more.  During the horrors of trench warfare in World War One, it even found a wide male readership in soldiers, for whom any form of tenderness, of a story with a predictably happy ending, must have been comforting.

A fellow writer assured Garvice that he would be forgotten; this has proved true; almost nobody has heard of him today; but he replied by pointing to a seaside crowd on a beach; ‘They’re all reading my novels.’ This was true as well.

One reader, though, may have literally torn his writing apart, for Laura Sewell Matter found some pages of one of his books, washed up on a beach in Iceland…

Ms Matter found it impossible to finish another one after being initially fascinated by the absurd melodrama on the few sea washed and seaweed covered pages of ‘A Verdict of the Heart’ which she found on  that beach . To finish it, she had to travel to the British Library. On looking into others, though, she discovered that they are tediously similar, with the same stock characters and clumsy plot devices churned out again and again.

Yet, she finishes her article by remarking that on beaches today, women will be reading the works of romantic novelists who use the same plot devices and weary formulas (laughing all the way to the bank).

As someone who had hoped that women had moved on a little in their world view, aspirations and tastes since 1890, I find that a little disturbing. But I have to admit the truth of it.

I’m either proud or ashamed to admit that I have actually managed to read through three more of Garvice’s ‘predictable melodramas’ since rereading, ‘The Outcast of the Family’, which as an impatient teenager I skimmed through. I’ve been able to do this through suffering from migraines, when anything of a fine literary nature would be beyond me, anyway.

So, I’ve explored the purple prose and melodramatic joys of ‘Wild Margaret Or His Guardian Angel’ (I couldn’t resist a book with a title like that) ‘Just a Girl’, ‘Only One Love, Or Who Was the Heir’ and ‘The Woman’s Way’.

I’ve also dipped into a good few more. There’s some delicious titles, and it’s only a shame that the lurid dust jackets have largely been lost. There’s ‘A Heritage of Hate’, ‘Her Humble Suitor’ ‘A Life’s Mistake Or Love’s Forgiveness’ and ‘Her Heart’s Desire’. I mustn’t forget ‘Edna’s Secret Marriage’.

I wouldn’t write reviews on these ones I’ve only dipped into, as (pulls a prissy face) while I’m about ninety-nine point five per cent sure of what my opinion of them would be if I read them through, I can’t be sure. In those missed out pages they might surprise me yet…

On this unlikely surprise, more in the second part of this post. For the moment I’d like to write of Garvice’s Plot Devices. While I wouldn’t comment on their individual merit without reading them through, I think it’s fair enough to comment on some similarities I have found in the text of the ones I have read through, which are all startlingly alike.

These invariably include an innocent heroine, and a wild spendthrift of an heir to an Earldom who is manly and open hearted, but has a sad reputation. He is greatly disapproved of as a rule by the currrent incumbent of the title, and has often been cast offf.  Often he’s in disguise as someone of a lower status (in ‘The Outcast of the Family’ Heriot Fayne is even mistaken by his true love for a tramp, but he takes this disguise further than the others).

Anyway, you’ll know him as the hero by four things; he’ll be very handsome, a skilled boxer,he’ll have an ‘indefinable air of command’ and he won’t tolerate any sort of ill treatment of dogs (a shame he didn’t come across Heathcliff when he was hanging that spaniel). If he sees any  of that, he’ll roll up his sleeves and give the perpetrator a drubbing, and then apologise to the heroine for brawling in front of her.

There is the scheming relative after this true specimen of British manhood’s prospects or his true love, sometimes both. This nasty piece of work gets up to all sorts of mean tricks, and sometimes isn’t even a relative, but a so-called friend. He sometimes, but not invariably, ill treats animals and has pale eyes, but he can be quite nice looking. One thing, however, gives him away; unlike the open hearted hero, he is calculating and thinks too much. By contrast, when the hero of ‘The Outcast of the Family’ spends the afternoon thinking, his handsome face is haggard with the unaccustomed effort.

In ‘The Outcast of the Family’ the villain frames the hero for a murder he did himself; in ‘The Woman’s Way’ likewise for a forgery; in ‘His Guardian Angel’ he sets him up as a bigamist…

Sometimes, he’s in collusion with another of Garvice’s stock characters, the scorned woman who loves the handsome, dashing hero obsessively. Sometimes she’s a distant relative and society catch who’s intended for him until he casts himself at the feet of the innocent heroine; sometimes she’s an actress of shady character who is eager to claim he seduced her or married her and left her. Sometimes, there’s both of these types persecuting the happy pair at once,  led on by the villiain of the piece.  Not as if the said hero has acted caddishly by any women of dubious reputation, of course; he’ll have paid them off handsomely; but she can’t bear to let him escape from her clutches into married bliss with the sweet young girl, who is almost invariably his social inferior.

Often the hero may save the heroine, or the heroine’s dog (who needs the RSPCA with such men about) from a bolting horse. He is often placed lying in the heather for just such a fortuitous appearance.

Quite often the hero tries to escape his financial problems following his squandering of  a fortune – or his tormented love for the heroine – by going to seek a different sort of fortune abroad. Both Jack Carter in ‘Only One Love’ and Heriot Fayne in ‘The Outcast of the Family’ work their way to South America as sailors, where they contact malaria and arrive back home looking very unwell, but still eager to denounce the villain of the piece, rescue the sweet heroine from his clutches, and give him a drubbing, if necessary.

