Moral Transformations of a Scoundrel Through a Good Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georges deserves some credit for unselfish devotion…

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


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


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

Here’s an extract from ‘Ravensdale’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Process Blog Tour – You What?!

law-order-creative-finance-financial-accountancy-jails-bven519lI’d like to thank the excellent writer of gritty YA realism Kate Hanney for nominating me for this blog tour. Here’s her link

Creative Process? Like Kate Hanney, I don’t think I have such a thing. I had one, but the wheel fell off, as the vulgar saying went in my grandmother’s day. Anyway, I’ll try and answer the questions, though I’d rather hand over to my characters Emile Dubois, or George, or Reynaud Ravensdale, or Isabella, as they are more loquacious than I am.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: As in my previous post, I’ve just released my spoof romantic historical called ‘Ravensdale’ on the hackneyed theme of ‘Wild Young Heir to an Earldom is Accused, through the Machinations of a Conniving Cousin, of Murder, and Judged by His Reputation, Becomes an Outlaw and Highwayman while Seeking to Clear His Name.’

Now, I’m interested in about three projects. One is a sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ and ‘Ravensdale’, a paranormal featuring the two cousins together, and maybe a team of monster men directed by possibly Kenrick, who’ll need some clever manipulations of time to return…

I’m also interested in the whole issue of the complicated male villain protagonist, which is why I’m reading ‘Clarissa’ from cover to cover (I admit to only reading extracts before). However, no prizes for guessing in mine he’ll meet his match in his intended female target.

Then, always rumbling at the back of my mind is that dystopian theme I was exploring when I got distracted by ‘Aleks Sager’s Daemon’ of a future where women have lost all their rights.

Q: How is your work different from others in your genre?

A: Well, we all think we’re different – I’m just the same in thinking I’m different; my excuse for that is that I revel in the cliche. I think that as there are only so many plots – depends on your definition as to how many – I wrote about that recently on my blog – and they’ve all been visited before – and many, many times, too- I think it’s time we stopped striving for originality and went back to the good old plots.

Q: Why do you write what you do?

A: That’s what I often ask myself; I honestly don’t know; I just sort of have to. I don’t know where it comes from. I do (adopts a priggish, hectoring tone suddenly) have aspirations regarding combining the literary and genre writing.

Q: How does your writing process work?

A: Maybe it doesn’t?! What I do is get tea in bed from OH, who gets up first. While I’m waiting for that and then drinking it, I churn out about four hundred words in a notebook, which I later type up. That’ s it. When really tired I’ve been known to flake out face down on my notebook I hope that doesn’t show in the quality of the writing…Sometimes I get inspired at other times. Often I mull over plots and so on when doing practical tasks.

I do get inspired by music – in my mind’s eye I saw the whole final scene in Kenrick’s laboratory in ‘That Scoudnrel Emile Dubois’ when listening to the slow movement of Bruch’s violin concerto number one, and I saw the comic sequence in ‘Ravensdale’ when listening to Bryn Terfyl singing ‘Wher’er You Walk’ , rather like watching a film.

Now I hand over to two very different but excellent writers,. The first is the lovely Lauryn April, writer of YA paranormal which I as an NSYA – Not So Young Adult – enjoy because of the strong writing and lively characters, besides the adventure and romance: –

Lauryn April

 Lauryn April has always been fascinated by the paranormal, picking up a healthy Stephen King habit by the age of thirteen. Her favorite TV show growing up was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and she’s always preferred bands like The Rolling Stones, and The Doors over whatever it is they’re playing on the radio now (However she admits “I Love It” by Icona Pop always puts her in a good mood).

Lauryn has been writing since she was a teenager. In the early years of her career she filled notebooks full of stories sharing them with friends. In college she spent three semesters writing for her school newspaper. Then, when she was nineteen she published her first work, a poem in her school literary magazine. When she wasn’t writing, Lauryn was studying Psychology and Philosophy and will graduate from UW Oshkosh in May of 2014 with a BA in Psychology. She continues to learn and grow as a writer taking every creative writing course available to her, as well as reading everything in sight.

You’ll find Lauryn’s post on : –

Now there’s the immensely successful – lucky thing – writer Jenn Roseton, who is a talented writer specialising in contemporary sensual romance.



Jenn Roseton believes that romance and happy endings go together. When she’s not writing, she indulges in delicious gourmet chocolate.

Although she’s spent time in Wyoming, unfortunately she didn’t meet a sexy cowboy of her own.  You can find out more about her books at


‘Ravensdale’ Now out on Amazon


My new ebook ‘Ravensdale’ – a spoof historical romance –  is now out on amazon on

and on

Goodness, some huge pictures have appeared here where I’ve put the links in. I love the cover Streetlight Graphics did, but…


Anyway, it’s out now and I hope readers find it amusing.

I was interested in lampooning a favourite theme of historical novelists – the Wild Young Earl (or heir to an Earldom) is through the machinations of his Conniving Cousin (usually, but other relatives are sometimes used)  is Falsely Accused of Murder and turns Outlaw while Seeking to Clear His Name.

This was great fun to write, but I hope, too, I also made the characters in this stereotypical situation come to life enough to involve the reader.

Reynaud Ravensdale is a cousin of Emile Dubois (Emile, of course, isn’t the Conniving Cousin in question; in fact, he’s still living in disguise himself in Revolutionary France through the period in which this story is set, 1792) and Emile makes a guest appearance as a youngster in this story, with later butler and housekeeper, the rascally Mr and Mrs Kit, playing bigger roles in the story.

Here’s the blurb: –

When the group of highwaymen headed by the disgraced Earl of Little Dean, Reynaud Ravensdale holds up the hoydenish Isabella Murray’s coach, she knocks one of them down and lectures them all on following Robin Hood’s example.

The rascally Reynaud Ravensdale – otherwise known as the dashing highwayman Mr Fox – is fascinated at her spirit.

He escaped abroad three years back following his supposedly shooting a friend dead after a quarrel. Rumour has it that his far more respectable cousin was involved. Now, having come back during his father’s last illness, the young Earl is seeking to clear his name.

Isabella’s ambitious parents are eager to marry her off to Reynaud Ravensdale’s cousin, the next in line to his title. The totally unromantic Isabella is even ready to elope with her outlaw admirer to escape this fate – on condition that he teaches her how to be a highwaywoman herself.

This hilarious spoof uses vivid characters and lively comedy to bring new life to a theme traditionally favoured by historical novelists – that of the wild young Earl, who, falsely accused of murder by the machinations of a conniving cousin and prejudged by his reputation, lives as an outlaw whilst seeking to clear his name.

‘Ravensdale’ is a fast paced, funny and romantic read from the writer of ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and ‘Aleks Sager’s Daemon’.








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georges deserves some credit for unselfish devotion…

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


Blog Hop

Jenn Roseton – who does well written and highly sensual romance –
– was kind enough to make me one of her blog hopper’s, so I have some questions to answer.

1. What are you working on now?

My temper? Reforming into a worshipper of the status quo? After all, followers of this blog will know that my last reading matter was a sentimental Victorian novel about a reformed rebel.

That apart, as I have said a few times, I’ve been working on a spoof historical romance (and I didn’t type ‘hysterical’ that time) on the tired theme of Disgraced Earl turns Brigand due to the machinations of a Conniving Cousin and Rival in Love, and hence my reading sentimental Victorian novels (looks about guiltily, gnawing nails), as I remembered that as a perfect example of a melodrama on that theme.

‘Ravensdale’, then, which I’ve just sent off to my writing partner – the wonderful and overworked Jo Danilo- is a comedy set during the French Revolution, in 1792, just two years before ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ and is in fact about Reynaud Ravensdale, Emile Dubois’ cousin and childhood companion in delinquency.
Wrongly accused of killing one of his best friends, he becomes a smuggler and later, a highwayman (as Emile later does). Returning to the country to see his debauched father in his last illness, he runs into the strapping, hoydenish Isabella Murray, the one young women in the district who doesn’t find him a romantic figure. Becoming fixated with her, he goes in a ludicrous disguise of fussy wig and glasses to apply for a post as librarian in her house, where he can feel bliss by ‘gazing upon your face’.

Meanwhile, her social climbing parents are anxious to marry him off to his cousin (naturally) and he is eager to rescue her from such a fate.

But Isabella doesn’t want to be rescued by any man; she wants to be a Gentlewoman of the Road…

2. How’s it different from other work in the genre?

I’d say through the ironical treatment of the theme, through revelling in the use of cliche. I hope, as ever, to give readers a good laugh. Also, more than anything when reading various treatments of the Jealous, Conniving Cousin framing his handsome rival the Earl’s heir – it seemed to me that mere pecuniary motives weren’t sufficient – the intensity of the relationship between the two cousins, which often seemed more intense than that of their relations with their women love object – was neglected, or swept to one side, possibly, as Not Very Nice and too deep a topic for a romance, historical or otherwise.

In Robert Ravensdale, I am depicting a man motivated by a tormented and unrequited love that has dismal consequences for everyone.

2. Why do you write?

I seem to be driven to. I think that’s a common answer. I sometimes think that what a peasant woman from the eighteenth century called
‘writing down lies’ is very strange.

4. How does your process work?

I don’t know myself! I come by some idea and gradually it builds up. I think about it when doing prosaic things, like washing floors, gardening, etc.

I write in longhand in a notebook first thing in the morning, before and during my early morning tea. I always admire people who get 1,000 words a day done. That would be an exceptionally good day for me, I do about four hundred on average. Later I type it up.

I did suffer from dreadful writers block on ‘Ravensdale’ and it took me about a month to get over it, more, in fact. I simply didn’t see how I could get all the characters lined up for the finale, but it came to me in the end,and then I wondered how I’d had so much difficulty. It was the same with ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ and ‘Aleks Sager’s Daemon’. The first two thirds go swimmingly for me, but that last third is like swimming through a marsh (or worse) as distinct from gliding through a warm sea.

Disinherited Earls and Conniving Cousins

I had read some of the classic robber novels as a background for my spoof ‘Ravensdale’ ie ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ by Vulpius, ‘Dubrovski’ by Pushkin, and Schiller’s drama ‘The Robbers’ (geek, or what?).

‘Ravensdale’ is on a theme beloved by writers of historical romance ‘The Disgraced Young Earl, Condemned by his Previous Wild Reputation, Assumed Guilty of Murder Turns Brigand, partly due to Wicked Machinations of Conniving Cousin’. I remembered that this
theme, which of course, was the basis of Schiller’s ‘Die Rauber’ had featured in various novels by Georgette Heyer – off the top of my head, ‘The Black Moth’ ‘The Talisman Ring’ and no doubt others, and also in Barbara Cartland novels, ie ‘The Knave of Hearts’ .

Yes, at fourteen, during a spell of being snowed up in the Clwyd Valley, North Wales, I did manage to read these. I have to say that apart from the titles, I only remember the vague outlines to the stories…

During this spell of snow bound boredom, pacing restlessly through the unheated unnecessary rooms and long gloomy passages of the house where my family then lived, I also came across another book on the bookshelves, which my mother had to some extent furnished with books bought in job lots at auctions which she attended in search of Victoriana; it was called ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ and was by one Charles Garvice.

It was purely terrible. Lurid melodrama, sentimental beyond belief,
a sort of Mills and Boon Taken to Extremes meets Boy’s Own Circa
1894. Snorting with merciless teenage derision, I leafed through its pages.

As this long forgotten work by a once best selling and prolific author is precisely about a Young, Wild and Disgraced Earl framed for murder by the dastardly scheming of a Conniving Cousin, I remembered it and decided to re-read it recently. For all I know, the book I read might still be up in the declined remains of my family’s property in North Wales somewhere, but a cyber friend Thomas Cotterill tracked down a much scrambled digital version for me. I have to say, if I hadn’t roughly known the melodramatic plot before, I would have found it difficult to read.

Here is my ‘Goodreads’ review.

I remember trying to read this when I was fourteen and snowed up in North Wales (my mother attended lots of auctions to buy Victoriana and got stuck with a lot of job lots of books along with other stuff). At that time, I found it too ridiculous to read properly, ‘skim’ reading it instead. It certainly wouldn’t have been fair to review it on that basis.

Remembering this as an example of an old novel on the tired theme of ‘Disgraced Lord Turned Outlaw is Framed for Murder by Conniving Cousin Who is Also a Rival in Love’ which I am using for my latest novel, the spoof historical romance ‘Ravensdale’, I decided to re-read it.

I found it even more ridiculous this time round; while I love a melodramatic read full of cardboard characters and absurd co-incidences, as for instance, Vulpius’ ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’,somehow, I couldn’t enjoy this, absurd as it was.

I am also in a quandry; if this was a modern author, I would mark down as a matter of course to a one star rating anyone who displayed such awful anti Semitism and snobbery; but as one has to judge writers by the time in which they lived and unfortunately, a good deal of otherwise good writing of the late nineteenth century was marred by these ugly features – I am awarding it a two and a half star rating (which will show up as a three). Unfortunately, besides having these defects this isn’t good writing either- it’s purely dreadful.

However, I do think it’s wrong not to find something positive to say about a book and at at one point I was actually touched by this absurd story. This was when the hero shows humility and magnanimity when he thinks he has lost everything after trying to reform: – ‘‘He (the Conniving Cousin) has stepped into my place, he has got my father’s good will, that’s all right enough. And now he has won you! Oh yes, it’s all right! I am paying the penalty. I am reaping the harvest I have sown, but my God! It’s hard to bear…He will take my place. I was never worthy to fill it. God bless you, Eva.’

I think this is because all writers have occasional access to a state of inspiration where one has access to a strange mind state where the writing seems to come from above and beyond oneself, and Garvice reaches it there. He is letting the hero reveal himself as he wants him to be to the reader, unassuming,brave and capable of great things, including transcending his own violent urges and striving to become ‘a good man’. Unfortunately, most of the time he badgers his readers about Heriot Fayne and Eva Winsdale’s admirable qualities instead of showing them.

Ms Matter in her fascinating article on Garvice, ‘Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist’ is kind enough to say that he’ endured more ridicule than any decent human being should’.

I can see why. The tone is melodramtic, sentimental and sententious; the characters are made of cardboard,the plot is full of wildly improbable co-incidences (treated solemnly) and the author makes no attempt to endear his hero and heroine to the reader, saying of Eva Winsdale ‘the reader is to fall in love with her as quickly as possible’.

Of his Mary Sue heroine he says:- ‘Eva…was full of spirit and wit,and by no manner of means at all like the fool of the ingenue one…reads of in the impossible modern novel’.

Eva, in fact, does make one witty remark in the whole novel (not needless to say, at the expense of the hero, who is obviously never ridiculous, even when staggering round drunk with a bashed head dressed as a coster) but apart from hanging on to the reins of her bolting horse she shows very little spirit at all. Instead she goes pale as she sacrifices herself for her father, drops her head on her arms and occasionally, faints.

However, everybody worships her; she gives the Wicked Lord, Heriot Fayne one sympathetic look (actually, I think, two) and he is struck by a desperate urge to become worthy of asking for her hand. The Conniving Cousin, the nasty, manipulative Stannard Marshank, falls in love with her at first sight. With regard to the names,I can only suppose that Garvace, who regularly produced twelve novels a year, was running out of names to come up with such a pair as Stannard Marshbank and Heriot Fayne.

Eva’s two cousins distinguish her from ‘Ordinary girls like ourselves’; that’s the spirit, minor characters – know your place! Her father and the hero’s father compliment her on her Christian attitude of sympathy towards the Outcast Lord Heriot Fayne but nobody sees anything amiss in her coldness to the young girl she thinks has been debauched and deserted by him.

Needless to say, I did.

Also, when the Conniving Cousin makes a (nearly full) confession of his murder and dies, she does not say a kind or comforting word to this unwelcome fiance, though he is very considerately leaving her alone at last and worships her. Though he is obviously unrepentant about the murder, she makes no effort to turn his thoughts to higher things. I must admit I found this very unappealing.

In Heriot, Lord Fayne, the author has created almost an ideal type of Marty Stu over achieving hero with ‘an indescribable air of command’.
Lord Fayne is: – ‘…superbly made…his head in shape and poise like that of a Greek statue, was set upon a straight, columnar neck. His eyes, of a dark brown hue, flashed with daring reckless gleam’. But – horror of horrors- this aristocrat goes about dressed like a costermonger in cords and a cap,this not because he has sympathies with the working class – his views are oddly conventional for an outcast – but because he wishes to shame and disgrace his family, and likes brawling in music halls.

Eva’s flaccidly cynical father has said why he does this: ‘ His brother was the pink of perfection, every inch an Averleigh – the eldest son was worshiped, pampered, feted, idolised; this second, this Heriot Fayne, neglected…it raised the devil that must have been sleeping in him…’

Oddly enough, though this older son has had such an effect on the development of Heriot Fayne’s character, and his rift with his widowed father and his Aunt, we never hear more about this son, even his name, and never are told what the neglected younger son thought of him.

Of course, Victorian understanding of character strikes us as being very primitive, but this is just one of the many odd blanks in the text. Another is why Lord Fayne suddenly tuns up lying on the heather near his father’s estate when we last saw him flaked out in his London apartments. One assumes it is meant to be connected with his concussion. Eva mistakes him for a tramp, but this is not depicted as being amusing. A note of humour, of ironical detachment, would actually have rendered these characters and their situation far more appealing, but Garvice was no more capable of such a subtlety than Richardson.

Anyway, I gather from Ms Matter’s articles that this Hero Concealed in the Heather in Readiness to do a Rescue is a favourite device of Garvice, and he places Heriot Fayne there to rescue Eva when her horse bolts.

On the question of the text, by the way, I would probably have found this harder to read if I hadn’t roughly remembered the plot from before; this digitally enhanced version is very poor with scrambled sentences on every page.

Heriot Fayne has contradictions in his character beyond the ones for which the author allows; for instance,he is supposed to be ‘wild and reckless but incapable of a mean act’ but he does several mean things.

In the first few pages, after the ‘row’ at the music hall (in which somebody hit his head with a decanter, leaving him clearly concussed, though Heriot Fayne is far too macho to be seriously discommoded by that, let alone disgracing himself by vomiting), he returns home and encounters his drunken friends (unconvincing costers and prize fighters, I think) and a Jewish money lender:
‘” Sorry to trouble you, my lord, but that little bill…” Lord Fayne smiled, gripped him by the shoulder, and forced him over to the window. “Your bill’s all right, Levy; bother me just now and out you go.’

Lord Fayne, you see, has an air of ‘indefinable authority’ and ‘indescribable breeding and command’. He only need order ‘finish the bottle and clear’ to these sycophants, and they hurry to obey him.

Then, when Heriot Fayne finds out that his cousin has seduced the daughter of one of is father’s tenants, he says, ‘I have never deceived a confiding, innocent girl’ but we gather that he has treated other women rather badly: ‘Women had been, to him, fair game; to be hunted, beguiled, deceived; his heart had never quailed until now; Love! He had laughed at it…’

These, of course, must have been bad, naughty women who had done bad, naughty things with him; not pure girls like Eva, who doesn’t even seem to have a body.

He promises Eva he will reform, throws his whisky and soda into the fire, tears down his prints of racehorses and prize fighters and sets off as an itinerant fiddler, mingling with farm workers. This is rather odd; his associating with the urban poor is seen as a sign of his degraded character, but his associating with country commoners apparently cleanses his soul.

I suspect that this may have been because at this time, costermongers were notoriously ‘Chartists to a man’ according to Henry Mayhew, unlike the nice, forelock tugging rural population, who knew their rightful place.

Garvice’s sentimental view of rural people is all in line with the whole tone of this novel.

Over achiever as he is, Heriot Fayne is not only ‘one of the best lightweight boxers of his age’ but also a brilliant violinist, pianist, singer,sailor, athelete and horseman and he only need pick up a fork and ‘Darned if you don’t handle a fork a’most as well as a fiddle-bow, my man…’

One can only suppose the older son who so eclipsed this paragon was super human.

Soon, Heriot Fayne is reformed, one of the side effects of the country air, it seems: – ‘He was a new man, softened by contact with and sympathy for the rural poor, and the simple minded, honest country folk. Wherever he went he was made welcome, not only on account of his wonderful violin and the musical voice, but by reason of his handsome face and frank, kindly manner.’

I would like to add here that I am a great believer in the redeeming power of love – but not from a sentimental viewpoint; Heriot Fayne’s change of heart and mind is portrayed in excessively sentimental terms, and us both arbitrary and unconvincing.

Of course,even in his debauched days he always impressed people with his patrician air of command and his Greek statue appearance, but now he is developing into a worthy successor to the aging Lord Averleigh – everyone loves and admires him, from the ailing little Lily on the isolated ranch where he gets temporary employment, to whom he provides songs and stories on long journeys,to her phlegmatic father who nurses Heriot through his bout of malaria ‘as gently as a woman’ knowing his worth. He says he hasn’t met an English gentleman before, but if Heriot is anything to go by, they are an admirable lot. He even wins over the hardened detective Jones who bursts out on seeing him during his short (and of course, stoically borne) imprisonment for the murder done by the dastardly Stannard Marshbank, ‘You’re a brick, Sir! Sorry…’

The Conniving Cousin, by contrast, has ‘pale eyes’ and is small. A successful opportunist politician, he has no friends, and acts dishonourably throughout, deliberately leading Eva’s father into financial ruin so that he can obtain power over her through him, seducing an innocent girl, murdering the man who threatens to betray him to Eva and finally, plagued by nightmarish visions and addicted to ‘chloral’, falling into the copper mine into which he pushed his own victim, thus sustaining mortal injuries.

It is never explained why he hates Heriot Fayne so much – jealousy, presumably, must play a big part – but this is only one of many gaps in the story.

Heriot Fayne sacrifices himself for Eva, believing that she loves Stannard Marshbank – not as if anybody does, everybody seems to blame him for being short with pale eyes – but the misunderstanding is all sorted out. This is done partly through the investigations of a tough but fair detective. After a series of absurd co-incidences – in one Marshbank just happens to come on a malaria suffering Heriot Fayne in a remote ranch in Argentina – all ends happily, with the reformed Lord Fayne slipping his ring on Eva’s finger and reconciled with his father and aunt.

Overall, ‘The Outcast of the Family’ is one of the worst books I have ever read. I certainly should have given it a lower rating, but I must be in a charitable mood today. Too much fresh air, I think, making me feel benevolent. Plus, I do hate awarding low star ratings to books. Where’s my whisky and soda?

I finally quote some fascinating comments from Laura Sewell Matter’s stimulating article on Charles Garvice: –

‘The question that 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 feminine masses or a simpleton who believed in the sort of twaddle he peddled. A fool or a cormorant. Either way, he was damned. I began to collect Garvice’s novels – On Loves Altar , His Love So True , A Relenting Fate. I could never get through any of them, other than The Verdict of the Heart. Little beyond the particulars of the heroines hair color differentiates one from another, and without seaweed stuck to the pages, the stories were stripped of mystery. They bored me….

‘Those critics who would rather rend his pages and toss them into the drink than sit on the beach reading them have had their way in the end. The formula that Garvice so successfully exploited – virtuous heroines overcoming numerous obstacles to attain happiness – is a predictable one, which any author might employ. His readers are now dead, and their Garvices – if they exist at all – molder in the attics of the Western world while books much like them, by authors who have learned the same lessons and applied the same patterns to their fiction, are being read on the beach today…’


‘What Garvice knew and honored, 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: a story can be a salve…’

After this, you will be astonished to know that I actually downloaded and skimmed through a couple of other novels by Garvice. No, don’t worry, I am not about to protest, hands trembling, that, ‘I can give them up any time’ and ‘I can handle it’… No. I couldn’t face reading them through, but it did seem only fair to get a rough idea as to whether I found them as bad as ‘The Outcast as the Family’ with such cardboard characters, improbable co-incidences, melodramatic flourishes, absurd speeches, etc.

The answer from what I saw of ‘Only One Love Or Who Was the Heir’ and ‘The Woman’s Way’ seems to be yes. I also note that the Misjudged Rogue and the Conniving Cousin seems to be a favourite theme of his, and Heriot Fayne and Stannard Marshhank have a couple of predecessors in one of the two I read, in Jack ‘The Savage’ Newcombe and his sneaking cousin Stephen in ‘Only One Love’. In fact, Jack is not such a Marty Sue as Heriot Fayne, which makes him far more sympathetic.

I am puzzled as to why an astute businessman like Garvice, who wrote purely for profit, didn’t notice that readers don’t tend to like an over achiever like Heriot Fayne,but I suppose even he slipped up now and then as he ploughed through dictating those novels to that ‘cultured’ secretary of his.

I leave you with a couple of the most ridiculous covers. Words fail me…


The Original Robber Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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