Heriot Fayne leaves his devoted manservant waiting for him in his London house while he goes on this adventure, and we never hear about him again; it is to be hoped he didn’t eke out the rest of his days waiting for his master’s return. Such oversights seem to be rare in Garvice; usually, he winds up the loose threads neatly, and through a series of wild co-incidences, the main characters are all brought together for a final dramatic confrontation. Poetic justice dogs the villains, so that Stannard Marshbank, as high as a kite on ‘chloral’, falls into the very quarry in which he pushed his victim, and some of the dishonest women who have duped the hero and heroine alike sink into an unspecified decline, presumably triggered by shame.

So, when I turned to the novel that confirmed Garvice’s reputation as a best seller in the US, ‘Just a Girl’ I expected to be able to predict the plot. But I didn’t, quite.

Garvice actually surprised me! But more of that in my next post.

Flat and Rounded Characters in Fiction: Part One

Garvice coverHolmes

I believe EM Forster in an article somewhere wrote of ‘flat’ and ‘round’ characters, which is an intriguing definition. I must seek it out (after finishing ‘Clarissa’ and re-reading ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ for the Goodreads discussion and reading  Francis Franklin’s ‘Suzi and the Monsters’ and reading up on a bit of literary criticism of ‘King Lear’ that is- oh yes, and doing a bit of writing, almost forgot that bit…).

Presumably both sorts of character have their applications, depending on the genre. Flat characters serve a very useful function in detective stories – for instance, in Poirot and
Sherlock Holmes.

The slightly vain,  cold but  basically decent, seemingly law-abiding but occasionally law breaking  Holmes (who despises the blundering official police force)  is in fact, less of a ‘thinking machine’ than his dismissive creator believed – but more of that in a later post.

Here, more or less cardboard characters serve the best function where any individual quirks would clutter up the plot, save where they are useful in adding a useful twist to it or to foreshadow later developments – ie Major Sholto’s phobic terror of men with wooden legs in ‘The Sign of the Four’.

Then, in straight adventure stories, flat characters serve a good purpose, or in short stories- I mean, the really short ones, say 1,500 to 2,000 words – not much room for character development in that word length (still, it would be interesting to have a competition to see if it could be done alongside a separate plot – a huge achievement, surely!).

James Bond is number one of Heroes I Abhor – so it’s hard for me to describe the jerk –sorry,  whatever was I thinking – character – with any detachment – but he’s a fairly obvious example of a flat character.

He’s always meant to be heroic and never makes a fool of himself and never has any problems with – ahem his libido – and is an athlete despite his constant drinking and smoking.

To be fair to Ian Fleming – not as if I want to be – James Bond does in fact have a form of nervous breakdown at some point, showing a startling humanity for a brief space.

I’ve forgotten the name of the novel where this occurs, but after he falls in love with and marries the Countess Tracey Something Or Other who gets shot by SMERSH, he takes to drink, so that when he comes the worse for wear to an appointment with M the ever devoted Miss Moneypenny has to straighten his tie.

M promptly sends him off to a health farm, arriving in a taxi driven by an insolent youth with Teddy Boy characteristics – no doubt everything that the author considered bad about the youth of his own particular today.

I don’t remember what happened after that as I stopped reading. I think this was one of the many books I had recourse  to (OK – grammatically that should be ‘to which I had recourse’ but I ask you!) during that snowed in period in my teens in an isolated house in North Wales I’ve mentioned before where I read so much more than usual, even venturing into historical novels and nineteenth century romances, ie, ‘The Talisman Ring’ and ‘The Black Moth’ by Georgette Heyer, ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ by Charles Garvice (1894) and even some Fu Manchu. Perhaps the thaw finally came and I could once more venture out again riding hell for leather  on my bicycle, looking for trouble and failing to find it…

In fact, right there are two incredibly successful novelists – Heyer and Garvice – who specialised in flat characters. My recollection of Heyer’s characters – and my acquaintance with her was short – was that she wrote of two sorts of males.

There is the young, hot-headed, wild, but basically good-hearted young buck (sometimes he’s a disgraced Earl) who needs to be civilized by a loving female; he’s usually fairly stupid, though Heyer is very tolerant of these macho young men’s idiocies. Then there’s the cynical, slightly older man who is too calm for the heroine’s liking, and has to be roused to a passion he struggles against.

The heroine is either an ingénue or a slightly older woman who’s got a (not too) independent streak – I think one of these was even rumoured to be a ‘bluestocking’.

In Charles Garvice, the heroes are a nineteenth century version of the same thing – as often as not they’ve squandered away a fortune. Heriot Fayne in ‘The Outcast of the Family’ takes decadence to the point of having a whisky and soda for breakfast (it being a Victorian novel, he has to be alone in bed as he orders this from his man). He is made a good deal less lovable than average by having a liking for threatening to throw Jewish moneylenders out of windows – one can imagine him, thirty years later, joining the Blackshirts – but generally the heroes are honest hearted and rather confused by a conflict between duty –(they’re usually heir to an Earldom) and their natural wildness.

The heroines are a very dull lot. As Laura Sewell Mater comments in her article on this most prolific of late Victorian/Edwardian writers, the only thing that distinguishes one from another is their hair colour, although I do recall that one – I think Margaret in ‘Wild Margaret’ is slightly less of a lay figure – she actually pokes fun at the hero, making him look a fool and bringing about his reformation through acid criticism as much as angelic example.

Most intriguing, I think, are characters who are halfway between the flat and the round; and in my next post I’m going to enjoy writing about a perplexing example of this – none other than Charley Kinraid, the dashing, opportunistic (second?) hero of ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ by my favourite Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell.